Thursday February 15th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
Max Mosley stood in the drizzle at Silverstone last year answering questions about Formula One. Eventually, one damp reporter suggested the FIA president might ask Bernie to switch off the sprinkler system...
The hand of Bernie Ecclestone is invariably blamed, joked about or praised for whatever may be going on in Formula One.
The 70-year-old has run the high-octane sport for 30 years and that influence will not be diminished by the agreement yesterday between two German television companies to secure a controlling stake in his Formula One holding company SLEC.
"Bernie's role is going to be pretty much unchanged," said one well-placed source on Thursday. "Bernie is central to the business, Max is central to the sport."
The debt-laden EM.TV media company, which owns 50 percent of SLEC, announced yesterday it would sign a rescue deal with the Kirch group and exercise an option to buy an additional 25 percent stake in SLEC.
If the deal proceeds as planned, that will leave Kirch and EM.TV with 75 percent of SLEC between them and the remainder controlled by Ecclestone.
EM.TV have also said both it and Kirch were interested in finding a lasting solution with Ecclestone and a group of carmakers who are already involved in Formula One and seeking a substantial stake of their own.
The EM.TV rescue deal follows agreement last month for Ecclestone to loosen his grip on the sport as part of an agreement between the FIA and European Commission.
The Commission had objected to close links between the FIA and Ecclestone's Formula One Administration (FOA) company which markets the rights to Formula One races.
Ecclestone is FIA vice-president in charge of promotional affairs but the position will soon disappear as the FIA will become a purely regulatory body.
However, that title was considered an honorary one and Ecclestone, who tried his hand as a driver without success in 1958 before becoming a team owner and then running the show, never had an office or staff at the FIA.
More important is the fact that he has a seat on the two bodies making the key decisions - the FIA's Formula One Commission and World Motor Sport Council.
The 26-man Formula One commission is made up of the 12 team principals, eight promoters, representatives of the tyre and engine suppliers, two sponsor representatives, Ecclestone and Mosley.
Very Little Influence
Mosley, a rival team owner of Ecclestone's in the 1970s but a close associate now, said last week that control of SLEC would have very little influence on how Formula One was run.
"The structures are such that whoever controls Bernie's company will have practically no say in the running of the sport because they have just one vote in 26 on the Formula One commission," he said.
The World Motor Sport Council, which oversees the whole spectrum of motor sports, has 24 members and includes Ecclestone as a commercial rights holder.
Ecclestone has a deal for the Formula One broadcasting and commercial rights until 2010, with an agreement to extend them for 100 years.
Mosley said last week, however, that Ecclestone must pay the initial payment of $60 million by March 22 or the FIA might "decide to make other arrangements".
The world of motor racing awaits Bernie's next move.