Monday, December 22, 2008

Montezemolo Won't Be Intimidated

Sunday 21st December 2008

Instead of being a time of peace on earth and goodwill to all men, the struggle for power and control at the head of F1 has intensified this Christmas with Bernie's latest salvo against Ferrari.

Following an extensive press briefing by Ferrari chief Luca Montezemolo at Maranello suggesting that Bernie's time in charge is coming to an end and that the (for now) unanimous Formula One Team's Association, FOTA, is in the ascendancy, Bernie has struck back.

Montezemolo, who also speaks for FOTA, is unhappy about a number of moves by Ecclestone and there are signs that FOTA are prepared to back up there grumbles with future action. The big thing, of course, is money. But there are other issues, too...

"In terms of revenue, we want to know more about them," said Montezemolo earlier this week. "Theoretically, like in other professional sports, like basketball in the USA, we can have a league made by us and appoint a good league manager to run our own business. Because it is our own business.

"We want to know the revenues better so we can decrease the cost of the tickets. Then we have the matter of traditional tracks rather than exotic tracks just because they have a nice skyline. We have to discuss the show. How to promote. I'm not prepared any more to have all this dictated to us by outside without any control."

Ferrari and McLaren are fed up with Bernie making big money deals with countries that want an F1 race as a badge of international pride, but whose population have very little history of attending F1 races. Sepang is the oldest and least-attended of the fly-away exotica, and now that the initial novelty is over, the organisers struggle to sell all the tickets for the race.

Contrast that with Montreal which is almost always a sell-out but which the promotors cannot make money from because of the high price charged by Ecclestone for the privilege of holding a GP. There is a feeling that Bernie tends to favour new destinations because the organisers are keen to hold the race and are eager to let him have all the trackside advertising he wants.

Ron Dennis has said that he expects F1 to be back in North America within the next three years. With an important North American customer base for Mercedes and Ferrari, no doubt FOTA are angling for it to be sooner. They're also worried about the financial solvency of other traditional races that are important to them, such as the French and German GPs.

Montezemolo is quite right in that elite sports, such as the NFL in America and England's Premiership, control their own revenues and it seems faintly ludicrous that they spend millions of dollars to compete yet have a kind of feudal ownership by Ecclestone/CVC and are dictated to by the FIA. They are the show.

But it's actually all Montezemolo's fault.

When the teams, driven by the manufacturers, were about to put an end to this financial feudalism in 2003 and set off on their own series, the Grand Prix World Championship (GPWC), it was Montezemolo who scuppered it.

As Bernie revealed at the weekend, Ferrari's price for breaking ranks with the other teams and returning to Formula 1 was $80m a year. He knew that any new series without Ferrari would not have credibility and that as soon as he signed Montezemolo up the momentum would swing his way. Williams joined them, and the GPWC fell apart.

Now Montezemolo says he's prepared to give up Ferrari's traditional larger share of the funds in return for a greater share of revenue for the teams overall. But it's not because he's had a Dickensian moment (a la Christmas Carol) when he's been visited by three ghosts of F1 past. He knows that the edifice is about to crumble and he needs to have teams around him to race against. Despite what everybody says publicly, Renault could well be next. Company boss Carlos Ghosn has never been more than lukewarm about F1.

FOTA need to continue to display unity against Ecclestone now that he is at his weakest. His financial empire looks like it's about to be re-organised with a divorce from his wife Slavicia, who had interests (if only nominal) in the companies he controlled. And there is still that business with Max and the cellar and Bernie's calls for him to resign and Max's quest for who tipped off the press in the first place...

Luca Montezemolo is still the best person to lead the F1 teams forward and out of the financial dependency they've found themselves in. Despite Bernie's revelations putting an exact figure on the annual Ferrari bung, the rest of the teams in the pitlane probably had a good idea of the figure anyway. And F1 needs Ferrari more than any other team.

Ecclestone looks like someone who's in a tight corner right now. Never one to reveal his financial dealings willingly, this latest disclosure looks like an indication of just how seriously he's feeling the pressure. And if Bernard Charles were to get a spectral visitation on December 24th, just like Ebenezer Scrooge did in Christmas Carol, then it would be nice to think it was the ghost of Ken Tyrrell.

Ken would never have stood for any of this.

Andrew Davies

Source : Planet F1

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