During the early 1990s the FIA, under Max Mosley, was restructuring its commercial rights agreements with international series, handing many across to Bernie Ecclestone, which rankled with the European Competition Directorate.
“The FIA restructured everything beneath F1 and we got caught up in that,” says Ratel. “The ruling was that the FIA would own all the commercial and TV rights to its sanctioned international series. So one day we had a deal with Eurosport to broadcast BPR, the next we get a fax from Bernie on F1-headed paper saying we couldn’t do that because they owned the rights. It all went up in arms and I, as the best English speaker of the three BPR rights-holders, had to lead the conversation with Bernie and sort it out.
“Visiting Bernie for the first time was like a scene from the movie, The Godfather. He’s there with the chief of police and says very clearly: either we’re 50/50 partners in this or we close you down – choose.
“The way I saw it, either we lost the series or became 50/50 partners with motor sport’s God. I wanted to do the deal, but Patrick didn’t and wanted to fight. I begged him to let me have one more meeting with Bernie. I went into that last meeting only for Bernie to slap a bit of paper down on the table in front of me, which turned out to be a legal injunction Patrick had launched against him! That was an awkward moment and Bernie asked, ‘Are you part of this?’ So I said ‘No! No!’ He continued, ‘So are you with me or against me?’ To which I answered ‘Errr, I think I’m with you…’ So Bernie decided on a new deal that would result in us creating the FIA GT Championship for 1997. We had three great years working together.”
It ended the BPR Series and caused a rift with Patrick Peter, but the two have since settled their differences. When Brussels finally did insist that Ecclestone step back from everything but F1, Ratel inherited full rights to FIA GT and found himself in charge of an international championship for the first time, with SRO at its helm.
WB on MS
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