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Off-track war erupts behind F1's glitter

2014-11-10 08:50

MUMM'S THE WORD: Mercedes' Nico Rosberg (right) and Lewis Hamilton celebrate on the podium after a 1-2 finish in the 2014 Brazilian F1 GP on November 9. But things are not so happy behind the garages...Image: AFP / Nelson Almeida

SAO PAULO, Brazil - On track, a thrilling and intense battle for  the Formula 1 Drivers' championship that will only be settled at the season-ending Abu Dhabi race on November 23 is being played out.

Yet, another perhaps even more serious drama is being played out - indeed fought furiously - behind the glamourous facade of the sport. Marussia and Caterham are gone, the next independent teams are arguing loudly for help.

  • Two newspaper reports have now quoted Force India's auditors as suggesting "there is no evidence" that the holding company can sustain the team "as a going concern".

  • Sauber and Lotus have joined the plea, even reportedly threatening a boycott as recently as the US GP a week before the Brazilian race.


Bernie Ecclestone sounded sympathetic to the claim that his income distribution system wa skewed and F1 owner CVC was said to be in talks with the small teams about a $160-million "fighting fund" but Ecclestone changed his tune dramatically in Brazil on Sunday, calling the talks "a waste of time" and telling the sport's minnows to either get their affairs in order or race out of the paddock gates.

He even said touted talks with CVC's Donald Mackenzie next week were off.

"It's not their position to decide to whom I speak," Ecclestone said.

Bob Fernley, the angry deputy boss at Force India, confirmed that any earlier talk of financial help had now ended. "We were given a clear direction that there is no money on the table," he said.

He suggests "a very clear agenda" is in play, with Ecclestone, CVC and the big teams in cahoots to replace the minnows with customer teams.

"Three cars (per team) will be the interim," Fernley warned.


The (London) Times reported that a high-level email had been distributed that showed Red Bull and Ferrari had agreed to add a third car to their garages in 2015. A Red Bull spokesperson immediately denied that story but angry Sauber team boss Monisha Kaltenborn said: "They are trying to drive teams out because they don't suit them any more."

It appears the only concession Ecclestone is willing to make to the struggling teams is to advise them to follow the path expected to be taken by newcomer Haas in 2016 - buy a full chassis from a big team and survive that way.

The 84-year-old Briton was even quoted as calling the complaining teams "idiots". "You know what the teams said to me in that meeting...?  'We are Constructors,' they said. I told them they can't afford to be Constructors."

Ecclestone was quoted by Germany's Sport1 as saying: "Maybe it's an idea to have another championship in addition to the Constructors."

He meant one championship for the 'constructors' (Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren, Williams) and a second for the smaller teams which could run year-old customer cars and older engine specifications.


Lotus owner Gerard Lopez confirmed: "The fact is we are talking about third cars, dividing the series into two categories. At the same time nobody is talking about finding a real solution to the problem. everybody is just talking about crazy things."

He predicted third cars would be "the death of the sport".

Kaltenborn told reporters on Sunday: "Looking at the proposals, we have to believe there is some agenda here. The more these ideas are coming up, the more we three (teams) get the feeling that maybe some people don't want us around and maybe the sport is supposed to be changed in a very different way."

Ecclestone, however, insists that his plan is the most sustainable way to run a small team in the sport's next era.

"You and I could start a team under those conditions for $30-million a year and for finishing 10th in the championship you would get $48-million. What's the problem with that?"

Stay with Wheels24 for the 2014 F1 season – fresh reports every day.


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