If you were to do a “keyword in context” search for the name Bernie Ecclestone, it’s a fair bet that most of the occurrences would be near words like ‘supremo’, ‘ringmaster’, ‘impresario’ and ‘puppetmaster’.
His entry in Forbes Magazine’s “World’s Richest” list describes him thus:
“In 2005 he sold his remaining stake in the racing giant to CVC Capital Partners, a leading European private equity firm, then turned around and reinvested with CVC in a new joint company called Alpha Prema. The new corporation now controls 100% of Formula One Group, and Bernie still gets to direct the empire.” (If you have the head for a longer spin on this Financier’s Carousel, try this article on ABCMoney).
Experience suggests that whatever changes take place across the franchise, Mr E tends to end up (a) getting what he wants and (b) trousering the proceeds.
With that in mind, what are we to make of the latest wranglings around the UK’s Grand Prix – due to start a 10-year contract at Donington Park from 2010, instead of Silverstone? Well, judging by the public statements (for instance, here on the BBC site), Uncle Bernie “doesn’t know what the situation is” or “what the details are”… but a little later says that he’s “been in talks with Simon [Gillett – current leaseholder of the Donnington facilities] and we’ve been talking through the money situation”. Apparently “what [Simon] really needs is an investor, that’s the best hope of saving the race”.
Behind this amiable concern and good-natured search for a simple solution to the problem lurk a couple of other layers, though.
Mr Gillett ‘needs an investor’ because he’s being taken to court for rent arrears on the Donington lease by the actual owner, Tom Wheatcroft. Mr Wheatcroft, apparently, is a “close friend of the Formula 1 supremo” [sic]… So from this new perspective, what we have is a close friend of Bernie Ecclestone, suing someone who is being amiably advised by Bernie that what he needs is an investor who can help him out of this little mess.
There’s a thing in chess called the Zwischenzug, or double threat. It’s a classic particularly with the knight, because compared with other pieces, the knight’s final resting-place is rather more ‘obliquely’ related to his initial direction of movement. Grandmaster Ecclestone is, if anything, achieving a masterly triple threat here.
– He has already had another pop at a favourite target, the Government, for failing to subsidise this multi-billion pound monopoly as it sponsors, say, the Olympics. Under current conditions, it’s overwhelmingly unlikely that the Government would have a sudden change of heart and pump money into the Donington facilities, but if they did, Bernie would get what he wanted at the taxpayer’s expense;
– Mr Gillett may crack under the threat of legal action and accept Bernie’s generous offer of “investment”, which is bound to have strings attached relating to increased control over the venue and its Grand Prix receipts – something Bernie has never managed to winkle out of the British Racing Drivers’ Club at Silverstone;
– Ultimately, even if the Donington deal does fall through, Ecclestone can rub the BRDC’s nose in it by choosing to cross the British Grand Prix off the race calendar rather than return it to Silverstone.
All this may help to explain why, unless you’re a grandmaster yourself, chess – for all its ruthlessness and tactical complexity – is utterly absorbing for the players themselves but a pretty lousy spectator sport.