FOTA Announces F1 Breakaway Series

The Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) has dropped a bombshell ahead of tomorrow’s announcement of the final entry list for the 2010 Formula One World Championship. In a move reminiscent of the CART/IRL split, FOTA announced on Thursday night that they would form their own breakaway series starting in 2010.

The teams and Max Mosley had been meeting over the last week to reach a compromise over the rules for the 2010 season. This move was ahead of an FIA imposed deadline of Friday for five FOTA members (McLaren, BMW, Toyota, Brawn, and Renault) to withdraw their conditional entries for the 2010 season and make them unconditional. Unable to reach a compromise, the eight FOTA member teams (the previous five and Ferrari, Red Bull, and Toro Rosso) met at the Renault factory for four hours on Thursday to determine their next step. Rather than risk having the five conditionally entered teams thrown out of the 2010 championship, the FOTA group as a whole decided to withdraw to form their own series.

The FIA have kept a reserve list of teams from those not already granted entry into the 2010 season. They were being kept as leverage to threaten the five FOTA teams conditionally entered with denial of entry into the 2010 championship. Later Friday, the FIA will announce the final entry list for the 2010 F1 championship. Currently granted entry includes current F1 teams Williams and Force India as well as new entries US F1, Manor Grand Prix, and Campos Grand Prix. To fill the 13 team grid, the FIA will announce 8 more teams. Among those expected to be given an entry are Prodrive and Superfund.

Of interest is what will happen to Ferrari, Red Bull, and Toro Rosso. Each was granted an unconditional entry into the 2010 F1 season on the basis of alleged commercial agreements with either the FIA or Formula One Management. It remains to be seen if the FIA or FOM can launch any legal action to recoup potential losses from the teams or to prevent them from running in a breakaway series.

For North American racing fans, this conjures bad memories of the open-wheel split between CART and the IRL. While CART wasn’t phased at first, over time it faltered because they didn’t have control of the Indy 500 which became an IRL event. That caused network TV, sponsors, and teams to be drawn to the IRL from CART. It also allowed for a rise in the popularity of NASCAR which destroyed the popularity of open-wheel racing. After an 11 year split, the two series were merged as shell of what the series was in 1995. The series now teeters on extinction.

Given this economy, there isn’t much money to be had in one series, let alone two. The split could be devastating for both Formula One and the FOTA series. What makes it worse than the CART/IRL split is that there isn’t one major event that could sway a war either way. While Monaco is currently the crown jewel of F1, it isn’t as singularly important as the Indy 500 is to American open-wheel racing. With no sign of compromise on the horizon, we could in for a very long and bitter war. Maybe we’ll come out the other side with NASCAR being the premier form of motorsport in the world.

UPDATE: FOTA Press Release (June 18, 2009)

Since the formation of FOTA last September the teams have worked together and sought to engage the FIA and commercial rights holder, to develop and improve the sport.

Unprecedented worldwide financial turmoil has inevitably placed great challenges before the F1 community. FOTA is proud that it has achieved the most substantial measures to reduce costs in the history of our sport.

In particular the manufacturer teams have provided assistance to the independent teams, a number of which would probably not be in the sport today without the FOTA initiatives. The FOTA teams have further agreed upon a substantial voluntary cost reduction that provides a sustainable model for the future.

Following these efforts all the teams have confirmed to the FIA and the commercial rights holder that they are willing to commit until the end of 2012.

The FIA and the commercial rights holder have campaigned to divide FOTA.

The wishes of the majority of the teams are ignored. Furthermore, tens of millions of dollars have been withheld from many teams by the commercial rights holder, going back as far as 2006. Despite this and the uncompromising environment, FOTA has genuinely sought compromise.

It has become clear however, that the teams cannot continue to compromise on the fundamental values of the sport and have declined to alter their original conditional entries to the 2010 World Championship.

These teams therefore have no alternative other than to commence the preparation for a new Championship which reflects the values of its participants and partners. This series will have transparent governance, one set of regulations, encourage more entrants and listen to the wishes of the fans, including offering lower prices for spectators worldwide, partners and other important stakeholders.

The major drivers, stars, brands, sponsors, promoters and companies historically associated with the highest level of motorsport will all feature in this new series.

Note to Eds: Statement issued by FOTA on behalf of BMW-Sauber, BrawnGP, Scuderia Ferrari, McLaren-Mercedes, Red Bull Racing, Renault, Scuderia Toro Rosso, Toyota.

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