#F1 Features: F1 utterly headless

Horner_EcclestoneThe British print media are spouting at present that Christian Horner is the only realistic choice to take over from Bernie Ecclestone. The judgement of Judge Newey certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons for the short one from Suffolk.

When TJ13 was born in 2012, I wrote a piece suggesting that the various litigations being prepared or filed at the time would in fact form as a pincer movement on Ecclestone. Each case brings to light new evidence and each bringing the judgement of esteemed Judges across the world.

Ecclestone never believed any of them would come to court and he’d wriggle out of appearing before any keeper of jurisprudence by his usual and forgetful ways.

The TJ13 team reported well the outcome of the Constantin vs Ecclestone case whilst I was away, not getting sucked into the idea that this was a victory for Ecclestone. I can assure you the rhetoric used by Justice Newey was most carefully constructed and he was particular in using certain words to convey an exact notion.

The judgement concluded. “The payments were a bribe. They were made because Mr Ecclestone had entered into a corrupt agreement with Dr Gribkowsky on May 2005 under which Dr Gribkowsky was to be rewarded for facilitating the sale of BLB’s shares in the F1 Group to a buyer acceptable to Mr Ecclestone.”

Mr Ecclestone’s aim was to be rid of the banks. He was strongly averse to their involvement in the F1 Group and was keen that their shares should be transferred to someone more congenial to him.

The judge also said: “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 judge was categorical on certain matters. His choice of the word corrupt is startling. This is an absolute declaration where the judge wishes to leave his audience in no doubt of the notion he wishes to convey. If there was any doubt in Justice Newey’s mind he would have used a phrase like, “dubious arrangement”. He did not.

Justice Newey chose to use this term because he had a strong desire to convey an unequivocal message.
This is the pincer movement I wrote about back in 2012. The evidence and the subsequent Judges summary carries weight even outside the jurisdiction of the UK, and the prosecutors in Munich are now rubbing their hands in glee.

Further, the use of the word ‘impossible’ is interesting again. Judgements are often littered with inference, and the shades of rhetoric indicate the levels of certainty the judge wishes to convey of the security of his opinion. Here Newey is again making an absolute and incontrovertible statement, leaving no wriggle room for interpretation.

Finally, Newey refers to the vagueness of Ecclestone’s memory but he makes it clear he believes this to be a smoke screen. If he believed Ecclestone was forgetful he would simply have used the word unreliable – yet he doesn’t stop there – he adds in the word ‘truthful’ which is again incontrovertible language to convey his belief that Ecclestone lied.

Yesterday Ecclestone obviously stung by the judgement responded, “Tell me where I lied,” and  “I can’t see where the evidence is for that.

Unfortunately for those who believe Bernie is master of all he purveys and will bow the knee to no one; or that he’s a tricky and slippery character and will find his way out of any tight corner, can now see this is not the case. For many, Ecclestone emerges from this humiliated and his demeanour is one of a lost soul. Gone are the quips and the sparkle. What remains looks like a very worried and fearful little man.

Donald MacKenzie has been under pressure to remove Ecclestone completely from his role in F1 from other board members of CVC. So far he has resisted. Yet Mackenzie may not be able to stem the tide of opinion should the sport’s other investors weigh in demanding Ecclestone go.

Waddell and Reed, an American investment company who hold a 20.9 per cent stake, the US-based financial firm BlackRock, and Norges Bank, who control the Norwegian government’s pension fund, may all be starting to be concerned that Ecclestone is a mere liability.

Further, Mercedes and Ferrari also sit on the board have been carping for some time over the need for F1 to have proper corporate governance, citing the European compliance law, which acts as a kind of fit-and-proper-person test.

Neither of these two will be supporters of retaining Ecclestone.

To the matter of Bernie’s replacement – which at some point will have to be addressed. MacKenzie has interviewed Justin King, the former Sainsbury’s chief executive, whose son Jordan is pursuing a career in motor racing – reports the Sports Mail. However, they add that King has been categorically discounted as a possible replacement by MacKenzie.

Ecclestone_MacKenzieDonald MacKenzie is a shrewd operator and he knows if no-one is lined up for Ecclestone’s job, he is unlikely to face a coup d’état forcing him to sack Mr. E. Further, by allowing the continued suggestions that Christian Horner is the man for Ecclestone’s job, he keeps Il Padrino on side in his battle to retain Ecclestone – as the man from Maranello told RAI just before Christmas, “Ecclestone sees Horner as his successor? As the years go by, he more and more enjoys making jokes and I’m happy he still has the desire to do so.

For those of you who don’t understand the rhetoric of the head of a powerful Italian family. That’s a categorical NO – of the same order of unquestionable certainty as Justice Newey’s comments, “impossible” and “corrupt”.

So F1 lurches on towards Bernie’s April date in Munich, with no agreement on a solution should he be convicted. It is certain such a conviction regardless of legal appeals would see Ecclestone summarily removed from his role as F1’s CEO.

The silence of the FIA so far on this matter should be bewildering. Yet it isn’t. They claim to be “constantly striving to protect the image of motorsport… from jeopardy or harm as a result of immoral or unethical methods and practices”.

TodtHowever, the insipid nature of Jean Todt’s leadership is unlikely to see him intervene with the Presidential powers he posses. This is the man who allowed the Al Khalifa’s to blatantly breach article 1 of the FIA by politicising the return of F1 to Bahrain with banners such as “UniF1ed”. His predecessor Moseley hit the Turkish Federation hard for politicising a podium ceremony.

The leadership of our sport has never been in such ruin. It is run by a wimp, a criminal (according to Newey) and a group of team bosses more interested in contemplating their own navels than forming a united collective of self-interest.

These are grim times indeed.

14 responses to “#F1 Features: F1 utterly headless

  1. Excellent summary Judge. It still is staggering that a shareholder type company is run like a personal fiefdom/dictatorship.

  2. This whole episode is seriously embarrassing to the sport. And clearly FOG and its subsidiaries don’t take succession planning seriously. Our man of the month MW knew exactly when get off the train, and did so with dignity and style. As for Bernie, he has neither now.

    • Our man of the month MW knew exactly when get off the train, and did so with dignity and style.

      My God, did he or what?!

      He timed that to perfection! Ugh how miserable would he have been in Ricciardo’s place right now? And humiliated to boot!

      I can’t wait to see him win Le_Manz!

  3. The question I have is will (can) the teams take Bernie’s conviction as an opportunity to try and reclaim the rights for themselves. Or has the effective demise of FOTA ruled that out.

    Selling the TV rights in the first place has to be one of the most boneheaded moves, at least in hindsight, that I have ever seen.

    Fantastic commentary. Glad to see you’ve recharged the batteries. 🙂

  4. Pretty much spot on. Until Bernie is gone from the sport entirely (I doubt he’ll go quietly) nothing much can be done to address the problems in F1 that you’ve highlighted. I mean most sports have fully engaged with social media in a lot of significant ways, F1 has been quite tepid on that front. Bernie seems not to be interested in it, chasing outdated TV deals.

    Which brings me to –
    I’m interested to see how well Vince McMahon’s gamble with the WWE Network plays out. They are taking a huge gamble with it – $9.99 a month with all the PPV’s (normally costs $60+ for each PPV in the US), a massive content library and other programming. If it proves successful it could be a game changer when it comes to broadcasting live events with fan interactions. F1 could learn a few things from the WWE in how it engages with it’s fans on social media platforms. And before anyone says it, yes I know wrestling is fake. Just look at the money WWE generates first 😉

  5. While it’s very easy to understand the fans’ loathing of Ecclestone, I am somewhat surprised by the casual response to the cavalier written opinion accompanying the magistrate’s ruling.

    Keep in mind Ecclestone was just found not to have caused Constantine to suffer any material loss! And the fact that he did not pay-off Gribkowsky to under-value Constantine’s shares was fatal to their claim, which was found to be without merit.

    Bernie was not on trial for bribery – this wasn’t even a criminal case! Isn’t anyone else uncomfortable with a British magistrate seeking to massively prejudice a global audience and turn them against Ecclestone, possibly denying him a fair trial after declaring B.E. guilty of bribery, when that wasn’t even the matter before the court?

    Judgements are often littered with inference, and the shades of rhetoric indicate the levels of certainty the judge wishes to convey of the security of his opinion. Here Newey is again making an absolute and incontrovertible statement, leaving no wriggle room for interpretation.


    HOW is this possibly an outcome that respects the notion of due process?

    I don’t like Ecclestone any more than the next guy, but I’m shocked that folks would want to see someone defamed like this. In the US were a judge to issue an opinion like that, I have to imagine that he would risk facing censure, reprimand or question of misconduct.

    If Bernie is to go down for law-breaking, let him be taken down with full due-process, in a criminal court (of law) in Munich, and not via the UK press…

    Judicial misconduct occurs when a judge acts in ways that are considered unethical or otherwise violate the judge’s obligations of impartial conduct. Actions that can be classified as judicial misconduct include: conduct prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts; using the judge’s office to obtain special treatment for friends or relatives; accepting bribes, gifts, or other personal favors related to the judicial office; having improper discussions with parties or counsel for one side in a case; treating litigants or attorneys in a demonstrably egregious and hostile manner; violating other specific, mandatory standards of judicial conduct, such as judicial rules of procedure or evidence, or those pertaining to restrictions on outside income and requirements for financial disclosure; and acting outside the jurisdiction of the judge or the court, or performance of official duties if the conduct might have a prejudicial effect on the administration of the business of the courts among reasonable people…

    • …Sorry Joe – have to disagree.

      The evidence brought before the court attempted to show Ecclestone was corrupt – bribed Grobkowsky – and his motive was to undervalue the share sale.

      The judge is entitled to suggest in his ruling the petitioners case was proven in points 1&2, but not in point 3.

      Newey is also entitled to comment on Ecclestone obtuse attitude to giving evidence about what he remembered and what he didn’t…

      Mr. E was most flippant in certain parts of his evidence – which was stupid – as he almost certainly gave the Judge the impression he was being disrespectful toward the process of his cross examination…

  6. “Donald MacKenzie has been under pressure to remove Ecclestone completely from his role in F1 from other board members of CVC.”

    This is a good article, but I’m perplexed about two things here.

    First while I’ve long admired how well this “pincer” movement against Bernie has been spelled out here, this story might be easier to follow if we followed the money.

    Is this following correct?
    35.5% owned by CVC
    21.0% owned by Waddell & Read
    I’m confused who owns the remaining 43.5%

    Second, looking at this issue strictly from a business stand point, why would investors want to cut Bernie loose? His commercial success appears to be very strong, and there is a significant possibility that someone else may come in and run FOM into the ground.

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