Ecclestone stays in pole position as Formula One profits surge

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The Independent Online

Bernie Ecclestone hit back last night at suggestions he needs to loosen his iron grip on Formula One to save the sport from disintegrating.

After it emerged in figures filed at Companies House that Formula One made profits of £160m - a rise of almost 80 per cent - in 2004, opponents complained Mr Ecclestone is the only person to make any money from it.

Rebel car makers, including Renault, BMW and Honda, are demanding a bigger slice of the pie and threatening to launch a rival motor racing series if they do not get their way.

Mr Ecclestone dismissed the idea that the surging profits are increasing the pressure on him to concede ground to the car makers. "It makes it more interesting for them to want to do a deal. They should be very happy. It is a lot of money and they will be getting a big chunk of it soon," he said.

Mr Ecclestone indicated he does not take seriously the threat that the car makers will walk away. "They won't do their own series. They would have done it by now if they were going to."

Formula One Administration, the business that oversees the commercial aspect of Formula One, saw turnover leap 25 per cent to £400m. That raised eyebrows in the tight-knit circle that surrounds motor sport. Some participants claim it has become impossible to make anything other than a loss from racing cars.

Mr Ecclestone, who has a 25 per cent stake in Formula One Administration, saw his pay rise 13 per cent to £2.6m, a small addition to the personal wealth of one of the richest men in Britain.

The existing commercial deal between the racing teams and Formula One expires at the end of 2007. Xander Heijnen, of the Grand Prix Manufacturers Association, thinks a new one can still be struck. "We appreciate the progress made and hope agreement on the outstanding issues can be reached soon."

Max Mosley, the head of the FIA, the Formula One regulator, said last week it would be "entirely reasonable" to give the manufacturers no income, a remark that raised anger. Mr Mosley is seen as being close to Mr Ecclestone.