Behind the scenes in F1 at the moment there is movement everywhere as things start to click into gear in a process which will ultimately lead to a change of ownership of the sport and a new way of operating it.
Today and tomorrow in Munich, Formula 1’s commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone will give evidence in the fraud trial of Gerhard Gribkowsky, a former banker and chairman of F1’s holding company. Clearing up this matter and getting to the bottom of what happened when CVC bought the sport from Gribkwosky’s bank Bayern LB, is crucial to the hopes of CVC, the sport’s current commercial rights holders, getting its assets in a position to sell and exit the sport with a large profit.
Also vital to this process is getting the Formula 1 teams, including Ferrari, to sign a new Concorde Agreement and this weekend, in Abu Dhabi, the teams will reconvene to discuss the best way forward for FOTA, the teams’ association. It is passing through a delicate moment, struggling to balance the diverse needs of its members within the cost saving RRA framework it established in the teeth of the financial crisis of 2008/9. There are outside and inside forces at work trying to pull that group apart, but all members know that to get a satisfactory outcome to the negotiations over the Concorde Agreement, they must stick together.
Meanwhile behind the scenes in the wider business world, stories are emerging from Bloomberg and colleagues elsewhere in the business media that the interest of NewsCorp and the Agnelli family investment firm Exor in buying the sport is still very much alive. James Murdoch, son of NewsCorp scion Rupert, is very sidetracked at the moment as he prepares to give further evidence before a British parliament select committee into phone hacking at the News of the World. But sources insist the F1 dossier is open and work is going on.
It is a tangled web of separate but ultimately connected threads and over the course of the next 18 months, as these threads resolve themselves, we will see emerging the Formula 1 of the future.
Trying to second guess the outcome is hard, but what I see at the moment are some trends and patterns beginning to emerge.
With Ecclestone fighting several fires at once, the Gribkwosky trial and possible resulting investigations by the UK Inland revenue into his family trust, it is the moment for the teams and the FIA to find all kinds of reasons why an alliance would be in both of their interests.
The FIA owns the sport, the teams participate in it and both sides want more of the revenues which spring from it and which are currently contracted to, and exploited by, Ecclestone and CVC. The teams and FIA have a lot in common and working together they would provide a formidable competitive challenge to Ecclestone. Some F1 team insiders believe that the only way that they will be able to get a satisfactory outcome to the negotiations is by presenting a game changing united front with the FIA.
As for NewsCorp/Exor, there are many competitive challenges to them taking over the sport, perhaps they are there to create a market and boost the price. Because there are a few serious potential buyers out there.
Qatar is getting closer to the sport via Williams and has put itself on a world sporting stage by winning a bid to host the World Cup. Acquriring sports rights like F1 would fit perfectly with that strategy.
They understand the sport, they have a stake in it as a race promoter, as a shareholder in the Mercedes team and as a sponsor of Toro Rosso. Their influence is growing and through ownership of Manchester City football club the Executive Affairs Authority, which manages all their major projects like F1 and football, is learning a great deal about the global exploitation of sporting rights.
There are many twists and turns ahead, but it feels like we are now on a trajectory towards a new Formula 1.