LONDON (Reuters) - Red Bull team boss Christian Horner played down talk that he could run Formula One, after Bernie Ecclestone named him as the ideal candidate to succeed him as the commercial chief of the motor sport.
“It’s very flattering what Bernie has said, but he is going to be here for a long time to come,” said Horner, whose team has dominated the sport for the past four years.
“He’s in great shape and is still doing some great deals for the sport,” Horner, 40, told the BBC during practice for the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo.
Ecclestone, who has built Formula One into a global money spinner over the past four decades, has always dismissed talk of retirement but is now 83 and is facing legal challenges relating to a 2005 business deal.
Speaking to British reporters in Sao Paulo, Ecclestone said he would like to hand over one day to Horner, a fellow Briton with whom he gets on well. “Christian would be ideal,” he said. “I would be happy to hold his hand. We could have a transitional period. It needs someone who knows the sport.”
Private equity firm CVC, the largest shareholder in Formula One, declined to comment on the reports.
CVC Co-Chairman Donald Mackenzie told London’s High Court this week that Ecclestone would be a hard act to follow and that CVC did not have anyone specific in mind to succeed him.
Referring to the need to line up a potential replacement, given Ecclestone’s age, Mackenzie said: “It won’t be easy. And we’re still thinking of one, trying to find one.”
Billionaire Ecclestone is facing a $100 million damages claim in London over allegations he undervalued the business when CVC came in as the largest shareholder.
Mackenzie said that CVC would sack Ecclestone if he was ever found guilty of wrongdoing in his dealings with a jailed German banker who worked for former Formula One shareholder BayernLB.
Settling the issue of a successor to Ecclestone would make it easier to float the business on the stock exchange, an ultimate aim for CVC.
Horner’s Red Bull team, backed by the Austrian soft drinks firm of the same name, entered the sport less than a decade ago but its driver Sebastian Vettel has already clinched his fourth successive world championship.
“My focus is fully on this team and it is for the foreseeable future,” said Horner, speaking ahead of the final grand prix of the season.
“I can’t see how any one individual can replace Bernie. What he does is unique and it will be a sad day for the sport when he’s no longer here.”
British media have also speculated that Justin King, chief executive of supermarket group J.Sainsbury Plc and Premier League soccer chief Richard Scudamore could be external candidates for the role.
King’s teenage son is an up-and-coming racing driver, while Scudamore has helped seal record global TV rights deals for England’s top soccer clubs.
Reporting by Keith Weir and Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by David Holmes