Formula One is facing a major revolt, barely a fortnight before the start of the world championship season. Williams and McLaren, the two leading teams after Ferrari, are challenging regulations recently introduced by the FIA, motor sport's governing body, in their endeavours to make grand prix racing cheaper and more entertaining.
The two British teams, who claim their views are shared by most of the other eight entrants, have outlined their opposition in a letter sent yesterday to Max Mosley, the FIA president. They contend the changes "dumb down'' Formula One and could put drivers at greater risk.
McLaren and Williams argue that the action of the FIA is in breach of contract and plan to press their case through the sports' arbitration service, although they will take part in this year's championship.
Mosley has demanded drastic measures following a year in which two teams, Prost and Arrows, went out of business and Ferrari again dominated on the track. He felt the teams were dragging their heels over proposals for change.
They, in turn, believed Mosley was falsely conveying the impression that Formula One was in crisis. They accuse him of failing to heed the advice of the Formula One technical working group – made up of the technical directors from each of the teams – on safety matters.
The working group are concerned that the time available for teams to check their cars between qualifying and the race has been reduced from 18 and a half hours to two and a half hours, and that the banning of telemetry will prevent the teams from monitoring cars for defects during the race.
In their letter to Mosley, Ron Dennis, chairman of McLaren, and Frank Williams, managing director of Williams, say: "We are opposed to the unilateral way in which you have acted to introduce new regulations to the 2003 World Championship. Critically, both teams have deep concerns that the Formula One technical working group members have expressed the view that the changes could increase the safety risk for drivers.
"It is expected that these proposals would reduce the attractiveness of the sport to sponsors, investment partners and fans. It would also leave the automotive manufacturers with no choice but to reconsider their involvement in our series."
McLaren and Williams are the only teams capable of giving Ferrari and Michael Schumacher a contest, and resent what they perceive as patronising assistance. They are adamant there is sufficient cash in Formula One to go round and ensure smaller teams survive.
They acknowledge the need for change and state that "sensible proposals'' to reduce costs and improve the show are on the table. "These measures included the prohibition of qualifying cars, an acceptance of standard materials and equipment and an arrangement with a number of manufacturers to supply low-cost engines to the independent teams,'' they state.
Dennis added: "The FIA is trying to dumb down Formula One. It has introduced sweeping new regulations without proper consultation.''
The letter is scarcely a bolt out of the blue for Mosley and the FIA responded: "Any Formula One team is entitled to seek arbitration under the terms of the Concorde Agreement [the Formula One statute]. The FIA is confident that its position will be upheld.''
Arbitration could take months. The first race is the Australian Grand Prix, in Melbourne, two weeks on Sunday.