Kirch pour oil on troubled waters

THE Kirch media group has moved quickly in an effort to placate the major car makers in a bid to head off their plans to organize a new racing category from the start of 2008.

On Wednesday FIA chief executive officer Paolo Cantarella indicated that the European car manufacturers would organize their own series as they were worried about the commercial implications of Kirch's recent acquisition of a controlling interest in Bernie Ecclestone's SLEC empire which holds the commercial rights to the current world championship series.

The car makers were concerned that Kirch's commitment to pay-to-view broadcasting would undermine the global appeal of formula one by depriving terrestrial viewers of free access which is regarded as crucial in promoting their products.

However Kirch has now assured the manufacturers that it would continue its commitment to terrestrial television coverage beyond the expiry of the current Concorde agreement at the end of 2007.

The current Concorde agreement contains a key requirement from the sport's governing body committing the commercial rights holder - currently Ecclestone - to provide free television access.

However Kirch spokesman Hartmut Schultz explained; "There are no plans to let formula one slip into pay TV." He also explained that Kirch wanted to keep formula one attractive to a large audience.

Kirch has offered a 25 per cent stake in its business to the car manufacturers, although at what price has not been revealed. It has also offered veto rights to prevent them moving broadcasting of formula one to pay TV.

However, such assurances seem to offer only a limited solution. Having shown their hand, the manufacturers are now determined to exact as much as possible in terms of concessions while Kirch is apparently reeling on the ropes.

It seems that the manufacturers, and the formula one teams with who they are in partnership, will demand an increase in the 51 per cent share of the commercial rights income which is currently shared with them by Ecclestone. As a pre-condition of agreeing terms to a revised Concorde agreement from the start of 2008, they will want Kirch to increase their stake in formula one's lucrative cashflow.

These ambitions mirror the sentiments of Ferrari president Luca di Montezmolo who said just prior to last month's Australian grand prix; "We - the teams - are the players. And it is only right that we want a bigger slice of the commercial cake."

Intriguingly, all the partner teams were keeping quiet last night, refusing to comment and preferring to hide behind Cantarella's original pronouncement. That comes as no surprise. In the rain-swept paddock at Silverstone yesterday, where three teams were attempting to test, the notion of an independent, breakaway formula one series was being treated with a scepticism bordering on indulgent amusement.

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