By Andrew Benson
Bernie Ecclestone's ability to pull off the killer deal was largely responsible for forging his reputation and position as Formula One's godfather.
Are Ecclestone and Mosley losing control of F1?
The 73-year-old must have thought he had excelled even himself when it was announced on 19 January this year that Ferrari, the sport's most famous name, had committed to race in F1 until 2012.
Ecclestone believed the deal - between himself, Ferrari and the sport's governing body, the FIA - ended any real prospect of F1's other car manufacturers setting up a rival championship in 2008.
But Ecclestone's joy was short-lived. Far from "securing F1's future", as he claimed at the time, the deal has put the sport's existence in jeopardy - and raised the prospect of a coup attempt against FIA president Max Mosley.
The seriousness of the situation cannot be overstated. With F1 split down the middle, there is a real danger it could tear itself apart.
So it is little wonder that team owner Frank Williams - an opponent of the Ferrari deal - has said the mood in F1 at the start of the 2005 season is the worst in the sport's history.
"The prevailing atmosphere stinks," Williams says.
The battle lines are clear: Ferrari and FIA president Max Mosley on one side; on the other, seven teams and five of the world's biggest car manufacturers - DaimlerChrysler (Mercedes), BMW, Renault, Toyota and Honda.
WHAT RIVAL CAMP WANTS
More equal distribution of income
An end to what they say is favouritism towards Ferrari
Ecclestone is in his usual position of having a foot in both camps, and Jordan and Red Bull - old teams with new owners - are yet to commit either way.
No-one wants a final fracture into two championships - all involved say they realise splitting the sport and confusing the public would guarantee that neither side would prosper.
But the contracts binding the teams to F1 run out at the end of 2007, so time to sort out the problem is running short - especially as the row has already been going on for more than four years.
The car manufacturers want more say in the rule-making process, greater stability and a bigger slice of the sport's revenues for the teams they are involved with.
For a long time, the threat of a rival series was viewed as a negotiating ploy, a way of trying to persuade Ecclestone to go some way to meeting their wishes.
BAR-Honda and Renault are two of the teams in the rival camp
But attitudes have hardened in the last few weeks, and there is a sense of iron determination coming from the manufacturers and the teams who have sided with them.
In Williams' words, the Ferrari deal was the "catalyst" for this new resolution.
The manufacturers were already furious about what they considered to be Mosley's unnecessarily haphazard approach to changing F1's technical rules throughout 2004.
But Ecclestone and Mosley's exclusive deal with Ferrari confirmed in most of the other team owners' minds their already serious fears that Ferrari had an unhealthily close relationship with the FIA.
And the special favours the new deal granted Ferrari finally drove Honda and Toyota - which had until then been sitting on the fence - into the manufacturers' camp.
Under the present arrangement, the teams are paid a proportion of F1's revenues based on a complicated - and secret - formula derived from their length of time in F1 and their success.
Inevitably, as F1's most successful and longest-running team, Ferrari get more money than anyone else.
Frank Williams says the atmosphere in F1 is "poisonous"
No-one objects to that - even Ferrari's bitterest rivals feel they should be rewarded for having more pulling power with the public than any other team.
But the breakaway camp believes the new deal Ecclestone has struck with Ferrari goes too far - one insider has described it as "incredibly biased, a playing field that is not so much level as 45 degrees in favour of" Ferrari.
Among the issues concerning the rival teams and manufacturers are:
- Ferrari are guaranteed $67m (£34.8m) every year - an estimated 15-20% of their budget - before any money is distributed to the other teams.
- Ferrari have absolute veto over all changes agreed by the other teams, even if the other teams agree unanimously.
- Ferrari would get more of F1's commercial revenue if they finished last than any other team would if they won the world championship.
Agreeing to this, one insider says, would be "perpetuating them having a permanent advantage; they already have an advantage".
But the problem goes deeper than that. It is also a question of the way the sport has been governed by Mosley in recent years - and particularly in the last few months.
Mosley forced through last year a series of changes on the grounds of safety and cost-saving.
But some of the proposals - notably a requirement for engines to last for two race weekends not one - were introduced late, and far from cutting costs, actually increased them for the manufacturers.
The issues of commercial reward and technical governance both need to be solved before F1 can be sure of a stable future.
Although money is at the heart of every decision in F1, the commercial problem is probably the easiest to solve - it merely requires Ecclestone to come to a satisfactory agreement with the teams after the sort of negotiations that are commonplace in F1.
The issue of Mosley's governance poses bigger difficulties and has greater consequences.
Mosley - an experienced and highly intelligent politician - is unlikely to back down. But he is up for re-election in October and the teams and car manufacturers seem determined that things must change.
It may not come to this, but at the moment there seems every chance that this heavyweight struggle for power may climax in a change of leadership at the very top of F1.