Bernie Ecclestone denies Eddie Jordan's claims that his F1 reign is over
The future of Bernie Ecclestone and Formula One’s ownership were the subject of frenzied speculation on Sunday after a day of claim and counter-claim in Monza.
First it seemed a deal worth $8.5 billion (£6.4 billion) to sell the sport had been agreed and was due to be announced this week, only for that suggestion to be rebuffed by F1’s current owners, CVC Capital Partners. Then Eddie Jordan, the former team boss, pundit, and close ally of Ecclestone, said the Italian Grand Prix would be the 85-year-old’s last as chief executive. Jordan claimed Ecclestone’s tenure was over and that he would not be in Singapore for the next race later this month.
However this extraordinary claim, made live on Channel 4, was immediately scotched both by Ecclestone and Donald Mackenzie, the chairman of CVC. “I would be very surprised if there was any announcement this week,” Mackenzie said. “As far as I am aware, Bernie is going nowhere. Nothing has changed.”
Ecclestone described reports of a deal as “b------t”.
On a confusing day even in the chaotic world of F1 politics, what is clear is that Liberty Media is in the running to complete a deal to buy the sport, which would be the first change of ownership in more than a decade.
Liberty has been lining up Chase Carey, a former News Corp executive, to become chairman of F1’s parent company. It is thought he would work with Ecclestone initially but for how long remains unclear. One source claimed Ecclestone was unhappy to have been left out of the negotiations until a late stage. With Ecclestone having ruled the sport for almost four decades, it would cause chaos to remove him overnight in the middle of the season. He will want to retain full control.
The plan was originally for John Malone’s media conglomerate to confirm on Tuesday that it had made the first purchase. The second payment would then come after the agreement was cleared by regulators, with a listing on the stock exchange in New York possible, too. A pending investigation into Formula One by the European Commission, triggered by a complaint from Force India and Sauber, could also muddy the waters.
But Mackenzie said there were still two other parties interested in buying the sport and he did not expect an announcement this week. Liberty Media’s sister company, Liberty Global and Discovery Communications, has also been interested, along with investors from Qatar, China, as well as American billionaire Stephen Ross, the owner of the Miami Dolphins American football team.
Until a deal is announced, many in the sport will have had a hard time believing it will come off. This saga has been going back and forth for years.
Ecclestone, a lifelong tactician, triggered this latest round of speculation himself by telling a German magazine the sale to Liberty Media would be announced on Tuesday. But just an hour before the start of the race he was singing from a very different hymn sheet.
“You know what deals are like,” Ecclestone said. “Until the money is in the bank it’s all nonsense.”
CVC bought the sport in 2005 and has made billions as Ecclestone has taken it to new and lucrative parts of the world. In a hugely complicated ownership structure, the private equity company owns 35 per cent, while US fund manager, Waddell & Reed, has 20 per cent.
Ecclestone himself owns five per cent of the sport and his Bambino Trust has another eight per cent.