Ecclestone targets US Grand Prix with warning shot

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Back in the UK, Bernie Ecclestone has fanned the flames of controversy. Last year he raised Formula One's profile over here with some off-the-cuff remarks to the effect that the local hero Jacques Villeneuve was a busted flush. A week later he dismissed the Indianapolis 500 heroine Danica Patrick - mobbed wherever she went when Formula One went to the famed Speedway for last year's June fiasco - with the comment that he prefers his domestic appliances in white. The man knows how to create headlines, and now he has been at it again with some warning shots across the bows of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner, Tony George.

"It does not matter to F1 if there is no Grand Prix in the US," Ecclestone said. "What do we get from America? Aggravation, that's about all. If you say 'Good Morning' over there and it's five past 12, you end up with a lawsuit. We have never got any sponsors out there. The television has never taken off; we have more viewers in Malta than over there. If they want to continue having a round of the F1 World Championship, I am happy to talk to them. But I am not prepared to subsidise a race in America." You guessed it: it is negotiation time as Indianapolis's contract for the Grand Prix expires after next week's race.

There are some who suggest after last year's mess in which only six cars started following Michelin's tyre problems which obliged all their runners to withdraw, that it is America that does not need F1. Neither polarised position is correct. F1 and America need each other, and both sides know it. Major US corporations are involved in the sport and America is still the world's largest consumer market. CVC, the owner of Formula One, knows that all too well, and so does Ecclestone.

Likewise, the city of Indianapolis has an annual bonanza with its 500-mile classic in May, and another when the grand prix hits town. The Americans are crazy about Nascar (their competition on oval race tracks), but when they hit town all the Indianapolis restaurants have done their business by 9pm. The Europeans, however, party until the small hours and profits soar.

While the teams have been able to muster little of interest to the media over here - bar Geoff Willis's sudden demise as technical director at Honda or Villeneuve launching his career as a pop star - Bernie knows what gets attention.