LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has dismissed talk of a new chairman trying to ‘rein him in’ and says he plans to continue running the company as if he owned it.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, the 84-year-old billionaire made clear it was business as usual.
Ecclestone said he was back on the board of Formula One, after standing down during a bribery trial in Germany that was eventually settled, and only the board could remove him as chief executive.
“I’m happy here as long as the board are happy with me. When I think I can’t deliver any longer, I shall retire,” he said.
Private equity group CVC, Formula One’s controlling shareholder, is seeking a new chairman to replace the unwell Peter Brabeck-Letmathe and that has led to suggestions that Ecclestone’s grip could be weakened.
Brabeck, the Austrian chairman of food group Nestle, was appointed in 2012 when Formula One was preparing a flotation that was scrapped. Paul Walsh, former head of drinks group Diageo, has been touted as a likely replacement.
Management Today this week quoted a source close to Walsh as saying he “would want to rein in (Ecclestone) to some extent from a good governance point of view.”
He added that Walsh would get “short-tempered” if Ecclestone did not change his ways.
Asked about the ‘rein in’ remark, Ecclestone replied: “He would be unique if he could do that. First he’s got to be appointed, hasn’t he?”
The Briton, who has regularly confounded those eager to write his F1 obituary, said talk of the need to groom a successor was “a little bit of a nonsense” and suggested chief legal officer Sacha Woodward-Hill could do the job.
“If I died now, there’s enough people in the company who could continue running the company the way we’ve set things up,” he said.
“I think perhaps if I was controlling the board... I would probably say it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a woman being the chief executive,” added Ecclestone, who once caused a stir in America by comparing women to domestic appliances.
The supremo, who said there were no current plans for an Initial Public Offering (IPO), recognized he could use some help however.
The sport is facing declining television audiences and critics accuse it of failing to attract younger fans. A number of teams have financial problems and one, Marussia, folded in the season that has just finished.
“We’ve been looking for the last five years for someone, one or two people, that maybe could help when it comes to chasing around for sponsors and things,” he said. “Really we need to have someone that’s actually been successful doing that.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris