Formula 1 is skating on increasingly 'thin ice' - that is the warning of Gerhard Berger, who has claimed that in the current economic climate, 'the manufacturers will only keep on a friendly face for so long'.

The Austrian - who won ten grands prix as a driver in the top flight from 1986 to 1997 - owned 50 per cent of Red Bull 'junior' outfit Scuderia Toro Rosso until he relinquished his share to Dietrich Mateschitz in November, having presided over the former Minardi concern's most successful season ever, with star performer Sebastian Vettel storming to a sensational victory in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

Berger has reasoned that he 'cannot afford' to continue running a team against the backdrop of the present global credit crunch, and he revealed that part of the reason behind Mateschitz resuming control was so that the energy drinks billionaire magnate could have a 'free hand' in the running of both RBR and STR.

The 49-year-old added that - in spite of F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone's insistence that the sport will ride the storm and come out the other end [see separate story - click here] - it will require 'a lot of skill' to manage the crisis in the wake of Honda's shock withdrawal from the grid last month and the fear that other teams or manufacturers could still follow suit. He added that in his opinion, he had got out at 'the right time'.

"I had to see Formula 1 as a business," Berger explained in an interview with Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick, "and I do not want a business in an environment that is unhealthy.

"F1 is being affected not only by the global financial crisis; our sport's crisis is also homemade. What is being done now with budgets of $300 million per year can also be done with $30 million, when reason returns.

"Formula 1 has moved onto thin ice. The organisers of the traditional tracks can't afford it anymore. The high costs mean that it can't be covered anymore by the normal sponsors.

"With F1 at this level, the manufacturers will only keep on a friendly face for so long."