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The final nail in Bernie's commercial coffin?

india Updated: Jul 04, 2012 23:11 IST
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The real story in Formula 1 in the last few days has been the conviction last week in a German court of Dr Gerhard Gribkowsky. He was once a big shot in the F1 world, as the main representative of BayernLB, which used to own the Formula One group.

Gribkowsky was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison, having admitted to tax evasion, breach of fiduciary duty and bribery.

The charge that is important is the one that the court felt was related to the way in which he got the money. This came from the sale of the Formula One company to private equity firm CVC in 2005.

Gribkowsky said he received a US$ 44 million bribe from Bernie Ecclestone and the Bambino Trust, an Ecclestone family trust company.

Presiding judge Peter Noll said that in his opinion the confession of bribery "fits the picture" of what happened. He also suggested that it is assumed that Ecclestone was "the driving force" in the deal, which "brought the accused into breaking the law - and not the other way around".

Noll said that there was evidence of an agreement between Gribkowsky and Ecclestone.

Vested interest

Ecclestone says there was no bribe and that Gribkowsky was paid because he was threatening to stir up trouble with the British tax authorities.

No one apart from the tax authorities seem to believe that story - and they have something of a vested interest as the British government stands to gain billions of pounds in taxes if it can be proved in court that Ecclestone exerted undue influence over the trust.

Ecclestone is also facing a civil legal action in England from former F1 shareholder Constantin Medien, which believes that the business was sold well below its real value and that it lost a considerable sum of money as a result.

It is reckoned that CVC has made six times the money it invested in the sport. This meant that there has been no serious money available for investment in the business.

If the other players in the sport were dumb enough to let Bernie and CVC get away with that then they did not deserve a fairer share, but who is to say whether the money would have been the same without Ecclestone? Who is to say that someone else might not have done a similar or even better job?

Role overstated

One way or another Eccle-stone is going to disappear from the sport. At nearly 82, he has had a pretty good innings and feathered his nest with much success.

Some feel that without him the sport will implode, I do not agree. I believe that the existing divisions of the Formula One group can go on earning as much, if not more than they have done to date.

It's no good looking backwards and saying what might have been. That has never been the F1 attitude and is not going to be the view in the years ahead - and thank goodness for that.