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Back in May it was rumoured that former Renault F1 team principal Flavio Briatore was writing a new set of regulations to be strategically used in the political wrangling between the F1 Group, which runs the sport, and the governing body the FIA. Since Briatore does not even have an official role in F1 it was clear that there was more to this than meets the eye.
The rumour focussed on the fact that the Concorde Agreement, the contract which commits the teams to race in F1, has not yet been extended beyond the end of this year. The FIA is a signatory to the Concorde, as it also ratifies F1's regulations, but it has not yet signed up to the new contract and, according to the rumour, the federation was holding out for an incentive to do so. In 2001 the F1 Group paid the FIA £202.5m ($313.6m) to buy the rights to F1 for 100 years and now the federation only receives an annual fee of £6m along with around £200,000 per race if there are more than 16 on the calendar.
The rumour suggested that the FIA wanted more money in order to agree to signing the Concorde and if it did not get this it would use the lack of a contract to implement new regulations which may not appeal to the F1 Group. According to the rumour, in case this happens, Briatore was in the process of writing regulations, approved by the teams and the F1 Group, and if the FIA dug its heels in, these could be used to start a new series called GP1 which would be run without the need for the federation. The rumour said that F1's teams and circuits would move over to this new series and it would carry on as usual except for the name.
The F1 Group owns the trademark on the name GP1 but that is about the only piece of evidence in favour of the rumour. Under the 100 year contract, which is known as the Umbrella Agreement as Pitpass has reported, the F1 Group has to return the rights to the sport to the FIA in at least the same condition as when it got them. Setting up a rival series would work against this so the FIA could claim breach of contract.
Likewise, GP1 would be so similar to F1 that the FIA could also possibly sue for copying its series (since it is the ultimate owner of the F1 rights) - a legal move known as 'passing off'.
Thirdly, the key asset which is driving the planned flotation of the F1 Group is its 100 year rights contract with the FIA but GP1 would not have this. GP1 has none of F1's 62-year heritage so would be worth far less, and would be a far riskier bet, regardless of who was participating in it.
The Concorde negotiations also seem to be on the verge of resolution with all parties in agreement. Last month Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said that his team "is in agreement with the FIA's position that drastic intervention is required... We need to tackle urgently, and with determination, the question of costs... The world economic situation and that of Europe is very serious and F1 cannot ignore the fact... We are absolutely convinced that, as I have always said, the teams and the commercial rights holder must work together with the federation on this front."
It looks like di Montezemolo's wish has been granted as Ecclestone said on Saturday that he has "total agreement" on the new contract, adding "we are just talking to the lawyers -'why have you used this word, that word'. Typical lawyers but everything's fine. Commercially it's done."
However, Ecclestone added that "now what we've got to do is look at how the technical regulations are made... It should be the teams, though not all the teams, who do that. They are the people who have to come up with the money, not the FIA. It would be the established teams who are here to stay - Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull, Mercedes and probably Williams as old timers - deciding what to do."
So although it would seem to be incredibly unlikely that GP1 will ever see the light of day, there will still be a question mark over F1's future regulations until the Concorde is signed. To see what role Briatore may be playing in this, Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt contacted him about the rumour. After some friendly banter from the Italian, who Sylt knows through Ecclestone, he said "ask Bernie if we wants to go public on it." The fact that the usually talkative Italian declined to talk about his involvement with the regulations suggests that something is going on and the fact that he directed the matter to Ecclestone is a good indication of who may have got him on-board.
Ecclestone swears that Briatore has no involvement in writing the regulations. "There is nothing at all behind it. I think he was talking to the guy from Ferrari and said this is what you should do. He wanted us to have the grid upside down and the usual rubbish. We should leave it alone," says Ecclestone. It doesn't seem to tally with Briatore's hesitance to talk because if he is doing nothing then there is nothing for Ecclestone to decide about going public on. That said, it didn't seem to tally in the first place that Briatore was writing the regulations given that he doesn't have an official role in F1. "He has been talking about these things for years," says Ecclestone.
He added that even the matter of costs, which is driven by the technical regulations, is being resolved. "We are dealing with the costs and trying to sort it out. It is not as bad as in years gone by," he says. Nevertheless, as we have come to learn so many times in F1, no matter what we are told, until the ink is dry on the Concorde it could well be far from being signed, sealed and delivered.
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