Leading global brands could walk away from multi-million pound Formula One sponsorship deals if the sport is split in two with the formation of a breakaway series, sponsorship experts warn.
Five manufacturers and seven teams met last week to discuss the future and concluded that they had no alternative but to set up a rival series to F1 because of the way the sport is run.
Bernie Ecclestone, chief executive of Formula One Management – and the most powerful man in F1 – and Max Mosley, president of the FIA, the sport’s governing body, have long dismissed rumours of a breakaway series but they must now take drastic action to avert the most serious threat the sport has faced.
The teams are contracted to F1 until 2007, but only Ferrari, Red Bull and Jordan have signed up with Ecclestone beyond that, with the likes of McLaren, Renault and BAR in the other camp.
BLM Sports Marketing account director Robin Clarke says: “The FIA must quickly seek alliance with the breakaway manufacturers before more sponsors follow Hewlett-Packard’s lead by pulling out of contracts early. If they don’t, the gap left by tobacco sponsors will never be filled, leaving F1 some way down the grid in motorsport.”
Alastair Macdonald, managing director of sports sponsorship agency Connexus, adds: “It is a concern for sponsors because they are seeking to build a long-term association with a sport and the values associated with it. This will make them think about whether they need to start looking at alternatives.”