Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said that Formula One teams have a responsibility to try to overcome their differences over the future of the sport in the face of a threat by Ferrari to quit because of a number of proposed changes.
Bernie Ecclestone, who ran F1 for 40 years before being replaced by new owners Liberty Media last year, has raised the possibility that Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne could walk away from F1 and form a breakaway series over Liberty’s future vision for the sport.
Ferrari is unhappy with Liberty’s proposal to simplify engines and redistribute prize money among F1 teams after the current contract with teams expires at the end of 2020.
Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene would not comment on the specifics of Marchionne’s previous comments at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Friday, but said: “My only suggestion, please take him seriously.” Wolff is also taking the possibility of Ferrari walking away seriously.
He told Britain’s Press Association before the Australian GP that he agreed with Marchionne’s concerns and that Formula One can’t afford to alienate Ferrari or lose the team. “Don’t mess with Sergio Marchionne,” he said. “Formula One needs Ferrari much more than Ferrari needs Formula One.” Wolff was more diplomatic on Friday, saying he hopes all sides could come together for the good of the sport.
“I think this as much a battle on track as much as it is a fight off track for an advantage,” he said.
“It is clear the current governance and how the rules are being made is not very functional. There’s too much different opinions and agendas on the table and we need to sort it for 2021 for the best interest of the sport.” Red Bull boss Christian Horner agreed there are too many competing agendas, suggesting that the FIA-Formula One’s governing body-and Liberty Media come together to decide on a set of regulations and financial framework for the next contract and the teams can then decide if they want to accept it or not.
“Trying to get a consensus between teams that have varying objectives, different set-ups, is going to be impossible,” he said.
“It’s history repeating itself. It happens every five or six years, every time the Concorde Agreement comes up for renewal.”
Tempers also flared during Friday’s media conference over another issue of contention between the teams â€” Ferrari’s recent hiring of FIA’s ex-safety director, Laurent Mekies.
Horner believes Ferrari broke an agreement among teams at a recent meeting to institute a 12-month waiting period for any former employee of FIA or FOM (Formula One Management) to be able to start working for one of F1’s teams. The concern is that former FIA staff who go to work for a specific team could share secrets from other teams.
“Certain teams were pushing for that period to be three years, but in the end it was agreed upon being 12 months,” he said.
“It almost makes those meetings pointless if we can’t agree on something and action it.” Arrivabene defended Ferrari’s move, saying Mekies would not join its team until after a six-month “gardening leave” period.
“There is nothing wrong with that because we were absolutely respecting the local law, the Swiss local law where Laurent was hired,” he said.
Motor racing-Ecclestone urges F1 to take breakaway threat seriously
Formula One’s former commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone has warned owners Liberty Media to take the threat of a breakaway series seriously and said Mercedes could follow Ferrari out of the championship.
Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne has threatened his team could quit if F1’s American owners follow through on plans for simpler engines and a redistribution of prize money after contracts expire in 2020. Ecclestone, who moved aside in January 2017 after Liberty took over, suggested both Ferrari and Mercedes, who have swept the last four drivers’ and constructors’ championships, were on the same page.
“Talking to people like Sergio and (Mercedes boss) Toto (Wolff), they are not idiots,” the 87-year-old told Autosport. “They will weigh up whether it’s better for everyone to leave and do their own series, or do we need the (governing body) FIA to look over things? So people will start to think what to do.
“The trouble now is that Sergio has come out and said, ‘The next time I see you, I’m going to punch you in the face’. And when he sees the people, he’s got to be sure that he’s going to punch them in the face.
“Sergio is not the guy that makes threats as a joke and then runs.” Although fierce rivals on the track, Ferrari and champions Mercedes are closely aligned off it on financial matters and engines — supplying six of the 10 teams in the series.
The threat of a rebel series has rumbled only days before Sunday’s series-opening Australian Grand Prix. Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said on Friday that Marchionne knew “very well what he is talking about”. “My only suggestion is please take him seriously,” he told a news conference at Albert Park.
Wolff, who was sitting alongside Arrivabene, struck a more conciliatory tone but would not rule out Mercedes leaving Formula One after 2020.
“It is clear that the current governance, how the rules are being made is not functional, there is too much different opinions and agendas on the table and we need to sort it for 2021, for the best interests of the sport,” he said.
“We have at least three more years together in this great sport, regulated by the FIA, owned by Liberty, run by competent men and we just need to give our input support into the best possible way so it’s great and we’re not devaluing it.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner quipped that Mercedes and Ferrari were “about the only two teams in Formula One that do agree” and said it was up to Liberty and the FIA to table a plan rather than hope for a consensus.
“My view on this is very simple, trying to get a consensus between teams that have got varying objectives, different set-ups, it’s going to be impossible,” he said.
“It’s down to the commercial rights holder and the FIA to get together, come up with a set of regulations.
“Put it on the table and it’s down to the teams whether they want to sign up to that or not.”