GP1 under starter's orders

12/07/2009
NEWS STORY

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.

Mosley soon indicated he may do a u-turn after Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo branded him a 'dictator' and claimed that he had been ousted with immediate effect. He wrote to di Montezemolo saying that given this "deliberate attempt to mislead the media, I now consider my options open."

Regardless of any agreement with FOTA or any pressure from CVC, Mosley could not let di Montezemolo's affront on his status go without saying. He just couldn't resist it. After all the trouble he had gone to in helping the FIA finally agree to FOTA's demands, it's no surprise that Ecclestone fumed to Sylt "nobody should come out gloating." But this sentiment came too late.

Now FOTA is once again indicating that it may leave F1 with BMW team principal Mario Theissen saying earlier this week "we have to prepare for all possibilities." Over this weekend reports from the German GP have indicated that the teams were prepared to work with CVC, not the FIA, and the GP1 news is the missing piece in the puzzle.

Getting the teams to race in GP1 would be a clever manoeuvre and it has Ecclestone's handiwork written all over it. FOTA would avoid the cost of setting up its own series for 2010 from scratch which it may already be too late to do. CVC would also avoid the potentially ruinous situation of losing F1's top teams.

CVC spent 1.1bn in 2006 buying F1's rights holding company and it now owns 63% of it with 5% in Ecclestone's hands and the rest split between various banks and trusts. CVC is also lumbered with a 1.4bn debt from buying F1. GP1 would help CVC pay the debt back. Handily, Epsilon is ultimately owned by Delta Topco, the Jersey-based company which also owns F1's commercial rights and has to pay back the debt so any of Epsilon's revenues will count towards the repayment.

Another big benefit of a GP1 series for CVC is that it could sell it to whoever it wanted. The FIA has a veto over the sale of F1, which could scupper CVC making a return, but the governing body would not have this for a GP1 series outside its control. Last May, when Mosley was embroiled in a tabloid scandal and Ecclestone spoke out against him, Mosley wrote to the FIA member clubs to say that the F1 rights holder has asked for "the right to sell the business to anyone." Clearly this is an important point for CVC which it would get through GP1 but not F1 as Mosley's letter added "I do not believe the FIA should agree to this."

Likewise, starting GP1 gives CVC an excellent bargaining chip. Unlike the preparation for FOTA's series, it doesn't require any investment or deals to be signed since they are all in CVC's bag already with F1. So GP1 can be announced and if, for example, the FIA presidency changes later this year, Mosley's replacement may decide to agree with FOTA and CVC's demands and the GP1 brand could be dropped with ease. It would not yet have been used so dropping the GP1 brand at that stage would do no harm to CVC whatsoever.

Ironically, despite F1 having 60 years of history, GP1 would be a more appropriately-named series since its feeder event is called GP2 and the low-cost GP3 starts next year. Indeed, so naturally-fitting a name is it that Bernie Ecclestone himself has even confused GP1 with F1 in the past.

Back in December 2007, Ecclestone was quoted taking about football and, in particular, his acquisition of London club QPR. He makes a motor racing comparison to explain how he wants to accelerate the team's standing and says "at QPR, we're in Formula Renault at the moment. Next, we want to move up to GP2 and then GP1."

Granted, Bernie was not talking on his familiar territory of F1 but making a blunder about the name of the sport that he has run for over 30 years seems too hard to believe. It is often said that nothing Ecclestone utters is without a motive and in this case he may well have been preparing readers for things to come.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 12/07/2009
Copyright © Pitpass 2002 - 2022. All rights reserved.