Following this week's news that the European Parliament voted in support of an investigation into F1, we asked ESPN's F1 politics expert Kate Walker to explain exactly what it means...
The European Union is back in F1 headlines. What's going on?
This week the European Parliament voted to support an investigation into anti-competitive practices in Formula One, into F1's tax affairs, and into allegations of conflict of interest surrounding the sport's recent sale to Liberty Media. That MEPs have voted to support an investigation doesn't mean that one will necessarily follow, but it does mean they've now got their eye on the sport.
So what does this all date back to?
How long is a piece of string? Essentially, this dates back to 2012-13, when negotiations for what would become the 2013 Concorde Agreement were taking place. It was then that the Sporting and Technical Working Groups were replaced by the F1 Strategy Group, and several teams were incentivised to sign the new Concorde by a sliding scale of 'legacy' payments offered to the biggest names in the sport -- the earlier they signed, the better the bonus.
The sport was divided (more so than previously) into haves and have-nots, and the have-nots gave the new system a chance to bed in and prove itself effective. As had been widely anticipated, however, the Strategy Group didn't do much strategising and barely seemed to consider the existence of those teams not counted among its members. In late 2015, Force India and Sauber wrote to the EU authorities to protest about what they called "unlawful" practices in F1's governance and the division of the financial spoils. Fifteen months later, the EU has now recommended that it thinks about looking into F1 more deeply.
What did -- do! -- Force India and Sauber hope to gain?
On the most basic level, a fairer playing field. More deeply, a greater share of influence in the sport. Since the creation of the F1 Strategy Group there have been members of the F1 family who invest heavily in the sport yet lack much of a voice when it comes to framing regulations or shaping plans for F1's future growth.
The combination of a lack of a voice at the rule-making table and a legacy payments system that provides 'bonus' sums to a select list of teams in addition to the monies earned through the (points-based) distribution of the prize fund has created a situation in which the sharks are fat and the minnows are starving. Sauber and Force India's goal in contacting the EU was to find an external means of forcing a more balanced distribution of both wealth and power within the sport.
And what does it all mean for 2017?
Honestly? Very little. The EU operates like an oil tanker, taking a long time to change direction. In the event that an investigation into Formula One does get underway this year, based on the Competition Commission's previous efforts, it will be mid-2018 at the earliest before any conclusions are drawn.
Given that the change of ownership has been accompanied by a number of public statements by Liberty Media officials that mention ending legacy payments and redistributing the wealth in the sport, it makes more sense for the EU to sit back and let F1 try and fix itself before devoting the resources -- both financial and human -- needed to undertake an in-depth investigation.
Expect the EU to keep an eye on any changes to governance and wealth distribution as they happen, but also expect them to give the new order time to establish itself.
How does the FIA fit in to all of this?
The FIA had the authority to prevent the sale taking place, had they wished to do so. But at an extraordinary meeting of the World Motor Sport Council, the FIA voted to approve the change of ownership. Some have seen the approval as controversial, as the FIA stand to profit in the event of a sale. Realistically, however, given that Liberty Media was a credible buyer with plans to cement F1's position at the top tier of international motorsport, there was little serious objection that could have been made.