For the past two days journalists in Monaco have been staking out the paddock trying to get a glimpse of embattled FIA president Max Mosley. In between a few meetings, Mosley probably spent most of his time sitting in his office with its wonderful view of the Mediterranean and the tops of the historic casino and Hôtel de Paris. Now, as details emerge about Mosley's letter last week to the FIA clubs, there's another guessing game to play.
In the letter Mosley proclaimed that "we are in the middle of a renegotiation of the 100 year commercial agreement between the FIA and the Formula One Commercial Rights Holder (CRH)," adding that "the CRH has also now asked for control over the Formula One regulations." Pitpass' business reporter Chris Sylt thought that this sounded too blatant to be true and it seems he may well have been right.
Around eight years ago the European Commission investigated F1 for anti-competition reasons such as the financial penalties that broadcasters and circuits would suffer if they screened or hosted any sport deemed to compete with F1. The upshot of the investigation was that the EC demanded numerous changes to the way F1 was run.
One of these was that "the role of FIA will be limited to that of a sports regulator, with no commercial conflicts of interest." Accordingly the deal was done to give Ecclestone the F1 rights for 100 years and thus ensure that the FIA had no hold over F1's finances. The EC said its changes were made "to establish a complete separation of the commercial and regulatory functions."
So, when Sylt read in Mosley's letter that the 100 year deal is apparently being renegotiated and Ecclestone wants to take control of the regulations, he sent an email straight over to the EC's competition commissioner Neelie Kroes and asked if it was legal. The response was surprising.
"We have not been made aware so far of any current re-negotiation of the commercial agreement between the FIA and FOM, the current Formula One Commercial Right Holder. This is therefore new to us and we have no comment," says Kroes' spokeswoman Linda Cain. Even Ecclestone seems to have been confused.
"The (Commercial Rights Holder) does not wish to have control over the Formula One regulations," Ecclestone reportedly said in a letter to the FIA clubs. According to reports he was slightly more vague about the 100-year deal saying that while there are some ambiguities which need to be clarified in order to avoid "unintended consequences," the agreements are valid and binding so they're prepared to live by them without changes. His replies make one wonder what Mosley was playing at.
We are sure that Mosley knows much more than he is letting on and, if ever there was a time to tell now is it. For a hint as to the tales he could tell, one only has to look into the fine detail of Mosley's letter. "Because of its influence over the teams (which comes mainly from its ability to offer favours in and around the paddock), the CRH sees a Concorde Agreement as another way to exercise control over the sport," he writes.
Sylt asked both Ecclestone and CVC's UK managing director Nick Clarry whether they agree with Mosley's view that they offer the F1 teams "favours in and around the paddock," and, if so, just what is the nature of these "favours" which, according to Mosley exercise "influence over the teams." Perhaps ominously, neither Clarry nor Ecclestone would tell. It left Sylt wondering whether Ecclestone and Mosley were as bad as each other.