The Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone has threatened to sue motor sport's governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), over its plan to introduce a more fuel-efficient engine in 2014.
There is much at stake as 17 race promoters, including Monaco and Silverstone, which hosts next Sunday's British Grand Prix, have said they will switch from F1 to its US rival IndyCar if the new engine is introduced.
The new engine, a 15,000rpm V6, is less powerful than the current V8. Mr Ecclestone and the race promoters are concerned that it will reduce performance and noise levels. Ecclestone says the distinctive noise of F1 engines is important. He added that the new engine "is not Formula One – it doesn't sound anything like Formula One".The problem is significant for promoters because their only source of income from F1 comes from tickets so they could be pushed into losses. They have written to the FIA demanding that the new engine stays at 18,000rpm and sounds like theV8.
"[The race promoters] believe these [new] engines will take away what people want when they go to Formula One races – the glamour and the noise – and therefore they won't be able to sell the tickets and they won't be able to pay us," said Mr Ecclestone.
He added: "They have got a contract with me and if they can't honour it, because they aren't selling any tickets, I probably wouldn't hold them to it." To prevent the races leaving, Mr Ecclestone said, "we may have to sue the FIA". He said the decision to introduce the new engines breached his contract with the governing body.
F1's rights holder, the Jersey-based company Delta Topco, is run by Mr Ecclestone and majority owned by the private equity firm CVC. It has an agreement with the FIA to promote F1 for the next 100 years.
Mr Ecclestone also responded to comments by Adam Parr, chairman of the Williams team, who said teams were in "early stage" talks about a minority stake in F1. "Very few of them have got enough money to run their teams [let alone buy a stake]," said Mr Ecclestone.