Bernie Ecclestone intends to run Formula 1 as long as he can

By Dan RoanBBC chief sports correspondent
Bernie Ecclestone says he was always confident in the German legal system

Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone has said he wants to run the sport for "as long as I can" after paying £60m to end his three-month bribery trial.

In his first major interview since he avoided a possible 10-year prison sentence, Ecclestone, 83, said he always believed he would walk away a free man.

"I'm not scared of anything to be honest with you," he said.

"It never bothered me because I knew I was innocent."

Ecclestone went on trial in April, accused of paying German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky £26m to ensure that CVC, a private equity company he allegedly favoured, could buy F1, and he could remain in control of the sport.

Formula 1: Bernie Ecclestone's £60m payment ends trial

He continued: "I was never bothered about the jail sentence because I was sure it wouldn't happen. The system in law is pretty fair. Every now and again they get things wrong but normally, unless there's some political motive, it's all OK.

"I know most people say the prisons are full of innocent people but I wonder if that's true."

Ecclestone always denied wrongdoing, insisting the payment had instead been the result of blackmail - to stop Gribkowsky making unfounded allegations about Ecclestone's tax affairs.

Under German law, the billionaire was able to "buy" the termination of the trial, although he was declared neither innocent nor guilty.

When asked why he felt the need to pay a £60m settlement in order to walk free from Munich's district court, Ecclestone said: "Because there's a system in Germany which allows you to do that. It gets rid of things.

"It could have gone on. If they'd won, I'd have appealed. If I'd won they'd have appealed. It would have gone on until next year. I just had to pay to get rid of the case, that's all."

Speaking in his luxury motorhome at the Spa circuit before this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix, Ecclestone is now back running the sport on a full-time basis.

The end of the uncertainty over the sport's leadership could now pave the way for CVC to sell its 35% controlling stake in F1.

Ecclestone in Formula 1
1957: Ecclestone buys F1 team Connaught and a year later turns his hand to management, looking after driver Stuart Lewis-Evans.
1958: Enters two races as a driver but fails to qualify. Quits the sport after Lewis-Evans dies in a crash.
1970: Returns to the sport to manage Jochen Rindt, but leaves the sport again when Rindt fatally crashes at Monza.
1972: Buys the Brabham team and turns it into a winning outfit.
1978: Creates the Formula 1 Constructors Association (Foca) and, with the help of Max Mosley, moves to control the sport's management and finance.
2000: Becomes the rights holder of the sport and is granted the commercial rights to F1.
2007: Becomes part-owner of Queens Park Rangers football club, taking over as majority shareholder in 2010 before selling a year later.
2013: Formally indicted on bribery charges in Germany and steps down from the main F1 board in January 2014.
2014: Pays £60m to end bribery trial and declares he will return to running F1 full-time.

"CVC are the type of company that they are," said Ecclestone. "They buy businesses and eventually sell them and I suppose if someone comes along with the correct price they'll sell."

A priority for Ecclestone now will be handling the controversy surrounding the forthcoming Russian Grand Prix in Sochi on 12 October, with some senior politicians calling for the race to be cancelled because of the conflict in Ukraine.

Despite President Vladimir Putin's denials, Moscow has been blamed by the West for supplying anti-aircraft missiles to pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine that appear to have shot down Malaysian airlines passenger jet MH17, killing 298 passengers including 10 Britons.

But Ecclestone rejected any criticism of the race.

"We have a contract there and we will respect the contract and they will do the same, so there will be a race," he said.

"I don't know what a race in Sochi's got to do with anything. I mean, we don't get involved in politics or religion. I don't know what the problem is with people there.

"I asked somebody the other day 'have they decided who shot that plane down?' Nobody seems to know do they, so what's the link [with Russia]?

"In England for example, the guns and things that we've been sending to people that have been used, we're responsible? Doesn't sound right does it?

"If I'm in the business of producing knives and somebody buys a knife and stabs somebody, it's a bit difficult to say that because I produced the knife, I'm guilty."

This year, Ecclestone controversially introduced double-points to the last race of the season in Abu Dhabi, but now says he would have liked to have had double points for the last three races.

He added: "I think it's pretty obvious one of the two Mercedes drivers will win the Championship and Mercedes will win the constructors' championship, whereas if we'd had double points for the last three races, today you wouldn't like to say what would happen."

Bernie Ecclestone
Ecclestone insists his bribery court case in Germany "never bothered him", despite the threat of a 10-year jail term
Bernie Ecclestone and Jude Law
The 83-year-old has transformed F1 into a glamour sport, with film stars like Jude Law (above) regulars in the paddock
Bernie Ecclestone and Eddie Jordan
In discussion with Eddie Jordan before the recent Spanish Grand Prix