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Mercedes welcome Ecclestone trial settlement

By Alan Baldwin

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS Belgium (Reuters) - Formula One needs a strong leader and Bernie Ecclestone's $100 million court settlement to end a bribery trial in Germany is positive for the sport's future, Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff said on Saturday.

"I think what is important is stability in Formula One," the Austrian told reporters after his drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, title rivals, qualified first and second at the Belgian Grand Prix.

"I have seen a very strong Bernie coming back from the (August) shutdown, after the court case. The court case has been settled and this is good news," he added.

"For us it's important to have a strong guy, a strong leader and good discussions. We had one of these today."

Team bosses and the sport's 83-year-old commercial supremo Ecclestone held a meeting in the Mercedes paddock hospitality unit before qualifying, their first since the Briton agreed the settlement with the Munich court earlier this month.

The agreement meant Ecclestone preserved his status of innocence and was spared the prospect of having to make regular appearances in Germany while trying to manage the global multi-billion dollar sport.

Ecclestone had gone on trial in April over allegations he paid a $44 million bribe to a former German banker to facilitate the sale of a major stake in the motor sport business eight years previously.

Private equity group CVC, the largest shareholder in Formula One with 35 percent, had said Ecclestone would have been fired if found guilty. Corporate governance is also a major concern for the likes of Mercedes.

Ecclestone told reporters in Spa on Thursday that he would return to the board and continue the running of the sport as he had done before.

Wolff said CVC and the Briton were looking into the governance and future management of Formula One.

"I am sure there is lots of talking behind the scenes, what's going on in the future. But for us it is very good that Bernie is fully concentrated, back in shape, strong in leading that organization at that stage," he said.

There have been reports in recent months that John Malone's Liberty Global and Discovery Communications were in talks over buying a combined 49 percent stake held by CVC and Lehman Brothers Holdings.

CVC have also been linked to a possible initial public offering (IPO) of Formula One but that too was seen as being on hold pending the outcome of Ecclestone's trial.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)

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