Bernie Ecclestone has added further fuel to the fire to those who contend that Ferrari get preferential treatment in Formula 1 compared to their rivals, by claiming that the Scuderia is the only team that would be missed from the top flight were it to disappear.

It has often been whispered within the grand prix paddock that if you are driving a scarlet machine, you are more likely to be let off an indiscretion than if you are behind the wheel of a different car, and Ecclestone's comment does nothing to dispel those suggestions. FIA President Max Mosley has previously stated that Ferrari is the most important team in the sport [see separate story - click here].

"It's bad for me to say this," F1's commercial rights-holder told the Financial Times, "but the only team we would really say we would miss is Ferrari. I wouldn't want to lose McLaren for sure. I wouldn't want to lose Williams."

Ecclestone went on to add that Honda - which announced last month that it was withdrawing from competition with immediate effect - would not be missed, criticising the Japanese manufacturer for firstly over-spending to an inordinate degree, and then suddenly pulling the plug when the on-track results failed to come.

"They didn't even look for sponsors," underlined the 78-year-old, who conversely confirmed in an interview with German publication Sport Bild that he is 'helping with the rescue of the team [in] the role of mediator'. "They stopped because they were ninth. [They were] pouring money in like there was no tomorrow."

Honda has a deadline of the end of January for a sale to be completed or else risk seeing the doors close for good at its Brackley-based operation. The likelihood of a deal materialising was recently plunged into further doubt, when the squad's CEO Nick Fry was forced to deny that he was running the risk of a conflict of interest in having made his own offer whilst at the same time continuing to vet the general bidding process [see separate story - click here].

A spokesman for the British Government's Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), however, has clarified that no investigation has been either undertaken or requested.

Meanwhile, Ecclestone has insisted that his Formula One Management (FOM) company has no binding obligation to put 20 cars on the starting grid for the Australian Grand Prix in just over two months' time. It is rumoured that FOM's contracts with race promoters and TV broadcasters guarantee a grid of at least 20 cars. Should Honda not be bought, there will be just 18 in Melbourne.

"That's typical Formula 1," he told German magazine Auto Motor und Sport. "There is no such rule. People talk about things even when they do not understand.

"There will be 20 cars because you can expect Honda to be sold. Even if that is not the case, it would not be a problem. If we can reduce the costs enough, there will be plenty of teams who want to participate in the world championship."

Renault F1 managing director Flavio Briatore has also waded into the row, suggesting that Honda should have heeded his warnings about slashing expenditure long before they let their team fall prey to the current global credit crunch.

"If Honda had listened to me five years ago, maybe they'd still be in business," the Italian stated.


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