Mosley warns Europe over F1 fixtures

FIA president Max Mosley has warned that, as a result of its rescheduled tobacco advertising ban [Dec 3], the European Union will lose F1 fixtures in both 2005 and 2006, when races elsewhere will allow teams to honour existing sponsorship contracts. The EU has advanced the ban from October 1, 2006 (the date towards which F1 has been working) to July 31, 2005. The events under threat are those in Austria, Britain, France, Germany (two), Hungary, Italy (two) and Spain

Mosley warns Europe over F1 fixtures

For its 2005 F1 World Championship, the FIA has already pencilled in 10 events outside the EU: in Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, Malaysia, Monaco, Turkey and the USA.

Turkey's application to join the EU happens to have been controversially delayed this week. Hungary will hold a national referendum in April 2003, on joining the EU in May 2004.

This is not the first time that the FIA has warned Europe about losing many of its historic F1 fixtures. In April 2000, at the height of its battle with the EU Competition Commission, it threatened to treat the EU: "As a single country under the membership rules of the FIA, like the United States, eligible to hold a strictly limited number of World Championship events."

The national health ministers of the 15 existing EU members voted on December 2 to ratify the revised legislation. This will prohibit all tobacco advertising in newspapers and magazines, and at sporting events, a year before the date recommended by the World Health Organisation, and subsequently adopted for motorsport by the FIA. On Friday the World Motor Sport Council authorised Mosley to publish a letter to EU health commissioner David Byrne, stating the motorsport governing body's position on the new European date.

Mosley emphasized that, in an immediate response to the original legislation (framed in October 2000), the FIA had advised the F1 teams not to enter into sponsorship contracts with tobacco companies enduring beyond 2006. He added that this advice had been followed. The implication is that British American Racing (Lucky Strike), Ferrari (Marlboro), Jordan (Benson & Hedges), McLaren (West) and Renault (Mild Seven) now have contracts expiring at the end of 2006. Jaguar, Minardi, Sauber, Toyota and Williams do not have tobacco sponsors, but supported the other teams recently in the Belgian GP affair.

Mosley described the date change as "gratuitous and irresponsible" and asserted that Byrne's EU commission had demonstrated "a limited understanding of the issues and a quite extraordinary failure to anticipate the consequences."

As the cancellation of the event in Belgium (due to a national tobacco advertising ban due in 2003) had shown, said Mosley, "The FIA cannot force teams participating in its championships to break their obligations to sponsors. The FIA has no regulatory authority over contracts between teams and third parties. By choosing a date earlier than the 'world date', the EU will now force teams to seek events outside the EU during part of 2005 and all of 2006, in order to observe [their] contracts."

Mosley believes that the implications for Europe will be enduring. Inevitably, all new events will seek longterm contracts to recoup their investments in circuit facilities. In addition, in view of the revised calendar, the cigarette makers will press the teams to extend their existing contracts beyond 2006.

From the viewpoint of EU residents, the irony in this affair is that, while raceday attendances at European F1 races hover at around 100,000, all races are televised live to millions throughout the EU - including those in which tobacco sponsorships are permitted.

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