Scandal!  Marvelous scandal!  As you may have guessed, Podium or Pits isn’t really very concerned about the dry dull news about the cogs, wheel nuts, drive shafts (whatever those are) of Formula 1.  No, POP is much more interested in what makes Formula 1 so fascinating: the people, the teams, the money – all of which are behind the brilliant racing we so avidly watch.  And this week folks, POP has a corker of a scandal to share…

Bribery – F1 is by no means an innocent sport, granted.  But bribery takes the sport to a whole new level of intrigue.  The McLaren ‘spying scandal’ involved only teams, and the Renault ‘crash-gate’ involved only a handful of individuals, … but POP can reveal that there is an investigation of bribery at the highest level of the sport.

As a background, the Formula 1 group is 70% owned by an investment firm CVC Capital Partners, 20% by JPMorgan (an investment bank), and the remainder is held mostly by Bernie Ecclestone.  An investigation has been launched into the 2005 purchase by CVC of a 48% stake in the holding company of F1, SLEC, itself a subsidiary of Delta Topco (like a bad Bond villain name).  The investigation has been commissioned by CVC and Delta Topco.

In a nut-shell, way back in the sunny days of 2005 … a guy called Gerhard Gribkowsky, a banker for the German bank BayernLB (the seller of the shares to CVC), was involved in the sale to CVC, and has now been accused of not running a competitive auction.  It has been contended that he undervalued the shares which were sold to CVC.  He was also, handily, given a directorship with Delta Topco soon after the sale.  Not fishy at all.

Gerhard Gribkowsky: the ultimate F1 tongue-twister

The plot thickens when it is revealed that Gribkowsky received a total of $50 million for “consultancy”, which essentially means a big fat whopping bribe to the man at the centre of the allegations of undervaluing (although not confirmed).  POP leaves you to guess which 5 foot 2 mystery man is rumoured to be behind the payments.

CVC deny everything (though are conducting an investigation).  Bernie Ecclestone denies everything.  Standard.  And what about Gribkowsky?  He’s stuck in a German prison which once housed Hitler.  At which point POP feels it is pertinent to remember Bernie Ecclestone’s thoughts on the dictator: that Hitler was “able to get things done”.  Does that include bribery perhaps, eh, Bernie?*

Nick Heidfeld – Good news!  He’s finally coming out of Heid-ing (took POP ages, that one) to be Renault’s new driver for 2011!  As much as POP loves Robert Kubica (get well soon!), it was always an utter injustice that Nick Heidfeld should get left on the F1 sidelines like some unpopular geeky kid on the playground.  Though Heidfeld had better start working on his Twitter efforts.  Here’s how he announced his move to Renault:

Was in Enstone today and can tell that I will join Lotus Renault, next tests in BCN on Sat/Mon. More on my HP, http://tinyurl.com/4b7qb8l

POP’s advice: take a leaf out of Karun Chandhok’s twitter feed.  That man is a genius.

Bahrain – POP never really bothers with politics.  Far too serious for POP’s liking.  But political instability in Tunisia and Egypt has begun spreading its way to Bahrain, which also happens to be the first race on the F1 calendar (1st practice in 21 days!!!)  Naturally, F1 busybody Bernie has got involved:

“The danger is obvious isn’t it? … If these people wanted to make a fuss and get worldwide recognition it would be bl**dy easy, wouldn’t it? You start making a problem on the start grid in Bahrain and it would get worldwide coverage.”

For once, POP agrees with the pensioner.  Nothing, not even war, shall stop the beginning of the Formula 1 season.  Some things are just sacred, you know?

Dr Ross Brawn – From now forward we must refer to the Mercedes boss as ‘Dr Ross Brawn’ after he was awarded an honourary doctorate from the University of Northampton for his contribution to engineering.  The team’s factory is nearby in Brackley, Northamptonshire.  He called Northamptonshire “the ‘Silicone Valley’ of motor racing” (just without all the sunshine, eh?)  So congratulations to Dr Brawn: a doctorate without having to slog away on pitiful money for 4 years.  Now that’s an achievement.

Sebastian Vettel – Normally an F1 driver spends about 5% of his waking life “Thanking the Team”.  Lewis Hamilton’s percentage, however, is unusually high at roughly 15%.  So after winning the world championship last season, you’d expect Vettel to be thanking the team in the form of a very large cake saying the words “Thank-you Team, Love Seb”.  But no.  Vettel has instead decided to say the following this week:

“Yes, it’s my dream to race for Maranello [Ferrari] one day. However I’m still young, there is time.”

You stay classy, Vettel.

* POP is very scared of Bernie (who wouldn’t be, especially when the “bribery” word is banded about), so this is a blanket denial of the above leading story.  It is entirely unconfirmed and POP awaits the very impartial and comprehensive results of CVC’s investigation.