McLaren-Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh has revealed that the FIA and Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) have until the end of July to settle their differences and come to a common resolution for the future of F1 – or else the top flight will be permanently riven in two.
The dissenting teams lit the blue touch paper at Silverstone late on Thursday night, when they announced to the world that – in the wake of a breakdown in communications with the FIA – they were pressing ahead with their threat to organise a 'breakaway' series spearheaded by the manufacturers and composed of the eight FOTA rebels Ferrari, McLaren-Mercedes, BMW-Sauber, Toyota, Renault, Red Bull Racing, Scuderia Toro Rosso and current runaway world championship leaders Brawn GP.
The bombshell followed a deadlock that has endured for weeks between F1's competitors and its governing body over Max Mosley's controversial budget cap initiative that the FIA President intends introducing in 2010 as part of his radical cost-cutting drive, and growing unease at the increasingly autocratic and arbitrary manner in which the teams perceive the Englishman to be ruling the sport.
The FIA responded almost immediately by pronouncing that it intends to pursue legal action against the FOTA members for what it deems to be a breach of contract and 'serious violations of law' in walking away before 2012 – prompting further crisis talks over British Grand Prix meeting this weekend. Whilst both sides are continuing to forge ahead with their own agendas, there remains hope that a compromise may yet be found to break the frustrating stalemate.
Whitmarsh, however, warns they do not have long to broker a peace deal that prevents F1 from tearing itself irreparably in two, before the point of no return is finally reached. He dismissed suggestions that the civil war is all about 'personalities or egos' and insisted that FOTA had 'no alternative' but to do what it has done, adding that whilst a unified championship remains the ideal scenario, all the necessary finances are in place if the teams do ultimately elect to go it alone.
“I don't think it's days, but I think it's weeks rather than many months,” the Englishman told The Associated Press
. “I think by the end of July everybody is going to be progressively on diverging paths, so whatever separates us today will be greater by then.
“We are not interested in winning or losing or the personalities or egos. What we want is what's best for the sport, what's best for this business and what's best for the fans – and that probably is to have an accommodation between the factions that aren't currently agreeing.
“We are obliged to start planning now, which means entering into arrangements – and so has the FIA – so both parties have to plan on the assumption that they are doing things separately. Progressively those plans and arrangements became locked in place.
“FOTA had no alternative, if it was to stay together, than to decide that it would proceed with its own championship arrangements. You can't say that and then don't do it; you've got to proceed, not be provocative or aggressive, because time is moving.
“We've had a lot of interest expressed even in the last few hours from teams, circuits and media companies and we are having a meeting on Tuesday. Clearly people see this as an opportunity. It would be healthy if we were open to new teams.”