Interesting tale in the News of the World today, where Ian Gordon has managed to get an exclusive with Bernie Ecclestone on how the Honda management team turned down his offer of financial help with their buyout of the team.
Bernie has done a series of ‘exclusives’ lately; with the FT, the Telegraph, the Express and now the NoW. The Times has been his channel of choice for years, but he now seems to be spreading it around a bit more.
This story is interesting because in it Bernie reveals that he proposed putting up some of the money to back the management buyout in which both Nick Fry and Ross Brawn would have taken 17.5% of the equity in the team. The value of Ecclestone’s offer and the percentage he would have received are not revealed. A figure of £100 million is mentioned as the cost of competing this year, but they will be able to do it for less than that, if they have to, and there is no suggestion that’s what Bernie offered. I would be sure the figure he had in mind was less than a third of that. It’s all a bit Dragons’ Den, where every now and then the money man gets turned down by the poor soul pitching his business idea.
So why did Honda and the buyout team of Brawn and Fry turn it down, and was it as simple as that anyway? Well you can be sure that it must have had a lot to do with the strings attached. One aspect of the deal which Gordon highlights is that a share of ownership of the team would have given Ecclestone the right to access to the Formula One Teams Association, which has been holding private meetings to discuss how ultimately to improve the show and get more money out of Bernie. I’m sure he’d have loved to see all the minutes of those meetings.
An aggrieved Bernie told NoW, “I tried to help with the management buy-out. They should have taken what I offered. It was a very good offer for everybody concerned. It gave them complete protection but they wanted to do things on their own. Now all we can do is hope and pray!”
As I mentioned in my post on Virgin, Bernie will still be involved in the deal if it goes that way, because Sir Richard Branson has made it clear he’s sticking pretty close to Bernie through all of this and he will want some assurances. Branson had his say on BBC Radio the other day, now Bernie has chosen this moment to break the story about his rejection. This must be significant, why would he do it otherwise?
I think firstly it is his way of showing that he has tried his best to save the team and that it’s not his fault if it fails. A bit like Donington and the British Grand Prix. He’s taken to doing this kind of pr appearance where he says “I’m doing the right thing, I’m the good guy here” a lot more lately, especially since he took such a hammering over the story about racism being ‘a joke’ late last year. He wants to show that he’s a strong chief executive – standing at the bridge and steering the ship through the stormy waters.
But his intervention in NoW also has to do with putting pressure on Honda at what is now a critical juncture in this process. They have had chances to save this team, he is saying, they still have chances to save it and do the right thing. But in his words they need to “make up their bloody minds.”
They do indeed.