APRIL 17, 2000

Richards gets rallying

DAVID RICHARDS has acquired the commercial rights to the FIA World Rally Championship. These were previously owned by BernieÊEcclestone's International Sportsworld Communicators. The deal, which is believed to have cost Richards around $50m is reported to be for 10 years. Richards can now exploit the sale of television, merchandising, licensing and advertising rights to the series. Richards's bid was supported by cash from venture capital company Apax Partners & Co., which acquired 49% of Prodrive from Richards last year for $50m.

The move means that Ecclestone's problems with the European Commission competition department will be lessened as he will no longer be overseeing the FIA's two biggest World Championships. The deal has also been backed by the FIAÊWorldÊMotorÊSport Council.

"I firmly believe that rallying is now ideally placed to benefit from the opportunities of a new media age," Richards said. "We want to make the most of the commercial aspect of the sport, and at the same time, build on the extraordinary appeal that rallying has all over the world."

The deal ends any idea that Richards may be planning to return to Grand Prix racing as a team owner. He ran the BenettonÊF1 team for a year but withdrew when the Benetton Family refused to accept his recommendation that some of the equity be sold.

Richards is now in the position to become the Bernie Ecclestone of rallying and may, in time, find himself returning to F1 to take over when Ecclestone departs. At 48, Richards is still young and he has a much better understanding of corporate management than Ecclestone would ever claim. Unlike Ecclestone his management technique is to give his subordinates complete control of their individual divisions rather than trying to run everything himself. This will mean that he could be in a position to run Formula 1 as well as rallying at some point in the future.