SILVERSTONE England (Reuters) - Formula One drivers and teams are hoping that Bernie Ecclestone's threat to drop Monza from the calendar turns out to be nothing more than sabre rattling ahead of contract talks.
The alternative, they say, would be a huge loss for the championship.
Commercial supremo Ecclestone, 83, caused a stir this week when he told Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper that the country's historic circuit near Milan risked being dropped.
"I don't think we'll do another contract. The old one was a disaster for us from the commercial point of view. After 2016, bye bye," he said.
Ecclestone has issued similar warnings to other venues in the past - notably with Silverstone to prod organisers into renovating the British circuit - without carrying through.
Other tracks have been dropped before - including driver and fan favourite Spa in Belgium for various reasons over the years - and Ecclestone has shown he is quite capable of thinking the unthinkable.
"I would never try and second guess Bernie's strategies. It may be genuine, it may be a strategy, I don't know," Marussia principal John Booth told Reuters at the British Grand Prix.
"It seems strange that he called it a financial disaster. They get massive crowds, don't they? It always seems to be packed every time we go," added the Briton.
"There's a few circuits we really can't lose in my opinion. That's Silverstone, Spa, Monza and Monaco. Those circuits do get fantastic crowds and we go to the other side of the world and get six people watching and that's sustainable and European races aren't. It doesn't make any sense."
Circuits such as Bahrain and Abu Dhabi contribute tens of millions of dollars in race hosting fees and the sport's new races also take the sport to important markets for sponsors.
Claire Williams, deputy principal of the team founded by her father Frank, said the threat reminded her of one against Silverstone when Donington Park was being mooted as an alternative.
"Based on the fact that Monza is Ferrari's home race, it would be like all the times that Bernie has talked about Silverstone (being axed) and the British teams (then) saying 'We really would like to have a home grand prix for our partners, our fans and our staff,'" she said.
ROOTED IN HISTORY
Monza, Silverstone, Monaco and Spa are races rooted in the sport's history. Silverstone hosted the first championship race in 1950, Monza has featured every year bar one since then while Monaco is Formula One's spiritual home.
Spa is literally a blast from the past, the longest and second fastest circuit on the calendar and one whose landmarks hark back to a bygone age.
"I love the old circuits, the circuits like Silverstone and Monaco and Monza that do bring that level of character to Formula One that remind us of the good old days," said Williams.
"But I think it's important to have a balance, to have the newer circuits and that we go to new markets," she added.
Drivers canvassed for their opinions were unanimous in support of Monza.
"You hear how they might drop that race and it would be very stupid in my opinion for Formula One and for everybody. Hopefully it will never happen," said Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion.
"It would be a big loss, one of the biggest losses for Formula One to lose Monza," commented Mexican Sergio Perez. "Hopefully it doesn't happen and just stays as a threat. It is one of the most special grands prix you can have."
French driver Romain Grosjean compared the allure of Monza, with tens of thousands of fervent Ferrari fans, to the empty stands seen at some newer venues in countries without a motor racing pedigree.
"I love going to Monza. The track is quite particular but I think the fans are great and the biggest draw in Formula One," said the Lotus driver. "I would miss not going to Monza. Certainly in terms of atmosphere, its one of my favourites.
"What we have seen in Austria was a very good example of what Formula One likes. The history and people. The one I don't like is China. There are no fans and I think the atmosphere is very important."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Keith Weir)