Bernie Ecclestone is planning a sensational return to motor sport with a rival Formula 1 series to compete with Liberty Media. The 86-year-old was dethroned after nearly 40 years as chief executive of the sport on Monday [23 January] after selling his shares to American Chase Carey in a deal worth £6bn [$8bn].
The British billionaire was notably bitter about his departure following the takeover by Carey which was ratified this week. Despite his tenure as the head honcho in F1 unceremoniously ending, he is unwilling to allow his relationship with motor sport to be cut short. According to German motoring publication Auto Bild the former Queens Park Rangers owner is planning a breakaway series which will be called GP1, a name for which Ecclestone owns the trademark.
Among the central themes of Ecclestone's plans are lower budgets for teams to make the sport more accessible and a revised engine and gear box set-up. Chassis meanwhile will be based on the cars which compete in GP2 – which is the sport's pre-existing feeder series. Teams from GP2 and GP3 will initially be recruited to fill the grid, yet there remains a high number of challenges for Ecclestone if he is to make the competing franchise a reality.
Ecclestone is negotiating with several race venues already used on the F1 calendar in an effort to enlist them in his breakaway series. Silverstone could be among the circuits targeted, amid speculation the Northamptonshire track is ready to relinquish hosting the British Grand Prix due to the escalating costs involved in hosting the event.
Though teams and drivers from the lower echelons of F1 will complete the grid, Ecclestone will likely need marquee names to ensure the series can compete with Liberty Media – meaning several existing constructors could be targeted. Many teams have become disenchanted with the sport due to its lack of competitiveness and constant rule changes; something Ecclestone could be prepared to pray on.
Reports in 2015 linked Red Bull with abandoning F1 following the end of their deal with Renault to use their engines up until 2016. The deal has since been extended and motor sport advisor Helmut Marko said: "We are fully behind the Formula 1 and do not want to have anything to do with planned other series."
If Ecclestone does have any realistic plans to challenge F1 then it could yet be thwarted by a legal challenge by Liberty Media, who may claim a breach of contract if the breakaway is pursued. Ecclestone earned a reported £300m from the sale and an additional £23m [$29m] after offloading his shares, but attempts to continue his relationship with motor sport and thus undermine the new US owners could have legal ramifications.