Ferrari took the intensity of their fight with FIA chief Max Mosley to a new level yesterday when they threw down the gauntlet and confirmed that they will not enter cars in the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship unless the governing body drops their idea of introducing a budget cap next season. While this may be brinkmanship, a bit of angry sabre rattling to focus Mosley's attention, the timing could not be more embarrassing for him as he plans to attend the Monaco Grand Prix, the jewel in the Formula One crown, next week.
Mosley has been seeking ways to dramatically cut spending in F1 for some years, but his vision for the sport's future gained impetus with the global recession. "It is simply no longer acceptable for teams to spend in the region of $400m [£264m] a year," he said at the beginning of the year as he announced the proposal to introduce a voluntary budget cap of $30m (later raised to $60m) in 2010.
Ferrari's president Luca di Montezemolo, head of the Formula One Teams' Association, has warned however that it would create a two-tier championship that could be "fundamentally unfair and perhaps even biased". The Ferrari board backed his stance at a meeting at Maranello.
"For the first time ever in Formula One, the 2010 season will see the introduction of two different sets of regulations based on arbitrary technical rules and economic parameters," a statement said yesterday. "The board considers that if this is the regulatory framework for Formula One in the future, then the reasons underlying Ferrari's uninterrupted participation in the world championship over the last 60 years... would come to a close. If the regulations adopted do not change, then Ferrari does not intend to enter its cars in the next F1 world championship. Ferrari trusts that its many fans worldwide will understand that this difficult decision is coherent with the Scuderia's approach to motor sport and to Formula One in particular, always seeking to promote its sporting and technical values."
The bigger outfits such as Ferrari, McLaren-Mercedes, Toyota and BMW-Sauber do not believe even the $60m cap is remotely feasible.
"It depends who you talk to at the moment," an FIA insider said in Spain last weekend. "The feedback is that, as a philosophy, no one is dismissive of the idea of a budget cap. When we introduced the idea two years ago, we got a lot of criticism. Today, I would say that almost everybody accepts it as a sound way to go, and if you look at the 10 teams you can almost say that half will talk about it enthusiastically, and half with caution. The major trauma seems to be, 'OK, intellectually we see what the FIA is trying to do, there is some good thinking going on here, but the transition from A to B is the trauma'. Part of the argument against a budget cap is Mosley's insistence that the teams who sign up to the voluntary cap may run a superior technical specification – with an engine that revs to 19,000rpm rather than 18,000 and a more effective aerodynamic configuration, thus offsetting the advantage the established teams have of spending more on research and development.
"Do we fundamentally like the idea of people opting for different rules? No," the insider continued. "But if it enables us to go through the transition and get to where we want to be, it's the way." There have been two-tier situations in F1 before, such as in the transition from turbo-charged to normally aspirated engines back in the late Eighties, when some teams who could not generate alliances with manufacturers to run turbo engines made do with unboosted engines until the rules changed exclusively to normally aspirated units in 1989.
Toyota were the first team publicly to register their disdain for a budget cap, when their head of motorsport, Tadashi Yamashina, said in Barcelona on Sunday that they will not accept a two-tier system.
Then on Sunday evening Dietrich Mateschitz, who owns both the Red Bull and Toro Rosso teams, declared that he will not enter the 2010 series if the plan for a budget cap goes ahead. But Ferrari are F1's heavyweight, and their opinion carries the most weight. Though Mosley stated recently: "Formula One does not need Ferrari. The competition is strong enough that the sport could survive without them," to the world in general the red cars are F1, an essential part of the sport's fabric since they have competed in every championship since the first in 1950.
There is another element in the battle that has developed between the FIA and Ferrari. The latter's president, Di Montezemolo, is one of the most charismatic and respected figures within the sport, and last year was appointed president of FOTA. Their resolve to reduce costs has set them on a collision course with Mosley who argues that they have too much of a vested interest to make cuts as significant as are needed to save the sport at a time when all of the major manufacturers are suffering huge slumps in sales.
"It is very important that we cut budgets," Yamashina agreed in Barcelona, "but it cannot be done quickly." The way forward may be to wean teams off spending at their current levels over a period of three or more years. But that will require further discussions, and that is clearly what Ferrari's threat aims for.
Inevitably, there will be those who suspect that they are making threatening gestures because of the appalling start they have made to the 2009 season. It took them three races before they scored any points, and their best finishes so far are two sixth places. In truth, however, the latest battle is further indication that FOTA are prepared to flex their muscles to get what they want, which is a larger share of the sport's financial pie and much more say in the framing of future regulations.
Budget caps could prove to be for Mosley what the poll tax was for Maggie Thatcher, especially if he stands for re-election in October, but he shows no signs of backing down. Part of his insistence on capping the amount of money teams can spend is to attract three new ones for 2010 to bring the grid to 26 cars. So far the US Grand Prix Engineering team have firmly indicated their intention to enter and are already equipping their factory in Charlotte, North Carolina, but while Prodrive/Aston Martin, Lola and iSport have all talked of making entries, together with some smaller teams such as DAMS from GP2, none of them has yet sourced the funding they need for their entry fees and to mount a genuine campaign in 2010. The major teams are also opposed to a swingeing budget cap, imposed at short notice, on the grounds that it would inevitably lead to serious job losses.
Several teams, notably Brawn which cut their workforce from 750 to 400 shortly after their driver Jenson Button won the opening grand prix in Australia, have already cut staffing levels due to restrictions on the amount of time teams can use their wind tunnels or how many computational fluid dynamics (CFD) boffins they can employ. One team principal who did not wish to be identified said yesterday: "That is one of the hidden areas of budget capping. Everybody agrees that costs need to be cut, but they need to be cut sensibly, over a period of time.
"If the idea is to have a voluntary cap of $60m for 2010 then a mandatory cap for 2011, you will see the British motorsport industry collapse because so many of its talented engineers will be obliged to seek employment in other spheres after they have been 'let go' by teams who are no longer allowed to employ them."
Red rockets: Proud history of the Prancing Horse
Based: Maranello, Italy.
Team President: Luca di Montezemolo.
Drivers: Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen.
Inaugural GP Season: 1950.
World Championships: 15.
Number of first place finishes: 209.
Fastest laps: 218.
Most successful driver: Michael Schumacher (five world titles).
Did you know? Scuderia is Italian for 'stable'.
* Founded by Enzo Ferrari in 1939.
* Argentine Jose Froilan Gonzalez records Ferrari's first grand prix victory at 1951 British GP.
* First world title arrives in 1961 when American Phil Hill wins drivers' title and the team wins the constructors' championship.
* Britain's John Surtees becomes the only man to win world championships on four and two wheels in 1964.
* Ferrari's worst season comes in 1969 when they manage only seven points.
* Austrian Niki Lauda wins championship for Ferrari in 1975 before suffering serious injuries in 1976. Returns following year to regain world title.
* Jody Sheckter wins championship in 1979 – Ferrari's last for 21 years.
* The legendary German Michael Schumacher starts a glorious era for the team by winning the first of his five titles in 2000. Retires in 2006.
* 2004 is Ferrari's best season, gaining their most points in a season with 262 and notching 29 podiums.
* Disappointing start to this season has Massa in 12th place and Raikkonen down in 13th after five races dominated by new boys Brawn GP.