Bernie Ecclestone. Photo via Ryan Bayona under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.Enlarge Photo
Bernie Ecclestone is throwing a great big smoke screen over his legal troubles by pontificating about anything but the German court case that went against his former ally, previous Bayern LB banker Gerhard Gribkowsky.
Why would this be important for Formula One, Ecclestone's personal playground and rationale for his extreme wealth?
When Gribkowsky was found guilty of tax evasion and bribery for the $50 million he received from Bernie during the sale of Formula One in 2005, prosecutors stated that Ecclestone, who personally paid some of the money was "the accomplice in an act of bribery." Gribkowsky received an eight-and-a-half-year prison sentence; it still remains to be seen whether Ecclestone will be investigated in the U.K. and Germany for his role in this sordid tale.
Which is why F1's puppet master is talking about the failure of the under-construction New Jersey circuit to be ready in time for its June date next year - this despite a visit from reigning F1 champion Sebastian Vettel and former F1 driver David Coulthard after the Canadian Grand Prix as both lauded the circuit's progress.
This is also why Ecclestone is talking about the possibility of a London Grand Prix that would wend its way past Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square, among other tourist delights.
Ecclestone is telling anyone that will listen - and so many will - that this proposed race would be "Good for London, good for England - a lot better than the Olympics," which start within the month.
It's a perfect smoke screen for the 81-year-old billionaire, who even intimated he'd part with some of his own mass fortune to help procure this particular Formula One Grand Prix. The figures being bandied about are £35 million (or about $54 million by today's rates). That would take care of the "sanction fee" which would presumably be forgiven. It's a perfect ruse to get the tax collectors off his back!
Ecclestone's desire to see a Grand Prix in London has been a long-standing wish, but then, so has his insistence that any US Grand Prix have the New York skyline as its backdrop. With professionals hard at work to procure the latter race in time for next summer's intended date, it would stand Ecclestone well to back off and let them do their jobs.
But then, we're talking about Bernie Ecclestone here, who thinks F1 smoke screens are just the thing to draw attention away from his personal troubles. Will Ecclestone be hounded by German authorities while he's talking up a new British F1 race? And are the British tax authorities looking into his play with Gribkowsky and the bribes purportedly paid both by his personal account and the Bambino Trust (in which BCE is supposed to have zero influence)?
The results of any such investigations could be disastrous for the sport.
Ecclestone's proposed plans for the London Grand Prix will be announced shortly at the Royal Automobile Club, with the former Brabham operative joined by current drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, who will showcase the intended route on a 3D CGI simulator. Those in attendance will likely watch this Nero fiddle as his personal Rome burns.