The long-running dispute over TV rights between five auto groups who sponsor Formula One motor racing teams and German media giant Kirch Gruppe intensified on Tuesday, with the car manufacturers inviting all current F1 participants to join a new breakaway championship.

The quintet – Fiat, DaimlerChrysler-owned Mercedes Benz, Bayerische Motoren Werke, Renault and Ford’s Jaguar – met with the six other F1 teams on Tuesday to seek their help in the establishment of a new circuit by 2008.

What sparked the row was Kirch’s acquisition of a hefty chunk of SLEC, the foundation controlling the broadcast rights to F1, prompting fears among auto firms that the sport would be shifted to Kirch’s loss-making pay-TV platforms – diminishing audiences and hence revenues from sponsorship and advertising [WAMN: 05-Apr-01].

Kirch, claim the car firms, has refused to promise that F1 will remain on free-to-air television or that it will share any takings from broadcasts on pay-TV.

The quintet also announced the foundation of a new joint company, titled GPWC Holding and headquartered in the Netherlands. Their plans have reportedly been greeted warmly by smaller teams on the F1 grid who are not backed by wealthy auto giants, since under the proposed scheme revenues would be shared between all participants.

The construction of a whole new worldwide championship could be a logistical nightmare, and it is by no means certain big-name drivers would defect. However, one insider insisted the move was more than just a bargaining ploy: “We would like to continue the F1 heritage,” stressed the informant. “But we are not bluffing.”

News source: Wall Street Journal