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Drivers in dispute over superlicence fee

Formula One driversFormula One drivers are refusing to sign their mandatory FIA superlicences amid a fresh dispute with the sport's governing body about their price, autosport.com can reveal.

Last season drivers were unhappy about a price hike from 1,725 Euros plus 456 Euros per point for the licences, to 10,000 Euros plus 2,000 Euros per point for the 2008 season.

They accepted the payments then, however, despite calling on the FIA and Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone to justify the increase in costs.

Former world champion Fernando Alonso said at the time: "It is a very serious matter...we all agree that it is not fair that from one year to the next it (the cost) increases 500-600 percent."

There was talk mid-season of the matter resulting in a drivers' strike at the British Grand Prix, but these reports proved unfounded.

However, high level sources have revealed to autosport.com that drivers have now taken the matter into their own hands because of a further minor increase in the licence costs due to be introduced for the 2009 season.

The price of a licence has increased by 400 Euros (to 10,400 Euros), while drivers must pay an extra 100 Euros ( to 2100 Euros) per point scored. There is also a 2,720 Euros compulsory insurance charge.

Although the 2009 increases are purely the result of inflation, it is understood that the Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA) is deeply unhappy about the price increase. Under the current fees, world champion Lewis Hamilton will have to pay 218,920 Euros for his licence fees this year.

The GPDA has taken up the matter on behalf of its representatives to try and get the increases cancelled, and has urged drivers not to sign and pay for the licences until the situation is sorted.

Autosport.com understands that correspondence has already been exchanged with the FIA about the matter, and is understood that president Max Mosley said he was willing to discuss the situation, but only if drivers could provide him with details of their earnings so he could judge whether the fee was too high.

With no resolution in sight between the drivers and the FIA, and amid a risk of the situation not getting sorted before teams head to Melbourne for the first race, the matter has now been tabled for discussion at the next meeting of the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) that takes place early next month.

This week the GPDA urged drivers not to sign their superlicence paperwork, despite pressure beginning to come from their teams, before the FOTA meeting.

In an e-mail sent to drivers by the GPDA, a copy of which has been seen by autosport.com, it was made clear that the drivers' body wanted all members to hold firm.

"(The) Superlicence issue will be addressed at the next FOTA meeting which will take place on February 3," said the email. "We would like you to wait approximately three more weeks to sign or pay for the Superlicence.

"This should give us enough time to hear from the FOTA and at the same time increase our pressure on the FIA."

It is not clear how much FOTA will wish to get involved in the drivers' situation, with sources suggesting teams do not wish the superlicence matter to overshadow progress being made between them and the FIA about cost cuts and other changes to the sport.

Mosley said at the start of last year that the licence fee had increased so much because of the rising costs of safety.

"We spend a fortune on safety and most of it is for the benefit of the drivers," Mosley explained. "A lot of the people who have otherwise been meeting the bill said 'Hang on a minute, these drivers are all earning megabucks and we are spending a fortune to try and make sure they are safe. So hence the increase."

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