Formula One Teams' Association chairman Martin Whitmarsh believes that the current schism between the organisation and F1 frontrunners Ferrari and Red Bull won't necessarily affect the much improved relations built up over recent years.
The two superpowers sent shockwaves through the sport by announcing, in early December, that they were to quit FOTA because of disputes over the controversial Resource Restriction Agreement, which limits the amount of spending available to teams in the top flight. However, Whitmarsh's optimism may stem from the fact that the two defectors claim different arguments for their exit.
Ferrari played a major role in the reformation of FOTA, with president Luca di Montezemolo initially taking the chair. However, in the competitive cauldron of F1 - and one in which the Scuderia is no longer top dog - the team claimed that breaches of the RRA by rivals, and FOTA's apparent inability to deal with it, had led to its decision to breakaway.
“We have left FOTA of our own accord and without consulting anyone else, because we were tired of the compromises dragging it down,” di Montezemolo told the media at the time of Ferrari's exit, “All we want are clear rules and interpretations. Situations like the one in Silverstone must not happen again, when the rules changed three times over the course of a grand prix weekend. On that occasion, Ferrari decided to sacrifice its own interests to avoid a fall out that would have damaged F1, with all the accompanying comments that we did not want the agreement because we were not competitive. However, there were some who preferred to only think of their own interests. If one is part of a club, then everyone
has to respect its rules. Otherwise, what's the point?"
If it had been solely Ferrari quitting, the situation would probably have been seen as another attempt at posturing in an effort to get what it wanted, but Red Bull's similar action emphasised the fact that all was not well between the teams. The Milton Keynes-based team claimed its decision to quit stemmed from an objection to moves designed to limit the cost of spending on aerodynamics, its area of speciality.
Unsurprisingly, Sauber quickly followed engine supplier Ferrari in announcing that it, too, would be stepping back from FOTA, while another Scuderia-supplied team, Toro Rosso, has yet to formally confirm its position, despite missing a FOTA meeting at the end of 2011. With backmarker HRT already outside the organisation following its decision to quit last January, FOTA currently has eight - possibly seven, depending on STR's position - members, but Whitmarsh does not believe the apparent discord will damage the improved relations enjoyed by the teams in opposing both the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone in recent years.
"FOTA has achieved a great deal in its short history, and it's still achieving a great deal now," he told the official F1 website, "It would never have come into existence without the staunch support of both Red Bull and Ferrari in its early days, and indeed Luca di Montezemolo was its first chairman.
"Luca was a hugely inspirational and effective chairman and, together with the other team principals of the time, he was enormously instrumental in the process of binding FOTA together in its early days. Now, three years later, you'd have to agree that one of FOTA's main achievements - and I trust and believe it'll be a lasting achievement - is that Ferrari and McLaren have never enjoyed such cordial relations as they do currently.
"Okay, F1 teams will always be competitive with one another. That's natural, and it's the way things should be. Our drivers, engineers and mechanics are, and should always be, massively motivated to beat each other on track, just as our commercial people are, and should always be, equally competitive when it comes to acquiring and retaining sponsors. F1 is a sport, but it's also a business - and a serious business at that. But that doesn't mean we can't and shouldn't collaborate when collaborating can confer an overall benefit for the majority, and that applies to all the teams, even those who are currently outside FOTA.
"So, speaking for McLaren, I can confirm that, at every level and in every discipline - engineering, marketing, PR, commercial, financial, legal and so on - our people remain in frequent and on-going contact with their counterparts within Red Bull and Ferrari, as well as with their counterparts within all the other teams - and certainly that applies to Christian Horner, Stefano Domenicali and myself."