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Future still clouded for three small teams

A week after the boycott threats of Austin, struggling teams Lotus, Force India and Sauber travelled to Brazil apparently close to a ‘fighting fund’ bailout that would secure their future.

Vijay Mallya, for one, was denying he ever threatened to sit out races.

“Why would we (boycott)?” the Force India supremo told reporters.  “I may as well have stayed in England and saved all the expense.”

But a meeting at Interlagos late on Saturday broke with no solution in place.

“He (Bernie Ecclestone) just said ‘I’ll talk to Donald next week and get back to you’,” a frustrated Mallya reported.

He is referring to Donald Mackenzie, the chairman of F1’s majority owner CVC, who had been in direct talks in the past few days with Lotus’ Gerard Lopez.

But Ecclestone, the F1 chief executive, told BBC television on Saturday that CVC is only “the shareholder”, and any decisions would have to be made by “Formula One Management”.

So with Caterham and Marussia out of business, the next endangered teams are restless.

Writing in the Financial Mail on Sunday, F1 business journalist Christian Sylt said Force India’s ability to continue “as a going concern” is now in doubt amid millions in losses.

But Ecclestone told reporters on Saturday that he has little sympathy for teams like Marussia and Caterham who sunk themselves under unsustainable debt.

“People say F1 is in crisis,” he said.  “Absolute nonsense.  We’ve had a couple of teams in crisis.

“People come and go.  They (the teams) need to know how much is coming in and how much is going out.”

So Saturday’s meeting ended with no promises of a handout, and Ecclestone advising teams to spend less rather than “hope somebody is going to subsidise you”.

It seems plenty, however, was discussed during the meeting, including perhaps the idea of using the collapsed Marussia’s $40 million in unclaimed prize money for finishing ninth in the championship and redistributing it.

Even Niki Lauda, the team chairman at dominant and powerful Mercedes, has a proposal.

“In difficult economic times like these, where sponsors are hard to find, we need to help the small teams — this is also in our interest because they also need to spend money on tyres and engines,” he told German television RTL.

Ecclestone has said contracts forbid him from simply giving more to the small teams, but Lauda proposed: “We should lend them a certain amount until they are in a position to give it back.”

But Ecclestone declined to guarantee that the three nervous privateers – Lotus, Force India and Sauber – will all still be on the grid in 2015.

“I wouldn’t say that.  I hope they are,” he said.