Forget the run-up to next Sunday’s first-ever Indian Grand Prix. Ignore the speculation surrounding a possible second US GP in New Jersey.
The real high-octane F1 action kicked off within the rather dowdy portals of a Munich courtroom yesterday morning, where former banker Gerhard Gribkowsky went on trial charged with selling F1’s commercial rights in return for a bribe with the alleged involvement of F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
Gribkowsky, who has been in custody since the start of the year, is charged with bribery, embezzlement and tax evasion over the sale of the F1 rights in his role as an employee of the Bayern Landesbank. It is alleged that his deal cost the bank 66 million euros and resulted in his pocketing about 32 million euros as part of a bribe.
Yet his lawyer Rainer Buessow robustly defended his actions by stating that Gribkowsky’s decision saved tax payers millions of euros. “The fact is that our client defused a bomb,” said Buessow.
Ecclestone – who has not been charged with any crime – is expected to be the key witness in the trial at a later date. He has denied any involvement and has said he did not bribe the banker.
BayernLB had a stake in Formula One up to 2006 along with JP Morgan, Lehman Brothers and Ecclestone's family trust.
The banks had acquired a 75 per cent stake in F1 holding company SLEC after the collapse of Germany's Kirch media group, which had borrowed some $1.6 billion from them. BayernLB was Kirch's biggest creditor.
Seems difficult, on the face of it, to see how it could all have gone so catastrophically wrong. Or whether Gribwosky was mad, bad or neither.