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JUNE 16, 2003

Mr E and Minardi

The announcement that Bernie Ecclestone has bought into Minardi came as a big surprise in Formula 1 circles - as indeed it was intended to be. A few hours before the news Bernie Ecclestone was happily telling journalists that Paul Stoddart had done the sport harm with his Friday press conference and that if the team could not survive it should not survive. It was classic Ecclestone, confusing everyone as to his real intentions and then presenting them with a fait accompli. Paul Stoddart was delighted, although being a junior partner to Bernie Ecclestone in any business will mean that he will have to be on his toes. Stoddart, who was convinced that he was leaving the sport anyway, will now be given a new lease of life in F1 and it will be interesting to see how he does. There are some who argue that he will not survive long and others who say that his resolute defence of Minardi and his courage to take on the big teams have won him Ecclestone's respect. Time will tell.

Those who were most surprised by it all were the other team bosses and, as the knowledge began to sink in, they began to understand the implications and realized that Bernie has once again played his hand brilliantly and now has found a way to give himself even more control over the way things are done in F1. The team principals have more power than just being members of the FIA Formula 1 Commission and can, if they are all in agreement, sign off new rules. Ecclestone has not been in a position to stop that in recent years but now he is. Until the Concorde Agreement ends at the end of 2007, Bernie can now stop decisions being made if he does not like them and that provides him with a useful political tool as he can now apply pressure to get decisions he wants.

Buying into Minardi also means that Bernie will now know all the details of the GPWC politics as the organization is trying to win over all the teams. Ecclestone has always had access to anything he wants on this subject but now there is a more clean-cut connection.

Bernie may also end up making money from Minardi. The investment needed to take control of the team is minimal and finding sponsorship to get the team moving in the right direction is easier for Ecclestone than it is for others as most sponsors go to Bernie for advice and he can steer a few in the direction of Minardi, where a big sponsor can get a lot of exposure for relatively little money. The team has good people and good facilities and so all that is really needed is money to allow development and the team can move a little further up the grid. When all the politicking is over and the future of the sport is sorted out Ecclestone can sell Minardi for a great deal more than it cost him to acquire.

All in all, one has to say that Bernie has done another blinding deal.