Ecclestone's not out at 82

Formula One boss hints at big changes, but says he's staying.

Bernie Ecclestone, centre, gets a birthday gift before the Indian Grand Prix. Photo / AP
Bernie Ecclestone, centre, gets a birthday gift before the Indian Grand Prix. Photo / AP

It was business as usual on the impressive Buddh International race track in New Delhi's remote Uttar Pradesh district at the start of the Indian Formula One Grand Prix but there was rather more happening off it than on it.

Perhaps that was because F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, 82 this week, dropped in to stir the pot.

First there was the matter of the Bavarian bank, BayernLB, which is suing Ecclestone for £248 million ($486 million). The bank is demanding compensation over the sale of Formula One to the equity company CVC in 2006.

Then he neatly sidestepped the political storm in a teacup that Ferrari caused by carrying the Italian Navy burgee on their cars in support of two marines who, allegedly, shot and killed in February two Indian fishermen in the mistaken belief they were pirates.

But he was only warming up. He was soon having to deny increasing rumours that he planned to step down from his position as the F1 ringmaster.

"Eventually I'm going to go, one way or another," he said chirpily. "But as long as I feel I can deliver, and the shareholders are happy for that to happen, I'll stay.

"When we decided some time ago that we were going to consider a flotation the obvious thing was, 'Well, what's going to happen about Bernie?' So we put in the prospectus that we're going to find a head-hunter to try and find someone. That was a couple of years ago.

"But now as long as I feel I can deliver and they're happy for that to happen I will stay. I'll tell CVC [F1 owners] exactly if I'm going to turn it in when I'm 85 or something like that, which will give them plenty of notice."

The Indian Grand Prix, which was inaugurated last year, is another of Ecclestone's "new" races, born from the need to cast further afield in search of governments able and willing to invest upwards of US$150 million ($183 million) in creating the necessary infrastructure and then to pump in another US$40 million each year (plus a 10 per cent annual escalator) for up to seven years to put their country on the sporting map.

China and South Korea have met with qualified success, but though they have a similarly immature motor-racing heritage, India has embraced the sport.

Next year's planned event in New Jersey has been postponed for a year, which means it should come on stream at the same time as Russia. And Ecclestone freely admitted that the days of European countries staging races could thus be numbered.

"We'll keep trying to move forward," he said. "We're a World Championship. We'll probably lose two or three more races in Europe as we have to move on."

He merely shrugged at the suggestion that could mean perming any four from Monaco, Britain, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Germany, with a laconic, "Who knows?" Which means that he probably does, but isn't telling.

- Independent

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