Ecclestone move undermines rival series

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The Independent Online

The war between Bernie Ecclestone and the rival Formula One faction, Grand Prix World Championship, looks set to create windfalls for the 10 competing teams - and may prove the saviour of minnows such as Jordan and Minardi.

The war between Bernie Ecclestone and the rival Formula One faction, Grand Prix World Championship, looks set to create windfalls for the 10 competing teams - and may prove the saviour of minnows such as Jordan and Minardi.

While Ferrari are being slammed for turning their back on GPWC - to whom they had previously pledged allegiance - the smaller team owners are preparing for a meeting tomorrow at which they will discuss the details of Ecclestone's offer to loosen the purse strings. Small wonder that team principals such as the normally garrulous Eddie Jordan, who is considering a partnership of convenience with the Russian businessman Alex Shnaider's nascent Midland F1 operation just to survive, had no immediate comment to offer last week.

According to reports, Ecclestone, the commercial rights holder of F1, is prepared to offer the teams a deal worth £1.6bn now and another £3bn by 2012, and is even prepared to make up-front payments. This follows the revelation last week that Ferrari had signed up with Ecclestone and the FIA president, Max Mosley, to prolong the Concorde Agreement which governs the sport to 2012, when the current one expires in December 2007.

All of the teams will be offered a minimum of £40m - peanuts for the likes of Ferrari, McLaren Mercedes, Williams BMW, Toyota and Renault but manna from heaven for Jordan, Minardi and Red Bull, and even for midfield Sauber Petronas and 2004 runner-up BAR Honda.

Naturally the remuneration will be on a sliding scale according to performance and status, so the high rollers will do even better. Ferrari will probably receive £100m. Currently the teams share around £500m of F1's huge revenues. At a time when Jordan runs on an annual budget around £50m, £15m of which comes from his team's points-scoring, Ecclestone's offer will induce salivating.

On top of that there will be a signing-on fee of £35m and up to £9m held in escrow as a goodwill payment for the 2004 season, when Ecclestone feels they should have received more.

Ecclestone's move is a timely indication that his legendary legerdemain is as potent as ever, and has sent shockwaves through GPWC. Insiders believe it may be a death blow to the rival series, and nobody expects that there will ever be two separate world championships. The acrimonious and harmful battle between the CART and IRL single seater championships in America has sent a clear message across the Atlantic.

The GPWC chief, Jurgen Hubbert, has urged teams not to sign up to Ecclestone's deal until GPWC has stated its case at the end of February.

"Ferrari's wish to extend the agreement until 2012 has no impact on the current commercial arrangements," he said. "I am confident that GPWC can demonstrate that it can create an environment of fairness for our sport, different from that which appears to result from Ferrari's unilateral decision to enter into a private agreement with the commercial rights holder and the FIA."

With Ecclestone's money on the table now, however, February may be far too late.

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