Amid paddock whispers regarding a breakaway series, Formula 1’s former supremo Bernie Ecclestone has met with dissenter in chief Sergio Marchionne in what appears to have been a constructive meeting between the two who share a similar vision for the way forward.
Gazzetta Dello Sport reports that Ecclestone and Marchionne enjoyed a half-hour meeting and although the pair did not reveal what was discussed it is clear they are on the same page as a confrontation with Liberty Media looms.
After the get-together, Ecclestone affirmed, “The things we talked about are easily imaginable and with Sergio, there is always a total convergence of our views. I’ve been close to Ferrari since the days of Enzo.”
“Marchionne knows my position. I am inside the ‘company’, he knows that whatever he wants to do I will be there, I will do it with him.”
“Marchionne is a person who, when he says something, he does it and does not turn back on his decisions. Liberty men must be careful with what they have in mind for the future.”
“My Formula 1, was a company that distributed large dividends to its shareholders, in this case CVC. Of course there were quarrels, disagreements and discussions but in the end, we always came out with what’s best. Why now change something that worked well? ”
It is well known that Marchionne has threatened to pull Ferrari from the sport if Formula 1’s traditional ethos is diluted, while Liberty Media are intent in reducing the ever-increasing performance gap between the big teams and the minnows.
In the past, Ecclestone has admitted favouring Ferrari in the behind-the-scenes murky dealings that characterised how the sport was governed for nearly half a century during his watch. The Maranello outfit was granted a number of ‘bonus’ incentives which includes higher payouts than their rivals and a right to veto any new rules.
Ecclestone explained, “It’s not a bonus, but a prize for participation because Ferrari has always been there. When I gave away money there was always a good reason. We distributed income to teams according to the results and some received extra to ensure their presence until 2020.”
“We need to be clear: F1 without Ferrari would no longer be F1. I have created this business always supporting Ferrari and Ferrari has always supported me.”
“It will annoy people when I say this, but the presence of Ferrari has attracted additional money that [in turn] was divided by the others. A world without Ferrari? I cannot even think about it!”
On the other side of the fence, Liberty Media are keen to reduce the exorbitant costs that it takes to race in Formula 1, let alone win races and championships.
The top teams are spending over half a billion dollars per season in their quest for the title, while smaller teams have to make do with a quarter the amount and have little hope of their drivers even making it onto the podium.
The playing field in Formula 1 is not level, but at the same time Ecclestone is not convinced that budget caps will resolve the situation, “Reduce costs? I do not believe it until I see it. The nature of Formula 1 is technical advancement and it is also not possible to constrain everything.”
“I too dream of a World Championship with 20 teams and 20 different engines, this would be utopia. Maybe Liberty Media is thinking or doing things that I cannot imagine…”
Asked to assess Liberty’s year in charge, Ecclestone replied, “I no longer have direct involvement to judge this. I see what others see and I see some incomprehensible decisions, for example getting rid of grid girls. It was not a brilliant idea.”
“I also see they are throwing away a lot of money. For example, my FOM, excluding the TV staff, has always operated with less than 30 people in the offices – it was stringent but efficient.”
“[Now they have 150 people] probably not necessary. Unless in a short time they can deliver three or four times what I did.”
For now, it is a case of sabre rattling and posturing by the chief protagonists. A war between Liberty Media and their supporters versus Ferrari and their allies would be detrimental to Formula 1 and it has to be assumed that the stakeholders are doing all possible to avoid a clash or split.
Whatever the case, Ecclestone has made it clear where he stands if shots are fired, as well as offering his help if a breakaway series – led by Ferrari – does become a reality.
Meanwhile, Marchionne had only this to say of their tete-a-tete: “Ecclestone is looking very fit…”