File picture: Edgar Su / Reuters.

Abu Dhabi - The fight taking place under the light bulbs over the weekend had less to do with qualifying - in which Valtteri Bottas took pole position - than with the future health of Formula One itself.

Enter Jean Todt, president of the FIA, who contemplated the withdrawal of the Ferrari brand he led as manager to 11 world titles during the Michael Schumacher era.

The dispute centres on the direction of the sport post-2020, when the teams’ existing agreements expire and engine specifications and commercial regulations can be redrawn.

Ferrari has always received extra cash - and a veto which allows the team to block anything - given its status as the only team to have competed unbroken in the world championship since its inauguration in 1950 and recognition that it brings unmatchable glitz.

Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne recently said the Scuderia would quit if changes proposed by F1’s new owner, Liberty Media, to level the playing field with a rebalancing of revenues and the introduction of a new, cheaper and simpler engine from 2021, go ahead.

Todt, here in the Abu Dhabi paddock for the last round of the championship, responded to the threat, saying: "I do not want to see Ferrari leaving. I’m not sure it will be a good thing for Ferrari to go. Ferrari is a unique brand - combined between racing and road cars - so it would be painful for the team not to be in Formula One."

There now promises to be several years of wrangling over the future of the sport. The likely upshot is compromise will be reached and Ferrari will stay. But Marchionne and Liberty Media are unknown quantities, this being their first go at renegotiations, in the post-Ecclestone era. Old certainties suddenly feel less secure.

Liberty, led by American Chase Carey, is increasingly failing to convince the paddock that the company understands its arcane ways. But Todt stood up for Carey and Co, saying: "Clearly it has been a big change. We had Bernie for many, many years and Bernie was Bernie.

"A lot of what we have is a tribute to what Bernie has done. But Liberty Media is a strong group. Chase Carey is a great CEO. He has been building a proper organisation by hiring Ross Brawn (technical boss) and Sean Bratches (commercial). It is very professional. Those who love the sport should be happy. It is in good hands."

With Lewis Hamilton having wrapped up the title two races ago, the action has a feel of school closing down for the holidays.

Nevertheless, Bottas produced a fine lap - the fastest ever here and 0.127sec quicker than Hamilton in second - to claim consecutive poles.

Last time in Brazil, the Finn was passed by Sebastian Vettel at the start and missed out on victory. "My target is clear," said Bottas, alluding to his thirst for a redemptive win.

Daily Mail