Formula One in crisis as split looms

SILVERSTONE, England Fri Jun 19, 2009 7:24pm BST

A woman walks past the International Automobile Federation (FIA) bus in the paddock ahead of Sunday's F1 British Grand Prix at Silverstone in England June 18, 2009. Formula One plunged into its biggest crisis in 60 years on Friday with eight of the 10 teams announcing plans to set up their own championship. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

A woman walks past the International Automobile Federation (FIA) bus in the paddock ahead of Sunday's F1 British Grand Prix at Silverstone in England June 18, 2009. Formula One plunged into its biggest crisis in 60 years on Friday with eight of the 10 teams announcing plans to set up their own championship.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Winning

SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) - Formula One plunged into its biggest crisis in 60 years on Friday with eight teams announcing plans to set up their own championship and the governing body taking legal action against them.

The teams' association FOTA said BMW-Sauber, Brawn, Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull, Renault, Toro Rosso and Toyota were united in a decision that would split the sport in two if carried through.

"These teams...have no alternative other than to commence the preparation for a new championship which reflects the values of its participants and partners," FOTA said in a statement at the British Grand Prix.

The governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) had set a Friday deadline for teams to make their 2010 entries unconditional or risk exclusion in favour of would-be new competitors.

The body said it could not allow teams to dictate the rules and accused FOTA and Ferrari of breach of contract. "The FIA will be issuing legal proceedings without delay," it added.

The eight had submitted entries conditional on the 2010 rules, which include a controversial budget cap, being rewritten and the signing of a new commercial agreement.

Attempts by both sides to reach a compromise failed, with the FIA accusing teams earlier in the week of wanting to take over the sport.

MOSLEY OPTIMISTIC

Team bosses said the ball was now in FIA president Max Mosley's court, with commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone also having a major role to play if the split was to be avoided.

"It may well be that Max Mosley has to go," triple world champion Jackie Stewart told Reuters.

Mosley told the BBC that he expected the storm to blow over: "Always with these things in the end there is a compromise because they can't afford not to run in the Formula One world championship, and we would be very reluctant to have that without them," he said.

FOTA said their new series would encourage more entrants, listen to the wishes of fans and have transparent governance. They also promised lower prices for spectators worldwide.

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

Former champions Williams and Force India have already committed unconditionally to the FIA's world championship along with three new entrants -- Campos, U.S. F1 and Manor -- who have yet to build any grand prix cars.

The FIA has put another group of applicants on hold pending the legal action.

Sponsorship and broadcast deals will come under scrutiny if there is a breakaway, with television networks facing the loss of the big name teams and drivers that bring in the viewers.

The eight teams met at Renault's headquarters on Thursday evening after receiving letters from Mosley urging them to drop their conditions and sign up.

They accused the FIA and Ecclestone, who represents commercial rights holder CVC, of trying to divide them.

"The wishes of the majority of the teams are ignored," the statement said. "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."

FOTA will have plenty of options when it comes to drawing up a calendar, with Formula One having discarded several European and American venues in recent years in favour of lavish new facilities in the Middle East and Asia.

Silverstone, which hosted the first championship race in 1950, will join that list after Sunday.

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