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Breakaway talk has got to stop

NEWS STORY
16/12/2010

For well over a decade Formula One's teams have used the threat of setting up a rival series to exert pressure on the sport's boss Bernie Ecclestone and increase their share of its profits. They finally got what they wanted in 2006 when Ecclestone agreed to give them 50% of F1's underlying profits - effectively doubling the teams' take from the sport. The problem for the teams is that their threat didn't stop.

The teams set up a new organisation, the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA), got themselves new advisers and in June last year made the astonishing decision to announce that they would set up a rival series from 2010. Whilst Ecclestone's financial partners CVC Capital Partners may have been initially concerned by this development, the 80 year-old F1 boss must have been rolling around the floor laughing.

After years of empty threats the teams had finally made the decision to proceed with setting up a new series. Or so it seemed. The FOTA press release trumpeted that "the major drivers, stars, brands, sponsors, promoters and companies historically associated with the highest level of motorsport will all feature in this new series." It sounded like FOTA really had something good in store for the fans. However, it was never to be.

Just six days after their announcement the teams put an end to their plans and agreed to race in F1 from 2010 instead. If the teams really do care about the messages they put out to the public it seems hard to tell on the basis of this sorry episode. But it doesn't stop there.

Two months after the teams agreed that they wouldn't set up their own series they signed the Concorde Agreement, the contract which commits them to race in F1, until the end of 2012. There was peace in our time. Briefly.

Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt was astonished to read in today's Telegraph newspaper that Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has said there will be a rival series post-2012 if the teams do not receive an even greater share of F1's profits.

The article's writer really should know better since, on the evidence of more than a decade, the chance of this actually happening is precisely zero. Having closely followed the business of F1 for nearly two decades Sylt and his colleague Caroline Reid have seen so many breakaway threats from the teams that they believe they should change a record which is clearly broken. Instead, the teams could come up with a more credible counter such as saying that unless they get more money from the sport they will only race half of the Grands Prix and they will choose which ones to attend.

Sadly, the chance of at least one newspaper printing the teams' empty threats (without caveating that there is an incredibly slim chance of them coming to fruition), still seems to be high despite the events of last June. It was not only the fans who were led down the garden path by FOTA's fanciful ideas last year but all of the media too.

Accordingly, anyone reporting di Montezemolo's latest outburst really should state that these threats have come to nothing for well over a decade and were made to look ridiculous by the events of last June. The expression 'crying wolf' comes to mind.

Remarkably, the Telegraph states "Montezemolo was careful to say that if they stuck with...CVC Capital Partners, the teams would make it a prerequisite that 80 year-old Ecclestone remains in charge." If that hasn't got Ecclestone back on the floor crying with laughter then we don't know what will. Anyone who knows a thing or two about the business of F1 knows that the chances of Ecclestone not remaining in charge of F1 until the day he leaves this planet are about as remote as the chances of a the teams setting up a rival series which in itself is about as remote as the 21st race on the calendar taking place on Mars.

The Telegraph reporter and di Montezemolo should know better. Sadly for both of them, Ecclestone certainly does.

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