Bernie Ecclestone has controlled the commercial rights to Formula One for so long it seems like he always has and always will. But that's not exactly the full story. While Ecclestone was the first to negotiate for control over the sport's commercial aspects – namely its television broadcasting rights – there was a time when he had to relinquish control. And that time may come again soon.

After wrestling for the commercial rights as a team owner and head of the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) in the 1970s, Ecclestone's burgeoning business empire was forced to sell a controlling interest to other parties. A German media conglomerate called the Kirch Group ended up acquiring much of the shares, but when it folded, the German state-owned bank Bayern LB ended up holding the bag.

Ecclestone eventually got the funds together to buy back F1 in the early 2000s, but the way in which he and Bayern LB went about it is now the subject of what's emerging as one of the largest bribery scandals of our time.

Prosecutors allege that Ecclestone gave an enormous bribe of $44 million to one Gerhard Gribkowsky, who at the time served as chief risk-assessment officer at Bayern LB. $41.4 million of that bribe, in turn, reportedly came from Bayern LB itself, and since the bank is owned by the government, that essentially means that Gribkowsky pocketed all that cash from public coffers. Ecclestone claims the payment was essentially blackmailed out of him as Gribkowsky threatened to falsify evidence of Ecclestone's financial mismanagement.

The ongoing trial comes at a time when Ecclestone's Formula One Management is gearing up to renegotiate with the FIA (the sport's technical governing body) and the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA, the successor of the previously-mentioned FOCA) over the terms of the secretive Concorde Agreement by which the sport's commercial earnings are distributed.

The outcome of the trial stands to seriously shake up the nature of the relationship between the relevant parties, and could result in the teams taking a larger share of the commercial rights and the resulting revenues – and potentially awarding contracts to new parties. A coalition consisting of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, Carlos Slim's Telmex and Fiat chairman John Elkann's Exor has expressed interest in acquiring the sport's broadcasting rights. With F1's affairs in such tumult, there's no telling what could happen.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      well bernie it's time to step down it's been a good run and let f1 go on without you.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Yeah, Bernie, you and your friend Flavio are probably quite welcome in the world of banking and venture capital...
      • 3 Years Ago
      Sad, the most technically advanced racing series in the World and it looks like greed and avarice will grind it into the ground. Sad.
        • 3 Years Ago
        On the other hand, if it's under new management, maybe they'll liberalize the rules. Once upon a time the engine requirement was that the engine had to be less than a certain displacement (one and a half litres supercharged or three litres unsupercharged during the turbo era). Now they specify the exact size, the configuration, the bore, the stroke, etc. etc. Give us V8s vs. V12s vs. flat 12s vs. whatever else again!
      Pope John
      • 3 Years Ago
      Formula 1 ? Who cares about that?
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Pope John
        ummmmm......... 527 million people watched (TV) the races last year and it is the highest revenue producing sport (per event) in the world...... wake up johnny boy
      • 3 Years Ago
      This article is way off the mark, try again.
      • 3 Years Ago
      "A coalition consisting of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, Carlos Slim's Telmex and Fiat chairman John Elkann's Exor has expressed interest in acquiring the sport's broadcasting rights" NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! That means F1 will : Have fabricated scandals and racist undertones-Rupert Murdoch Broadcast Practice and Qualifying for free and broadcast race on PPV - Carlos Slim Biased towards Ferrari's best interest- John Elkann I can already see Murdoch whoring commercial rights left and right for F1. I can see it now.... F1 World Championship will now be called the GATORADE F1 Championship Along with name changes such such as the BEST BUY Grand Prix Live From The NIKE SPA Circuit!
      Andre Neves
      • 3 Years Ago
      Does this douchebag ever NOT make a sourface during a photo?
      • 3 Years Ago
      Professional wrestling on a different level.
      • 3 Years Ago
      A guy named Bernie is a thief???
      Brian Workman
      • 3 Years Ago
      Jail Time!?!?!!?!???!!?!?!
      • 3 Years Ago
      Very interesting...hopefully this doesnt shake up the newly planned races or anything else for that matter.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Proof Socialism really does not work.
      • 3 Years Ago
      one million no ,41 million is bull ****!
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