Friday April 6th, 2001
Formula One promoter Bernie Ecclestone said on Friday that Europe's major carmakers could wreck top-level motor racing if they proceeded with declared plans to set up a rival championship to Formula One.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Ecclestone said: "It has taken me 30 years to build up Formula One into what it is today and it could take just six months to destroy it."
On Wednesday, Europe's major carmakers said they would set up a rival tour to the Formula One championship in a bid to wrench control of the sport away from German media group Kirch and its partner EM.TV .
The carmakers' announcement, which could revolutionise one of the world's most glamorous and lucrative sports, was made in a statement by Paolo Cantarella, chairman of both the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) and Italian carmaker Fiat. ACEA's members include Fiat, Ford, BMW AG, Renault and DaimlerChrysler, all of which have interests in Formula One racing teams.
ACEA has been trying for months to block a bid by Kirch and EM.TV & Merchandising AG to gain a greater hold on the rights to broadcast Formula One races.
"The bottom line is that the manufacturers had the opportunity to come in, through EMTV, long before Kirch came on the scene," said Ecclestone. "It was a good proposal that they didn't take up."
ACEA says it fears the German companies will attempt to shift the sport from free-to-air to pay-per-view television, an accusation Kirch and EM.TV have rejected.
But Ecclestone was quoted by the Financial Times as saying that a rival championship "would be bad for everybody. Formula One is a very stable, sound business with huge television and press coverage."
Major multinational sponsors and broadcasters would rapidly lose interest if Formula One was broken up into two competing series.