British-based grand prix teams could switch to Dubai

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The Independent Online

Formula One could decamp to Dubai in retaliation against European restrictions. Max Mosley, the president of the FIA, the governing body of motor sport, revealed yesterday that the 10 grand prix racing teams - six of them based in Britain - are being offered the chance to move out of Europe.

And sources close to the FIA confirmed that Bernie Ecclestone, the head of Formula One's commercial affairs, has already held talks with the authorities in Dubai.

It is understood Dubai is ready and willing to accommodate the Formula One teams and give "generous'' tax concessions to their workforces.

The threat is seen in some quarters as no more than a gesture to try to force a European compromise. But Ecclestone's latest initiative calls into question a multi-billion pound business in this country. Williams, McLaren, Renault, BAR, Jaguar and Jordan all have factories in this country's "silicone valley''.

Mosley has already warned about the consequences of the European "arrest warrant'' should Formula One suffer a fatality on a circuit in the European Union. The onset of the 35-hour working week is considered an unrealistic stranglehold by Formula One teams.

However, it is the impending ban on tobacco advertising that has added impetus to Formula One's campaign to be recognised as a special case.

Teams had accepted that the ban would take effect in October 2006, but revised legislation has brought the date forward to July 2005 - when existing contracts will still be running. As a consequence, British teams will be liable to prosecution if pictures of their cars carrying tobacco advertising are beamed into this country, regardless of where they are racing. BAR are one of five teams currently sponsored by tobacco companies.

Mosley said in London yesterday: "There is a country with land and opportunities offering the teams to decamp. Ten or 20 years ago it would have been impossible for them to do so but now it is feasible. Air travel and other opportunities make it possible. This country is outside the EU and recognises this is a pretty big industry. And it's surprising how people are prepared to move when they're offered a small fortune.

"These restrictions will hamper a cutting edge industry. This is a real problem. I'm hopeful we can resolve it.''

Formula One is already in the process of moving many of its races outside Europe and Ecclestone has warned that more grands prix will be awarded to countries in Asia and the Middle East.

Imola, home of the San Marino Grand Prix, will be dropped from next year's calendar and Silverstone has again been warned by Ecclestone that facilities must be upgraded if the British Grand Prix is to survive the purge.

Mosley acknowledged that traditional races - Britain, Monaco, Italy, France and Germany - are regarded within the sport as a protective species but ultimately had to be commercially viable.

Despite his foreboding, Mosley predicted another highly competitive season. Michael Schumacher was taken to the last race of the 2003 championship and the FIA president anticipates a similarly close contest this time. He said: "You would always have to say Schumacher is the favourite before the first race but it may well be someone else this time. It could be Juan Pablo Montoya, Ralf Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen or even David Coulthard.''

The Scotsman is due to be released by McLaren Mercedes at the end of the year but Mosley believes he has it in him to win the championship - even if he may not have the personality to go with it.

Mosley said: "DC has obviously got talent but it's all in the head and he's never quite fired himself up. He's too serious. He'd need to do something to enliven his image, but then winning can change any driver's image. We need characters, we need rebels. It's a pity we no longer have Jacques Villeneuve because he was an eccentric figure. He had interesting views on things. Rebels can be a nuisance but they are like the leavening in bread.''


Base: Woking, Surrey
Budget: $290m (£160m)
No. employees: 550
Team principal(s): Ron Dennis, Martin Whitmarsh
Founded: 1966

Base: Grove, Oxford
Budget: $244m (£134m)
No. employees: 450
Team principal(s): Sir Frank Williams, Patrick Head
Founded: 1977

Base: Enstone, Oxford
Budget: $255m (£140m)
No. employees: 400
Team principal: Flavio Briatore
Founded: 1984 (formerly named Benetton)

Base: Brackley, Northants
Budget: $240m (£132m)
No. employees: 350
Team principal: David Richards
Founded: 1998

Base: Silverstone, Northants
Budget: $75m (£41m)
No. employees: 250
Team principal: Eddie Jordan
Founded: 1991

Base: Milton Keynes, Bucks
Budget: $210m (£115m)
No. employees: 330
Team principal: Tony Purnell
Founded: 1997 (formerly Stewart Ford)

Research by David Tremayne