May 24 (GMM/ F1 appears to be racing headlong into its ‘customer cars’ future.

Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport reports that four teams – Lotus, Force India, Sauber and Manor – are in dire and almost immediate danger of collapsing mid-season.

It would explain why Bernie Ecclestone is pushing so hard to introduce his “one chassis, one engine” solution.

Under the plan, teams would pay EUR 15 million for a basic chassis and standard engine package, probably powered by old V8s.

As it would create a ‘two-tier’ structure in F1, with constructors on the one hand and ‘customers’ on the other, the smaller teams are loudly protesting.

“We are an independent constructor and we want to stay that way,” Force India supremo Vijay Mallya said in Monaco.

“We do not agree with the concept of customer cars,” he added.

Sauber has similarly come out fighting, but Mercedes’ Toto Wolff has heard differently.

“It’s interesting they say that,” he told reporters, “because three of them (teams) came to see me about whether we could supply customer cars.”

It is unclear which solution is the frontrunner — Ecclestone’s ‘GP1′-like plan, or big teams like Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari simply producing extra cars for customers.

Mercedes team chairman Niki Lauda said in Monaco: “Bernie says that we (the big teams) will be the constructors, then there will be somebody else (the customers).

“The (small) teams will never have enough money,” he told the British broadcaster Sky.

“I think the philosophy should be that we (the big teams) make two extra cars (each), not one. The teams who are struggling today with money and performance can switch” to become customers.

“So this is what we are working on now, and I think it’s the right direction,” Lauda added.

Auto Motor und Sport said Ecclestone and his CVC paymasters are eyeing the model of five strong constructors allied with five healthy customers, paving the way for a potential floatation of the sport.

The basic format would be Mercedes with Lotus, Ferrari with Sauber, Red Bull with Toro Rosso, McLaren with Manor and Williams with Force India, the report explained.