Ecclestone gives details on payment to German banker

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In court testimony today, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone said that his multi-million dollar payment to jailed German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky was meant to keep him silent and not to pave the way for the sale of a major stake in Formula One.

Ecclestone has continuously maintained that his payment to Gribkowsky was made because the banker, formerly a chief risk officer for the BayernLB group, threatened to make false claims to British authorities over his tax affairs that could have endangered his fortune.

Today in Munich, Ecclestone maintained that stance in his testimony.

“I was a little sarcastic when I asked, ‘Would 50 million help you?’,” Ecclestone said of a conversation with Gribkowsky according to Reuters – adding that “it was the cheapest insurance policy I have ever seen.”

Ecclestone faces a 10-year jail term if found guilty in his ongoing bribery trial.

He is accused of making a $44 million payment to Gribkowsky in order to make sure private equity fund CVC earned BayernLB’s former stake in F1; CVC became F1’s largest shareholder in 2006.

Reuters continues on to say that part of the prosecution’s case against Ecclestone rests on their allegation that he knowingly bribed a public servant, since BayernLB is a state-owned entity.

However, a former Bavarian finance minister and BayernLB board member told the court today that Ecclestone may not have known that the bank was state-owned.

This past May, Gribkowsky – who is in the middle of a jail term of eight and a half years for accepting the bribe – testified against Ecclestone, saying that the offer clearly came from him.

“I had a carrot dangled in front of me. I grabbed the carrot,” said Gribkowsky, who also admitted to spreading rumors about Ecclestone’s tax status but only for “nuisance value” since he didn’t have concrete information.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Gribkowsky will testify again during the trial, which is expected to go into the fall. It is currently proceeding on a schedule of two days per week in order to accommodate Ecclestone’s day-to-day running of F1.

Brown: Dennis would have made same decision on McLaren-Honda split

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Zak Brown believes former McLaren team boss Ron Dennis would have made the same decision to cut ties with struggling Formula 1 engine partner Honda had he still been in charge at the team in 2017.

McLaren executive director Brown helped engineer a deal for the team to split with Honda at the end of the 2017 season after three tough seasons that had seen the Japanese manufacturer offer little in the way of performance or reliability.

The decision split opinion, with McLaren spurning a significant annual financial injection from Honda in order to link up with Renault, believing its on-track fortunes had to be prioritized over its commercial interests.

In an interview with Sky Sports, Brown was asked if he believed Dennis – McLaren’s long-running team chief before stepping down at the end of 2016 – would have made the same decision to cut ties with Honda.

“I think he would have,” Brown said.

“He was here when those conversations were ongoing and I think Ron always has and always will have the best interests of McLaren in his heart.

“He is Mr. McLaren. It burns him inside as much as us not to see us winning races.”

Brown also elaborated on the decision to break off the much-lauded relationship with Honda, saying the first signs of trouble with the 2017 power unit were clear in pre-season.

After a number of attempts to try and rectify the situation, Brown and his fellow team bosses felt there was no alternative but to end the Honda deal for 2018.

“We knew we were in trouble in testing in Barcelona and we worked really hard for six months to try and find solutions that would give us confidence that we’d be much more competitive in 2018,” Brown said.

“Ultimately, after trying many different things and many different ways we felt we couldn’t get there.

“Three years is a long time in Formula 1 and so we needed to change the direction to get our team back at the top.”