Stoddart Threatens to Quit F1 Over Prize Money Affair

Minardi owner Paul Stoddart has threatened to quit Formula One after accusing four rivals of trying to force his struggling team out of business.

Stoddart Threatens to Quit F1 Over Prize Money Affair

Minardi owner Paul Stoddart has threatened to quit Formula One after accusing four rivals of trying to force his struggling team out of business.

The Australian said today that McLaren's Ron Dennis, Frank Williams, Eddie Jordan and British American Racing's David Richards had given notice that they intended to go to arbitration to recover money paid to Minardi.

Stoddart said the action would wipe out his team, the smallest in Formula One, at a time when the sport is already reduced to 10 teams and facing a slump in television audiences.

"I will turn my back on Formula One if this travesty of injustice is allowed to proceed," he said at the season-ending Japanese Grand Prix. "I cannot afford four months of my time nor the $2 million of costs that it will take to fund a challenge to this."

Frank Williams is not in Japan and there was no immediate response from the other bosses. Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone paid Minardi television revenues originally earmarked for the now defunct Prost team earlier in the season after a prolonged campaign by Stoddart for the funds.

The Minardi boss said he had agreed, as a condition of payment, to indemnify Ecclestone with interest if a court of arbitration subsequently ruled that he was not entitled to the Prost money.

"Ron is well aware of that as indeed are the other teams," said Stoddart. "I have circulated a document to them from Bernie's solicitors to me putting me on notice that they have now received the papers for this to go to arbitration," he said.

Self Destruction

"At this time, with all the problems Formula One really does have, for this to happen for me is nothing short of self-destruction," said Stoddart. "In the last 12 months we have been through so many problems, the sport as a whole, and we've lost two teams.

"Now we are going to lose three as I can't afford to fight this. Maybe there's another one that's not so steady as well. Do they really want eight teams in Melbourne next year?

"I have gone through hell and back again this year and this is the icing on the cake," said Stoddart. It's bad enough having to deal with the problems I have had to deal with, but when you get knives in your back from your co-team principals, I'm not interested.

"It's a case of 'Is this the straw that breaks the camel's back, do I want to be involved in a sport with such individuals in it?' I'm not sure that I do."

Stoddart, who rescued Minardi from near-extinction at the start of last year, has experienced the high of two unexpected points in Australia in March tarnished by bickering over money.

His main opponent until recently was Arrows boss Tom Walkinshaw but that team is fighting what seems to be a losing battle against closure and has missed the final five races of the championship.

Stoddart said he had run his team on less than half of McLaren's profits for the year and feared that the legal action could frighten away his sponsors. He said Ecclestone's reaction was one of disbelief.

"He cannot believe that they could be so stupid at a critical time in Formula One's history, where if ever we needed unanimity and positive things, we need it now. The timing of this couldn't have been worse."

Stoddart said he liked to think that McLaren's partners Mercedes were unaware of the legal move.

"But if they are...one would have to ask the question -- Is this not the manufacturers trying to sort their own series out by pushing all the small teams out?

"One by one they are knocking us off."

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