1996 World Champion Damon Hill has warned that a breakaway championship set up by the current Formula 1 manufacturers would be very damaging to the popularity of the sport.
The ongoing dispute between the FIA and the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) has given rise to threats of a breakaway grand prix series, but Hill has warned that the sport should learn from the example of American open-wheel racing.
The Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series split from the CART-run Champ Car series in 1996, leading to two top-line open wheel categories running in North America, which coincided with NASCAR cement its position as the most popular form of American motorsports.
"You only have to look over the pond to see what happens when you split a championship," said Hill. "It's difficult enough to draw people into one particular sport, so what will they make of two separate championships? It would just dilute it."
Hill also warned that, however slim the prospects of a breakaway happening might be, the off-track politics could cause some fans to lose interest in F1.
"Yes – and it has been getting worse over the last few years on that front," said Hill when asked by AUTOSPORT whether the off-track arguments are detracting from the sport. "The last few years have been really appalling and lots of people have asked questions about the administration of the sport. That's what the issue is all about. It's entertaining in the same way that the Jerry Springer Show is – not for the right reasons – so it's a turn-off as well."
Hill, who is also president of the British Racing Drivers' Club, the owner of Silverstone, emphasized that the circuit, which has lost the rights to the British Grand Prix from 2010 to Donington Park, has not been asked to put on a race for an alternative series.
"No, I don't know anything of the sort," said Hill of whether discussions had been held. "Clearly, it has occurred to everyone that there may be a need for venues if there is going to be another championship. We value our relationship with F1 since 1950 and we want that tradition to continue. But we're a business, too, so if something came along then clearly there would have to be discussion.
"From our point of view, the circuit has to survive so we might be placed in that position. But I'm a traditionalist. I believe in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship and going back to 1950 that is the thing with the continuity to it."