McLaren-Mercedes and Renault threatened to organise a boycott of the Australian Grand Prix, Bernie Ecclestone has revealed – but the Formula 1 supremo warned the teams that 'if they come in here with a gun and hold it to my head, they had better be sure they can f***ing pull the trigger'.
The atmosphere in Melbourne this weekend is verging on explosive over the diffuser row that looks set to overshadow the 2009 curtain-raiser, with Red Bull Racing announcing today that should the cars of Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota be judged legal to race by scrutineers, then they will lodge an official protest [see separate story – click here
Now, it has emerged, a number of the teams seriously considered not making the trip Down Under at all, as the ongoing dispute over prize money wrangles on between the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) and Ecclestone's commercial rights-holding company Formula One Management (FOM).
According to British newspaper The Times
, Renault F1 managing director Flavio Briatore – normally a close ally of Ecclestone's and joint owner of London football club Queens Park Rangers with him – and McLaren chairman and unlikely partner-in-crime Ron Dennis met the sport's ringmaster in his office and told him they would not
put their cars on the specially-chartered planes to Australia if more money was not forthcoming, adding that other teams would subsequently follow suit.
Ecclestone has made clear that he is not willing to release a greater share of the financial revenue pie until the teams all sign up to a binding new Concorde Agreement – and, in classic form, he responded to the threat by issuing a counter-threat of his own.
“Flavio said, 'we're not going to put our cars on the plane, we're not going to Melbourne',” he is quoted as having said. “He – Flavio – started it, aided and abetted by Ron Dennis.
“I picked up the 'phone to our people that handle all the freight to ask them to cancel the aeroplanes. They were saying, 'all the FOTA-schmota are not going – nobody's going to go', so I said what I'd better do is cancel the aircraft obviously. It costs a fortune to charter those things and almost as much to cancel them.”
The heated reunion was also attended by Toyota Motorsport President and FOTA Vice-President John Howett, who Ecclestone caustically described as 'sitting there a bit confused about life in general'.
After all ten teams arrived in Melbourne present and correct – though none-the-richer – the 78-year-old billionaire suggested that if they are going to play games with him in the future, they would do well to know exactly what they are doing...and who they are dealing with.
“If they come in here with a gun and hold it to my head, they had better be sure they can f***ing pull the trigger,” he asserted. “And they should make sure it's got bullets in it, because if they miss, they'd better look out.”