The time has come to pick a side

With two days remaining before the final deadline for unconditional entries, and FIA/FOTA relations at their darkest ever, it seems that everyone in F1 is beginning to countenance the idea of a split.

The biggest pressure is on the shoulders of McLaren-Mercedes and Brawn GP, teams which have aligned with FOTA despite having no direct quarrel with the FIA, nor, it is thought, any hidden agenda to withdraw from the sport. From the other non-contracted conditional entrants, Toyota and Renault are thought to be happy to leave completely, and BMW could go either way.

If FOTA were to start a rival series, they would have to hope that the Ferrari and Red Bull squads would win the legal battle with the FIA over their contracted participation in F1. Max Mosley will believe he can win that court case – it has informed his judgement on running the sport so perilously close to ruin – and so the declaration of a FOTA rival series could be unwise. Ferrari, on the other hand, believe the FIA have invalidated that contract through their arbitrary governance, and believe they can win any court case. It is thought doubtful that Dietrich Mateschitz has the stomach for a lengthy, bloody court process – his decision could be key.

If for argument’s sake McLaren, Brawn and say BMW do a U-turn and enter unconditionally on Friday, it will be the end of FOTA. Ferrari might well then decide to abandon the legal process and seek to change F1 from inside influence again, as in the old days, their ill-fated allegiance with the British teams forgotten. They will not be happy, though, as the whole process will have seen the power of Max Mosley strengthened so much as to virtually guarantee him a re-election as FIA president when his term expires later this year.

Where the blame lies for this sorry state of affairs is a contentious issue. Both sides have legitimate grievances against the other, and both sides are defensible in court, as we may yet discover. The publication yesterday of a persuasive FIA edict will have angered FOTA, but the deafening silence emanating from the teams suggests there may be some truth in the FIA’s allegations of obfuscation and obstruction. But the upshot of it all is that everyone in F1 – the drivers, the managers, the sponsors, the journalists and most importantly the fans are having to decide which side to align themselves with.

You have a choice between an F1 world championship or a manufacturers’ championship. The next few days will prove very interesting.