Wednesday, 7 September 2016

F1 Takeover - Daily Mail: Bernie Ecclestone offered role in Formula One after £6bn sale but he will no longer be the main man after 40 years at the top

Story from Daily Mail:

Bernie Ecclestone has been offered the chance to stay involved in Formula One management by the company who are planning a £6billion takeover of the sport.

The first part of the deal with American media giants, Liberty Global, is worth £600million and is widely expected to go through on Wednesday, with the rest due to be completed in the next six months.


But Ecclestone, 85, said: 'I have been offered a contract to stay and help them. It's whether I want to do that. We'll see.'

Ecclestone, whose family stand to make around £800m from the deal, also revealed he will miss the next grand prix in Singapore a week on Sunday.

'It was planned long before this,' he said. 'It would mean five days away and there is a lot to do.'

The 1996 world champion Damon Hill said: 'We knew change would come sooner or later but it will be peculiar when Bernie finally goes.'

Ecclestone will be in his Knightsbridge office as usual on Wednesday morning waiting to hear if a cheque for £600million shows up.

If it does, it spells the end of the most resilient reign in the history of sports administration.

Even with his mop of silver hair, Ecclestone stands only 5ft 3in tall, but for 40 years he has ruled Formula One with a look, a laugh and the gentlest of handshakes.

He has been feted by presidents and prime ministers, but over the last few days the 85-year-old, whose word was once writ in every paddock, found himself on the periphery of the deal to hand over his sport.

Ecclestone was not involved in the initial talks with Liberty Global, part of the media empire owned by American mogul John Malone, who are close to making the £600m down payment before completing a full takeover in the next six months, worth in the region of £6billion.

The deal has been conducted instead by Donald Mackenzie, the chairman of the sport's controlling shareholders CVC.

He declined to comment last night on how the deal was progressing, but a source close to the negotiations said it was likely to go through.

If so, what does it mean for Ecclestone? 'I have been offered a contract to stay around to help them,' he told Sportsmail.

'It's whether I want to do that. We'll see. I don't know if the deal will go through. But I think it will eventually.'

Even though he turns 86 next month, this is the first time Ecclestone has publicly contemplated retirement from a sport whose machinations have consumed his life.

Even as he sat watching the Opening Ceremony of the Rio Olympics, he regularly looked at his phone at what seemed to be racing circuit layouts.

And at Monza last weekend he held back-to-back meetings in his motorhome in the paddock, a chat here, a deal there.

But while Ecclestone would be useful to the new owners in the short term, he is unlikely to find their corporate way of working to his tastes.

He once said when he does business he does not talk to functionaries; he talks to the man who switches off the lights.

He would no longer be that man, with Liberty Global due to bring in Chase Carey, vice-chairman of 21st Century Fox and a Rupert Murdoch lieutenant, as Formula One's executive chairman.

It is difficult to see how Ecclestone would gel with the grandly moustachioed American.

Alternative bridge between the old and new regimes is likely to be Sacha Woodward-Hill, Ecclestone's highly respected legal officer.

Leaving Formula One would be a massive wrench for Ecclestone, whose worth is often — probably conservatively — estimated at £2bn.

Despite his wealth, he lives quietly, preferring an omelette to haute cuisine and the odd post-work beer to fancy wines.

He owns a ski resort but does not much like the sport: he goes to the slopes with his 38-year-old third wife Fabiana but does not take part, saying: 'I like to stay at the bottom of the mountain. I like the hot chocolate they give you.'

Ecclestone and Fabiana, whom he met at the Brazilian Grand Prix, have bought a ranch near Sao Paulo, but it is hard to see him moving there permanently.

The deal would add to Ecclestone's wealth because he and his family own 14 per cent of Formula One, as the result of a previous buyout, and would stand to gain £800m from the sale.

Within the sport, Ecclestone's passing would be met with mixed responses.

Only the most grudging critics could fail to see how he has turned the sport into one of the richest and most glamorous in the world, striking transformative broadcast deals for nearly 40 years.

He can take on the role of surrogate father in the paddock, playing backgammon with Sebastian Vettel.

Even at Monza last week he spent five minutes in his bus chatting to a senior executive whose job prospects appeared bleak.

But others say he has no idea about promoting the sport in the modern media age.

That is where Liberty's expertise lies: providing globally live and short takes across multiple platforms such as mobiles and Smart TVs.

That all sounds as impenetrable to Ecclestone as Mycenaean Greek.

But modernisers such as Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes boss Toto Wolff like what they are hearing. 'If you buy a company for that price and you're in charge of a media empire like Liberty, there are things you have done in your life,' he said.

'There are things we can learn from the American way, particularly the digital area, but there are also areas that are working here that are not working there.'

Most of the teams hope that a few iniquities will be ironed out.

Is it right, for example, that second-placed Ferrari got £136m in prize money last year (for historical reasons) when the champions Mercedes got £129m?

Or is it right that Silverstone struggle to break even despite getting race-day crowds of about 150,000 because the fee levied by Ecclestone is so crippling?

Several teams want the sport's money more evenly distributed and invested back in its promotion, an idea the arch-capitalist Ecclestone's survival-of-the-fittest mantra does not accommodate.

There are no guarantees that Liberty will strike out in a new direction.

Or if they will get the deal over the line at all. Can Bernie yet scupper it?

If so, it would be a great escape, even by the standards of the original survivor.


© Associated Newspapers Ltd.