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Hot wheels war hots up

London, Nov. 4 (AP): Formula One is bracing for a fight. In one corner is Bernie Ecclestone, the 74-year-old chief executive of F1 racing who has controlled the commercial end of the sport for 25 years.

Ecclestone bought into F1 for about $370,000 and, over four decades, has amassed a personal fortune estimated at about $3.7 billion. In the other corner is Grand Prix World Championship, a company owned by four major carmakers in Formula One: Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and BMW.

Formed several years ago to push for a bigger slice of F1 revenue, the group broke off talks with Ecclestone in April. Last week, GPWC announced plans to wrest control of the sport from Ecclestone and run the series beginning in 2008. At stake is the future of one of the world's richest sports.

'Would we want to lose Bernie' Paul Stoddart, owner of the Minardi F1 team said. 'Categorically not. Do the teams want more money' Categorically yes.'

The so-called Concorde agreement between F1 teams, Ecclestone and the FIA world governing body ends after the 2007 season. The deal spells out how money is divided, and how F1 is governed. GPWC, headed by former Mercedes-Benz board director Jurgen Hubbert, is ready to take over as soon as the agreement expires.

Estimates place F1's commercial rights income in 2003 at $800 million. TV revenue was about $375 million, the rest coming from track advertising, hospitality and promoters' fees paid to Ecclestone.

Teams receive about 23 per cent of the $800 million, or about $184 million. Above this, teams are free to generate other revenue from individual sponsors.

Ferrari president Luca di Montezemelo has called the money split 'totally unacceptable.' Ferrari, F1's flagship team, is led by seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher. It's difficult to imagine a series without the prancing-horse logo.

Another critic is Renault F1 president Patrick Faure, who chides the present setup as the 'Bernie system.'

GPWC says it offers stability, financial transparency and a larger cut for the teams. On the track, it promises few changes and says it expects current teams to make the switch.

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