Used to keeping her eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama, Kate Walker ponders the possible revival of the Max and Bernie show...
The postponement of any sort of decision vis-à-vis the likelihood of Bernie Ecclestone facing trial in Germany may be yesterday's news, but over the Singapore Grand Prix weekend that particular point of interest was eclipsed by a story far older – the revival of the Max and Bernie show.
With any trial delayed until next year at the earliest, Ecclestone's involvement in the payment of Gerhard Gribkowsky – did he bribe, or was he blackmailed? – is still being examined by legal teams in London and Munich, with the German prosecutors and the F1 supremo's lawyers sending flurries of paperwork back and forth. For every argument there is a counter-argument, and for every submission a counter-submission.
But former FIA president Max Mosley – who was in charge of the Federation during the sale of the stake currently of interest in Germany – has taken to the media to defend the man who was both his ally and adversary for so many years. According to Mosley, Ecclestone had no need to use bribery (or any other form of influence) to ensure that the F1 stake went to a company willing to keep the billionaire at the helm.
Since 1995, the FIA – through the World Motor Sport Council – has had the right of veto over any change of ownership of the sport. The commercial rights can be rescinded by the FIA in the event of an unpermitted change, and it is for that reason that Mosley dismissed the notion that Ecclestone had bribed Gribkowsky. He had no need to do so, safe in the knowledge that his job was secure thanks to his relationships with the decision-makers on the WMSC.
“The decision would have been for the WMSC where, as everyone knows, Bernie has many friends and supporters, so he would have had strong backing quite apart from anything I might have thought. He would have been very confident he could not be removed,” Mosley told The Daily Telegraph.
Of course, while Bernie's role as F1's biggest kahuna would have been safe irrespective of the identity of the purchaser, that doesn't mean that the 82-year-old is entirely out of the woods. If the German prosecutors can find another reason why CVC Capital Partners might have been given preferred-buyer status in the sale, then Ecclestone will face trial on charges of bribery.
What Mosley hasn't done is provide an alternative explanation for the transfer of funds from Ecclestone to Gribkowsky. But given that we appear to be looking at a return to the glory days of the Max and Bernie show, when deals were made and battles fought and won using headlines in the world's newspapers in lieu of memos and emails, it won't be long before a new justification emerges.
Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to Crash.net. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, she keeps an eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama.