The first cracks in Bernie Ecclestone’s control of Formula One are beginning to appear as the sport’s mightiest power sits stranded on the doubt of whether or not he is to be prosecuted by German authorities over an alleged bribe.
The issue surrounds the sale of the grand prix series to the equity company CVC and Ecclestone, 40 years at the helm of F1, allegedly paid $44 million (Dh161.9 million) to persuade a German banker, now in jail, to push through the deal to CVC in 2006.
The 82-year-old, who vehemently denies any wrongdoing, has not been charged, but is under investigation and the outcome of the probe, and what action, if any, could be taken against him, has yet to be decided.
Meantime, isolated from the furore in the calm sanctuary of the luxurious bolt-hole hotel he bought in Gstaad, Switzerland, newly-married Ecclestone ponders without too much worry on the issue that has triggered unsubtle comments from the likes of Ferrari supremo Luca di Montezemolo.
At the risk of my not being invited to the next world media get-together at the Maranello HQ, I would suggest host Montezemolo’s verdict on the Ecclestone situation, trumpeted at the pre-Christmas press party, was farcically over the top and presumptuous.
For the second time in a short space of time, the Prancing Horse company chief took a serious swipe at Ecclestone’s reign and heavy-handedly suggested he should be ousted, moved on or voluntarily give up the position from which he has shrewdly and bravely accelerated the sport from virtual rags to vast riches.
“If Bernie is accused, this could be bad for F1. And I think he will be the first to give a step back in the interests of Formula One,” said Montezemolo, who had earlier suggested Ecclestone, who aside from grey hair is showing little sign of his age, was too old for the job anyway.
The 65-year-old president went on: “The era of the one-man show cannot continue. It is finished. Godfathers no longer exist, at least not in Formula One.”
Ecclestone said: “CVC will probably be forced to get rid of me if the Germans come after me and I am locked up.
He adds: “CVC said they had hired a head hunter to find somebody in the event that I was not going to be there — if I was going to die or something. It is the normal procedure to keep people happy.”
He took a swipe at Montezemolo with: “As for voluntarily packing it all in, that’s a non-starter. Despite what anybody else might say and wish, the only way I am going to leave this job is if I get a call from the good Lord and He wants to see me up there.”
If Montezemolo is given to making New Year resolutions, may I be so bold as to suggest: “In 2013 I’ll get off Bernie’s back.”