Flavio Briatore has warned Max Mosley that given his tabloid exposure last year, he would be best not to drag the FIA/FOTA dispute down a path of 'personal' insults after the FIA President characterised some of F1's team principals as 'loonies' over the British Grand Prix weekend - as John Howett suggested the point of no return could arrive within days rather than weeks.

Contrasting noises have emerged out of the governing body and the Formula One Teams' Association in recent days, with Mosley arguing that a rapprochement is now 'very, very close', and the rebel competitors insisting that it is anything but, with preparations increasingly in place for a manufacturer-spearheaded 'breakaway' series free from the controversial jurisdiction of the FIA.

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh had hinted that the two warring factions had until the end of July to bring to a close a financial and political stand-off that is threatening to tear the top flight irrevocably in two - but FOTA vice-chairman Howett has since revealed that the negotiating time is far less than that.

"I would say very short," the Toyota Motorsport President told international news agency Reuters, when asked about the remaining timeframe in which to resolve the dispute about Mosley's contentious budget cap and the Englishman's much-criticised, autocratic and increasingly arbitrary manner of governance. "If we start with the actions next week which we intend to, to move from a conceptual discussion to implementation phase, I think we will start to make commitments that then become very difficult to come out of."

Howett added that a number of the prospective 2010 F1 newcomers whose bids were rejected by the governing body on publication of the preliminary entry list - such as Prodrive/Aston Martin, Lola and N.Technology - had already approached FOTA about joining the breakaway championship. That, reasoned Brawn GP CEO Nick Fry, is a clear sign that the teams' venture is anything but an empty bluff, underlining moreover that the rules are ready to go too after being written several years ago when the Grand Prix Manufacturers' Association (GPMA) first debated the wisdom of absconding to form a separate series. Moves are also afoot regarding circuits and an administrator for the FOTA-run endeavour, it would appear.

"The FIA meeting on Wednesday is critical to what happens," Fry stressed, alluding to the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) reunion, when FOTA and Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo is set to hold further discussions with Mosley, F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone and national federation representatives, ahead of a FOTA gathering the following day.

"The alternative championship is a very realistic proposition - it's not an idle threat as I suspect some people hope. There has been a lot of dialogue with promoters and media agencies that would like to cover it."

Mosley only served to add fuel to FOTA's fire when he jokingly described some of the dissenters as 'loonies' - a rebuke labelled 'unhelpful' by Howett [see separate story - click here], and one that was received with some incredulity by Renault F1 managing director Flavio Briatore, who had given the 69-year-old a lift to Silverstone at the weekend in his helicopter and who Mosley had tipped as fancying himself as 'the Bernie' of the new series.

"Max is going personal, but I'm too much of a gentleman to go personal," retorted the Italian in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, before going on to make reference to the tabloid sex scandal in which Mosley found himself implicated just over a year ago. "If he wants to go personal, I have a lot to say about Max. He needs to stop insulting people.

"I don't want to personally describe what Max is, because in his private life we have already had a demonstration of what he is in the News of the World. If he is talking about lunatics and stuff like that, he needs to watch himself, just do the best job possible for him [and] the teams and not get personal. It's enough.

"We have tried to compromise [with Mosley]; we have opened the door, but we have had the door closed in our face. We have tried to make sure we race as F1 teams in a formula with one rule, but this has not been possible. This is the reason why we are not negotiating anymore with anybody."

Ecclestone, meanwhile, has revealed his determination that after losing his wife due to his commitment to F1, he is 'sure as hell not going to let things disintegrate', insistent that the row can be satisfactorily resolved and that the breakaway threat can be quashed in time.

"I have given 35 years of my life and more to Formula 1," the 78-year-old told British newspaper The Times. "My marriage broke up because of Formula 1, [so] I am sure as hell not going to let things disintegrate over what is, in the end, basically nothing. If you analyse all the problems, there aren't any that can't be easily solved.

"If [a breakaway] started, everybody would be suing everybody else and there would be no other series. There would be nothing. It would be finished - it would be a total disaster. Everyone would spend a fortune on lawyers and nothing will happen."


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