Ferrari and Red Bull's announcement that they were leaving the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) is a bump in the road toward the mission of of the group. The group was formed to create a unified front in negotiations with formula One Management in the commercial dealings of the sport but it also morphed into a cost cutting debate within the teams and this, according to Ferrari and Red Bull, is the crux of why they left.
FOTA created the Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA) and some teams suggest this has not been followed or that creative interpretation has been utilized to skirt the regulations. Namely, Red Bull were accused of doing so but dismiss those allegations as the typical arrows a top team has to fend off when winning. Red Bull have won the driver's and constructor's championships in 2010 and 2011.
Ferrari, for their part, feels that FOTA has ceased to be effective in their mission. Formula One Commercial rights boss Bernie Ecclestone has always maintained that team unity is impossible as each organization is ultimately self-serving to their mission although team unity is exactly what he deployed in the 80's to secure the commercial rights of F1.
FOTA's mission was also to safe-guard the small teams from the giant companies and their massive resources. The intent was to return spending to 1990's levels but apparently that is more difficult than said as teams like Ferrari and Red Bull Racing are clearly spending more now than in 1990 just to remain competitive.
Mercedes AMG boss Norbert Haug told reporters today that FOTA would carry on despite Ferrari and Red Bull's absence. The mission was too important to falter and that cooler heads will prevail:
"I think it is absolutely vital that FOTA is existing," declared the German, adding that the targets remained the same whether teams were in or outside the grouping.
"The aims that we are having, the targets, are very important and I think it is up to the so-called top teams to really balance it out."
Mercedes, McLaren, Lotus and others are working diligently on behalf of all the teams and as "top teams", they are to set a role of leadership and resource management that allows smaller teams to compete in F1.
Mercedes AMG's Nick Fry added:
"It's obviously quite a difficult time at the moment and clearly we, Mercedes AMG, are very supportive of cost control in Formula One," said Fry, whose team have made a rash of high-profile technical signings recently.
"It's a difficult thing to achieve when everyone is so competitive but we certainly will work with others to try and fulfil the aim of an RRA.
"I think even though Ferrari have withdrawn at the moment they also are intent on finding a solution to this," continued the Briton.
"We've certainly hit a bump in the road but I believe that work will continue in the background to try and resolve this and we will do whatever we can to support that."
While Ferrari's mission is all Ferrari, it is no surprise they would depart FOTA if they felt to organizations direction was completely out of balance with their future mission as a company. Ferrari has been very vocal about running a third car or providing customer cars in the sport while other teams are not too keen on the idea as they have to build their own chassis from scratch.
Red Bull Racing is a tad more elusive in why they departed as they have not been vocal about FOTA's lack of progress in any one category or shared frustration publicly about their position conflicting with FOTA's initiatives. One could presume the back-biting and accusations could be playing a role in their departure but Red Bull Racing has not said so publicly.
In the end, the departure of Ferrari and Red Bull Racing leaves a large hole in FOTA's leadership. It effectively leaves McLaren and their engine partner and competitor Mercedes AMG to lead a ragtag group of teams in a mission to reduce costs in F1 and maintain the unified voice in commercial rights negotiation when the sport's governing document, the Concorde Agreement, is up for renewal in 2012.
Ferrari and Red Bull have been accused of leaving FOTA in a split to debase the teams unified front and cut separate commercial deals with FOM and there is a precedent of this happening in the past. Either way, the sport's future is just now starting to set up camps of division and 2012 could be an interesting year in defining the future of F1.