AUGUST 2, 2008
Before the British Grand Prix relations between Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley were best described as frayed. Things were then patched up. This was rumoured to have come about because CVC Capital Partners, which owns the majority of the Formula One group, was becoming increasingly uncomfortable about the situation between F1's two powerbrokers. Despite this, the signs were that the peace was an uneasy one. Since then things have changed somewhat with the establishment of a new team organisation called the Formula One Team Assocation (FOTA). This is a significant addition to the political landscape in F1, creating what is potentially a strong new player in the game, but only if the teams can stay united and not split up because of their conflicting needs and desires. With more and more corporate money in the sport, the teams have been under pressure to make the sport more stable so that sponsors and manufacturers can have their investment protected.
Against this background the suggestion made by Mosley in The Times that a new owner of the Formula One company might not retain Ecclestone is likely to stir up more controversy. The story, headlined "Max Mosley considers F1 life without Bernie Ecclestone" drew attention to the fact that Ecclestone is nearly 78 year old and went on to surmise that CVC Capital Partners is keen to sell its shareholding and that a new owner might not want Ecclestone in charge. There are a lot of ifs and buts in that.
The suggestion will not go down well with Ecclestone, who has been the dominant figure in the commercial side of F1 since the late 1970s when he represented all the teams in their fight with the FIA. He became the personal owner of the commercial rights to F1 in the mid-1980s and then began to sell off shares in the business in increasingly complex financial deals. Throughout all of this, he has remained the man in control of the sport, ensuring that the teams agreed to his wishes.
There have been turf wars with the FIA for several years but since the revelations about Mosley earlier this year, the situation has deteriorated significantly.
It remains to be seen whether Mosley's remarks in The Times will spark off new troubles but they underline that we are in the middle of a difficult time for the sport. Stability is needed but getting it is anything but easy.