Exclusive: Ecclestone: I’m surprised teams haven’t quit F1

FORMULA One boss Bernie Ecclestone believes teams have emerged unscathed from a financial crisis last year but warned that several outfits almost brought the sport into disrepute by not paying their drivers.

Lotus endured financial difficulties, including a failed attempt to bring in a major new investor and a high-profile pay dispute with driver Kimi Raikkonen. Sauber were dragged into a similar row over Nico Hulkenberg.

But Ecclestone says the replacement of Raikkonen with Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, who brings substantial backing from the country’s oil company PDVSA, and a deal to sell 10 per cent of the team to Russian telecoms firm Yota Devices have eased fears over Lotus’s future.

“I think Lotus has got finance as well as another partner in the company so they seem happy,” the F1 chief said. “I thought we would have some lost teams by now but we haven’t so I imagine everything is fine.”

But current optimism over a new season, which starts in Australia this weekend, is in stark contrast to a bleak end to last season.

“It isn’t good for Formula One to have a team which isn’t paying its drivers,” Ecclestone added, before defending Lotus. “Is it better not to pay the driver that isn’t starving?

“He has a contract and should be paid. That’s right. But is it better to pay the workers that have got mortgages and houses? Better to pay them which is what Lotus tried to do. They tried to pay their workforce.”

Britain’s Lewis Hamilton is the favourite to win in Melbourne on Sunday, with team-mate Nico Rosberg second, after Mercedes impressed during pre-season.

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