Bernie Ecclestone is poised to play what could be his trump card in the political F1 battle involving Ferrari and the FIA by reminding the legendary Italian team that they may have to pay back millions of dollars in commercial rights income if they carry out their threat to withdraw from the F1 World Championship in 2010.
Ferrari has threatened to quit in protest at the planned £40m budget cap being imposed on the teams by the sport’s governing body. But Ecclestone, discussing the matter on Renault team principal Flavio Briatore’s yacht at Monaco, has pointed out that the Prancing Horse has an ongoing commercial commitment to the sport until the end of 2012.
Ferrari has a special deal which gives them 5 per cent off the top of the reputed $1 billion (£660m) annual commercial rights cake before it is divided up amongst the teams. Then they get their normal share as well, a deal which Ecclestone offered them in order to bind them into F1 for the long term.
Ecclestone yesterday said the Italian team would be expected to honour the terms of the Concorde Agreement last signed by Ferrari and the other teams in January 2005.
"We would always respect our contracts," said Ecclestone in Monaco for Sunday's grand prix. "All the teams that have signed contracts with us would expect us to respect them and we would expect the same from Ferrari. They are saying they are going to walk, we are saying we hope they respect their contract."
Luca di Montezemolo, the Ferrari supremo, may think he can get the upper hand over FIA president Max Mosley, but if he thinks he’s going to outflank Ecclestone he clearly has been taking his eyes off the road.