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Battle rages over F1 future

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F1 Mole | 12:37 UK time, Saturday, 9 May 2009

As the battle for the 2009 Formula 1 championship hots up on the track, team principals are being distracted by the pressing concerns of 2010 and beyond.

The Formula One Teams' Assocation (Fota) met twice this week - once in London and once when members arrived in Barcelona - to consider their next move in the cat-and-mouse negotiations with the sport's governing body, the FIA, over the proposed £40m budget cap.

The FIA wants teams to limit their spending to £40m as part of its long-term commitment to cost-cutting.

Instead of announcing a mandatory cap, which would have been impossible to impose under the sporting regulations, FIA president Max Mosley has strengthened his hand by offering teams something of a Hobson's choice.

Those who sign up to the budget cap will have greater technical freedoms and unlimited out-of-season testing - those that don't, won't.

Teams who can operate within the budget and cash in on the technical freedoms - such as movable front and rear wings and an engine not subject to a rev limit - could find themselves with an advantage of as much as three seconds a lap over those teams who choose to ignore the cap.

That could put big-spending teams - such as Ferrari, Toyota and McLaren - into a different, lower league, effectively transforming F1 into a two-tier championship.

The feeling in the Barcelona paddock is that the teams support the budget cap - with the exception of Ferrari - but none of them want to compete in a championship split into two such disparate levels.

Not only would it be confusing for the public, they argue, but it would dilute F1's position as the pinnacle of motorsport.

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The big question is whether Mosley is wedded to the idea of a two-tier championship, or whether he is using that as a political ploy and that he will eventually climb down on the idea of two sets of rules as long as he gets his way on the budget cap.

And as the political battle rages, traditional big-spenders Ferrari - who are boasting an expensive new motorhome in Spain - have made tentative threats to cut short their glittering history in the sport.

The Italian team remained tight-lipped on their next move in Barcelona.

So what happens next?

Well, the teams must submit their entry form for the 2010 season to the FIA by the 29 May. They have until 1 November to pay the 309,000 euros (£274,600) entry fee.

When the teams officially put forward their entries they are, on the face of it, acknowledging the FIA's proposed regulations for 2010.

In reality, we can expect a long road of negotiations ahead before the teams and the FIA settle upon a final set of new rules for the new season.

Even though the budget cap has already been raised from £30m to £40m, and now excludes drivers' wages, engines and marketing costs, the teams still believe £40m is too low.

They want to convince the FIA to lift the ceiling on the budget cap and settle on a figure that would satisfy the established manufacturer teams without deterring new teams, such as USGP, joining the grid.

There are places for 13 teams on the 2010 grid and if the teams and the FIA find a cap that fits then they could all be filled.

What rules they will be racing under remains a different matter altogether.

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