Sainsbury's boss won't take over from me says Ecclestone


Bernie Ecclestone will today discover his fate in a High Court case against him which could play a part in deciding whether he remains the boss of Formula One. It remains to be seen what will happen but Ecclestone has revealed he is certain about one person who won't be replacing him. In an article in the Guardian written by Christian Sylt Ecclestone says there is no truth in the widespread rumours that Sainsbury's chief executive Justin King will be taking over the driving seat of F1.

Last month King announced that he will step down as chief executive of Sainsbury's in July after a decade in the job. It led to speculation that he could replace Ecclestone who is 83 and himself stood down from the board of F1 in January amidst bribery allegations.

He has been accused of paying a $44m bribe with his Bambino family trust to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky so that he would agree to sell F1 to the private equity firm CVC for $2bn in 2006. CVC was allegedly Ecclestone's preferred buyer as it had agreed to retain him as F1's chief executive.

German media rights firm Constantin Medien claims that other buyers would have paid more than CVC and says that this led to it losing out as it was entitled to a share of the proceeds. It sued Ecclestone and the verdict in the case will be given this morning. If Constantin wins it could add fuel to a criminal case against Ecclestone in Germany for paying the alleged bribe. This is due to come to trial in April and if Ecclestone loses he could face a prison sentence.

He denies the charges against him and although the German legal system allows the case to be settled by making a financial payment, he insists that he "wants to be there to clear his name. I bet it is going to happen."

King is known to be a motor racing fan and his son Jordan was British F3 champion last year. Speaking for the first time since King announced his resignation Ecclestone said there is "no truth at all" to the rumour that he will be taking over F1's driving seat.

When asked what King knows about running a motorsport series Ecclestone said "all he knows about is looking for support for his kids."

It is a reference to a storm which King drove into last year when it came to light that five brands with business ties to Sainsbury's sponsor his son's racing career. Sainsbury's said its board had approved the arrangements and that King had no direct involvement with the brands' commercial relationships.

King's interest in racing has also driven talk about him taking over as chief executive of McLaren's F1 team. He is a close friend of its chairman Ron Dennis and the two go on shooting trips together. Dennis recently created the post of chief executive at the team but a spokesperson for McLaren says "it is untrue" that King will fill the role.

Last week King was asked by London radio station LBC whether he would be interested in a role in motor racing and he replied "I'm more focused on my son's ambitions to get to Formula One - it would make me very proud and I'd get a lot of pleasure if he achieved that." A spokesperson for King declined to give further comment.

Despite stepping down from the F1 board, Ecclestone continues to run the sport on a day to day basis and CVC has given him its full support. The only sign of succession planning so far has been its hiring of head hunting firm Egon Zehnder as part of the stalled plan to float F1 on the Singapore stock exchange in 2012. Egon Zehnder drafted a confidential short list of potential replacements for Ecclestone, which reportedly includes Premier League boss Richard Scudamore, however no one has been engaged.

Ecclestone says he is already looking to his next challenge which is to deal with the Olden, his 16-room hotel in the Swiss ski resort of Gstaad. He recently bought out his business partner, former Ferrari team boss Marco Piccinini, and he is understood to have spent last weekend at the hotel. "I'm going to try to sort my hotel out," says Ecclestone "I have bought the other people out so I have now got the aggravation from that too."

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Published: 20/02/2014
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