Could VW’s arrival mean Ecclestone’s departure from F1?

If you’re good at piecing together stories in the press and weaving conspiracies from them, then perhaps the two stories in today’s news might be fodder for your creative and conspiratorial mind.

The first story was in regards to a possible marginalization of Bernie Ecclestone’s role in F1 as a new board chairman is apparently stepping up to the plate. It is said that Paul Walsh, the former chief executive of Diageo, is possibly taking over as chairman of the Formula One Group of companies. Walsh would be replacing Peter Brabeck-Letmathe who is undergoing medical treatment.

CVC Capital Partners, the majority owner, is said to be behind the move as the firm’s Donald Mackenzie was nonplussed by Ecclestone’s recent comments regarding the youth market and digital revenue streams such as Twitter, Facebook and other social media as well as content delivery systems.

Ecclestone told the Financial Times:

“I wouldn’t have a problem with that,” Ecclestone said. “If it was something positive, I would be delighted.”

The reality is that removing Ecclestone from his role is a lot harder than it seems. It would be more of a big payout and massive unwinding of numerous ties the 84-year-old has to the sport.

The second story could be part fo the reason for a possible change. The BBC says that recently-hired Stefano Domenicali—former Ferrari team boss—is helming a feasibility study for Volkswagen Audi Group (VAG) to see if they might be interested in getting into the fray given the immense brand recognition and marketing capital Mercedes gained this year from their involvement.

Luring the second largest carmaker in the world would be a huge benefit to Formula 1 but apparently there’s a catch—it seems that current VAG head of the supervisory board of the VW Group, Ferdinand Piech, doesn’t much like Mr. Ecclestone both personally and professionally.

BBC pundit, Eddie Jordan, said:

“The Volkswagen Audi Group is the second biggest car maker in the world and as such it needs to be in Formula 1. But it will not enter it while the sport remains under the control of Bernie Ecclestone, who VAG boss Ferdinand Piech dislikes on a personal and professional basis. Martin Winterkorn – the chairman of the board of management of Volkswagen – is being groomed as Piech’s successor and he has always believed that F1 is a great platform for the group’s brands. I am told he privately believes VAG should be a part of F1. If VAG did come to F1, I believe it would be with their own team, with the car designed and made in Germany.”

So could CVC Capital be making serious Ecclestone-neutering moves in order to lure a major player to F1 and be thinking long-term? If they really wanted to make this happen, they’d have to make some big payments to Ecclestone so perhaps the offset for such a capital outlay is the get VAG into the series and get them to the table for the long term.

F1 could only benefit from Audi or even BMW’s involvement and the FIA would be very keen to see such major players infusing cash into the system as they are now a stakeholder in the commercial gains of the sport—which has led to calls for an investigation over anti-trust laws in Europe.

Regardless, check out Andrew Benson’s article over at BBC because he does a nice job of unpacking the issues. After reading that, head over to The Telegraph to get a few details on the Walsh move and then get your conspiracy hats working. Are the two tied together? Hmmm.

Hat Tip: BBC and Telegraph

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