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AUSTIN Texas (Reuters) - Formula One's struggling teams played down talk of a possible boycott of Sunday's U.S. Grand Prix on Friday as argument over division of the sport's revenues grew more heated on Friday.
With the indebted Marussia and Caterham teams in administration and absent from Austin, there was speculation that others could refuse to race in protest at what they see as an unfair playing field.
Britain's Times newspaper reported in its Saturday edition that despair had turned to anger with Lotus, Sauber and Force India -- who have all had their own financial problems -- discussing the possibility of not racing.
"It is 50-50 whether it happens but what else is there?," one unnamed executive was quoted as saying. "The small teams have complained for months and warned what was going to happen but no one listened."
Lotus principal Gerard Lopez told Reuters that he knew nothing about such a plan, which would revive painful memories of the farcical 2005 U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis when only six cars took part in the race after those using Michelin tires all withdrew.
That race was widely held up as Formula One shooting itself in the foot in a key market for sponsors and the car manufacturers.
"I've just found out about the story now, so my answer is no. I've no idea. I have to say a bit surprised," Lopez said. "I've had a meeting with them (the other teams) about the cash distribution and so on, and that's it.
"I'm not aware of this. I don't even know where this comes from," he added.
Force India team bosses also professed to be unaware of the suggestion, while there was nobody at Sauber immediately available for comment.
However Force India deputy principal Bob Fernley suggested there was an agenda at play, however, and said more teams risked folding unless something was done.
"Two teams have now gone and I think the commercial rights holder is comfortable to thinking there might be 14 cars next year. How many do they want to lose?," he told Reuters.
"He (commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone) thinks there could be 14 cars next year. So the question is, if we are driving teams out of the business to what agenda is it? And what's the game?"
The Times quoted Ecclestone as saying there was a risk of two more teams falling by the wayside.
"If we lose another two teams that is what will happen," he said. "We need (them) if they are going to be there performing properly and not moving around with begging buckets."
Fernley spoke after a news conference that went on for nearly an hour and that also spoke volumes about the crisis engulfing the sport.
The Sauber, Lotus and Force India bosses all sat on the back row while in front of them, emphasizing the division in the paddock, sat McLaren's Racing Director Eric Boullier and Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff.
The calls of the back row for a revision of how the revenues were divided, in a sport with turnover in excess of $1.5 billion a year but where the big teams get far more than the less successful ones, seemed to fall largely on deaf ears.
"If you look at the budgets of Marussia and the highest spender, whether it is Ferrari or Red Bull, we are talking about a gap from $70 million to $250 million," said Wolff.
"So if you want to start with a cost cap, how do you do that? Do you make two thirds of the people redundant in the big teams? How does it function?"
Wolff said teams had always come and gone in Formula One and the sport was a tough business.
"Maybe Formula One is just a different ball game," he said.
This is the pinnacle of motor racing and if you want to compete at the pinnacle you need to have the resources."
Editing by Greg Stutchbury