The smell of crisis is in the air in Austin, as Bernie Ecclestone scrabbles to end a boycott threat and put failing teams back on track.
With Caterham and Marussia absent from the US grand prix garages, the next set of struggling privateers – Lotus, Force India and Sauber – have reportedly threatened to also sit out Sunday’s race in protest of the sport’s income distribution model.
“I think we’re going to race,” Frenchman Romain Grosjean, racing for Lotus, said on Saturday. “I’m sure we’re going to race.”
But Bob Fernley, the increasingly furious deputy principal at Force India, has a different view. “Nothing is off the table at this point,” he insisted.
“Everything and anything is possible.”
Many observers believe the boycott threat is an empty one, including F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who told reporters it was “crap”.
“I promise they will be racing. I give you a guarantee,” he said. “But I worry if they will be racing next year.”
Indeed, in a incredibly rare show of mea culpa for the 84-year-old Briton, he admitted his income distribution tables – giving the most to the rich and the least to the poor – may in fact be the cause of the current problem.
“The problem is there is too much money being distributed badly – probably my fault – but, like lots of agreements people make, they seemed a good idea at the time,” he said.
Ecclestone said there is no easy way to undo the situation now.
“If one team is given 10,000, everyone has to have 10,000,” he revealed.
He said his ideal solution would be to get some of the bigger teams to agree to give up some of their bonus income to give to the “three or four teams we know are in trouble”.
“Then I would put in the same amount of money,” said Ecclestone. “But there would not be one (big) team that would think it was a bloody good idea.”
He said he will therefore have to go over the heads of team employees like Ferrari boss Marco Mattiacci and Mercedes’ Niki Lauda, and speak directly to the carmaker parents.
“I think it’s probably what will have to happen,” said Ecclestone, but he suddenly ruled out the idea that three-car teams is the best solution.
“I’m not happy,” he concluded. “We’ll have to do something about it.”
© RIF | GMM