F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone has tipped a woman to replace him at the helm of the sport within 'three-to-five years' - reasoning that the fairer sex have 'been in the background for too long' and are able to 'decide things less emotionally' as they 'don't get trapped so easily in their own ego' as do their male counterparts.

Although he has repeatedly quipped that he will have to be carried away from his desk in a box, the most powerful figure in the sport - and one who must take much of the credit for having turned it into the tremendously successful global business that it is today - is perhaps acknowledging that having celebrated his 80th birthday last year, his days in charge may now be numbered.

The man who once famously joked that IndyCar Series pin-up Danica Patrick should 'dress in white like all other domestic appliances' appears to be mellowing somewhat in his old age, and in a dramatic turnaround - something of an Ecclestone speciality - the British billionaire now concedes that he could relinquish control 'probably in three-to-five-years', in an admission that hints that he is already grooming his successor.

"I am sure that not so long from now, 50 per cent of the decision-makers in the economy and politics will be women," he told the official F1 website. "Women have always had a strong influence, and have probably been in the background for too long. Isn't there the saying that behind every successful man there is a woman?

"I think that women don't get trapped so easily in their own ego. Women don't have to play golf to make deals - they simply have to work harder to get the same acceptance as men. As their egos don't stand in their way, they decide things less emotionally and in the end that serves the cause."

There are, it has been noted by SPEED.com, half-a-dozen viable female candidates in key roles primed to take over from Ecclestone. The favourite is his lawyer Sacha Jane Woodward-Hill, a current board member and director - and possibly also shareholder - of F1's holding company (FOH) and a close advisor to the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive. Woodward-Hill keeps a deliberately low profile within the paddock.

Another possibility is Australian Judith Griggs, a senior executive of Allsport Management, the company that takes care of the majority of advertising rights associated with the sport and a subsidiary of FOH. Griggs was head-hunted by Ecclestone to oversee the restructure of the then Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) in late 1989. She has also acted as chief executive of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, and as such played an instrumental role in transferring the race from Adelaide to Melbourne in 1996.

Another name that has been mooted is that of Monisha Kaltenborn, the new managing director of Sauber's F1 operation and a former employee of the United Nations. At just 39 and the first female ever to be appointed as an MD in the top flight, the Indian is regarded as determinedly ambitious.

The other three suggestions are former World Rally Championship front-runner Mich?le Mouton - who is now in charge of the FIA's Women in Motorsport Commission and is held as a figurehead for women in the sport - FIA Commission Manager, Sporting Regulations Working Groups Manager and former FIA GT, Touring Car and Truck Racing Commissions Manager Fr?d?rique Trouv? and FIA board member Maria Spetz, who was appointed CEO of the Motormannen Riksforbund (Swedish Automobile Association) in 2003.