Mosley strengthens Ecclestone union

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The Independent Online

Monaco would not be Monaco without some sort of high-profile story, and yesterday it was provided when Max Mosley hinted that his old friend Bernie Ecclestone might take an official role within the FIA, the sport's international governing body.

Monaco would not be Monaco without some sort of high-profile story, and yesterday it was provided when Max Mosley hinted that his old friend Bernie Ecclestone might take an official role within the FIA, the sport's international governing body.

Some argue that the man who now oversees three banks' controlling interests in Formula One has long held an ex officio role in the sport's governance. Indeed, up until five years ago Ecclestone was a vice president of the FIA. Then he and Mosley agreed a deal whereby Ecclestone bought the commercial rights to Formula One for 100 years, for nearly $350m.

A new official alliance would come as no surprise. After all, the two of them have operated together for almost a quarter of a century, and though they have their spats now and then, few doubt that their relationship is still solid and that one very rarely does anything without the prior knowledge of the other. Think Marks, think Spencer; their names are inextricably linked.

The suggestion is that Ecclestone could become deputy president of the federation, but while the 65-year-old Mosley would retain his presidency he would move into the background.

Mosley said yesterday that Ecclestone, 74, has yet to make any decision, but if they were to align officially under the auspices of the FIA, what would it mean for the sport?

Ecclestone would effectively become a senior minister in a Mosley government, and would not even need to shed shares in Formula One Management as his have long been held in an offshore trust fund called Bambino controlled by his wife, Slavica. He could thus continue to fulfil his current role as commercial rights holder while working within the FIA.

The real question is why such a move might happen. If Ecclestone were to switch from FOM to the FIA the banks might face the need to run the commercial side, which they are disinclined to do. Talk of such a move might therefore increase the chance of them selling their share back to Ecclestone - at the right price. Ecclestone would be unlikely to seek to take the commercial rights away from the banks in the long-term, by exercising an FIA-held clause that could nullify the deal, since that would trigger costly legal action.

An FIA role for Ecclestone might also signal the first moves in a fresh attempt to secure unity in the paddock. It would help to damp down the current animosity towards Mosley and his autocratic leadership, which has angered team principals such as Sir Frank Williams and Ron Dennis, and manufacturers Honda, Renault, Toyota, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

These so-called rebels have held firm rather than caving in as Ferrari signed up to a lucrative new Concorde Agreement which will become effective in 2008, and if they are appeased there is more chance that they will also add their signatures to the new agreement, which would safeguard Formula One's future and remove much of the uncertainty that is frightening off potential investors.

Earlier this year Williams summarised the feeling against Mosley when he said: "The prevailing atmosphere stinks. It is very unhealthy. It was never like this before, not even during the war between Bernie and the teams versus the governing body back in 1980/81. Balestre never tried to interfere so much in the daily life of the teams.

"We are seriously unhappy with Max continually slagging us off. There will be a denouement, which may one day crystallise what is going to happen to Max. There is just too much enmity around."

While the paddock was rumbling with the rumours, Fernando Alonso was busy stamping his authority on the track. The championship leader lapped his Renault in 1min 15.835sec to head the timesheets, but McLaren's "Friday" test driver Alexander Wurz was hot on his heels with 1:15.912.

And there was good news for David Coulthard too, as the Scot pushed his Red Bull to third fastest time of 1:16.184, ahead of Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella. The McLarens of Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen were fifth and sixth, but Michael Schumacher was only 11th and last year's winner Jarno Trulli 13th.

"It was a difficult day because I tried different set-ups in tyres but I didn't get it right," Trulli said. "There was a lot of traffic, and on my new set of tyres I couldn't get it right and for tomorrow I have to go back to a more conventional set-up."

Yesterday's sessions are only a guide to what can be expected on Saturday. The streets of Monaco are notoriously slippery and dirty on a Thursday, and once the e cars and a plethora of support race machinery - which includes cars driven by the rising British hopefuls Adam Carroll and James Rossiter - have laid further rubber the times will be reduced further by the first qualifying session.

Following a 200mph accident which befell Wurz in testing in France last week, Trulli called for safety standards to be improved. "Safety at tests is not as good as it should be," the Italian said. "The FIA needs to raise the standards to the level we have at races."

Turning on the power: How two failed drivers won race to rule Formula One

BERNIE ECCLESTONE

After Bernie Ecclestone unsuccessfully attempted to qualify a Connaught for the Monaco Grand Prix he switched his attentions to managing the drivers Stuart Lewis-Evans and Jochen Rindt before buying the Brabham team in late 1970. He continued to run Brabham before before taking complete commercial responsibility for F1 after the governing body's war with the teams in 1980/81. He became F1's commercial rights holder in 2000.

MAX MOSLEY

Like Ecclestone, Mosley tried and failed to cut it as a driver before founding the March F1 team in 1969. The team enjoyed commercial success initially and won three grands prix. Mosley ran it while also acting as lawyer for Ecclestone's FOCA organisation in its fight against the governing body. In 1991 was elected president of the FIA after beating the incumbent, Jean-Marie Balestre. Also like Ecclestone, he is thus poacher turned gamekeeper.

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