Motor racing-Marussia held merger talks with Caterham

LONDON, March 21 Thu Mar 21, 2013 5:13pm GMT

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LONDON, March 21 (Reuters) - Tail-enders Marussia considered a merger with Formula One rivals Caterham after the end of last season but abandoned the idea after initial talks, team president Graeme Lowdon said on Thursday.

"I can confirm there were talks but no acceptable conclusion," he told Reuters ahead of Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix, the second round of the 2013 championship, at Sepang circuit.

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone had earlier said the talk of a merger was one of the reasons why Russian-licensed Marussia had yet to sign a new agreement with the commercial rights holder.

The other 10 teams, including Malaysian-owned Caterham, have a new deal in place even if a new version of the confidential 'Concorde Agreement' governing the sport has yet to be signed off by all parties.

"I have everything prepared here for them (Marussia) to sign now," Ecclestone told Britain's Times daily newspaper. "It is not a problem. But they have not been happy and they almost merged with Caterham, so that made me wonder what was happening."

Formula One is down to 11 teams this season after the collapse of Spanish-based stragglers HRT after the end of the 2012 championship.

Marussia were 11th last year while Caterham finished a financially crucial 10th for the third year in a row after Russian Vitaly Petrov finished 11th in the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix.

Neither team have scored a point since their debuts - Marussia initially as Virgin Racing and Caterham as Team Lotus - in 2010.

British-based Marussia have the smallest budget in Formula One - although still in the region of 65 million pounds ($98.36 million) a year with a staff of around 180 people.

Their failure to finish among the top 10 teams, after being 10th going into the final race, may have cost them as much as $30 million in prize money but they have started this season looking faster than Caterham.

The Times quoted an unnamed source as saying: "The deal (merger) was never going to work because it involved Marussia closing down in favour of Caterham. Neither team is financially well set and both were looking for ways to sort things out because one team is always going to finish out of the money."

Ecclestone told Reuters last December, after HRT's departure, that he favoured 10 teams ideally.

"I'd rather have 10," he said. "I never wanted 12. It's just that 10 is easier to handle, for the promoters, for transport. We'd rather have 10...so long as we don't lose Ferrari."

($1 = 0.6608 British pounds) (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Justin Palmer)

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