McLaren's board seat: the devil is in the detail


Over the past 24 hours rumours have been circulating about Mercedes pulling out of F1 due to it not getting a seat on the board of the sport's holding company alongside representatives from Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren. The same rumours also contain the claim that McLaren's board seat will be taken up by a representative from the Bahrain Mumtalakat sovereign wealth fund which owns 50% of the team. It's over to Pitpass' business editor to find out what is really going on.

Sylt is well-placed to talk about McLaren's board seat since he broke the news about it just over two weeks ago. Whoever told Sylt about this (and he insists it was not F1's boss Bernie Ecclestone) is clearly in the know because it is now an established fact that McLaren will indeed get the board seat. It should put to rest the ill-informed reports that McLaren had agreed to signing a new draft of the Concorde Agreement, which commits it to F1 until the end of 2020, in return for Ecclestone supporting the Bahrain Grand Prix. It was of course the promise of a board seat which encouraged McLaren to sign up and that is precisely what it did.

Sylt says he isn't aware of exactly who will take up McLaren's seat though he does raise the point that F1's majority owner, the private equity firm CVC, is trying to float the sport at the moment so it might well want to avoid having someone on the board who represents a country which has been internationally condemned. True, F1 is already connected to Bahrain through racing there but the contract to do so was signed long before the trouble in the country began whereas the McLaren director will be appointed in full knowledge of the situation there. It seems that this didn't occur to the author of the original report about the McLaren board seat.

The problem with Bahrain's reputation at the moment seems to rule out its representatives from joining the board of F1 though it cannot be denied that they get on extremely well with Ecclestone. This leaves McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh and the group's executive chairman Ron Dennis as the most likely candidates. As Pitpass has reported, Dennis recently accused Ecclestone of stealing the rights to F1 from the teams so he probably isn't seen as being an ideal candidate. This puts Whitmarsh at the top of the list.

The claim about a representative from Bahrain taking the seat and the allegation about Mercedes pulling out of F1 both originate from an article in the Times and close inspection of it is telling. The piece begins with the unequivocal claim that "the controversial ruling regime of Bahrain is set to win a place on the board of the new company controlling Formula One." You would have thought that a newspaper as venerable as the Times would want to support this claim with some strong evidence or at the very least a quote from an 'unnamed source' but the author does neither.

All his piece says in connection with this is that Mumtalakat "is thought to have 'pushed the Concorde deal over the line', in the words of one source, in return for a pledge that the contentious Bahrain Grand Prix would go ahead." Even if this was the case (and the evidence of the board seat suggests otherwise), it does not prove that " Bahrain is set to win a place on the board" but simply that Bahrain only agreed to the Concorde in return for Ecclestone's support of its Grand Prix. Even this claim is denied by Ecclestone in the article itself as he insists that McLaren's agreement "was nothing to do with the Bahrain race."

It isn't the only criticism which has been levelled at the article in the short space of time since it was published as Mercedes' competition vice-president Norbert Haug has said that "there is absolutely no truth" in the claim about his team pulling out of F1. Just as it isn't clear precisely who will take the McLaren board seat, only time will tell if Mercedes will indeed pull out of F1. Nevertheless, it goes to show that even if an article is in a typically credible publication such as the Times, it pays to read beyond the opening line.

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Published: 08/05/2012
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