Sponsorship comprises 14.7 per cent, or $225m (£134m), of F1’s $1.6bn annual revenue and Ecclestone personally strikes deals with brands such as logistics firm DHL, watchmaker Rolex and investment bank UBS, yet it has growth potential as it lacks partners in categories such as clothing, mobile phones and soft drinks.
Ecclestone receives advice from Michael Payne, the former marketing director of the International Olympic Committee and senior strategic advisor to the London 2012 Olympics, but says he will need closer assistance when his bribery trial begins in Germany on 24 April.
“We need somebody who can sell sponsorship,” said Ecclestone. “Not a successor, but somebody to help me.”
Ecclestone’s future has been in doubt since German prosecutors charged him with paying part of a $44m bribe to steer the 2006 sale of F1 to private equity firm CVC. He denies the charges.
The trial will take place two days a week to allow Ecclestone to continue running F1. The co-founder of CVC, which owns a controlling 35 per cent stake, Donald Mackenzie, has said they will fire the 83-year-old, who owns 5.3 per cent, “if it is proven that Mr Ecclestone has done anything criminally wrong”.
That sparked suggestions that Ecclestone could join forces with leading teams and mount a takeover that would see him remain in charge, if he were found guilty but not imprisoned, and he seemed to confirm the rumour in a recent interview.
“It wasn’t true. I don’t want to buy F1 back, of course not,” he retorted, but added: “It depends how much – that’s what I said. The answer is a very simple one. I know what CVC would want and the answer is no. If somebody asked for a price that was lower the answer would be yes.”
CVC was targeting a $12bn valuation of F1 when it planned to exit in a float – a move still on ice – on the Singapore stock exchange in 2012.