As the world’s most financially profligate and litigious sport prepares for its traditional opening race of the season at Albert Park in Melbourne on Sunday, the sport is still wondering how it is going to ultimately deal with its most serious legal challenges yet. Challenges that, depending on the outcome, could drastically impact on Melbourne’s future hosting of the race.

It’s all to do with myriad legal disputes that might yet see the sport split down the middle as warring F1 teams line up to form a breakaway championship after 2007, in their continuing dogfight to either force the sport’s combative billionaire supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, out of their future plans, or to see him giving them a much bigger piece of the F1 financial pie. He also has to contend with his own banking partners determined to run him down, and cries of “traitor” ringing in the ears of Ferrari for siding with Ecclestone in the teams free for all!

Naturally this seemingly endless litigation and political in-fighting is hardly the ideal build up for the start of the 2005 F1 season, as some observers now wonder just what sort of race Melbourne might ultimately be left with when all the legal dust ups are over.

Crikey has already provided detailed coverage on the internecine political, financial and legal battles that have beset the controversial F1 boss as he attempts to retain his iron grip over the sport he transformed in the 1980s from a financial basket case. But now in a major two part interview starting in our next edition, we discuss the whole shooting gallery that distinguishes international motor sport as one of sport’s more enigmatic battle grounds with its most successful local practitioner.

Livewire AVESCO chairman and V8 Supercar boss Tony Cochrane, hardly a shrinking violet himself, also happens to be an unashamed admirer of Bernie Ecclestone. Whatever others might think regarding F1’s fractious future, he’s confident it will all be sensibly resolved and Melbourne’s status as Australia’s Grand Prix capital is not under threat. That’s partly driven by his belief Ecclestone will win his various battles in and out of court because the man is a “genius”; even if some of us think ‘bustling” Bernie’s genius lies more in maximising his own wealth and power.

“Look I think it just comes down to a grab for power by the manufacturers,” Cochrane reasons. “Some of those manufacturers are kidding themselves. I think there’s a vast difference between knowing how to manufacture a car and bringing all those things together to do that, and running a sport. I don’t think Bernie Ecclestone is sitting there telling them how to run their plants, and they shouldn’t be sitting there telling him how to run the sport.”

The AVESCO chairman also savages the ease with which motor sport generally is now so ridiculously trigger-happy when it comes to calling in the lawyers. He says that each year it is costing his sport a small fortune meeting legal challenges.

“I don’t’ know what it is? Whether it’s the association with petrol fumes…but whatever it is, and you can quote me; there is no more insane sport when it comes to rolling out lawyers than motor sport,” he told Crikey.

You can read more on the upcoming Tony Cochrane interview on the site after today’s second edition comes out.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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