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Culture

Europe’s Formula One Faces Team Boycott

Europe’s biggest Formula One races are under threat after team officials said they would boycott much of the coming season over fears that fatal accidents could lead to prosecution under new EU arrest laws.

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Under new EU laws, racing team personnel could be held responsible for fatalities.

Racing team bosses have issued a letter warning they are only prepared to race in countries whose governments give a legally enforceable pledge not to use new EU arrest warrant laws. They fear that, in the event of a fatal crash, a local magistrate could use the legislation to order the immediate arrest of team personnel who "could be locked up until trial."

The new legislation, introduced earlier this month and implemented by eight EU member states -- Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Portugal and Britain -- replaces existing national extradition deals between member states and is intended to ease procedures across the EU in cases of terrorism and serious crime. It is expected to be adopted by the seven remaining EU members, including race hosts Germany, France and Italy, by March.

Serious risk of boycott, says FIA chief

In an attempt to save the coming season from chaos, Max Mosley, president of the motor racing's governing body FIA, has contacted the national racing groups who host their country’s events, asking them to lobby their governments for an exemption from the law. Mosley has said he is confident that the two sides can avoid a widespread boycott but insists that there is still a serious risk of action if the racing groups cannot guarantee exemption.

Mosley told reporters that unless teams were given "binding assurances that these procedures will not be used against them in the event of an accident, they simply won't race -- they won't take the risk."

Fear of extradition and jail

"Under the European Arrest Warrant, the local magistrate could simply order the arrest of whoever was concerned and have them carted off to the relevant country and lock them up until there was a trial,” he added. "The difficulty is that at the moment there are no bail provisions under the European Arrest Warrant, it's all been rushed through on the basis of things like terrorism.”

The ghost of Ayrton Senna

The introduction of the legislation, its possible application to motor sport, and the reaction of the team bosses have once again turned the spotlight on the case of Brazilian world champion Ayrton Senna. His death at the Imola race circuit in San Marino in 1994 was Formula One's last race fatality.

Team Williams technical director Patrick Head and team designer Adrian Newey, now technical director at McLaren, faced charges of manslaughter following the crash that killed Senna. They were acquitted after a trial in Bologna in 1997 but were told last year that they must face a new appeal court hearing into Senna's accident.

F1 bosses are now concerned that a repeat of such a tragic incident could lead to their employees spending years in jail under the new laws and are prepared to put the whole season at risk to avoid the possibility.

This season's first European race is the San Marino Grand Prix on April 25.

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