|Bernie turns to The Doctor|
Bernie Ecclestone is considering hiring the leading spin doctor Richard Woods as he fights to maintain control of Formula One, the sport he has built into a global empire over almost four decades.
Woods has been regarded as F1's foremost media advisor since his time as the FIA's director of communications, when he worked alongside the body's former president Max Mosley between 2002 and 2009. In the summer of 2009 he media managed Jean Todt's successful presidential campaign and still works for the FIA in a consultative capacity.
Ecclestone said: "I have talked to Richard in the last three months. We were talking about the flotation and I wanted someone to talk to the press about shares going up and shares going down. Nothing has happened so far."
Woods confirmed on Friday: "Conversations have taken place. If it happens, it happens."
If Woods, who helped establish the FIA Foundation in 2001, does join forces with Ecclestone his role is likely to be wider than the mere flotation of the sport. The remarkably self-sufficient Ecclestone, 83 last month, does most things himself but he was impressed by the way his old ally Mosley was helped by Woods. And he does need help, if only to smooth over his gaffes.
Formula One's chief executive and commercial rights holder is also coming under increasing pressure from teams who complain that the sport is not being properly promoted, and claim that its leading shareholder, private equity company CVC Capital Partners, is not distributing enough of its profits.
Away from the track, Ecclestone is fighting a London High Court damages claim worth $141m (about Â£88m) by German media firm Constantin Medien, who say he undervalued Formula One when it was sold to CVC in 2005. Ecclestone is joined in the Constantin lawsuit by other defendants Bambino and Stephen Mullens, a trust adviser. They all deny the claims.
This is the first of a number of potential lawsuits and one criminal case, which are all linked to the allegation that Ecclestone paid $44m (Â£27m) in bribes to Gerhard Gribkowsky, the chief risk officer at BayernLB, the Bavarian state bank, to undervalue shares. Gribkowsky was jailed for eight years by a Munich court in August 2012 for tax evasion, bribery and breach of fiduciary trust.
Ecclestone is waiting to see if he will face a criminal trial in Germany after being indicted on bribery allegations in July – the authorities are due to decide in the new year whether to proceed.
CVC's co-founder Donald Mackenzie told the London High Court last week that Ecclestone would be fired if found guilty of any criminal bribery charges; Ecclestone has denied any wrongdoing and has said in court that the reason for the payment to Gribkowsky was that he was shaken down by the banker who had threatened to report him to tax authorities. The Guardian