I had a bit of a day off yesterday after all the rushing around in the last month and although nothing actually happened, there were a few whispers that might become quite significant as they develop. The most important one is a news report from Germany that the Bavarian prosecution service will soon be indicting Bernie Ecclestone in the case of Gerhard Gribkosky. The stories were published in Süddeutsche Zeitung, which has proven to be a fairly accurate chronicler of the situation from the start, with obvious connections in the Bavarian prosecution service. The latest report suggests that the prosecutors have been looking for evidence that shows that Ecclestone knew that Gribkowsky was a public official, as Bernie’s legal counsel had argued that this was not the case. However, Mr E made some disparaging remarks about Gribkowsky being a civil servant and that may be the key to cracking the case, if the prosecutors consider this to be evidence that Ecclestone knew that he was dealing with a public official.
Gribkowsky has already confessed to accepting a bribe and has reportedly told the authorities that Ecclestone knew what was going on. Ecclestone obviously wants to avoid an indictment of any kind, as that could open the way for actions that would disrupt his control of the F1 business, but in recent months many deals have been on hold pending the outcome of the Bavarian investigation.
What will become important if charges are made is the reaction of the owners of the Formula One group to the news. One must assume that CVC has thought through its situation and has already decided on what strategy it will adopt in the event of an indictment. If the private equity business does not have the clout to oust its CEO, which could be possible with golden shares and such things, Ecclestone could stay on in the role, but many fear that this would be a real problem for the sport. The FIA might be in a position to cancel its promoters contract, although few think that the federation has the gumption to do that. We will see.
At the same time the French government has effectively dumped all ideas of a Grand Prix, saying that no government subsidies will be available. This is not a surprise and so if there is to be a French GP it will have to be done with private and local government money. The two proposed races both required a state guaranteed for their dossiers and without that there is no chance of a race.
Paul Ricard and Magny-Cours must now decide whether they want to go ahead with the guarantees. The decisions will be needed before the World Council meeting tomorrow.
Elsewhere Vijay Mallya is in the news in India with the suggestion that he is selling a stake in his spirits business to Diageo. The bad news for Mallya is that Diageo is making it quite clear that it will not pay more than the company is worth and wants either control of the business or a clear route to control. Mallya wants to hold on to that, but he desperately needs money to save Kingfisher Airlines, which is massively in debt and struggling to remain a viable business. It remains to be seen whether all these shenanigans allows Mallya to retain control of the Force India F1 team, or whether he will need to sell that as well.