F1 breakaway group ready to put Ecclestone in a spin

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The Independent Online

The group of rebel car-makers threatening to set up a rival series to the Formula One championship plan to sign contracts to begin the official breakaway next month.

The group of rebel car-makers threatening to set up a rival series to the Formula One championship plan to sign contracts to begin the official breakaway next month.

BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Ferrari and Renault believe that they are close to establishing the legal framework for the rival series, after months of confidential meetings with track owners, sponsors and broadcasters.

A source close to the rebel group, which is operating under GPWC Holdings, said: "We are close to signing. This will set in motion the plans to set up the alternative series by 2008 at the latest."

GPWC is planning to break away because it believes that Formula One controller Bernie Ecclestone is not distributing enough revenues to the teams.

The news comes six days after Mr Ecclestone lost a High Court case that could loosen his grip on the sport. The defeat gives Bayerische Landesbank, JP Morgan and Lehman Brothers - majority shareholders in SLEC, the Formula One holding company - greater control over the way it is run.

The banks are expected to seek meetings with the carmakers in the coming weeks. But the source close to GPWC said the court case had not changed their plans to set up a rival series. It is also understood that Honda is now considering joining GPWC. "We have no immediate plans, but we are keeping an eye on the situation," said a spokesman for Honda.

Mr Ecclestone said that the court case had not altered his influence over the sport: "I am the CEO of Formula One Administration and Formula One Management [subsidiaries of SLEC]. There has not been any change in the structure." Mr Ecclestone added that he has no plans to offer to buy the banks' 75 per cent of SLEC.

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