Even former supremo Bernie Ecclestone has warned that Marchionne's threats to quit F1 shouldn't be taken lightly. File photo: Max Rossi / Reuters.

Maranello, Italy - Ferrari could lead other Formula One teams into an alternative championship if the sport becomes too much like the US-based Nascar series - but hopes it does not come to that.

Fiat Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne told reporters at Ferrari's pre-Christmas lunch in Maranello that his previous threats to take Ferrari out of the sport after 2020 should not be taken lightly.

He also announced a 22 February launch date for the team's 2018 car and said Ferrari should be challenging for the title after finishing runners-up to Mercedes in 2017.

Marchionne said Liberty Media, the US-based company that took over Formula One in January and sidelined former commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone, was learning the ropes.

'Playing with fire'

He took issue, however, with the approach taken by former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn, the Formula One managing director who won titles with his own Brawn GP in 2009 before serving as Mercedes F1 team boss.

"The thing that most annoys me," he said, "is that there is an experienced man like Ross Brawn there who is looking for ways that go against the DNA of Formula One.

"Making cars all the same with simpler and cheaper engines is like Nascar, it doesn't interest us," he added. "We need to find a balanced solution for the future that satisfies everyone and I think we will do it in time. Otherwise Ferrari will leave. If they think we're bluffing, they're playing with fire."

No empty threat

Most of the Formula One teams have contracts that expire at the end of 2020 and Marchionne said Ferrari would be able to walk away.

"I think that Ferrari has the strength to drag others as well to an alternative championship," he added.

There have been similar threats in the past from Ferrari, without any of them coming to anything. Marchionne, however, is a very different character to former Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo, and even Ecclestone said in November he did not consider it an empty threat.

Marchionne also said Maserati could follow Alfa Romeo back into Formula One in some capacity, but not yet, while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles would have a presence in some form in the Formula E electric series.

Alfa Romeo has teamed up with Swiss-based Sauber as title partners for 2018.