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Last week Pitpass revealed that there is a new political force in Formula One that the sport's governing body the FIA has to watch out for. The Formula One Promoters Association (FOPA) was set up in May to represent F1's circuits and ensure that they approve of the sport's regulations. It looks set to be here for a long time to come.
Associations are nothing new in F1 and they don't have a track record of lasting very long. The Grand Prix World Championship (GPWC) group of teams, which were planning a rival series to F1, only stayed together for a few years and was dealt a deadly blow when Ferrari pulled out in 2005. It morphed into the Grand Prix Manufacturers' Association (GPMA) but that too didn't last very long. The next association to turn up was the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) which arrived with much fanfare in 2008. However, FOTA too has been on a bit of a downhill path in recent years.
First HRT left at the end of 2010 after reportedly failing to pay its membership fee. It was followed by Ferrari, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Sauber all of whom have pulled out over the past seven months. FOTA now only represents 7 of the 12 teams so in light of this performance, and that of its predecessors, it is no surprise that F1's boss Bernie Ecclestone has little time for associations. FOPA however may prove to be longer-lasting.
There are three key differences between FOPA and FOTA and they give the circuits' association a greater chance of sticking together than the teams' grouping.
Firstly, FOPA is far less onerous than the teams' association as its chairman Ron Walker (right) recently explained to Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt. "Unlike FOTA, circuits are not required to join FOPA," he says adding that they "merely use the association to lodge their proxies to vote on major issues affecting the sport as they did when they successfully voted against the proposed introduction by the FIA of a 1.6 litre four cylinder engine last year. Eventually, a new six cylinder single turbo engine was introduced, supported by Bernie and the circuits, thus preserving the distinctive sound."
The circuits' unity is more than skin deep as revealed by the second difference between FOPA and FOTA. Unlike the teams, the circuits are not in direct competition with each other. In fact, as Tamas Rohonyi, boss of the Brazilian Grand Prix, told Sylt, the race promoters rarely meet. "It is very seldom that we meet, because we are all over the world," he says adding "Ron had this very brilliant idea that we should get together once a year to try to help each other and come up with ideas about how to make this difficult business a little easier."
Not being in direct competition is likely to foster co-operation between the circuits and the potential for disagreement is reduced by the fact that the personalities who run the circuits don't work together in a high pressure environment as the team bosses do.
The third difference is that there is no chance that circuits will leave FOPA due to not paying their fees as reportedly happened with HRT and FOTA. Walker, who in addition to being chairman of FOPA, is also chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, says that "FOPA will have no CEO and no management costs. Its establishment has been funded by the Australian Grand Prix Corporation and administrative work will be done by them."
It is a significant benefit for the circuits since, according to FOTA's Articles of Association (the terms which the association is governed by) its "Membership Fee shall in no event amount to more than €100,000." However, the Articles of Association add that if FOTA's executive committee delegates give their unanimous approval, "further financial contributions can be requested to the Members for special projects which shall be identified by the Standing and/or ad hoc Working Groups and/or by the Executive Committee."
HRT reportedly did not even pay the membership fee but this is not something that any of the circuits will have to worry about. Ignoring FOTA and its Fan Forums - if FOPA sticks true to its guns and ensures that F1 doesn't veer too far from the current formula it is one of the few associations which fans could really be thankful for.
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