Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, the world governing body for Formula One motor racing, has issued a writ against the European Union in a bid to delay the imposition of a ban on tobacco sponsorship.

In a statement, the FIA denied its action seeks to annul the EU tobacco advertising directive as a whole: “[It is] aimed at restoring the 1 October 2006 implementation date in the Directive of the European Parliament and Council.”

The 2006 date is that originally set by the EU for completion of the phase-out of tobacco sponsorship. But the EU recently brought this date forward to July 2005 at the behest of the Austrian health minister – a move that prompted the FIA and Formula One’s controlling billionaire Bernie Ecclestone to retaliate by striking Austria off the F1 fixture list.

According to the FIA: “Teams and sponsors had already made their agreements to carry tobacco sponsorship up until 2006 based on a widely held expectation that the EU would continue to maintain the original 2006 date.”

The FIA then threatened to switch its other EU fixtures to more tobacco-friendly parts of the globe: “The most likely consequence of the 2005 ban in the EU is that a number of the EU events on the FIA Formula One World Championship calendar will have to move to non-EU countries. It is not clear that they will ever move back.”

Many see this as an empty threat given the massive sums in media rights accruing to the FIA from its European events – a belief that gains credence from the FIA’s decision to rely instead on legal action.

Says the FIA: “In the hope of restoring the 1 October 2006 date (both at EU and worldwide level) the FIA regrets that it finds itself with no alternative but to seek to have the Community's decision to impose a ban from mid-2005 reversed by way of a legal challenge.”

Data sourced from: ITV.com; additional content by WARC staff