Having ruled Formula One for more than three decades, Bernie Ecclestone’s time could be almost up. He is currently facing a $400m compensation claim from one of the largest banks in Germany, BayernLB, which he allegedly ‘short-changed’ during the sale of Formula One eight years ago. It is not yet known whether Ecclestone will face criminal charges, but at 82, and with headhunters already being drafted in, his future as F1 supremo is starting to look a bit uncertain.
Apparently members of the Formula One board have asked one of the largest global headhunting companies to start preparing a shortlist of possible candidates to replace Bernie. Egon Zehnder International is believed to be the lucky firm, and worried shareholders are keen for a replacement chief to be found just in case he does end up facing criminal charges in Germany.
So what actually happened? Well, a former BayernLB exec, Gerhard Gribkowsky has testified that the bank’s stake in Formula One was worth $450m more than CVC Capital Partners paid for it ($756m) back in 2005. Ecclestone himself co-ordinated the deal, and also apparently received $66m from Gribkowsky for making sure the deal went off without a hitch. The bank wants that money back, too.
According to The Times, Ecclestone has asserted that the German bank will have to sue him in a British court if it is to have any chance of getting any money. He told the paper: ‘I have been under a cloud for three years. There is nothing to worry about. I am not worried – I am aggravated with the nonsense I’m being put through for all this.’
He added: ‘I sold the bloody shares for the bank. It was something they couldn’t sell. They had six people look at it and wouldn’t buy. I got them out of trouble and now I’m in trouble. Life is like that sometimes.’ But old Bernie is now mired in controversy: reportedly his lawyers in Germany have heard directly from the bank asking for the compensation, after Gribkowsky was imprisoned for accepting a bribe from Ecclestone during the sale back in 2005. The latter insists that it was not bribe money, but a form of blackmail by Gribkowsky.
Whatever the true story is, it is certainly a bit of a mess, and it looks like Ecclestone's 30 years at the wheel of F1 could be facing the final straight. Watch this space.