It seems that former Diageo boss Paul Walsh has decided that he does not want to be the chairman of the Formula One group. This will inevitably be seen as a victory for Bernie Ecclestone, who wants the job to go to his longtime legal advisor Sacha Woodward Hill. It is a blow for the company owner, CVC Capital Partners, which is trying to find someone to take over from Nestlé chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, who is standing down.
What is clear is that in these difficult times, the sport needs a chairman with energy and vision, rather than a safe pair of hands. There is much that could be done to solve the sport’s complex problems and drive revenues forward, by means other than simply squeezing more money from existing customers and trying to add more and more races. Ecclestone is a master at doing the kind of deals that he does, but there are other areas of the business that are underdeveloped. It seems that CVC does not have the gumption (or perhaps the ability) to move Ecclestone aside, more than it already has, despite the fact that he has even admitted that he cannot fix the problems. One wonders if anyone can without breaking the current system completely.
The FIA has removed itself from any right to a voice (and any real relevance beyond safety and policing) by accepting money in exchange for concessions in terms of governance. In essence, therefore, one can view the business as something of a runaway train in search of a Casey Jones.
Ecclestone is trying to fix the problems with proposals to return to how things used to be, but this is unlikely to work either way. Going back to find a future is never a good policy and getting an agreement on the idea will be tough.
The agreements in place limit Ecclestone’s power but he is obviously keen to have a chairman who will not make his life any more difficult than it is. The fact that it is proving difficult to find a suitable candidate willing to do the job is in itself worrying, although it is understandable that no-one wants to go into a job that will inevitably put them into conflict with the man who built the business and clearly has no desire to stop and on the surface at least seems to be healthy.
CVC also seems to be having trouble finding a buyer (at the right price) but it also knows that any stock exchange is going to be wary of a company led by a man with Ecclestone’s record, his distaste for the transparency and the lack of a clear succession plan. In any case, The IPO is not likely to get off the ground with the European Commission sniffing around the business.
This means that CVC is stuck unless it is willing to make some hard choices, which currently does not seem to be the case.
It is hard to imagine that CVC will find much sympathy within the F1 business as its activities, stacking the business with debt and not taking decisive action mean that the teams see it as taking more than it deserves but yet having no real teeth.