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Motor racing-F1's smaller teams want reassurance on cost cuts

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One's cash-strapped smaller teams want to see real evidence that the sport is fighting for their survival when bosses meet on Thursday to discuss how to proceed after scrapping plans to impose a cost cap.

The meeting, at Biggin Hill airfield south of London, has been called by the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) to "clarify the means to achieve a substantial F1 team cost reduction".

All 11 teams, the FIA and commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone are due to attend.

It comes in response to a letter from Sauber, Force India, Caterham and Marussia that angrily questioned the decision to jettison plans, previously agreed unanimously by all teams, for a cost cap in 2015.

The move had been agreed by the F1 strategy group, which excludes the smaller teams, and the FIA's Formula One commission.

FIA President Jean Todt, a former Ferrari principal, announced at this month's Bahrain Grand Prix that cost-saving measures would have to come through regulation changes rather than any imposed cap.

The Frenchman said he understood all six teams in the strategy group did not believe a cost cap was viable and were opposed to it.

Force India deputy principal Bob Fernley, who has warned in the past that teams could be forced out of the sport without a more level financial playing field, said he would reserve judgment about the meeting.

"I think we have to give a certain amount of courtesy to the FIA for arranging the meeting and let's listen to what they have to say first. To try and pre-empt anything would be inappropriate," he told Reuters.

"I think we want clarification as much as anything else," added Fernley.

"It was a unanimous agreement to introduce cost controls and a cost cap...the question that we have is how can something that's unanimous across all teams and stakeholders be overruled by a strategy group? For us, that's the crux of the matter."

The strategy group, set up last year, is made up of champions Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes along with 'heritage' team Williams and Lotus, the highest ranked of the remainder last season.

The other five teams, some of them struggling to stay afloat, have complained that they get significantly less money than already wealthy rivals and have effectively been disenfranchised.

Marussia sporting director Graeme Lowdon, whose budget of around 50 million pounds ($84.23 million) is the smallest in the pit lane and pales in comparison to those of the top four teams, warned that the widening financial divide could be fatal for the sport.

"We have to ensure that the sport is attractive to the fans," he told autosport.com.

"This is a sport that lost Jim Clark, and a sport that lost Ayrton Senna - but it survives. If the sport lost all the fans though, then it is finished."

Thursday is the 20th anniversary of the death at Imola of Senna, Brazil's triple world champion and a lasting fan favorite.

($1 = 0.5936 British Pounds)

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Justin Palmer)

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