The prospect of German media baron Leo Kirch having a controlling interest over the Formula One racing event hangs in the balance as the motor teams threaten to revolt.
On February 27, DaimlerChrysler (Maclaren-Mercedes), Fiat (Ferrari) and Ford (Jaguar) threatened to exit the Formula One tournament and set up their own rival event if Kirch goes ahead with the plans with EM.TV to exercise an option to buy an additional 25% in the Formula One holding company, SLEC from UK entrepreneur Bernie Ecclestone by midnight on February 28.
Speaking to Financial Times Deutschland, Mercedes boss Juergen Hubbert declared, "if Kirch gets 75% of the shares [in SLEC], then the Formula One is dead" and expressed the concern that the media mogul would use the access to this premium sporting event to boost his stagnating pay Tv platform Premiere World.
"Kirch has just shown with the failed negotiations with ARD and ZDF for the TV rights for the World Cup how little the interest of the masses of viewers for sport concerns him", Hubbert stated, pointing out that the car manufacturers invest up to $187.7m (DM 400m) per season in Formula One and argued that "if the Formula One ends up in pay TV, this is money thrown out of the window".
Renault sports chief Patrick Faure was quoted by AFP as saying that "it is absolutely out of the question for us to participate in a world championship that is only shown in pay TV".
According to the Formula One teams, they have been holding talks for some time with Ecclestone about acquiring an interest in SLEC and have spoken of having at least a third of the shares.
"If [Kirch] wanted to have us participate in Formula One, he would even have to exercise the option with Bernie Ecclestone", Hubbert observed. "I don't know Kirch and don't want to meet him. We are not buying from Kirch".