Did Ecclestone just sign a $600M Moroccan GP deal? (Update) UPDATE (GMM) Morocco has emerged as the latest strong contender to join the ever-expanding formula one calendar.
Germany's Bild newspaper says F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone was spotted during the recent Abu Dhabi grand prix with the King of Morocco, a North African country.
With the obvious exception of Antarctica, Africa is now the only continent on earth not represented on the current formula one calendar.
Bild said Ecclestone revealed in London this week that he has just completed a new F1 contract worth $600 million.
"The most likely possibility seems to be that the deal is for a grand prix in the North African country of Morocco," Christian Sylt, a leading F1 business writer, wrote in Autoweek.
Morocco last hosted a grand prix near Casablanca, one of Africa's major cities, in 1958.11/11/13 Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has revealed that he has signed a $600 million deal which is likely to bring a new Grand Prix to the sport's jam-packed calendar.
His revelation came in testimony during a trial in England against him by German media rights firm Constantin Medien. It has accused Ecclestone of paying part of a $44 million bribe in 2006 to steer the sale of F1 to the private equity firm CVC as it had committed to retaining him as boss of the sport.
Constantin had an agreement to get 10 percent of the proceeds from the sale, and it claims it lost out as other buyers would have paid more than CVC.
During Ecclestone's testimony, Constantin produced minutes of a Formula One board meeting in 2004 when he allegedly asked for a press release to be distributed confirming that the sport's majority owners, a consortium of banks, would not dismiss him.
Explaining the reason for this, Ecclestone said, "I travel the world making business on a hand shake. And all of a sudden I'm no longer in any position to do anything, so who would want to accept my signature on a contract? I've just signed a contract now for 600 million-odd with people over the weekend. I can't do that if people think I'm going to be fired in the morning."
Details of what the $600 million deal was for is unclear, but the deal is too large to be an F1 sponsorship and it would be in line for rates for new markets entering the sport. They are typically charged around $40 million annually and run for around a decade with an annual escalator of 10 percent. It brings the total over 10 years to just over $600 million.
It is not known which country will be next to get an F1 race, and Ecclestone cannot be contacted for further comment. His testimony in court will continue on Monday, and English law prevents anyone giving evidence from discussing it until it is complete.
The most likely possibility seems to be that the deal is for a Grand Prix in the North African country of Morocco.
Ecclestone was pictured with the king of Morocco over the weekend in question at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and late last year he confirmed that talks have taken place about holding a race in Morocco.
"I met the king of Morocco a couple of years ago and talked about F1," he said. However, he added "what reason would it be good for us? The manufacturers are not selling anything there. How many people would come?"
The last Moroccan Grand Prix was held in 1958 near Casablanca and was the site of the accident which killed British driver Stuart Lewis-Evans. The engine of his Vanwall is understood to have seized up, which sent him speeding into barriers and set his car alight. Lewis-Evans was managed by Ecclestone and the two were close friends so it would be understandable if the F1 boss didn't want to return to Morocco. However, the country has changed a great deal since then.
In 2009 Morocco hosted its first international motor race since 1958 when the World Touring Car Championship raced on a street circuit in Marrakech. The city is one of the most advanced in Morocco, and in 2011 one of the world's largest shopping malls opened, there complete with a 1-million liter aquarium inside.
Larbi Bouattaf, economic counselor for the Embassy of Morocco in London, said, "I am not aware of an F1 race taking place in Morocco. As far as I know, what takes place in Morocco is the FIA WTCC Race of Morocco."
F1 races are understood to be under consideration in Thailand and South Africa, but there is no evidence that Ecclestone had meetings with representatives from these countries over the weekend in Abu Dhabi. The 2014 F1 calendar is due to be announced next month and is expected to feature the addition of races in Russia and Austria while India drops off, bringing the total to 20 from 19 this year.
Races in Mexico and New Jersey are planned but the latter seems unlikely to get off the grid due to lack of funding. Signing a deal with a new location would compensate for this and allow F1 to follow its growth plans.
Giving an insight into his schedule at a race, Ecclestone told the court that, "I signed on the weekend I think eight contracts between the head of state in Abu Dhabi and our company. I didn't read any of them. I relied on the lawyers preparing them properly. And he, as the head of state for Abu Dhabi, I'm quite sure didn't read any of his contracts. And he signed them. We both signed actually about 15 minutes before the preceding part of the race started in Abu Dhabi. So I sign more or less relying on my lawyers or accountants. Because I don't have time to do anything else." AutoWeek