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JANUARY 4, 1999

BAR presses ahead with legal action

BRITISH AMERICAN RACING has announced that it has not settled its differences with the FIA and that it is pursuing a legal challenge to the authority of the sport's governing body. The dispute comes because of the FIA's recently-voted ban on teams running cars with different sponsorship liveries. BAR had been planning to run one car in the blue and yellow of StateÊExpressÊ555 and the other in the red and white of Lucky Strike.

The new team is claiming that the FIA's regulations restrict its commercial freedom. The announcement is, however, a big risk for the much-heralded multi-million dollar team. In order to get an entry in the 1999 Formula 1 World Championship, BAR had to give assurances that it would respect the rules of the World Championship. A legal challenge to the FIA is against those rules, Article 58 of the FIA International Sporting Code stating that all entrants will undertake to submit themselves "without reserve" to the decisions of the FIA and "to the consequences resulting therefrom".

The rule - and the important reference to "consequences" - was clearly phrased by the FIA in an effort to avoid legal action over commercial issues.

This means that the FIA can - if it chooses to do so - exclude BAR from the World Championship unless the team agrees to accept the rules as they stand. To back down to the team would create a dangerous precedent for the governing body and so one must expect the FIA to refuse the team's entry.

While lawyers may argue that such an exclusion is a restriction of trade, the FIA has argued successfully in the past that the rejection of an entry in F1 does not restrict a team from competing in CART or Formula 3000 if it does not wish to submit itself to the F1 regulations.

While the FIA cannot be seen to back down, BAR seems to have backed itself into a corner. The team's sponsorship package in F1 has been carefully built up with financial input from a variety of different British American Tobacco subsidiaries around the world. Each company has different marketing aims, and the ban on twin liveries is likely to mean that some of those involved will lose interest if their brand is not chosen. This could leave the new team struggling for cash.

The FIA's decision to ban twin liveries came in September but the principle was agreed between F1 teams bosses as long ago as 1994. They concluded that teams should run identical cars to ensure that F1 looked professional and did not confuse the viewing public.

For the moment at least BAR boss Craig Pollock remains belligerent. "We have tried to explore every possible avenue to resolve the matter and avoid taking this course of action," he said, "unfortunately the FIA did not give us any other option and we have therefore initiated formal legal proceedings."

The case is likely to be heard in the middle of January when arbitrators examine the issue. If the ruling goes against BAR it will be interesting to see the result as the team's entire financial package will have to be restructured. A decision against the team would probably also lead to changes in the BAR management.

While money from BAT - to sponsor races in Asia for example - might sway the FIA, it is hard to imagine that a compromise will be reached with BAR having adopted such a high profile strategy. The FIA will not want to be seen to back down - even if there is money in the pot.