By Alan Baldwin
ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Formula One's smaller teams felt at least a penny had dropped on Saturday after meeting the sport's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone and rights holders CVC to discuss demands for more money.
Sauber, Force India and Lotus bosses told reporters at an Abu Dhabi Grand Prix briefing that Ecclestone had apologized for calling them 'beggars' and recognized they had a point in seeking a re-distribution of revenues.
"It's one of the first times, I wouldn't be arrogant to say it's the only time, where you really feel somehow that with some key people the coin has dropped," declared Lotus principal Gerard Lopez.
"When CVC took over, the sport was generating $245 million for the teams, it's now generating close to $900 million, but it's almost in a worse state than it has ever been."
The three teams had sent a letter to Ecclestone earlier in the week seeking a meeting at the season-ending race after being frustrated in their calls for cost cuts and a more equitable division of revenues.
They argue that a sport that returns $900 million to the teams, albeit in unequal shares, should not be in a position where some have gone into administration and others are in danger of collapse.
Top teams such as Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull receive special payments and also sit on the sport's decision-making 'strategy group'.
The teams had spoken in their letter, signed by Force India deputy principal Bob Fernley, of "a questionable cartel" of rights holder and top teams that controlled "both the governance of Formula One and, apparently, the distribution of...funds."
One British politician has subsequently brought the matter to the attention of the European Commission's competition authorities.
Force India boss Vijay Mallya sensed a more cooperative spirit on the part of the rights holders, noting that Ecclestone and CVC co-chairman Donald Mackenzie "had done their homework".
"My take is they are seriously thinking about how to address this issue," he added.
Lopez said the EU was discussed briefly in Saturday's meeting and, while shrugging off a suggestion that it had been the issue that made the penny drop, recognized it was lurking in the background.
"I’ve dealt with the EU in two of our businesses, I'm not sure whether or not something is going to happen but you do not want the EU to get involved in any business," he said.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)