Formula One wages war on three fronts

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The Independent Online

Eddie Jordan is so upbeat about the 2004 season that yesterday he even arranged a phone link over lunch with Bernie Ecclestone. While Jordan made the right noises about "a new era of Formula One" and his team's rallying call of "The Fightback", and Ecclestone joshed him about having the begging bowl out again, both admitted that European legislation has created some major problems on the sport's horizon.

"There are three things that particularly concern me, and we need to examine them very carefully," Jordan said. "First there is the issue of tobacco sponsorship and advertising. Initially this was to be banned by the end of 2006, then it suddenly became halfway through 2005, which will cause problems with contracts. There is very little time left, and that is not what was agreed between the FIA, the Formula One teams, and the World Health Organisation.

"Then there is the nonsense about a 35-hour working week in Britain, the Working Time legislation. Successful teams were founded on people's willingness to work as long as it takes, 50 or 60-hour weeks. To them it is absolutely vocational. With a 35-hour week you will have to send quality people home and run second shifts. This will not only jack up your wages bill, but there is the clear risk that the bigger teams will have to poach qualified, experienced people from the smaller teams. How does that help us?"

By far the biggest concern among all of the British team owners, however, is the European Arrest Warrant. "This has generally gone unnoticed," Jordan said. "It is a very serious and contentious issue. After 10 years the Senna case is not yet resolved, and it is inconceivable that team people such as Frank [Williams] and Patrick [Head] could be arrested and imprisoned in Italy, for example, and be forced to plead guilty under a deal, because of the warrant. I understand the issues of terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and the like, but it should not be so onerous on the teams that it might discourage law-abiding people from going about their normal business."

Had such legislation been in force when his driver Senna died at Imola in May 1994, Sir Frank Williams, his technical director Head, and designer Adrian Newey could have been imprisoned without the need for Italian magistrates to present a prima facie case. Coincidentally, that could also have saved several million pounds-worth of legal costs.

This time last year the teams were at war with Ecclestone and Mosley, after they had changed the rules at late notice. Now they are united behind them against a common foe.

"The European Arrest Warrant is a very serious problem but not that difficult to resolve," Mosley says. "In a nutshell it covers some 32 offences, plus it applies to any offence which satisfies the condition of dual criminality - that is that it is a crime in the requesting country and it is also a crime in the requested country, and carries a potential maximum prison sentence of at least a year.

"This means that any magistrate anywhere in what will eventually be any of 25 countries, can order the arrest of any individual anywhere in those countries, including somebody in their own country, have them hauled off to jail in the country where the magistrate resides. Now it means that there is, for example in the UK, absolutely no requirement for a prima facie case, or anything of that kind. They just have to prove you are the person named in the warrant and you have a hearing in a UK court. But there is no case of you being able to say, 'This is completely absurd, I wasn't even there on the day,' they are not interested in that and will then cart you off.

"What the team principals are worried about is that because the whole thing has been done in a quick and slipshod way, there are no bail provisions, no international provisions of any kind, and any magistrate can do this. You then find yourself in jail in whatever country, and the magistrate will probably come and see you and say, 'Look, we know this isn't really serious, just plead guilty and you will get a suspended sentence, maybe a small fine, and you can be on a plane home tomorrow afternoon.' But you say, 'I don't want to do that, I don't think I am guilty.' 'Oh well then, it will probably be several months, maybe a year or so, before this can come to trial. Meanwhile you'll have to stay here. Sorry about that, that's how it is. But maybe think about it for a few days, and maybe you'll change your mind'."

Yesterday Ecclestone admitted that the prospect is frightening. "It's bloody dangerous for everyone," he said. "There is no need to commit an offence, you can be taken to jail on suspicion and kept there until you confess." He denied that teams might boycott signatory countries, but added: "Governments aren't likely to change the law for us, but the clarification they could give is that the Warrant would not be applied to us if there was to be an accident."

Williams, meanwhile, was as down to earth as ever. "I have fallen out with Bernie and Max every once in a while. But on this issue they are absolutely right to take a stand against the European Arrest Warrant and the 35-hour working week. The 12 plane spotters in Greece? That's what's coming down the road, pal."