Bernie Ecclestone surprised many in the Malaysian Grand Prix paddock at Sepang by announcing that significant progress had been made towards securing an extension to the sport's all-encompassing Concorde Agreement.
Just as F1 appeared set for possible conflict between FOTA defectors Ferrari and Red Bull and those teams remaining a part of the body that had championed unity amongst the competitors for several seasons - the result of rumours suggesting that the two 'big guns' had been offered favourable inducements to commit to the new agreement - Ecclestone, the sport's chief executive and string-puller, issued a single sentence announcement confirming that he had reached terms with most, if not yet all, of the twelve entrants.
"I am very pleased to announce that we have reached commercial agreements with the majority of the current Formula One teams, including Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull Racing, about the terms on which they will continue competing in Formula One after the current Concorde Agreement expires at the end of this year," the statement revealed.
While it remains to be seen exactly how big the 'majority' is, and which teams have yet to agree terms, the fact that McLaren has joined fellow frontrunners Ferrari and RBR on the list of signatories can only be seen as good news for the sport. The seven remaining FOTA teams are known to have met in Melbourne last weekend to discuss the stories surrounding their rivals. Toro Rosso and Sauber are also no longer members of the teams association, while HRT opted out during its first year in the top flight, but only the two more established teams are thought to have agreed terms, with HRT joining Caterham and Marussia in a holding pattern. Ecclestone's 'majority' is thought to comprise seven squads - the minimum an F1 majority can be - with Williams and Mercedes also thought to be holding out.
"Hopefully, this secures the long-term future of the sport with the teams involved," RBR principal Christian Horner told Sky Sports
, without actually confirming that his team had signed, "It's important for there to be a Concorde Agreement, because it protects the teams through that agreement as well. Hopefully, it will all be formalised pretty shortly."
McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh, the current FOTA chairman, shared Horner's belief that early progress on a new Concorde Agreement was good for the sport as whole.
"There is still plenty of work to be done on contracts, so its probably premature to say anything," Whitmarsh admitted, "It's a good deal if it means we're not at war, and working together on making all teams sustainable, controlling costs and building the sport to make it much more exciting."
Interestingly, BBC Sport
claims that, while an agreement has been reached in principle, no contracts have yet been signed.
The current Concorde Agreement - a succession of which have dictated the terms of competition and revenue distribution in F1 since 1981 - is due to expire at the end of the 2012 season, and initial reports suggest that its successor will also cover a seven-year period, taking the sport through to 2020.