The commotion about Formula 1’s new quieter cars – which have greatly upset fans of the sport – could hit the sport’s revenues and lead to teams getting less money if promoters take legal action, commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone said on Monday.
Australian Grand Prix Corporation chairman Ron Walker said after Sunday’s season-opener that he was not happy with the reduced decibels and claimed that Formula One was “clearly in breach of contract”.
“It’s not what we paid for. It’s going to change,” Walker told the Melbourne Age newspaper, adding that he had spoken to a ‘horrified’ Ecclestone about it.
“It will be an issue for promoters all around the world.”
Ecclestone told Reuters in a telephone interview that Walker was “probably going a bit over the top with what he’s saying” but added that the Australian was not alone in his concern.
“I’ve had one or two promoters get in touch with me today and they said how unhappy they are,” said the 83-year-old billionaire.
“I spoke to [Ferrari President] Luca di Montezemolo just now and Luca said he’s never had as many emails on his desk complaining and saying that this isn’t Formula One.”
Formula 1 ditched the old and raucous 2.4 litre V8 engines at the end of last season and replaced them with less fuel-thirsty and more muted 1.6 litre V6 turbo power units with expensive and complicated energy recovery systems.
Ecclestone has long been a critic of the change and has warned repeatedly that the sport risked losing a key ingredient for the paying public by turning down the volume that was such a big part of the show.
“I’m disappointed that I was right when I said what was going to happen. I’m sorry that it’s happened,” he said.
Asked whether promoters might see an opportunity to renegotiate their contracts downwards as a result, Ecclestone acknowledged that might become an issue.
“It’s not [a concern] at the moment but it could well be,” he said. “If the promoters say ‘Listen, this ain’t what I bought and I ain’t going to pay for it or I don’t want to pay as much’ or whatever, then it is a concern.
“We give the teams a percentage of the revenue we receive. So if we are receiving less revenue, whatever the case may be, certainly the teams wouldn’t get as much. So it’s going to cost them,” he added.
The Briton, who has seen the global glamour sport go through numerous engine eras from V12 to V10 and V8, questioned whether promoters like Walker could win their argument in any court of law, however.
“I don’t know whether he has [got a point],” he said of Walker’s comments about a breach of contract.
“Let’s assume he hasn’t got a point as far as the legal side is going. Then you have to look at it from a moral side. If you went into the supermarket today and bought some strawberry jam and you got peanut butter you’d probably be a bit pissed off.
“It’s good quality peanut butter, but he’s saying it isn’t what he bought,” added Ecclestone.
“Whether the contract describes what he’d bought, the strawberry jam with so many strawberries, I don’t know. I doubt it. I think he bought the FIA Formula One World Championship. Which is what he’s got.”
Nico Rosberg won Sunday’s race for a dominant Mercedes while quadruple world champion, compatriot Sebastian Vettel, who won the last nine races of 2013 for Red Bull, retired early on with engine trouble.
Despite dire predictions of no cars finishing the race, so uncertain was their reliability, 13 of the 22 drivers were classified in the final results.
“I am surprised that as many cars finished. I didn’t think the racing was super,” said Ecclestone of what he had seen.
“What was good from the public’s point of view I suppose was that we didn’t suddenly see Sebastian disappear into the night. Whether we are going to see [Mercedes’ Lewis] Hamilton or the other one [Rosberg] do that, I don’t know.