Bernie Ecclestone has re-iterated his contention that three-car Formula 1 teams will soon be a reality in the top flight - possibly even as early as the 2009 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in two months' time.

Honda's withdrawal from the sport at the end of last year means that as things stand there will only be 18 cars on the starting grid Down Under in Melbourne in March, and Ecclestone has hinted that should a buyer not be found for the beleaguered Brackley-based outfit, the big, well-financed manufacturer teams may have to step in to fill the void by each supplying a third car.

Indeed, should any more squads follow Honda out of the exit door - with fears expressed about the future security of Renault, Toyota and Williams' F1 operations, amongst others - a rapid solution will need to be found, be it either in the guise of new teams, or else third cars.

"That is what basically will happen," the sport's commercial rights-holder told Deutsche Presse-Agentur, whilst at the same time denying that he is contractually-obliged to grand prix organisers and broadcasters to have at least 20 cars in the field.

"If the manufacturers supply engines to other people, they can run three cars themselves.

"It is better to have 20 cars on the grid - whether they are in the hands of manufacturers or in private hands, that doesn't make any difference."