The outward impression is that Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley are at war with one another. Writing in Autocar this week Alan Henry said that relations between the two have deteriorated to the point that Mosley has stopped taking Ecclestone’s calls.
Ecclestone made a big play in the run-up to the FIA General Assembly last week to try and turn the vote against Mosley, to no avail.
It is rare to witness Ecclestone not getting what he wants in Formula 1. But this is not the first time he and Mosley have been at odds and you have to wonder if Mosley is beginning to get the upper hand over Ecclestone.
The recent developments made me think back to the 2005 United States Grand Prix when Mosley refused to brook any compromise in the wake of Michelin’s discovery that their tyres were failing without warning due to the peculiar forces exerted upon them at turn 13 of the Indianapolis track.
This was the kind of situation where, in earlier years, Ecclestone would bang heads together and reach a compromise to keep the show on the road. But it didn’t happen. The race started with just six Bridgestone-shod cars, outraged fans threw bottles onto the track, and F1’s image was tarnished in a vital market, perhaps fatally.
Martin Brundle, in one of his stand-out career moments for ITV, collared Ecclestone on the grid and grilled him about what was about to unfold. Ecclestone, usually all brashness and bluster, for once looked utterly powerless.
Ecclestone now seems to be in the same position, unable to shift Mosley from power in the wake of the sex scandal that has made the FIA and, by association, Formula 1, into a laughing stock.
His reaction to Mosley winning the vote last week was to suggest F1 should split from the FIA and form a new series. But none of the teams seem to have any appetite for that doomsday scenario (publicly at least), perhaps because it looks so much like the one that almost destroyed open wheel racing in America during the CART/IRL split.
Ecclestone still retains a stake in the ownership of the F1 commercial rights but the majority owner is CVC Capital Partners. Henry, in his article, alluded to claims that CVC director Martin Sorrell is very unhappy with the situation concerning Mosley – he believes top commercial sponsors will steer clear of F1 because of the bad publicity surrounding Mosley.
As part of the terms by which they acquired a 75% stake in F1 in 2006 CVC allowed Ecclestone to remain at the helm. But how long will they allow that to continue if Ecclestone, whom we previously thought was all-powerful in F1, is unable to get rid of someone who they feel is damaging the Formula 1 brand? And do they have the power to move Ecclestone aside?