• The Inside Line

'Very powerful and difficult to manage'

Kate Walker August 6, 2013
Bernie Ecclestone is likely to be called to appear as a witness in the Constantin Medien case © Sutton Images
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There are certain descriptions one can wear as a badge of honour, assessments of one's characteristics that flatter as they criticise. And if I were ever described as "very powerful and difficult to manage", I know I would hold my head that little bit higher.

Bernie Ecclestone can hardly have doubted that he is a powerful man. In the world of Formula One, he is the powerful man. And it's no surprise that the F1 boss is difficult to manage - with that much power, being easy to manage implies a loss of control.

But to hear that Donald Mackenzie, chairman of CVC Capital Partners, was the one who described Ecclestone as difficult to manage? That says a lot about the relationship between F1 CEO Ecclestone, and the chairman of the private equity group that bought Formula One.

Mackenzie's comments came to light last month as part of Bernie Ecclestone's other legal problem - the Constantin Medien case triggered by the Gerhard Gribkowsky bribery affair. The German media group is alleging that they were denied a stake in the sale of the BayernLB F1 shares because the deal was deliberately undervalued; Constantin Medien is suing for damages not less than $171 million.

London courts have now ordered CVC and the Formula One Group (FOG) to provide reams of documents relating to the CVC sale, F1 race contracts, previously secret hospitality deals, and the like. Of particular interest are the in-house financial projections and growth models prepared by FOG.

It is highly unlikely that the Constantin Medien trial - scheduled to begin in London on 28 October, and likely to run for six weeks - will be held in camera, as it can hardly be said to be a matter of national security. But given the number of 'trade secrets' these documents will contain, the judge may choose to do an in camera review of some of the evidence.

Which isn't to say we won't get a very interesting sneak peek into the inner workings of the F1 machine. Details of the teams' commitment to race until 2012 will share some similarities with the future Concorde Agreement, and the expired document hardly requires a screen of court privacy.

For the financially-minded, particularly those keeping an eye on Formula One's prospective IPO, any information on future earning projections and current sponsorship arrangements will be of great interest.

The Constantin Medien trial may be the lesser-known of Bernie Ecclestone's current legal troubles, but it promises a fascinating insight into the power structures created by the difficult-to-manage CEO.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.
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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.