EVEN with Silverstone in prospect this afternoon the battle between FIA and FOTA seems more likely to produce the excitement than the Formula One race itself. FIA and FOTA? Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, which runs the Formula One season, and the Formula One Teams Association, which provides the cars and the drivers. FIA's boss, Max Mosley, has been trying to get the FOTA companies to reduce the amount of money they spend on research and development of their cars. FOTA, led by Ferrari, does not like Mosley's idea and has said it will run its own Formula One competition next year.

FOTA must be one of the few businesses in the world at the moment which is resisting a cap on expenditure but its members argue that, since they support Formula One racing primarily to improve the performance of their production line cars, they do not want to cut back on research. Among the FOTA members are Ferrari, McLaren Mercedes, Toyota, BMW, Brawn and Renault, so their point is well taken. Negotiations have all but broken down between the two sides and lawyers are moving in. Max Mosley, who runs FIA in a dictatorial style says that FOTA cannot legally opt out its contract with FIA. Television rights, the special responsibility of Bernie Ecclestone, are another important factor in any split between the two sides. Mr Mosley has other teams ready to replace the defectors but not of the same quality as those run by the FOTA members -- nor with Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.