When asked back in October by this column whether negotiations for an extension to the 2010-2012 Concorde Agreement were imminent - as they should be, particularly given that the current covenant, which outlines the obligations of teams, the FIA and its Formula 1 commercial rights holder (FOM), took three acrimonious years to agree - a team principal allowed that they (the Formula One Teams' Association) were planning to 'get their ducks in a row once the season is over'.
The timing makes enormous sense, for reaching unanimous agreement on a contentious document will hardly be the work of a race day Saturday. After all it not only details the distribution of revenues estimated to exceed $8bn during the agreement's tenure between parties as disparate as the FIA; CVC, an insatiable venture fund, and anything up to 13 teams ranging from grandees with palatial facilities to budget outfits working out of rented space, but also outlines the future regulatory framework for this most complicated of all sports.
When said source was pressed to provide further information about the size of FOTA's flock of ducks and their flying formation, he declined, stating: "All I will add is that a lot of things have to change with regard to revenue distribution and Formula 1's framework, but I've already said too much on the matter, and we (FOTA) agreed on a (media) blackout."
This last sentence was no surprise. The first part is well known, while previous negotiations were conducted primarily during grand prix weekends in full (paddock) view, so were marred by leaks and counter-leaks which ultimately proved monstrously destructive. Seen from the perspectives of the three factions, negotiating away from the grand prix trail - out of media range - too makes sense, albeit frustratingly so for journalists and fans with a wider interest in the sport.
It was therefore somewhat of a surprise to learn that Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo last week presented his vision of post-2012 Formula 1 during the Scuderia's annual year-end media lunch, stating he foresaw three options for F1 teams in the longer term: agreeing a deal with CVC (majority owner of FOM); finding an alternative commercial partner; or the teams looking after the commercial aspects themselves - to wit promoting their own series.
Luca di Montezemolo © Sutton
Taking the Bolognese's three tabled options in order, it is clear that FOTA has commenced its tactical planning, for Plan A, namely to renew its deal with CVC Partners - albeit for a period longer than the five years originally envisaged for the current agreement. Such a timeframe regularly projected for any extension is logical, but this presupposes the voracious equity company will willingly part with the rumoured 75 per cent of F1's underlying revenues (up from the present 50 per cent) that FOTA is pushing for.
Plan B, too, has been much bandied about of late, with Abu Dhabi's sovereign wealth fund most often being mentioned as prospective investor. No surprises in that, either, for the emirate, reckoned by CNN and Fortune to be the wealthiest city in the world, holds direct and/or indirect partnerships with Ferrari and Mercedes Grand Prix, plus attracts fans to its searing sands via Ferrari World and the Yas Marina Circuit. Thus Montezemolo knows of what he speaks in this regard.
Acquiring Formula 1's commercial rights would not only be a logical next step, but also a pointed jab at Dubai's upstart rulers, one of whose (considerable) number dreamed up the ill-fated, spectacularly bankrupt A1GP series, whose self-styled world cup of motorsport concept aimed to relegate F1 to first division status.
However, when tabling the final of his three options, the Ferrari's president was uncharacteristically cagey, for not once were the words breakaway series attributed to him.
But given that he was the prime mover and shaker behind FOTA back in 2008 - being its founding chairman and leading light at the height of all Formula 1's dramas, including constant breakaway threats - the implications were most certainly pounced upon by the majority of those present (and many of those who weren't).
More surprising than even his talk of a DIY championship is that the 63-year-old, tipped by many as Italian-president-in-waiting, underscored his desire for octogenarian Bernie Ecclestone to head the commercial rights entity - regardless of its ultimate control, whether CVC, 'other', or the teams/FOTA.
Yes, he called for a proper succession plan to be put in place - again, no surprises here for obvious reasons - but two years ago (to the day) he suggested Ecclestone should be entertaining retirement. Since then the two have regularly sparred in public and through the media, with repeated bouts at Ferrari sponsor Marlboro's annual Wrooom ski camp at Madonna di Campiglio immediately springing to mind.
For his part, Ecclestone predictably told Reuters that any talk of a breakaway after 2013 was 'nonsense'. Nothing new here, either: every year since 2001 - when first the full financial implication of a contract the teams signed for the 1998 - 2007 period, one which gave them just 23% of F1's billion dollar annual revenues, hit them, the teams' various collectives have yelled 'breakaway', and every year Ecclestone has reacted with 'nonsense'.
Bernie Ecclestone © Sutton
History shows that ten times out of ten Ecclestone has been on the money - even if he did come close to losing his full house for just six days in June 2008.
So, why this sudden caginess about a breakaway series from a man who previously bandied the phrase about freely? Why this apparent cosying up to Ecclestone by the president of the most hallowed company in all motor racing?
Montezemolo is, after all, indebted to no one - it was he, after all, who employed current FIA president Jean Todt, first as sporting director of the Gestione Sportiva, then as managing director of Ferrari S.p.A., thus sending him on his way to Place de la Concorde, Paris. He is not a man known to mince his words, as the past well illustrates.
Could it be that the noble Italian, who gained a masters degree in international commercial law at La Sapienza University in Rome before attending New York's Columbia University, was cautious to confine his comments to within the letter of applicable clauses of the prevailing Concorde Agreement, having been one of its primary architects back in 2009?
Could it be that he went out of his way to not insult Ecclestone, either personally or professionally?
Patently so to both, for according to Article 4, a précis of which was seen by this column, no (directly affected) party may:
Promote in any way or cause to be promoted an equivalent championship/series competing with the F1 championship (defined as a high-end open-wheel single-seater series which is not a one-make championship) before January 1, 2012, nor
Before the final event of the 2012 season make any comments in public re. the above, save that from July 1, 2012, a team (or a duly-authorised party) may respond factually to direct enquiries, provided any comments do not detract from the F1 championship or in any way diminish its value, including the CRH's rights to exploit the F1 championship.
According to this column's source further clauses within Article 4 expressly prohibit the CRH (and the FIA) from granting preferential terms to any team - such as a veto over the regulations previously enjoyed by Ferrari, or the golden welcome paid to the team back in 2005. In addition, Article 4.7 requires that all three parties endeavour to reach agreement to extend Concorde from 31 December 2012 on mutually acceptable terms - this obviously being in line with Montezemolo's Plan A.
Thus, it seems Montezemolo's carefully chosen words have circumvented Article 4.0 by inferring the threat of a breakaway series from 2013 in all but name, with a ratcheting up of the pressure to follow should the three parties not agree to an extension within the next 12 months.
Three days after Montezemolo's initial salvo the teams met in Heathrow for FOTA's final meeting of 2010.
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South African-born Dieter trained as industrial engineer before holding down a variety of senior motor industry marketing and manufacturing positions. At the age of 40 he decided to follow his passion, and became the first and only South African journalist to cover Formula 1 regularly. Dieter joined AtlasF1 at the beginning of 2004 – a year prior to its merger with Autosport – and his regular column offers an intriguing analysis of F1’s politicking and commercial chicanery. Although now also proudly Belgian, he gives his domicile as "Wherever F1 duplicity lurks".@RacingLines More features by Dieter Rencken