Abu Dhabi F1 talks ‘more important than race’

Martin Whitmarsh would be happy if the forthcoming negotiations over F1’s future results in the teams owning a slice of the sport.

With the bitter political battle of 2009 still in memory, many of F1’s paddock players are looking nervously towards the expiry next year of the crucial tripartite Concorde Agreement. As ever, everyone wants a bigger slice of the lucrative pie.

But this time around, talk of a ‘breakaway’ series is unlikely to be used as a weapon – perhaps because the existing agreement now forbids it. Instead, the big talking point could be the teams’ interest in joining up with CVC and Bernie Ecclestone as actual co-owners of the commercial rights.

“If you are trying to create partnership in most businesses then a bit of cross equity is useful,” confirmed Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal and also chairman of FOTA, the 11-team alliance.

“At the moment the teams contract for a finite period to the Concorde Agreement. If teams were equity holders – even on a small scale – then it encourages all stakeholders and potential investing partners that you have some continuity,” he added.

It goes without saying, however, that in the highly competitive world of formula one, it is perhaps surprising that FOTA has essentially stayed together for so long.

That could be about to change, with a burgeoning disagreement over the voluntary cost-cutting resource restriction agreement (RRA) heading for crucial talks this weekend in Abu Dhabi.

Writing in O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper, Livio Oricchio said the meeting is arguably “more important than the grand prix” this weekend.

Mercedes’ Ross Brawn agrees that the body’s continuing harmony is “essential” and “everyone should do everything to keep it together”.

HRT has already left FOTA, and the temptation for others to join the small Spanish team might be high, with F1 chief executive Ecclestone famous for ‘divide and conquer’.

“If the small teams want the money split 12 ways equally then that is unrealistic,” Whitmarsh told the Financial Times. “But it falls on all of us to get to something that is fair and equitable.

“(Without) the small teams we are in trouble. We need them to race against and we would be diminished if we lost them.

“It’s a challenge and it is something that can be preyed upon in a negotiation,” he added. “Bernie is very, very good at that.”

The obvious tactic for FOTA, then, is to stick together.

“We wouldn’t be very smart if we didn’t,” Whitmarsh insisted, urging F1’s strong personalities to “overcome our respective egos, leave the past behind and look forward”.

And a joker in the pack is the Jean Todt-led FIA, who lease the commercial rights to Ecclestone/CVC but do not otherwise have a stake.

“We do not want to grab the rights back. But we definitely want an input in these rights in some sort of capacity,” confirmed FIA spokesman Norman Howell.

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