Ecclestone wins case, denies a King, becomes Basil Fawlty

The legal case against Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has come to  close int he UK signaling a defeat for German company Constantin Medien who alleged the 83-year-old F1 chief had undervalued the series in the sale back in 2005.

While the High Court judge found no evidence of any undervaluing, he did offer a statement that is sure to play well in Ecclestone’ upcoming court case in Germany in 2014:

“The payments were a bribe,” judge Newey concluded.

“They were made because Mr Ecclestone had entered into a corrupt agreement with Dr Gribkowsky in May 2005 under which Dr Gribkowsky was to be rewarded for facilitating the sale of BLB’s shares in the Formula One group to a buyer acceptable to Mr Ecclestone.”

The court felt that a bribe had been made to Gerhard Gribkowsky in order to grease the sale of F1 to CVC Capital which doesn’t place the venture capital company in a very good light as well.

The UK case by Constantin Medien was centered on the undervaluing of the F1 series and this, they alleged, impacted their rightful payout from the sale but the German court case, which is to come, is centered on the bribery allegations.

Ecclestone recently stepped down from his board position in F1 but is still running the day-to-day operations. He told AUTOSPORT that should the German case convict him, it would most likely be the end of his career in the sport. This has sparked a series of speculative articles exploring the possible replacement and one name has continued to be throw about.

Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King has been rumored as a potential replacement as the executive is stepping down in June from his current position. King’s son, Jordan, won the British Formula 3 title so it is understandable that he is an avid racing fan but as Christian Sylt points out, Ecclestone doesn’t see this happening:

“Ecclestone says there is “no truth at all” to the rumour that he will be taking over F1’s driving seat. Asked what the Sainsbury’s boss knows about running a motorsport series, Ecclestone said: “All he knows about is looking for support for his kids.”

However, let’s be honest, this isn’t the first time King’s name has been discussed in conjunction with the role Ecclestone currently holds and while saying “no” in F1 is common place, it’s not out of the question that king could be on a short list for CVC regardless of what Mr. E thinks of it. It would shock very few if King were named CEO of F1 as he has the right executive credentials to run an organization.

Sylt goes on to point out that King is also a good friend of McLaren boss Ron Dennis who happens to have a CEO position open for their F1 racing division but a team spokesperson says there is no truth to that rumor as well.

Red Bull’s Christian Horner has been rumored as a potential replacement but he put the brakes on that earlier this week. Whatever happens in Germany, the sport is too big and too lucrative to think that the current owner of Formula 1 have not been working on a succession plan. When the series was ramping up for a public offering on the Singapore stock exchange, the owners employed a head hunting agency, Egon Zehnder, so there isa  plan in the works and it will most likely (if an IPO is still in the works) a team that will take the place of Ecclestone.

Like all publicly traded companies or organization, they are staffed with CEO’s, COO’s, CMO’s and more to lead the organization and create stakeholder value. Formula 1 would be no different. What we have is a unique perspective of one man’s journey from driver to team owner to series owner to retirement. A lifetime in motor sport and all the skills acquired to take f1 from unique infancy to conglomerate. His skill set was perfectly timed with the 4 decades that F1 needed them and he took the sport to levels unheard of.

Time, like always, changes the complexion of organizations and the mission and future changes as well. The future F1 will most likely not be as receptive to skills that Ecclestone has and in fact, they may prove to expose him as a bit of a nostalgia character at 83-years-old but that day isn’t here yet…at least as far as Ecclestone and many of his pundits are concerned. Ecclestone has made millionaires out of many people and created a series that employs thousands who have families etc. Those folks aren’t too keen to see him leave.

On the other side, a post-Ecclestone world in F1 could be a real hornets nest of power grabbing, political machinations, posturing and litigious gambits that would even challenge the wisdom of Solomon. It does prompt the dog-eared phrase of, “be careful for what you wish for”.

As for Bernie? Well, he has a hotel to run as Sylt explains:

“Ecclestone says he is already looking to his next challenge which is to deal with the Olden, his 16-room hotel in the Swiss ski resort of Gstaad. He recently bought out his business partner, former Ferrari team boss Marco Piccinini, and he is understood to have spent the past few days at the hotel. “I’m going to try to sort my hotel out,” says Mr Ecclestone “I have bought the other people out so I have now got the aggravation from that too.”


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