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Where do Bernie Ecclestone and Formula 1 owners go from here?
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Posted By: James Allen  |  21 Feb 2014   |  3:55 pm GMT  |  55 comments

Following on from yesterday’s powerful statement by a High Court judge regarding Bernie Ecclestone, Formula 1′s commercial boss for the last 30 years, the sport is holding its breath to see what action the sport’s major shareholder, CVC Capital Partners, will take next and specifically whether they will seek to remove the 83 year old from his executive role in the sport he built up.

Ecclestone has already stood down from the board of F1′s holding company pending his criminal trial in Germany in April. But will CVC follow through on a threat to remove him if he was found to have done anything wrong, made by its senior partner during the London High Court action which concluded yesterday?

The judge in the London case, brought against Ecclestone by Constantin Medien, said that he was satisfied that Ecclestone paid a bribe to Gerhard Gribkowsky, over the sale of F1 in 2006. Mr Justice Newey went on to criticise Ecclestone, stating that, “Even … making allowances for the lapse of time and Mr Ecclestone’s age, I am afraid that I find it impossible to regard him as a reliable or truthful witness.

“The payments were a bribe. They were made because Mr Ecclestone had entered into a corrupt agreement with Dr Gribkowsky in May 2005.”

Last night Ecclestone was moved to issue a very clear statement, saying that the judge’s words constituted an “opinion” and that this didn’t stand up, because the court had not heard from all the witnesses it could have heard from, so was not in full possession of the facts.

“As this was a civil claim, the judge was only required to deal with the claim on the balance of probabilities, ” said the statement.

“This is a much lower standard of proof than would apply in a criminal case [Editor's Note: This would need to be "beyond reasonable doubt"]

“The judge has expressed his opinion that on the balance of probabilities there was an unlawful agreement made with Dr Gribkowsky and that payments that Mr Ecclestone made for Dr Gribkowsky’s benefit were a bribe, but this view is not underpinned by reliable evidence.

“The source of these allegations is Dr Gribkowsky himself, who did not give evidence in this case.

“The judge expressly recognised there was clearly considerable force in the point that there had been no opportunity for Mr Ecclestone’s (and the other defendants’) legal team to cross-examine important witnesses, including Dr Gribkowsky.

“As such, the judge’s opinion is expressed in the light of hearing only partial evidence that has not been properly tested.”

Ecclestone is understandably keen to maintain that he has done nothing wrong. He clearly feels that only the criminal trial in Munich, starting on April 24th, will be able to establish this. This is important because a sword is hanging over his head from a statement made by F1′s largest shareholder during the Constantin Medien case.

Central to this issue is what CVC boss Donald Mackenzie said during evidence given in this case last November. Speaking about the allegations against Ecclestone, he said, “We’ve always taken the position that if it’s proven that Mr Ecclestone has done anything that’s criminal or wrong we will fire him.

“But until that happens we will give him the benefit of the doubt, provided it is not seriously damaging the business of Formula 1.”

The question therefore arises as to whether the judgement and words of Mr Justice Newey yesterday constitute what CVC’s board and Mackenzie would consider proof “that Mr Ecclestone has done anything that’s criminal or wrong.”

Ecclestone was not on trial in the Constantin Medien case, so there is no question of yesterday’s judgement being proof of guilt.

But it certainly gives the CVC board a headache and a very difficult challenge over the coming weeks and months.

Due to work done behind the scenes by Ecclestone in the last 24 months, F1 is in a period of stability until 2020 with all the teams signed up on long term contracts and the FIA also bound to the commercial rights holder (CVC and Ecclestone).

But at present there is no Concorde Agreement binding the three parties together.

CVC cannot float F1 on the stock market and make its lucrative exit until that agreement is in place and the question CVC must work out is – how central to achieving that Concorde Agreement is Ecclestone himself?

Meanwhile Constantin Medien have said that they will appeal the High Court judgement.

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55 Comments
  1. Tom Lewis says:

    Bernie needs to go, this whole noncence of double points is a good example that he still holds too much power and doesn’t have the interests of the true fans at heart. Never mind all the aligations of coruption, etc.

    1. Dave Emberton says:

      I wouldn’t disagree, but I don’t think having CVC in charge of the sport would be good for the true fans either.

      1. RobertS says:

        I agree with you. As james said in the last paragraph, how central is Bernie to the new concorde? I think he is the only one who could bring everyone together.

      2. Urko says:

        Quite the contrary. I think that He is the reason that agreement hasn’t been signed yet.

      3. jean-luc says:

        I do not agree with you RobertS, and I do not like the “he is the only one…” kind of thinking either. Nobody is irreplacable and Ecclestone is not. Yes he has done great for the sport, but then he started messing it up lately, squandering all the credits he built up over the years. It is time for Bernie to go or to be forced out.

      4. Alec Tronnick says:

        In the words of Kylie Minogue … “Better the devil you know”

    2. Javier Marcelo says:

      thre is no doubt he is F1, and F1 looks like him. Power, money, interests and resaults not always depending on sport or even on races… I remember Alonso in 2006 saying “For me this is not sport any more…” and the consecuence Eclestone critisisim of him.

      everybody ask if he is good or bad for the sport from now on.

      but I don’t think that is the point. the question, for me, is just if he is found gilty in Germany. and CVC, in the meanwile, can not do anything but wait, because if they fire him now that would be worse for his defense in only a few weeks.

      1. Javier Marcelo says:

        And they are “Capital” Partnes… As CVC first name. In good times and in bad…

      2. James Allen says:

        It originally came from Citibank Venture Capital I believe

    3. Darrin from Canada says:

      Everyone in Europe wonders why Formula 1 can’t break into the North American market.

      It’s because of Bernard Charles Ecclestone. Bernie and Co hold 100 years of TV rights, and that’s all he obviously cares about – maximizing the TV revenue. TV will be lucky if it still exists 10 years from now, much less 100!

      I love Bernie dearly, but come on, it’s 14 years into the new century, and I have to watch F1 at 5:50 AM… Meanwhile I can watch the Daily Show on demand whenever I please.

      In the most lucrative market in the universe viewers have to wake up in the middle of the night, turn on the TV (which is increasingly being supplanted by the laptop or even the phone) and watch what Bernie says we should see. That is not the way the US works, and until ‘someone’ makes changes they simply won’t watch. They demand modernity, excitement and Ease of use. Apple kicked everyone’s butt because their (expensive) products don’t require any brains or effort to operate. Contrast that with F1, and you’ll see my point.

      My sports-mad teenage nephews have never even seen an F1 race. No really… I asked them. When pressed further they started asking me where they could download it! Obviously teenagers are smarter than us old farts, they don’t put up with the hassles we’ve become inured to, they watch shows on Netflix.

      And for those that will talk about the loss of revenue from TV contracts consider this… The revenue from the entire American Film industry is dwarfed by the revenue from video games. How do they expect to sell F1 games to teenagers who have never seen a race?

      Maybe F1 should think about all sorts of modern things… like bloody internet coverage perhaps, or downloads on iTunes (I can’t cancel my $180/month cable TV until they do). Hopefully when BCE goes to heaven, or jail (whichever comes first), his replacement will bother entering the 21st century.

      Bernie was the right man at the right time for F1, and thank god for him, but that was 30 years ago! Having a 600 year old man run a major sport in the age of twitter is just plain dumb.

      1. J.Danek says:

        Everyone in Europe wonders why Formula 1 can’t break into the North American market.

        Evidence, please? (And not conjecture.)

        More likely, it’s b/c F1 is a European sport that doesn’t appeal to a majority of Americans (much like both soccer and tour de france-style european road cycling also do not establish themselves as commercially-viable/successful in USA comparable to the major sport leagues).

        Maybe it’s different in Canada … your race always seems well attended.

        F1 though is a global sport w/ European heritage – the antithesis to what’s appealing to most fat/slovenly/ignorant/xenophobic Americans.

        I love Bernie dearly, but come on, it’s 14 years into the new century, and I have to watch F1 at 5:50 AM… Meanwhile I can watch the Daily Show on demand whenever I please.

        What are you ON about??

        Do you not own a DVR/TiVo?

        And if you’re so Internet-savvy, you can Torrent everything-F1.

        Me thinks you just want to complain b/c you don’t like Bernie. Your arguments are illogical and irrational.

  2. Peter Freeman says:

    CVC will not do anything to replace Bernie unless he is convicted in Germany. They are here for the money, not ethics and Bernie IS the money at the moment. I doubt anything significant will even be said by CVC.

    1. Gaz Boy says:

      I think you could be right. Ethics have small bearing on tactics, especially when those tactics are milking F1 for all its worth for big juicy profits.
      Cynical eh? Unfortunately the way F1 has been run for the last decade means cynicism is now the default thought process.

  3. Micky D says:

    I remain utterly flabbergasted that we havn’t heard more of HMRC’s involvement/investigation of controlling interests of the Bambino fund.
    Surely if (and it is “if”) Mr Ecclestone is found to have been rearranging funds to evade payments to Her Majesty, then the argument will come to a rapid conclusion…. and a significant reduction to the national debt!

    1. eeyore says:

      We haven’t heard anything because HMRC, quite rightly, refuse to comment on an individual’s tax affairs.

  4. Al says:

    So, obviously CVC knew nothing about this then ….

    Bernie gets them a nice fat business dirt cheap, why on earth ask questions, I am sure he did it because he is a really nice man.

    1. dzolve says:

      Once a used car salesman, always a used car salesman!

  5. Gaz Boy says:

    At the end of the day, a British High Court judge ruled that Mr E made a corrupt payment/bribe/act of impropriety and although he has not received a custodial sentence to be accused of corruption is a very serious offence.
    Personally I feel Mr E is in an untenable situation, even if he wins the German court case the head of F1 has been accused of corrupt payments by a UK High Court judge and mud sticks. Even if CVC and Mr E don’t go for a full divorce, a trial separation is what’s best at the moment.
    However, will that happen? I don’t know. I get the feeling if Mr E does step down it will be because he was pushed out by force rather than by choice.

  6. Steve Clark says:

    I’ve always thought if there was nothing for Bernie to hide regarding Bambino then there would be no need for a bribe.

    Perhaps the Ecclestone girls should start preparing their resume once a chunk of Daddy’s money is gone.

    1. "Martin" says:

      The only thing they are good at, or in fact brilliant at, is spending money….
      e.g. $100m for 100 room mansion in California !
      Regards,
      Martin

  7. Rod says:

    This is the best F1 site today. More podcasts would be nice though.

  8. eeyore says:

    It seems then that Ecclestone is sufficiently worried by this judgment that he’s issued an immediate defensive statement. But his claim that the Judge has based too much on Gribkowsky’s “confession” in his bribery case does look a little desperate when looking at the full judgment in which Mr Justice Newey reveals the depth of his examination of the allegations (there are pages of it). He concludes in Paragraph 270:

    “The likelihood is, I think, that Dr Gribkowsky’s version of events is broadly accurate. It is consistent with, and in important respects supported by, other evidence, while the evidence given by Mr Ecclestone and Mr Mullens contains inconsistencies and is otherwise unsatisfactory. Further, bribery is far more probable than the only other explanation offered for the Payments, viz. that they were made in response to a “shakedown”. The blackmail/”shakedown” story is thoroughly implausible.”

    1. J.Danek says:

      He rapidly issued a statement to defend his legal interests and reassert his absolute innocence, which was being questioned totally w/o due process by an English magistrate w/ no more access to all of the impending criminal case evidence than you or I have!!

      I can’t believe you wouldn’t do the exact same thing if you were being defamed by a reckless and biased judge who lacked the remit to pronounce on the matter!?

  9. RichardD says:

    Irrespective of the various legal shenanigans going on, surely it is time for Bernie to be thinking of retirement? He is 83 after all!

  10. Goggomobil says:

    In the next 48 hours it should be a statement issued by Mr Mackenzie on behalf of CVC board in regard of a judgement given by High Court Mr
    Juctice Newey in respect of one CVC employee, surely Mr Mackenzie can’t ignore His Honour statement,in fair dinkum departement Bernie should be dismissed forth with.
    Should that not happen, then as saying goes money talks and s**t walks,and that my friends what is all about it.

    1. Javier Marcelo says:

      it would not happen, definitely. I agree it shoud happen in normal live, but this is F1, were only money and show business decides and… Show must go on… As says that song…

  11. Burdy says:

    So…If CVC want to get the best price for F1 they need a Concord Agreement in place. So….
    Who is the man most likely to be able to arrange that? So…Its not in CVC interest to get rid of that man. So… Why would he get an agreement in place and thus weaken his position? So… Been wondering why it was taking so long. All allegedly of course…

    1. Javier Marcelo says:

      In fact, why is not Conconde Agreement still in place if its is not for Berni’s interest?

      He left it for the end as a life insurance, his life insurance. More people needing him, more preasure on the German Court, and more nusty money working underneth.

      1. I know says:

        Fortunately, the German court doesn’t care whether or not F1 has a Concorde Agreement.

        I can see a point in Mr. Ecclestone’s defense here, he really didn’t have to prove his innocence vis-a-vis a crime that he wasn’t on trial for. For the London trial, he chose the appropriate strategy.

        However, I still find it very hard to believe that the judges who will pass a verdict on him on the charge of bribery will come to a different conclusion, even after the evidence is examined properly.

      2. Javier Marcelo says:

        You know what I mean. Its not the court who cares aabout the Concorde Agreement. Its muchore influential people, institutions and corporates the ones who cares. And Berni’s mesaje is “do not forgive me now, you still need me”.

        And “you know”. But another question is: Do you simple know everithing or your nick name is just a joke?

      3. J.Danek says:

        “However, I still find it very hard to believe that the judges who will pass a verdict on him on the charge of bribery will come to a different conclusion, even after the evidence is examined properly.” < < < < PRESUMABLY you have access to evidence that wasn't even presented at the civil proceeding then, in order for you to comfortably make this claim?

        Wow.

  12. Craig says:

    I like how it’s the same picture as the previous Bernie story, only this time he’s a little bit closer, like some kind of horror scene.

  13. zx6dude says:

    Seems like Mr Ecclestone should think seriously about retiring, his latest meddling ideas and this court case make me think that he should move away from F1 and give way to someone (who?) or something else (what?). I think he should go but I’m not sure what this would do to F1. Would CVC Capital Partners be able to run it? Is there a suitable replacement for Mr Ecclestone?
    Dodgy dealing, dodgy ideas… time to go I’m afraid

    1. Javier Marcelo says:

      F1 will go without him. And a flotation in the stock market would be a great chage of direction because of the transparency laws and all that rules. Time to go on, with criminal Eclestone or without “inocent” Berni.

  14. Phil says:

    Don’t some of the companies in F1 have strict corporate rules against doing business with wrongdoers? And will this verdict invoke those rules?

    Perhaps CVC will have to decide between keeping Bernie, and keeping (say) Mercedes, Renault and (next year) Honda.

    1. Javier Marcelo says:

      You aré completely right, but not at this stage of the game. Its not still over. they will wait for German Court.

    2. I know says:

      No, they don’t. Companies like Mercedes have strict rules on corporate governance and compliance, meaning they cannot pay bribes, for example. However, they can in principle still do business with people who are themselves corrupt. Whether doing so is worthwhile from a public relations perspective is another matter.

  15. chris green says:

    - 40 years ago bernie did a good job and dragged f1 out of the dirt.

    - f1 prospered for a while.

    - then he discovered machiavelli

    - hubris took hold

    - then he flicked the switch to vaudeville.

    a shakespearean tragedy ?

  16. Elie says:

    This fascinating on a few levels thanks James. Firstly its rather prejudicial for the high court judge to state that Bernie paid a bribe without the full criminal case and evidence put forth ( even if thats what eventaully transpires). Its a rather damaging “opinion” any way you look at it. The evidence in this trial must have been rather illuminating and damning on its own merits. This being the case its a real dilemma for CVC because they are now clear of Constantin Median case – which is effectively job done Bernie, but must now suffer the consequences of the fallout, which isnt good for F1 and its followers. Will it then be the irony that he is dropped even before his criminal trial- I very much doubt it. This will be a prolonged holding pattern till April as they have already suspended Bernie from the board.

    As for the Concorde i thought that was all finalised before Christmas !. Whats happened there ? Is it still some of the smaller teams fighting for their piece of the pie ( rightly so)??. F1 will be so much better off when Bernie is gone– it may take a few steps back before it goes forward because it needs some structures to come in place, but then we wont have the garbage we currently have.

    1. Flying Lap says:

      Good on you, mate!!!!!

      As they say in Oz…

    2. J.Danek says:

      ” Firstly its rather prejudicial for the high court judge to state that Bernie paid a bribe without the full criminal case and evidence put forth …”

      I KNOW, right?!?!

      This was SHOCKING!

      Amazing that he does not face professional sanction or reprimand for such reckless behavior!

  17. Aero.Racer says:

    So Flavio as a replacement? ;)

  18. Steve Rogers says:

    What I don’t understand is, if Mr Ecclestone was being blackmailed about his tax affairs as he asserts, surely therefore he has something to hide? That’s how blackmail works. Otherwise why wouldn’t he be trying to get the blackmailer prosecuted?

    1. I know says:

      No. Whether or not he had done something illegal that he wanted to hide, he had a right to privacy. Paying off a blackmailer isn’t a crime in itself, nor would it be a crime to keep illegal activities secret, as you cannot be forced to incriminate yourself.

      Whether the whole black mail story is true, is another matter.

  19. roberto marquez says:

    I do not think that F1 going on the stock market will help its sport side. Why not create a Board with a FIA rep, one rep from each scuderia and maybe a 2 or 3 reps chosen from ex-drivers, journalist like you James and a rep from the owners of the race courses.The huge benefits would go to the racing teams on more logical way,to drive safe campaigns, and to research and development on engines,braking systems and why not on emergency medical treatment,there is so much money in play it does not seem right for it to go to to spoilt children.Of course and international audit company or two should supervise the whole operation.

  20. Mike84 says:

    Might as well just wait until it’s all over, the criminal case and the appeal(s). We don’t know enough to judge it, and don’t have a say anyway.

    1. J.Danek says:

      That would mean giving up the “right” to subject someone to “trial by media”!

      And while James Allen least of all would not be someone I would ever think likely to engage in such odious “reporting”, many of his colleagues, and those bloggers who think they “compete” against proper paid professional journalists, like nothing more than to be able to trash someone’s reputation w/ near-libellous reporting (but hopefully – for them – w/o crossing legal lines), b/c of the page-clicks it often encourages!!

      1. Mike84 says:

        Everyone wants to know what really happened and what’s going to happen to BE, CVC and F1, and the best way to do that is to just wait.

        If they want to talk about the issue of what’s OK and not OK to do to further your business or personal interests, that would be more useful. Then the BE case would help develop society, so maybe the press should still talk about it but not targeted on the suspect, just the issues.

        For example, if it’s wrong to give someone a substantial gift in the hope of furthering a business relationship, why is it fine to pay for your girlfriend’s dinner or jewelry? Could that not be considered bribery, or at least of questionable motives and character?

        That would explore the issue, and do a lot more than harping on one person’s fate.

      2. J.Danek says:

        For example, if it’s wrong to give someone a substantial gift in the hope of furthering a business relationship, why is it fine to pay for your girlfriend’s dinner or jewelry?

        Maybe not the best analogy (unless your “girlfriend” you meet at a hotel or have to find her # in the back of a magazine), but point taken about the usefulness of reporting that raises questions and avenues of inquiry that could actually be valuable to the evolution of our society…

  21. Peter says:

    James what do you mean by this?
    [Ecclestone was not on trial in the Constantin Medien case, so there is no question of yesterday’s judgement being proof of guilt.]

    I have read a few times that the Constantin lawsuit was against Ecclestone so he must have been on trial. He wasn’t in court as a witness was he? He was one of the defendants so he must have been on trial unless you know otherwise?

    1. James Allen says:

      It was a civil case – he was being sued by CM for loss of earnings. So he wasn’t on trial in the sense that it wasn’t a criminal trial looking to establish guilt, that comes in Germany in April

      1. Peter says:

        It doesn’t matter whether a case is criminal or civil. If someone is sued and it goes to court then they are on trial. That’s why it confused me that you said Ecclestone was not on trial. He definitely was!

  22. J.Danek says:

    Is it typical in English law/courts system for a judge to take such irresponsible action as to seek to prejudice those who would follow his ruling towards a defendant in whose favor he’d just ruled?

    Frankly I am surprised that Bernie Ecclestone’s legal team was not even more upset by this magistrate’s opining, which in my country may very well provide the basis for him (the magistrate) to face censure or allegations of professional misconduct!!

  23. Graham says:

    I can only think that this quote: “Even … making allowances for the lapse of time and Mr Ecclestone’s age, I am afraid that I find it impossible to regard him as a reliable or truthful witness.” suggests that the shenanigans pulled by BE and his legal team were not looked on favourably, hence the wording/content of his statement.

  24. Markdartj says:

    I Agree with you. Right now, I am in a constant battle with COMCAST regarding their refusal to provide its subscribers access to Fox Sports 2, where a lot of content from the former SPEED channel ha migrated. In the meantime, Ice found that for $25.00aus I can stream live V8 Supercar races in full, as well as replay every race from the season in it’s full race archive. If FormulanOne were to have such a deal, I would even spend $100.00 a year for such a set up. Then I would get rid of cable entirely. Variety Magazine has posted an article stating that right now, live sports is the only thing keeping television providers afloat. The sports providers know this, so the rates for televising sports has climbed enormously. Face it, for all other television programming, one can utilize Netflix, Hulu plus, etc. Live sports is it, as soon as it can be streamed. Cable and satellite is going the way of the dinosaurs, eightrack, cassettes, video tape, and DVDs. The advantage for us as viewers is fewer commercials. Right now, the V8 Supercar deal is the best deal on the planet for race fans,

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