Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo claims F1 has 'three alternatives' regarding the direction that it takes beyond the end of next year – as he insists that the sport must move with the times and 'invest for the future'.
There is much talk right now about what will happen in F1 once the current commercial rights-governing Concorde Agreement expires at the end of 2012, with the recent confirmed News Corp/Exor interest having stirred up a veritable hornet's nest.
Teams have thus far conducted their negotiations solely with the sport's current majority owners CVC Capital Partners and Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One Management (FOM) organisation, but ostensibly, there may now be another party in the equation, should News Corp/Exor be serious about a potential buy-out – although Ecclestone is adamant that they are not [see separate story – click here
With teams unhappy at the share of the F1 revenue that they presently receive in relation to how much goes into the coffers of CVC, and having espoused the benefits of launching a separate 'breakaway' series on several occasions in the past, it is perhaps unsurprising that di Montezemolo is now again suggesting that it would be wise to consider all the relevant options – only this time, given Italian investment firm Exor's very tangible link to Ferrari, his threat should perhaps be afforded greater credence.
“I think we have to be very pragmatic,” the 63-year-old told CNN
. “At the end of 2012, the contracts of every single team with CVC will expire – so we have three alternatives. We renew with CVC, or theoretically – as the basketball teams did in the US with great success – we create our own company like the NBA to run the races, the TV rights and so on, or third, we find a different partner.
“Bernie Ecclestone has done a very good job, but he has already sold out three times, so he doesn't own the business anymore. It is CVC that will sell. It will be the teams' decision. At the end of 2012, the contract will expire, so theoretically, CVC doesn't own anything. I think it is important to have alternatives. We will see. We have time to do it.”
Of chief concern to di Montezemolo is what he describes as the 'artificial' and confusing flavour of the racing engineered by the raft of regulation changes implemented in F1 2011 – with overtaking having been significantly facilitated by Pirelli's deliberately fast-degrading tyres, the introduction of DRS and the return of the power-boost KERS technology. He also spoke about his distaste for the in-season ban on testing, and the necessity for the sport to embrace new media by providing maximum exposure for the sponsors who invest so much into it.
“We have gone too far with artificial elements,” the Italian underlined. “It's like if I push footballers to wear tennis shoes in the rain. I want to see competition, I want to see cars on the track; I don't want to see competition in the pits. In the last race there were [more than] 80 pit-stops. Come on, it's too much, and people don't understand anymore because when you come out of the pits you don't know what position you're in.
“I think we have gone too far with the machines, too many buttons – the driver is focussing on the buttons to give him authorisation to overtake. Ferrari will push a lot with the authority (the FIA), with the respect we have for the Federation and the other teams, to avoid going too far with F1 because I think it can create problems for the television people and on the racetrack. We are not able to do testing [either] – F1 is the only professional sport in the world where you can't train or test.
“We have to improve new technologies in F1 for the people watching on television, for iPad, for the internet. We have to invest in the US. F1, thanks also to Bernie Ecclestone, has become a worldwide sport; now we have to find the best solution. It is important to invest for the future and the other teams. I think we are in front of a very important moment.”
Every inch the politician that many believe he will one day become, di Montezemolo – who it is understood met with Daimler chairman Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz and McLaren shareholder Mansour Ojjeh in Stuttgart yesterday (Saturday) to discuss the situation – urged that Ferrari's close ties to Exor do not put the team in a more advantageous position than any of its rivals, and he concluded the interview by talking drivers, warmly praising Fernando Alonso and seeming to suggest that the under-fire Felipe Massa will be going nowhere next season.
“Yes, yes,” he answered, when asked whether Massa's seat was safe for 2012 in the wake of speculation variously linking Mark Webber, Robert Kubica, Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button to replacing the Brazilian at the Scuderia
. “He has a contract with us for this year [and] for next year, so absolutely yes, no question about it.
“Alonso is very, very strong. He is one of the best drivers I have seen in my career, very strong in the mind, pushing the team, but in a constructive way and also very close to the team. I want to keep Alonso a long time.”