Thursday April 12th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
Leading carmakers are not making idle threats in raising the prospect of setting up their own Formula One series, Jaguar team principal Bobby Rahal said on Thursday.
"I don't know why it wouldn't be a real possibility," said the American, who also owns a team in the U.S. CART series which split from the IRL (Indy Racing League) in the 1990s.
"Ultimately, especially since they (the carmakers) now own the teams, they have the power to create whatever they want. If they want to invest millions more into building a series, they'll do it.
"They have tremendous power but they have that power invested in it (Formula One) and that's why they need to be very considered, I think."
Italian car giant FIAT owns Ferrari, Ford have Jaguar, and Renault, the Benetton team, which is due to change name next season to that of the French carmaker.
Other major European manufacturers involved are Mercedes, with McLaren, and BMW with Williams.
Japan's Honda provide engines to Jordan and BAR, while Ferrari have deals with Sauber and Prost, and Toyota are entering the sport in 2002 to take up the 12th and final team slot.
The monthly magazine Eurobusiness reported recently that a winning Formula One team, such as champions Ferrari, needed $250 million a year to run, with 90 percent recouped from sponsors.
Paolo Cantarella, chairman of the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA) and of FIAT, said last week that the carmakers would move to set up a rival series.
The carmakers fear the purchase by Germany's Kirch group and EM.TV of 75 percent of Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone's holding company SLEC could lead to coverage of the sport being restricted to pay television.
However, last weekend's Sunday Times newspaper in Britain reported that 70-year-old Ecclestone had offered to sell half his 25 percent stake in SLEC to the manufacturers.
It said the German media companies were also willing to sell shares to the manufacturers, giving them a 25 percent stake in all.
"It appears that Ecclestone and Kirch/EM.TV are moving towards a deal that we will find acceptable," a FIAT spokesman said later.
Rahal, speaking before this weekend's San Marino Grand Prix, said he fully understood why the manufacturers wanted a say in the way Formula One was run.
"They've invested hundreds of millions of dollars, billions if you add it up over a period of time, and you want to have some control or vote or voice.
"There's a great responsibility that comes with that.
"I'm sure that wise men would say they should be considered, they should have a voice, but whether people are wise enough is a big question," he added.
Ferrari's world champion Michael Schumacher suggested that any split would be harmful for the sport.
"There has been experience in other series where this has happened and it has not made the situation easier, actually more complicated," he said at a news conference.
However, Rahal said the U.S. example was different, since manufacturers were not heavily involved in Indy Cars.
"Having said that, everybody said there was no way CART could do it and not only has CART done it but they have grown. The (IRL-run) Indy 500 really has suffered as a result."
Schumacher said Formula One had improved every year and hoped that it continued to develop.
"The manufacturers are interested in this kind of development so I guess they will do everything in its favour," he said.
"But then each one has his own opinion about how to achieve it so it will be interesting to see how it develops. It depends on who is in a position to steer the thing.
"Bernie has been the right person, I'm pretty sure he will be around for quite a while.
"At some stage we will have to see who can replace him but I am not interested to think of this yet, its too early."