Bernie Ecclestone today announced he will formally stand down from his F1 directorial duties while he prepares to face trial in Munich on bribery charges. Ecclestone says he does not intend to abdicate the day-to-day responsibility for F1, which will no doubt be a comfort to a lot of teams as they hurry to complete the complex, expensive and (according to Christian Horner) fragile V6 hybrid cars which will race just under sixty days from now.
Delta Topco, the Channel Islands-registered company that ultimately controls the business of F1, said today: “After discussions with the board, Mr Ecclestone has proposed and the board agreed that until the case has been concluded, he will step down as a director with immediate effect, thereby relinquishing his board duties and responsibilities until the case has been resolved. “
It continued: “The board believes that it is in the best interests of both the F1 business and the sport that Mr Ecclestone should continue to run the business on a day-to-day basis, but subject to increased monitoring and control by the board. Mr Ecclestone has agreed to these arrangements.”
The statement followed an announcement from German prosecutors that Ecclestone will be required to appear in court in Munich, with proceedings likely to begin in late April. The German prosecutors allege that $45million in consultancy fees paid to Bayern Landesbank board member Gerhard Gribkowsky were in fact a bribe for Landesbank to ensure F1 was sold to a private equity group of Mr Ecclestone’s choice.
Gribkowsky has already been convicted of receiving the money, and jailed. Ecclestone has always claimed the money was paid to stop Gribkowsky making public false details of Ecclestone’s tax arrangements, effectively making Ecclestone the victim of blackmail.
The timing of the announcement could not have been worse for F1. There is already real anxiety around the 2014 cars and regulations: one of the sport’s top teams, Lotus, has admitted it will miss the deadline to have its new V6 car ready for the first test on January 28. With rumours thus circulating about Lotus’s finances, the team tweeted a picture of parts of its new car (the E22) in an attempt to quash speculation. Christian Horner, Red Bull boss, meanwhile, has predicted as many as half the cars that start the Australian Grand Prix won’t finish it, so steep is the learning curve the teams are facing.