Saturday May 26th, 2001
By Timothy Collings
The proposed Formula One breakaway series could be launched before 2008 if the European carmakers decided it was the best thing to do, Mercedes-Benz chairman Juergen Hubbert said on Saturday.
He also declined to rule out the possibility that the new series would consider approaching current Formula One ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone as a potential chief executive. Speaking after Saturday's qualifying session for Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix, Hubbert confirmed that the new company to run the breakaway series would be formed in the next few days.
Hubbert said: "We, meaning the five manufacturers, signed a memo of understanding last Friday in Rome which clearly said that we are willing to found a company that is capable of preparing for a new race series that could be the successor to the current Formula One, at the latest in 2008.
"We will found this company in the next few days. We are looking for some people to start to work and so that's the situation."
He described it as "a very serious proposal."
The Association of European Car makers (ACEA) announced last week its members had agreed to set up a new company to run a rival championship. The association covers some of the biggest names in Formula One - Jaguar owners Ford, DaimlerChrysler, which has Mercedes-McLaren, BMW with Williams, Renault with Benetton and Ferrari's Fiat.
Earlier on Saturday, the president of the sport's ruling body, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), Max Mosley, had told a news conference he believed that the breakaway threats were serious.
But he said he hoped they could be resolved by finding a compromise agreement to satisfy the manufacturers, the teams and the interests of the Ecclestone trust SLEC, which holds the long-term rights to exploit commercial rights.
Hubbert, asked if nothing could happen before the expiry of the currently binding Concorde Agreement between the teams and the FIA at the end of 2007, said: "Anything is possible, but it depends on the Concorde Agreement.
"Mr Ecclestone normally does fantastic, waterproof, contracts and now we have to look at all the details and ask if it is a good idea to start it earlier or just take it over in 2008 when the current agreement finishes. Nobody is interested in destroying something which is good, but as has happened in the last few months, there is nothing we can agree upon.
"Therefore, for us manufacturers, there is no further chance to go that route - unless the current shareholders offer something substantial then for sure we would sit together and discuss it."
He said the central issue was not the size of the manufacturers' equity stake in the Formula One business, but the way it is run and the level of control.
He said: "It is not just a question of the stake, but a question of how you make decisions. For example, on the number of races, the countries where we race, the format of the race, free and live television...and all these issues."
Hubbert said he felt it possible to launch a rival series at the same time as the existing Formula One championship.
"Yes, sure, it's possible, but whether it is a good idea, that is something different. We have to look into the contracts and we have to discuss it. But that is something that will happen now and it is something that the people we hire for the new company will have to do."
Asked about who would run the new company, he said: "The best professional we can get." When asked if this could be Ecclestone, he replied: "It's not impossible.....He is not happy with the situation.
"He understands absolutely that he has to involve the manufacturers for the future and is therefore still in a position where he can help to solve the problems."