Unbowed by the threat of eight Formula One teams starting their own breakaway series next year, the FIA yesterday declared that it would take legal proceedings against the Formula One Teams' Association (Fota), "and Ferrari in particular", "for a grave violation of competition law".
Following meetings between the FIA president, Max Mosley, and the Formula One rights holder Bernie Ecclestone at Silverstone ahead of tomorrow's British Grand Prix, the FIA declared: "The actions of Fota as a whole, and Ferrari in particular, amount to serious violations of law including wilful interference with contractual relations, direct breaches of Ferrari's legal obligations and a grave violation of competition law. The FIA will be issuing legal proceedings without delay."
The threat of legal action marked another ratcheting up of the struggle between the FIA and Fota which had taken a dramatic turn for the worse late on Thursday night when the eight teams, Ferrari, McLaren, Brawn, Toyota, Renault, BMW Sauber, Red Bull and Toro Rosso, emerged from a meeting at Renault's headquarters at Enstone, Oxfordshire, to say they felt they had no alternative but to commence preparation for a new championship.
As fans worldwide pondered yesterday whether F1 is on the brink of disaster or the threshold of a brave new world, however, only two questions really mattered. Did Mosley ever expect the teams to call his bluff in the conflict over the sport's future? And could this be the end of F1's great dictator?
Like his father Sir Oswald, Mosley has never been one to accede to the wishes of others. Evangelical in his fervour, he has long insisted on a budget cap. For many years the teams resisted but the global recession prompted commonsense. Even Ferrari, once a major spender, acknowledge that lavishness is as much a part of history as front-engined race cars. They have fallen into line with Mosley's thinking, just as he has come to accept their counter-argument against an immediate cap of $45m (£27.5m) for 2010 and agreed upon a compromise of $100m (£61.5m) next year, followed by $45m in 2011. Money was thus no longer the issue.
The teams, however, still had a problem with Mosley's arrogant governance and his proposals for the forensic accounting that would expose sensitive financial areas of their business to his pecuniary inspectors. They wanted a return to the defunct and self-governing Formula One Commission as a democratic means of determining rule changes, and for Mosley to stop forcing through changes at the drop of a hat.
As the closing date for entries for next year's world championship loomed on 29 May, Mosley created the impression that as many as 15 new teams were lined up waiting to take the place of the eight, after Williams and Force India had jumped ship and signed up with the FIA. Pushed into a corner, the Fota teams entered as requested, albeit with two conditions. First, that a concorde agreement to establish sound governance of the sport was signed by all parties by 12 June. Second, that the basis of the 2010 regulations is to be the current ones.
When the FIA revealed the 2010 entry list last Friday, all 10 existing teams were in, together with newcomers US F1, Campos and Manor. But Ferrari, Red Bull and Toro Rosso were incensed to find their entries had been marked as unconditional as the FIA cited legal obligations the teams subsequently denied.
Perhaps indicating his first signs of uncertainty, Mosley gave them until Thursday to remove the conditions of entry, or face the risk of other newcomers such as Prodrive and Lola taking their places. Fota's response, after Thursday's meeting, was to announce the intention to start its own series, one which would reflect its values, have transparent governance, one set of regulations, encourage more entrants and listen to the wishes of the fans – including offering lower prices for spectators worldwide – partners and other important stakeholders.
"The major drivers, stars, brands, sponsors, promoters and companies historically associated with the highest level of motorsport will all feature in this new series," they promised.
How will it all end? If Mosley stands down when the FIA World Motor Sports Council meets next week, it is likely the renegade teams will come back into the fold providing an acceptable successor is appointed and their conditions are met.
However, Mosley demonstrated last year during the furore sparked by the News of the World exposé of his prostitute sex orgy that he does not scare easily. When the Fota teams had the chance to finish him off then, they were too timid to act. Such is the structure he has now fashioned at the FIA that it is all but impossible to oust him unless he wants to go voluntarily. Thus Fota might have to start its own governing body to achieve their goals.
Two things are certain. Ferrari is one of two motorsport brands that really matter. Monaco is the other. Prince Albert has indicated that he will follow Ferrari, as will everyone else. And where Ferrari go, so does the money, and in this sport the leading players, even Ecclestone, have traditionally done likewise. Fota will have the leading teams and drivers, and though its venues are as yet unclear they would certainly include Silverstone. Mosley might feel he has won if he hangs tough, but will he preside over a world championship worthy of the name?
Fourteen years ago the war began that would tear apart America's single-seater series, Cart and IRL. Today only IRL survives, and open-wheelers now rate far behind the domestic Nascar saloon car racing series. It remains to be seen whether Fota really has the stomach to risk a split that could significantly devalue the brand and catastrophically hand F1's position of global popularity to myriad – and grateful – rival sports.
Power players: Men who will decide the dispute
As the president of the FIA, the sport's governing body, Mosley seems to hold all the high cards. It's his game and his football, he makes the rules, and he had structured his domain in such a manner that challenging him for leadership, let alone removing him as a move of censure, is all but impossible.
The other key player, and for the past three decades Mosley's implacable ally, Ecclestone (right) holds the commercial rights to F1 in partnership with CVC Capital Partners. It was he who made the major team's owners very wealthy men via his leadership of Foca (the now defunct Formula One Constructors' Association), while making himself even richer.
LUCA DI MONTEZEMOLO
Charismatic and emotional, Ferrari's president wears his heart on his sleeve. In his role as president of Fota (Formula One Teams' Association) he is considered one of the few men with the ability to counter Mosley's fearsome intellect. As egotistical as Mosley, he may also harbour political ambitions in the Italian parliament.
A man few people in F1 take into consideration, Craw is an American former racer who ran the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) and was appointed to deputy presidency of the FIA, it is thought, to appease those who saw Mosley as too mercurial. He might make a popular and acceptable successor should Mosley stand down.
Dashing and self-confident, Parr is one of the new-wave managers who have come into F1 and could represent its future. Commercially savvy, this trained lawyer acknowledged that Williams were legally bound via Ecclestone's FOM (Formula One Management) to enter without condition for the 2010 series, thus providing the only team of stature that the FIA can boast, but will follow the money with Fota if it becomes necessary.