JANUARY 11, 1999
Twin livery decision delayed
The FIA says that if BAR wants to take part in the World Championship it must accept the rules as they stand. There is no doubt that the FIA regulations exclude the possibility of twin liveries and that according to the FIA rules teams must accept the regulations "and the consequences resulting therefrom" if they wish to take part in the World Championship. The wording of this rule is clearly intended to avoid commercial questions.
BAR is arguing that the rules restrict its commercial freedom and should be overturned. The FIA argues that the team is free to race in other championships if it does not wish to accept the F1 rules. Victory for BAR would create a very dangerous precedent for the sport and would not only result in tumultuous changes in the way sponsorship works but would also open the floodgates to other legal challenges to the governing body.
By signing the 1998 Concorde Agreement - which both sides have done, despite the rumors to the contrary - both BAR and the FIA have agreed to be bound by the findings of the Paris-based International Court of Arbitration, which is staffed by judges from 54 different countries. We understand that there will be three arbitrators in the FIA-BAR case and they will deliver their final decision in Lausanne on January 30. Up until that time both sides can reach agreement or compromise. After months of haggling that does not seem very likely. The FIA is thought likely to be willing to accept that the BAR cars be allowed to change color between events, running in Lucky Strike colors at some races and in State Express 555 livery at others. This would not be unprecedented as the Larrousse team did the same in 1994 when it switched between the green and gold of Tourtel and the red and white of Kronenbourg.
At last week's launch BAR revealed two BAR 01 chassis - although these were actually show cars - one in Lucky Strike colors and the other in the livery of State Express 555. "I don't intend to come in and run a team with over 200 people and just step back on the first day," said BAR boss Craig Pollock. "If I don't fight for my commercial rights then I won't be able to pay my staff. It's the only way we can finance the team. We are paid by sponsors and we have to protect them. We believe that other bodies should be worried about sporting and technical problems. I think it's for me to worry how I actually pay for my business."
Pollock's argument is that dual liveries are normal in NASCAR and Champ Car racing in North America and that this does not detract from the show. He has received little support from the other F1 teams, however, all of which are represented on the F1 Commission, the body which made the decision to ban twin liveries.
If he wins the case Pollock will have a full budget but will have to overcome considerable antipathy within the sport. Victory could actually do him more harm than good. If he loses he is going to have face hard questions from British AmericanÊTobacco. At the moment, however, BAT is putting members of a heavy-hitting legal team on the case, hoping to swing the court in its favor. Although there is talk of continued legal action if the decision goes against BAR it is hard to see how this will happen unless BAR rejects the Concorde Agreement. By doing that the team would put itself out of F1 but might continue legal action nonetheless. This is not a great strategy for BAT as it is aiming to sell cigarettes and courtroom battles are unlikely to do much for the sales figures.
If the decision goes against the tobacco giant, the company's head of Global Sponsorships Tom Moser would, undoubtedly, be in the firing line but at the moment it seems that Pollock and Moser are hoping that Ecclestone will back down to avoid disruption as he tries to organize his bond issue. It is hard to see how Ecclestone and the FIA can back down without losing face and creating even bigger problems for themselves in the future because if BAR wins the case more will follow.
BAR team members remain belligerent. At the Autosport International show in Birmingham last week a BAR member said that BAR is going to turn up in Melbourne with the cars in two liveries no matter what happens. "What are they going to do?" he asked. "Exclude us from the race?" Although BAR personnel say that there are no contingency plans if they lose the battle, the very late withdrawal of 555 from the World Rally Championship would seem to suggest that extra money is being kept in hand for 1999 - with the possibility of BAT kicking in more money to fund BAR's Lucky Strike sponsorship and Arrows being backed by State Express 555.