Bernie Ecclestone is going straight back to work after agreeing a $100 million deal to end his bribery trial in Munich. Amid high controversy and suggestions F1's major stakeholders and his employer CVC might not be happy with Tuesday's news, it was confirmed that the outcome of the court proceedings is that the 83-year-old is a "free man". "There was no conclusion on guilt or innocence of the defendant," said a court spokeswoman. "He is leaving this courtroom a free man."
Briton Ecclestone, F1's chief executive and 'supremo' who has been working only part-time for months amid the trial, headed straight from Munich to London. "I've just got to get on with work," he told F1 business journalist Christian Sylt in the Independent newspaper. "I've got things I need to catch up with so I'm cracking on. I have been wasting two days a week. Now I can get back to doing what I should be doing."
The appearance that he effectively bought his innocence, however - particularly in the face of bribery charges - remains highly controversial. But Ecclestone, who admitted he feels "a bit of an idiot" for paying up, said the price he paid was so high only because he is a billionaire. "If I had proved that I hadn't got any money I wouldn't have had to pay," he insisted. "That's what it's all about."
And the Daily Express quoted him as saying: "I've always said I was innocent and if I had waited until October I would have saved a lot of money. But when you're trying to run businesses it's not easy trying to resolve things when dealing with lawyers for so much of the time," Ecclestone added.
Indeed, his lawyers on Tuesday insisted that if the trial had simply run its course, Ecclestone would have been acquitted as prosecutors were having trouble proving the case. "What has happened is that the judge has come back and more or less said it's an acquittal, which he didn't have to do. Another three months out would have been bad. I've been working weekends to catch up with what I've been missing during the week. I've not really noticed but it has probably taken its toll a little bit."
Nonetheless, there remains speculation that, even though an innocent man on paper, damage has been done particularly in the eyes of CVC, a massive private equity firm. "Yes," Ecclestone is quoted by the Express newspaper, "I can get back to running the business five days a week instead of three and buying F1 remains a possibility." (GMM)