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GP1 under starter's orders

NEWS STORY
12/07/2009

Right now you're thinking that this headline can mean only one thing: the FOTA rival F1 series is back on the cards and it is going to call itself GP1. However, in the twisting and turning world of F1 nothing is ever what it seems.

In fact, the stunning news revealed in today's Express by Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt is that the GP1 series is not being set up by FOTA but by Bernie Ecclestone and his partners the finance firm CVC.

Ecclestone's private company Formula One Promotions and Administration has held the trademark rights to the word 'GP1' since 2005 but Sylt discovered that CVC has finally put this to use by designing and applying to protect logos for GP1 and 'GP1 Series'.

To be precise, these pan-european trademark applications have been filed by Epsilon limited, an obscure offshoot in Ecclestone's business empire which also owns the trademarks to the 'GP3' and 'GP3 Series' logos. The applications cover categories crucial to hosting races and protect the logos in the areas of broadcasting, clothing, printed matter, including programmes, and importantly, sporting and cultural activities.

On the same day the logos were applied for, Epsilon also applied to trademark the words 'Formula Grand Prix' and 'Formula GP' which could give brands for races themselves instead of using the term 'Grand Prix'. Anyone who fancies taking a look at the applications should type Epsilon limited into the 'owner' box in the page on the this link.

Protecting logos and words in this way is an important step in the preparation of a new sports series and it shows that plans are at a developed stage. If CVC had only applied to protect the word 'GP1 Series' it could have been said that it was done just to stop FOTA using it but CVC didn't only apply to protect the word. Designing its own logo for GP1 Series gives CVC protection over that specific image so it clearly didn't create it for nothing. With GP3 and GP2 already in CVC's arsenal it doesn't require much imagination to work out what GP1 will be and if there were doubts in anyone's mind, the filing date for the applications says it all.

The GP1 applications were made on 19th June, the day after FOTA announced it would set up a rival series next year. We all know what happened next - the FIA threatened to sue FOTA with reports suggesting that it could have claimed as much as $1bn. Then, just two days later, the FIA mysteriously dropped the lawsuit. Did it get cold feet at the prospect? Maybe it had a whipround and decided it didn't need the money? Some reports suggested that the FIA backed down due to pressure from CVC but they didn't say what exactly what pressure was applied. Now it seems as clear as day.

The preparations for GP1 prove that Ecclestone's companies are serious about setting up their own alternative series which, unlike F1, would not need to be governed by the FIA. Moving the existing F1 teams and circuits to a new GP1 Series would leave F1 and the FIA with nothing whereas Ecclestone and CVC, would get the grand prize. Now that would be some threat. Not only was the FIA lawsuit called off but just five days after these trademarks were applied for, the FIA apparently caved in hook line and sinker.

On the 24th June the world was told that FOTA had got its way as the 2009 regulations would be used next year and their arch-nemesis Max Mosley would not put himself up for re-election when his term as FIA president ends in October. In return, FOTA agreed to race in F1 until 2012.

At the press conference a stony-faced Mosley certainly looked like a man who had been brow-beaten into agreement but it didn't take long for him to come back fighting.

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