Ecclestone sells up to head off EC critics

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The Independent Online

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has disposed of most of his other motor racing interests in a move designed to pre-empt the European Commission's investigation into his business dealings.

David Richards, who heads the motoring company Prodrive, has paid Mr Ecclestone £30m for the rights to International Sports Communicators (ISC) in a deal that includes all his rallying interests. Mr Ecclestone hopes the deal will appease his critics in the commission, which has been scrutinising the relationship between Formula One and the FIA, the sport's governing body.

The EC is investigating whether the FIA uses its position to further Mr Ecclestone's business interests. Max Mosley, president of the FIA, said: "One complaint is we were suppressing other forms of motor sport to protect Formula One. If Mr Ecclestone gets rid of rallying, it will help solve the problem."

Next month the EC is holding a hearing to give Formula One and the FIA the chance to present their case. The commission is worried the FIA is the only body permitted to license Formula One events. After the deal with Mr Richards, only the Formula One Grand Prix season and Formula 3000 will be under Mr Ecclestone's control.

Mr Richards is planning to increase the appeal of rallying to TV viewers in the hope of emulating Mr Ecclestone's success with Formula One. "Bernie's control has been the subject of EC concern," said Mr Richards. "One of our first issues is to re-position rallying as a sport with a clear identity of its own."

The sale of the ISC rights may facilitate the flotation of Formula One. Mr Ecclestone's attempt at obtaining a listing failed three years ago. Although he has set about realising his investment by agreeing the £1.1bn sale of 50 per cent of his Formula One interests to EMTV merchandising, a flotation remains his goal.