Bernie Ecclestone's continued control over Formula 1 is vital if the sport is to secure its long-term future, believes Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo (LEFT).
Ahead of what is expected to be some tough discussions over the next two years to frame a new Concorde Agreement for the start of 2013, there has been renewed talk about teams considering a breakaway if they cannot get the extra finances they want to earn from commercial rights holder. Di Montezemolo says that the future path for the teams is far from certain, yet he is adamant that Ecclestone must say at the helm.
"We have Formula 1 in the heart and the mind, but we don't want to be in the prison of Formula 1," said the Italian. "At the end of 2012 our contracts – all the teams – will expire with [F1 shareholders] CVC, and we will think about what to do.
"For me, and I want to make this very clear, the presence and the rule of Bernie is a priority. Formula 1 cannot be run by the stock exchange or good – or not-so-good – financial people. We need people with experience, credibility, personality to talk together about the future of Formula 1, and to be more than sure that Bernie, who is the king of the world – more than the world, he is king of the galaxy – [is there] not only to protect his own business, but we have to be fair and say that he is always in favour of protecting Formula 1.
"Now it is not a question of protection, it is a question of sitting, sharing some priorities and looking ahead. So we will see."
Di Montezemolo said that there were three options for the teams in the longer term – agreeing a deal with CVC, for whom Ecclestone currently manages F1's business affairs; finding an alternative commercial partner; or the team looking after the commercial aspects themselves. He cited the example of NBA basketball, where the league is owned by the teams.
"We can continue with CVC," he said. "We can find, theoretically, a different promoter. Of course, the name 'Formula 1' is very important, but I don't think it needs this name to exist. There are theoretically – and I emphasis theoretically – options to do our own company, like the very successful business model that is the NBA in the United States.
"At the end of the day, this business is not so sophisticated. You have to do deals with TV, with the tracks, and you have to be prepared to look at new technologies, because if you look at the next 10 years of Formula 1, the internet and things like that will be very important. So we need people able to look ahead. If we continue with CVC, of course there will be financial reasons, financial discussions, but also the rule and presence of Bernie.
"Theoretically speaking, we can have one of three alternatives. One is that we renew with CVC. For how many years, we have to discuss. But I am in favor of many years because I don't want to be back every three or four years. So assume five to eight years. Second, we want to ensure that Bernie will remain in a strong position. How long? I hope for a long time. It is not a new choice; it is to continue as it is.
"The next option, theoretically, is that we can find a different company [promoter] and start discussions. Third, theoretically, we can establish our own company. At this point of time we would theoretically offer to Bernie to be chairman. More than honorary chairman – a chairman.
"And put a very strong marketing-oriented mind, nothing to do with the teams, to manage it, as they did in the NBA. Only in the first case would we insist on Bernie, because I don't want to discuss with people that I respect but who don't know anything about Formula 1."
Despite his insistence that Ecclestone must say in control, di Montezemolo conceded that a succession plan needs to be put in place.
"How long [can Bernie stay in charge]?" he asked. "This is why one day I would like to discuss with Bernie, even if it is very difficult, to try, assuming that we follow the first choice, and assuming that we decide on a long-term deal, I want to be sure that Bernie is there with full power and that we can push him to find a good successor.
"That is out of his mentality. It is the same approach of a guy who is 81 years old and has no driver or bodyguard..."