Ecclestone: twilight races here to stay
Sunday 03 May 2009
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone says the later start times for races in the Far East and Australia have boosted television audiences threefold. Despite widespread criticism from drivers due to fading light levels, Ecclestone says twilight starts in F1 are here to stay.
This year was the first time the Grands Prix in Australia and Malaysia began at 5pm local time, three hours after their usual start time. This was done so the races could be broadcast live in Europe in the early morning, rather than the middle of the night, and it served its purpose. "All our TV up to now has been up 300 per cent," says Ecclestone, adding: "We have been getting more than 50 per cent of the market share."
The later start time was a compromise after the Australian organisers objected to following the example set by Singapore last year and hosting a night race. The sticking point was the cost of floodlighting the circuit and Ecclestone says that although this will cost the Malaysian circuit $16 million (£10.8m), it will be the next night race on F1's calendar.
He dismisses speculation that construction of the Abu Dhabi circuit is not on track for its inaugural race in November. "It will be done on time," says Ecclestone, adding that although F1 is increasingly moving eastwards, he cannot envisage a time without races in Europe since "it is a world championship".
Ecclestone is in negotiations about bringing F1 back to the United States, where it has been absent since 2007, and he reveals "we'd like to do something in New York or California". But if this race is added, then another may have to go. When South Korea joins the calendar next year, there will be 18 Grands Prix and Ecclestone says that in the past the teams "just about lived with 18".
Another dispute between Ecclestone and the teams is over the £20m prize money earned by Honda which left F1 at the end of last year. They are now leading the F1 championship under the Brawn GP name but lost their entitlement to the money after being classed as a new team by F1's governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA).
The Concorde Agreement, the contract committing the teams to race in F1, says prize money earned by outfits which have left the sport should be split between those remaining in the sport. However, the contract is not in force and although the teams initially agreed to give the money to Brawn, there are now objections to this given Brawn's success. Ecclestone reveals that the money will not be paid to Brawn and he adds it will not be paid out at all if there is not unanimous agreement on who should receive it. "We can keep it," he says.
Despite Brawn's success, Ecclestone says it would have been better for the team to have retained their former name. "I opposed the name Brawn," he says, claiming it is "not a good name, doesn't mean anything to the public, better being Honda than Brawn".
If the Honda prize money goes to Brawn, the teams can make up for it by running under a £40m budget cap next year. Critics have claimed that it will be impossible to police in the notoriously secretive world of F1 but Ecclestone says that this will be quite a straightforward process.
He explains that every three months the teams will have to sign a commitment that they are running under the limit and, as with everything in F1, the punishment they will face if found in breach will be financial: a $100m fine.
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