• The Inside Line

Bernie and the great buyback

Kate Walker July 5, 2014
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In my long-ago schooldays, we were taught that it was no longer appropriate to use BC and AD to determine dates on either side of year zero, as the Christian references inherent in the abbreviations were potentially offensive. Instead, the preferred abbreviations were BCE and ACE, for before/after common era.

I believe schools have reverted to the more familiar AD and BE these years, but whenever I see articles discussing the potential end of the Bernie era, I can't help but conflate BCE with Bernard Charles Ecclestone and the only era of Formula One that many of us have ever known.

According to comments made by the F1 boss in the Silverstone paddock, however, the end of F1's BCE could yet be a long time coming. Following a piece in The Guardian which said that CVC were planning to sell off a significant chunk of their F1 stake - and that a successor for Ecclestone would be sought irrespective of the outcome of Munich - Bernie told the Daily Express that he was considering buying some or all of the stake reportedly up for sale.

"I have spoken to Donald Mackenzie and I am looking at it," he said. "It is possible, although one or two other companies are interested and I would not enter an auction. Age does not make it impossible. I feel no different to how I did 40 years ago. I have a contract with the company, not the shareholders. I have seen some rubbish about being pushed out but there is no one lined up to take over.

"Our company has been a very good investment for CVC and it would be a very good investment for me or anyone who owned it," Ecclestone continued. "You can make money from it, so it would not be a problem for me to find financial backers. I run it now, but it wouldn't make any difference. It just means I would have to buy the shares. I think the company is a good solid business and a good investment.

"The past couple of years we have been running the business as if CVC were going to float the company. So we have run it like a public company, which has limitations. If I bought it I wouldn't think of that. I have always been used to doing things on the spot and, with a public company, it is always about board decisions. It can be restrictive, although I must say CVC have been super, they don't tell me how to run it. They have been super-supportive with all my troubles."

As Ecclestone himself acknowledged in his comments, any purchase of some or all of CVC's stake would require external financing. The F1 boss' convoluted financial affairs see the bulk of his riches tied up in family trusts over which he has no influence, as per the thrust of his Munich defence.

So a Bernie-owned F1would see very little change on the ground. The sport would still be in thrall - and in hock - to the bankers and financiers who made Ecclestone's purchase possible, and with no change at the helm any revisions to the existing division of the financial spoils isn't going to be on the agenda.

Perhaps the most interesting prospect, given how much of the family's wealth comes from the sport in the first place, would be for the Ecclestone heiresses - Tamara, Petra, and Slavica - to decide that it is in the interests of the Bambino Trust to make a counter offer for CVC's stake, giving the ex-wife control over her ex-husband's dominion.

The move would make financial sense for the trust, who would certainly be able to justify the investment at a board level, and in the psychological battle between exes a controlling stake for Slavica in Bernie's own world would be something of a knock-out blow.

© 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'.