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Feature: The Devil is in the Detail for F1 Deal

As ever, with any deal in Formula One, the devil is in the detail.

As ever, with any deal in Formula One, the devil is in the detail.

The more money involved, the more protracted the negotiations.

So it comes as no surprise that the details fleshing out last month's 'breakthrough' memorandum of understanding on Formula One's future have yet to be revealed, despite a mid-January target.

In broad terms, the agreement promised all 10 teams far more money from a sport with estimated annual revenues of at least $400 million and killed off a threatened rival series being planned by carmakers from 2008.

The December 19 announcement also promised a news conference, involving all parties, to announce further details.

While team bosses will find out more when they meet Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone and FIA president Max Mosley in London on Friday, it could be some time before any real substance is made public.

"I don't know the agreement," said Peter Sauber this week at the launch of his team's new car in Austria. "I think there is no agreement, there is a letter of understanding or something. It is not a lot.

"I think they need to take another six months," he added. "I think we could be happy if they find a decision by the end of the year. We have to be optimistic. It makes absolute sense for all the parties to find a solution. For the banks and also for Bernie."

Good Timing

Some observers suspect that the December announcement was aimed mostly at ending a destabilising squabble between the banks that control the sport's commercial rights and the carmakers, with the substance to be filled in later.

Despite that, there is plenty of confidence.

"Certainly the new deal, and it still isn't signed and there will be a few months of agitation and argument before it actually is, will improve matters," said team boss Frank Williams last week.

"It will give all of the teams more stability and crucially an important ability to plan long-term."

Those involved admit privately that it was a mistake to leave themselves hostages to fortune by promising details by a certain date given the commercial complexities.

"Mid-January was the intention," said one source. "Now reality strikes."

However, Ferrari's Claudio Berro, whose roles include being a spokesman for the carmakers' GPWC group, said the way ahead was "open and clear" and he expected a final deal within the next three months.

One of several sticking points is the existing Concorde Agreement - a confidential agreement between teams, Ecclestone and governing FIA - that sets out the guidelines for the commercial running of the sport.

The Concorde Agreement, which once kept Formula One together and has now become something of an obstacle to progress, does not expire until the end of 2007 and so must be renegotiated.

"What we need when we come to renegotiate it is a hell of a lot more flexible system for changing the rules," said Mosley last month. "It needs modernising, and there are different problems from the ones we had before."

That could take time, with the new season due to start on March 7, unanimous agreement required for any changes and carmakers unhappy at the FIA's power to introduce new regulations with cost implications.

A new Concorde Agreement will be on Friday's agenda, along with the fate of the undecided French Grand Prix, but Berro was optimistic.

"It should not be a big problem to change the parts concerning revenues," he said. "We need to improve the revenues for all teams for 2004."

The likes of privately-owned Minardi and Jordan, both struggling to compete on budgets many times smaller than their rivals, could all use an injection of cash as a matter of urgency.

They may get it this year but they would be wise not to take anything for granted in their budgets just yet.

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