New headache for Ecclestone

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The Independent Online

Bernie Ecclestone, the holder of Formula One's commercial rights, found himself with another headache yesterday - a tough battle with four of the sport's major car makers who yesterday confirmed their plans to launch a breakaway world championship series by 2008.

Bernie Ecclestone, the holder of Formula One's commercial rights, found himself with another headache yesterday. In between fighting the banks for control of his interests in the sport, uniting nine of the 10 teams against Ferrari in a cost-saving proposal during last weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix, and deflecting criticism over the British Grand Prix situation, he now faces a tough battle with four of the sport's major car makers who yesterday confirmed their plans to launch a breakaway world championship series by 2008.

The Grand Prix World Championship group comprises BMW, Ferrari, Renault and Mercedes. Since the formation of GPWC Holdings BV in 2001 they have been arguing with Ecclestone's SLEC Holdings Ltd over the future of the sport. Ecclestone currently pays entrants just over 40 per cent of Formula One's annual commercial income, which is estimated at £450m, but the manufacturers want more. A preliminary deal was agreed in December 2003 after GPWC threatened to start a breakaway series in 2007. However, GPWC broke off talks in April claiming SLEC had failed to comply with the agreement.

"We have been more than patient with the current management of Formula One," the GPWC chairman, Jurgen Hubbert, said yesterday, "but recent developments have underlined the need for a structure that guarantees a stable and prosperous future of the sport."

The new series cannot start before 2008 because all 10 teams involved - and any that join before then - are bound legally by the Concorde Agreement which governs the sport. That expires at the end of 2007.

The Ferrari president, Luca di Montezemolo, fired the first shots when he openly criticised Ecclestone during the Italian Grand Prix in September and said: "Such an expensive sport cannot survive if we do not increase the revenues. It was a big mistake to sell the company to a German TV company and then to sell it to Kirch, and a mistake now that the sport is 75 per cent owned by banks. We have to look at something new."

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