Thursday 18 January 2018

Ecclestone cool in eye of new storm

David Tremayne in Valencia

The undercurrents eddying around Formula One held greater interest than the on-track activities in Valencia yesterday.

As investment banker Gerhard Gribkowsky awaits sentence in Germany after confessing to taking a $44m (£28m) bribe, allegedly from Bernie Ecclestone, there has been inevitable speculation whether Ecclestone can escape being dragged further into the sport's latest cause celebre.

Six years ago, Gribkowsky was in charge of managing the sale of BayernLB bank's 47pc stake in F1 to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners. Prosecutors claimed Gribkowsky sold the stake without updating its valuation in return for bribes disguised as consulting contracts.

It has already led to a delay in the proposed flotation of F1 in Singapore, even though the $10bn (£6.4bn) valuation sought by rights holder CVC Capital Partners had been achieved by a recent sale of shareholdings to American investors.

Theoretically, if somebody is found guilty of receiving a bribe then the person making the bribe can also be charged but, for Ecclestone, Valencia has been business as usual and he does not appear to have a care in the world.

He blamed Gribkowsky for "shaking him down" while testifying at the Bavarian banker's preliminary hearing, and his lawyer Sven Thomas issued a statement after Gribkowsky's confession claiming that it would have no impact on the prosecutors' investigation into Ecclestone's dealings.

Gribkowsky will be sentenced next week, and court sources say he can expect a custodial sentence of between seven and nine years.

Meanwhile, dissent continues to foment with regard to capping teams' budgets, and against the proposed new 1.6-litre V6 turbo-charged engine formula which is scheduled to replace the 2.4-litre naturally aspirated V8 engines currently used.

Franz Tost, the head of the small Toro Rosso team, said yesterday: "We are all working to reduce costs, but the costs from 2014 onwards will increase with the new powertrains.

"A resource restriction agreement for them will be even more important than one for the chassis, and I am worried that the costs will dramatically increase."

As bookies offered odds of 7/2 that there will be an eighth different race winner this season at this eighth race, Spanish GP winner Pastor Maldonado and Bahrain GP winner Sebastian Vettel were fastest in each of yesterday's two practice sessions.

Neither was dominant, however. One second covered the first 13 cars in the morning, and the first 15 in the afternoon, with Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen, who have yet to win this season, showing strongly. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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