Honda website
Honda website

APRIL 4, 2001

No chance of car makers going it alone

IT may be seen by some as a nice idea, but the harsh reality is that there is as much chance of the major car makers' going it alone as there was of Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone getting their pirate World Federation of Motor Sport series off the ground in 1980.

Still, at least Bernie and Max actually staged a couple of pirate races - never legitimized as championship rounds by the FIA, of course - whereas this proposed new series won't even get off the starting blocks. For one thing, it's not due to start until 2008 and, in a fast-moving sport where a minute can be half a life time, that amounts to centuries away in F1 terms.

Nevertheless, in what is being dismissed by F1 insiders - privately, of course - as a dramatic bluff, Europe's top car makers are threatening to establish an independent formula one championship unless they receive long-term guarantees about the commercial future of the current series in the wake of Bernie Ecclestone's controversial sell-out to Kirch, the German media group.

The car makers remain apprehensive that, long-term, Kirch will attempt to transfer the formula one championship onto pay-to-view television. Insiders believe that they are also using the threat of a breakaway series as a means of persuading Kirch to sell them a 35 per cent stake in the formula one business for a price reasonable enough for them to justify to their shareholders.

Paolo Cantarella, the chief executive officer of Fiat and chairman of the European car manufacturers' association which also includes DaimlerChrysler (Mercedes), Renault, BMW and Ford (owners of Jaguar), confirmed yesterday that the decision had been made to start a new formula.

They will be joined by Japanese car makers Toyota and Honda in setting up the new series for the 2008 season, after the end of the current Concorde agreement which governs the manner in which formula one is operated.

"As a result of recent developments, and in the best interests of motor sport, it has been unanimously agreed to establish a joint company, the purpose of which will be to establish, as soon as possible, a new single-seater, open-wheel racing car championship," he said.

Ecclestone last week sold another 25 per cent of his SLEC empire, which controlled formula one's commercial rights, to Kirch for an estimated 600 million pounds.

This is in addition to the 50 per cent he sold to EM.TV which was rescued by Kirch after its reputed 950 million pound outlay for that stake threatened to exhaust its financial resources.

"This is obviously a high risk game of poker," said a highly placed source in another of the car companies. "But we don't want a situation to develop like that with pay TV in football where you have a situation where TV companies don't want to bid for next year's World Cup because the prices they are being quoted are absurdly expensive."

There is another problem in that Kirch understood it was acquiring from Ecclestone the commercial rights to formula one for 100 years from 2011. Although such a deal was agreed by the FIA world council recently, Ecclestone has still not finalized the 240 million pound payment to the FIA.

FIA president Max Mosley has admitted that he is "not optimistic" that the deal can be done and has hinted that the FIA might look elsewhere to lease its commercial rights from 2011. This matter is further complicated by the fact that there has been no progress on agreeing terms to renew the Concorde agreement beyond its expiry date in six years' time.

"We have been trying to finalize the 100 year deal with Bernie for some time," said Mosley, "but it hasn't happened yet. There is still an awful lot to be done."