'I very much doubt Mercedes will leave F1' - Ecclestone
Bernie Ecclestone says he does not think Mercedes will pull out of Formula One over a contractual dispute despite reports suggesting that the car manufacturer's shareholders will vote on leaving at the end of the year.
"I very much doubt that Mercedes will leave," says Ecclestone adding that "they are upset at the moment because they feel they are not being treated in the same way as Ferrari. Our comment is a simple one, we are treating Mercedes in exactly the same way and that is what the problem is. All of these teams' commercial set ups are based on the length they have been in Formula One and the results whilst they were there. Unfortunately Mercedes have only been there a couple of years."
The dispute surrounds the Concorde Agreement, the contract which commits the teams to race in F1. The current contract expires at the end of this year but an agreement to extend it has been signed by the majority of teams except for Mercedes.
Under the current contract the top ten teams share 50% of F1's profits as prize money and a fixed fee is paid to Ferrari due to its historical status. However, the new agreement will also give money to any team which has competed since 2000 without making a change to its name with further payments to reward past constructors' championship winners and back-to-back champions. As part of plans to float F1 on the Singapore stock exchange this year, representatives from Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull will also get seats on the board of the sport's parent company.
Ferrari's representative will be its chairman Luca di Montezemolo while Red Bull's will be its chief executive Dietrich Mateschitz. Ecclestone says it isn't clear yet who will take McLaren's board seat with rumours the Crown Prince of Bahrain is in line since the country's Mumtalakat sovereign wealth fund owns 50% of the team. The other likely candidate is McLaren's executive chairman Ron Dennis.
"I don't think they have decided who is going to take that seat," Ecclestone said. "It has been assumed that as the people in Bahrain are the major shareholders that they probably will but I don't know. I don't care to be honest. There's nothing we can do. We haven't said it has got to be this or it has got to be that. We have assumed perhaps it would be Bahrain because they own 50% of McLaren. I thought it would probably be Mr Dennis. Whether or not the board have decided this I don't know."
The new terms don't favour Mercedes as not only has it not been given a board seat but it has changed its name multiple times in recent years making it ineligible for additional payments. In addition to the reports about Mercedes voting on its future in F1, the team is thought to be considering making an anti-competition complaint to the European Commission due to what it believes to be preferential treatment to its rivals.
Ecclestone adds that Mercedes missed an opportunity which would have made it eligible for the additional payments as it could have taken over McLaren. Mercedes bought a 40% stake in McLaren in 1999 and reportedly considered acquiring a majority stake in the team over the following years. "They could have taken over McLaren a couple of years ago and if they had made that decision they wouldn't be in the current situation. It is what you would have expected them to do to be honest," says Ecclestone. Instead, in 2009 Mercedes set up its own team and sold its stake in McLaren to its co-shareholders Dennis, Mumtalakat and the Saudi TAG Group.
Ironically, despite being bound by the Concorde Agreement, teams can still leave F1 as the company which runs them can simply be closed down. This is what happened when Toyota pulled out in 2009 and Ecclestone says "if you had said to me the week before any of those big companies left, I would have said 'I can't see them leaving'. And what happens? You pick up the newspaper and find out that they have gone."
Mercedes has denied that it is considering leaving and the team's chief executive Nick Fry said recently "the mindset is, absolutely in capital letters, Mercedes-Benz wishes to be in F1." Earlier this week Mercedes further endorsed its long-term intention to remain in F1 when it announced the signing of new sponsor watch company IWC which will join the team from next year.