- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

LONDON (AP) - With Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One future in doubt amid bribery allegations, one of the most influential team bosses on Wednesday said the series’ prosperity relies on him remaining in charge.

Christian Horner, team principal of reigning constructors’ champion Red Bull, believes Ecclestone is “the only guy” who can ensure F1 maintains its global reach as the premier motorsport series.

The 83-year-old Ecclestone, who has built his F1 powerbase since the 1970s, is awaiting the outcome of a $140 million bribery trial relating to F1’s sale in 2005.

Evidence was heard at London’s High Court at the end of last year about the measures Ecclestone allegedly took to maintain his grip on F1, claims the billionaire denies.

The banker Ecclestone is accused of bribing has already been jailed in Germany for taking a payment from the billionaire, who is also waiting to hear if he will have to stand trial in Munich on charges of bribery and incitement to breach of trust.

Regardless of those legal fights, Horner still strongly backs his long-time friend, dismissing any fears the cases are damaging F1’s image.

In fact, Horner fears the series could be damaged if Ecclestone was no longer serving as its commercial chief.

Bernie is absolutely the best and only guy to do what he does, to take Formula One to the global reach that the sport has achieved, introducing races in Russia this year, going back to the Austrian Grand Prix,” Horner said after speaking at a Leaders Sport Network breakfast in London. “It’s a massive calendar that he’s pulled together (for 2014) … it’s in all our interests that he’s around as long as possible.”

Horner was tipped by Ecclestone in November to eventually succeed him after a transitional period, but the Red Bull boss has no plans to leave the winners of the last four constructors’ championships.

“I have a long-standing commitment with Red Bull, a multi-year commitment,” Horner said. “I’m very happy in doing what I do. I have a very good friendship with Bernie. I have no interest in getting out of my contract.”

Especially not after helping to mastermind Sebastian Vettel’s dominance, with the German winning the last four titles.

And by awarding double points in the final race for the upcoming season, Horner believes F1 is trying to halt Vettel’s reign.

“Is it right to put so much predominance on one race? Does it undervalue what you have done in the rest of the year? I think it arguably yes, it does,” Horner said. “There will be a discussion next week about it no doubt and we need to think very carefully about it.

“I can understand to try to keep the championship alive to the last race. But two out of the last four years it has gone to the wire under the current points system. Especially with the regulation changes we have got this year it’s probably not the right time to be looking at that change.”

Horner, however, does accept that Vettel’s hegemony could be turning off sponsors keen on backing a competitive championship.

“Inevitably there is that conflict because nobody likes serial winners in any sport,” Horner said. “We have won every single Grand Prix since July - we have won nine in a row.

“Of course, inevitably with the championship being sewn up early, the final three or four races become like non-championship races and interest diminishes.”

What could spike interest is a first woman driver since 1976, but Horner believes there isn’t a suitable candidate.

“The best marketing thing we could do would be to have a female driver,” Horner said. “But at the moment there isn’t one that could cut it at the front.”

If a woman was fast-tracked onto the grid without being competitive, Horner said: “You end up doing more damage and ultimately your revenues will drop … but there are some very talented young girls coming through and it’s only a matter of time.”


Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris

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