Gerhard Berger has speculated that he could return to the Formula One paddock in an official capacity in the future, despite having severed his ties with Scuderia Toro Rosso and Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz earlier this week.
The Austrian, who had been in a 50-50 partnership with Mateschitz until the drinks magnate bought back his share in the team, admitted that he would have loved to remain involved with the improving STR operation, but could not afford to be financially involved after attempts to attract further backers on board came up short.
Berger, who won eleven races in his lengthy career as an F1 driver, also confirmed speculation that Mateschitz plans to sell Toro Rosso on should the ruling on 'customer cars' go against the Italian outfit. The race-winning STR3 is, of course, closely related to Red Bull Racing's RB4, having both come from the pen of Adrian Newey and been fabricated by Red Bull Technologies, and would contravene any future ban on teams using the same car.
"I would have gladly continued with Toro Rosso, but I could not finance it by myself," Berger told Austria's APA
news agency, "The necessary conditions to make the next step are no longer there, and it has never been my style just to be here for the sake of it.
"Without Red Bull, I see no chance of moving forward in F1, and I don't want to take a step backwards after what we have achieved this season. For me, there is no alternative, except possibly a strong car manufacturer [as partner] but F1 has not yet realised that, below the manufacturers, there is no basis for running a team. Last year, just three new sponsors came in, and were all business-to-business models. For the back of the grid teams, there is almost nothing."
Berger's comments underline the belief that Mateschitz is prepared to sell Toro Rosso should the 'customer car' ruling go against the minnow - a move which, if no buyer is found, could potentially take F1 down to just nine teams. Mateschitz has said that he will remain committed to his second team through to the end of the 2009 season, after which all teams are likely to have to build their own cars.
"From 2010, Toro Rosso must be a designer, that is develop and build its own cars," Berger confirmed, "That will require even higher investment in spite of the cost-cutting measures currently being talked about in F1. From that viewpoint, it has to be believed that, if Didi Mateschitz can no longer supply two teams from one technology pool, the sale of Toro Rosso is very likely."
There is also speculation, however, that Berger and Mateschitz did not see eye-to-eye over the future direction of Red Bull's second team, with the Red Bull boss keen to install Takuma Sato - who could possibly bring money from Japan for his F1 return - in place of Sebastien Bourdais, and possibly swap Toro Rosso's Ferrari engine supply back to the senior Red Bull Racing team, which was overshadowed by the Faenza outfit as it struggled to generate the same sort of pace from its Renault V8s.
Despite bowing out of the top flight, however, Berger insists that his absence isn't necessarily going to be a lengthy one. Prior to taking up the reins at Toro Rosso, the Austrian had been involved with BMW's return to F1 with Williams, and has also commentated on the sport for German language media.
"Don't worry," the infectious 49-year old smiled, "It is quite possible that I will be back some day."