Ecclestone rides to the rescue in F1 dispute over revenues

BERNIE ECCLESTONE has reportedly played what could be his trump card in attempting to resolve the threat by the major car makers to start their own independent racing series from the start of 2008. Although clearly exasperated by what he privately regards as the manufacturers' prevarication over this matter, the billionaire is trying to keep his thoughts to himself for the moment and has offered to sell them 12.5 per cent of his remaining 25 per cent stake in the business.

However, Ecclestone is not a man to undervalue his own assets when it comes to hard negotiations. With that in mind, having recently clinched a deal to sell another 25 per cent of his SLEC operation to Kirch/EM.TV for 300 million pounds (475 million dollars), he is hardly likely to settle for anything less than a pro-rata payment from the car makers.

In a nutshell, that means Renault, DaimlerChrysler, Fiat, Ford and BMW coming up with about 237 million dollars for a 12.5 per cent stake - and presumably having to pay the same again if they wish to purchase a total of 25 per cent by means of buying another 12.5 per cent from Kirch.

Ecclestone told today's SUNDAY TIMES newspaper; "We will share our 25 per cent with the car companies if that is what it takes to sort this out." He added that he did not know whether this would be enough to prevent them from pursuing their independent series.

"Honest to God, I have no idea what they want at this stage," said Ecclestone. "Their position changes all the time. They are in business to sell cars. It seems strange to me that they want to own the races as well."

The former Brabham F1 team owner also sounded a cautionary note; "The (car) companies need to realize this business is about the teams, not the motor companies. Most of them have been in and out of F1 for years. Both sides need to look at the upside and the downside. There is more downside."

The point Ecclestone is making mirrors Sir Frank Williams's warning last week that his is an independent company which will not be pushed into any particular course of action by BMW, its engine partner. The teams will remain in F1 long after the car companies have moved on. Perhaps the real priority in F1 right now is to encourage more independent engine builders, so that the future of the sport is secured once the car makers have enjoyed their day of glory in the Grand Prix limelight.

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