Ecclestone’s last stand

July 13, 2009

Bernie Ecclestone’s uncritical outburst of fuhrer-worship will bring down his own autocratic regime at F1, no doubt about it. The question is when.

Ecclestone, whatever his awesome reputation, is only a minority shareholder in Delta Topco, the company which ultimately owns F1’s commercial rights. The majority shareholder is CVC Capital, with about 70%. Although Ecclestone was able to haul CVC chief executive Donald MacKenzie to the phone for a vigorous denial that he was about to get the heave-ho, all is not what it seems. CVC has had enough with the way FIA president Max Mosley and Ecclestone have been running things or, as they see it, running things into the ground. Mosley’s intransigence over reform of the rules recently led to a mutiny by eight of the racing teams – representing all the powerful motor manufacturers – and the threat of a breakaway championship under the Fota moniker. No one really wants a breakaway, including the teams. It would mean diminished income all round, especially in the key areas of TV rights and sponsorship. But CVC has more to fear than most: a breakaway would either destroy or severely impair its multi-billion pound investment in the sport. So it is keen to appease the teams, who now find themselves in a powerful bargaining position.

Sorrell: Not amused

Sorrell: Not amused

On the board of the Formula One holding company are two prominent Jewish businessmen, Peter Brabeck, former head of Nestlé, and Sir Martin Sorrell, ceo of WPP – both Delta Topco investors in their own right. It scarcely requires me to articulate their thoughts on Ecclestone and his continued tenure. The question is, who could replace him? No easy answer comes to mind. Not, for example, the flamboyant Flavio Briatore – head of the Renault team and close confederate of Bernie (both, among other things, have a major stake in football club QPR). The other teams simply wouldn’t wear it. Nevertheless, a replacement looks likely by the end of the year. It’s a gripping Mexican stand-off in which Ecclestone has yet to fire his last shot.

We might ask, while all this unseemly wrangling is going on, what of the sport, what of the brand, what of the sponsors? More in my magazine column this week.

Bernie: Why Hitler was on the right track

July 4, 2009

EcclestoneIf you’d asked me – up to now – which of the Domineering Duo at Formula One is a Germanophile, I would have answered unhesitatingly, “Max Mosley”. It stood to reason, didn’t it? Both parents Teuton-crazy, went to school in Germany long enough to be fluent; even carries out his sexual perversions in the language.

But it turns out I’m wrong: they both are. Mosley’s long-term collaborator Bernie Ecclestone is evidently a passionate student of German history, if a frank interview with The Times is anything to go by. Bernie takes a pride in not being seen as politically correct, and refreshes our memory every now and then with his unconventional views on women, colour and naughty racing teamsters who tell lies and steal. But he has so far kept his views on the course of German history carefully under wraps. No doubt because he fears his findings are so explosive that if they got into the wrong hands they would cause appalling mayhem.

And they are? Apparently, Adolf Hitler has been badly misunderstood. During the Thirties (I paraphrase, but only a little) he was a great guy, building motorways and bringing full employment back to Germany after the Slump. All right, things got a little out of hand every now and then – like on The Night of The Long Knives and during Kristallnacht – but basically Adolf was just giving the Germans what they needed, the smack of firm government. Come to think of it, that’s precisely what we need now, a bit of firm dictatorship, instead of these mealy-mouthed democrats like Brown and Blair, who lie instead of lead; and Max would be just the man to provide such leadership…

But, I digress on his behalf. Things went a bit haywire after 1939. Inexplicably, Hitler became a hopeless victim of invasion complex, causing him to trample roughshod all over Europe. And then there was this holocaust thing. That was a bit of a mistake, wasn’t it?

Why Ecclestone, 78, chose to privilege us with his views on political governance only now is a matter of speculation, but there are several possibilities. One is that The Times reporters are highly persuasive and Ecclestone has been very gullible. I don’t think so. More likely, this is a two-fingered salute to the establishment. A reminder that Formula One cannot do without him, in case any of us is deluded into thinking he might follow Max off-track.

Ecclestone says he is no great planner of events. But he is a consummate bluffer. Let’s see if anyone – from the Formula One holding company majority shareholders CVC to the sponsors and constructors – has the guts to do anything about what, by any standards, is an act of extreme provocation.

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