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Team bosses positive about F1's future

Team bosses talked up Formula One's prospects a day after meeting the sport's supremo Bernie Ecclestone at the Austrian Grand Prix.

After weeks of gloomy warnings about smaller entrepreneurial teams facing financial failure and the need for urgent changes to cut costs, a more upbeat message emerged from both ends of the paddock.

Minardi boss Paul Stoddart, who had warned on Friday that three teams including his own comparatively shoestring operation could be absent next season, was in far more optimistic spirits.

"I didn't have a lot of confidence in where we would end up but I was wrong," he told Reuters. "It was really good, we sat down and there were no arguments. We sat down like a professional bunch of people and talked about things that make sense. It was completely different to Malaysia," he added, referring to the spate of fractious team owners meetings around the second race of the season.

"All we really talked about for a good two and a half hours was the positive side of Formula One, what we could do to make it better and stop whinging about the problems. We are a long way off reaching a total agreement but we're certainly moving in the right direction."

Stoddart said that while all present had agreed not to discuss details, the overall package was looking "incredibly good for the smaller teams but won't hurt the big teams".

"If we can get a few more meetings like yesterday under our belt, and then actually announce something that comes out of all these meetings, it will give a lot of confidence to sponsors who want to sponsor teams at the bottom end of the grid as well as at the top end."

McLaren boss Ron Dennis, whose team were championship runners-up last year, was equally positive. He said the television audience for the early races of the season was on the rise over last year, despite suggestions that Ferrari's dominance would be a turn-off for armchair spectators.

"We're bucking the trend," he told reporters. "We should be working on building that opportunity into a more positive environment for Formula One."

The commercial rights to Formula One are controlled by SLEC, the holding company set up by Ecclestone and 75 percent owned by Germany's troubled Kirch media organisation.

Kirch's creditor banks are expected to reclaim the stake as collateral and sell it on to the carmakers involved in Formula One, who have been planning their own series when an agreement between the teams and SLEC ends in 2007.

Dennis said all parties involved were now "pulling in the right direction".

"Where it unfolds, meaning 'Is there going to be a breakaway series or not?', is of no relevance to the commercial ongoing Formula One business," he added.

"It is really who owns what and how is it going to be distributed? It is not 'Is the business going to be damaged?' I think we are going into a very positive period and there's a lot of people who want a harmonious solution."

By Alan Baldwin

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