sport

Ecclestone trial set to begin

The future of Formula One is poised to be shaped by what transpires in a Munich courtroom over the next few months.

Bernie Ecclestone, who has ruled the sport unchallenged for almost 40 years, goes on trial on Thursday charged with bribery which could see him imprisoned for 10 years if found guilty.

At the age of 83, Ecclestone has already made tentative noises with regard to a succession plan, stating last month he has been looking over the past few years for someone to assist and then take over.

If found guilty, even if Ecclestone avoids jail time and is instead punished with a severe financial penalty, the writing is on the wall.

Donald Mackenzie, co-chairman of F1's current majority shareholders CVC Capital Partners, has already stated Ecclestone will be sacked if convicted.

It is understood CVC have tentative plans in place for the worst-case scenario, although they have yet to be revealed.

One certainty is Ecclestone's iron-like grip over the teams, circuits and media will finally be relinquished.

As the man who has thrashed out deals with all concerned, there will be those who will look to seek new terms with Ecclestone out of the picture.

As to the direction the sport takes, it boils down to just 26 days in a court that only last month jailed former Germany and Bayern Munich star Uli Hoeness for three years and six months for tax evasion.

Upon being found guilty, Hoeness was naturally forced to resign from his positions as president and board chairman of Bayern.

As far as Ecclestone is concerned, it underlines the fact no fish is too big to fry for Munich's district court.

In mid-January, Ecclestone stood down from a number of directorial positions in companies related to F1, although has continued to run the sport on a day-to-day basis.

He will continue to do so for the duration of the trial, and has been aided in that respect by the prosecutors.

The court is to sit just one day per week for the first three weeks, followed by two days per week thereafter through to the summer break in August before concluding in mid-September.

Ecclestone stands accused of bribing Gerhard Gribkowsky, formerly the chief risk officer of BayernLB, to the tune of 44million US dollars (26million) to steer the sale to CVC.

In return, it is understood CVC agreed to retain Ecclestone as F1's chief executive, so allowing him to continue to run the sport.

Although obviously maintaining his innocence, the prosecutors have submitted a 256-page indictment against Ecclestone detailing their case.

Ecclestone claims he was being blackmailed by Gribkowsky who was threatening to divulge information to HM Revenue & Customs with regard to the octogenarian's involvement in an offshore family trust known as Bambino Holdings.