Former F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone has avoided immediate jail time after his guilty plea. AFP / ANDREJ ISAKOVIC

Former Formula One leader Bernie Ecclestone, a central figure in the high-octane world of motorsport for decades, pleaded guilty to charges of tax fraud today.

In a shocking turn of events, the motor mogul has managed to avoid jail time after pleading guilty as he was accused of orchestrating a complex bribery scheme that spanned for several years.

The legendary motorsport figure, who has dominated the F1 scene for decades, went to trial, which took place at Southwark Crown Court in London, thus shedding light on Ecclestone's involvement in a multimillion-dollar deal involving the sale of the commercial rights to the Formula One racing series.

Ecclestone, 92, failed to declare a trust in Singapore with a bank account containing around £400 million at the time.

Despite the gravity of the charges against him, the presiding judge, Mr Justice Bryan, took into consideration Ecclestone's advanced age and expressed sympathy for the pressure and fear the accused had endured, acknowledging he had taken into account the low risk of reoffending and other factors such as his age, his medical condition and the impact of a prison sentence on his young child.

"Mr Ecclestone did not know the true position and was therefore not in a position to provide a positive or negative answer," prosecutor Richard Wright said on Thursday.

Ecclestone's legal team underscored his cooperation throughout the investigation, his genuine remorse and his long-standing contributions to the world of motorsport. These factors ultimately led to a plea deal that allowed him to avoid imprisonment but required him to pay a hefty fine of £652.6 million.

He was handed a 17-month jail term, suspended for two years and the Formula One community, which once revolved around Ecclestone's autocratic rule, has been reeling from this scandal. Current Formula One CEO Stefano Domenicali issued a statement expressing disappointment but also optimism for the sport's future.

"This is a dark chapter in Formula One's history, but it also marks a new beginning. We are committed to rebuilding trust and integrity within our sport," said Domenicali.

As the mastermind behind the global expansion of Formula One, his name has become synonymous with both greatness and controversy. Many wonder if this guilty plea will permanently stain his legacy or if the public will eventually forgive and forget.

Ecclestone, who was forced to step down as CEO of Formula One in 2017, had remained influential behind the scenes. During that time, he grew Formula One into a prized global media asset while maintaining tight control of the commercial and sporting sides of the business.

Now, with his legal battle almost at the conclusion, it will be interesting to see if he can reclaim any role within the sport, or if he will fade into the background, leaving a void in his wake.

In the end, this incident serves as a stark reminder that no one is above the law, regardless of their status or contributions. Only time will tell how Ecclestone's legacy will be shaped by this deeply troubling chapter in his life. Key stakeholders in Formula One, including teams, sponsors and broadcasters, are closely watching the situation.

Many have been calling for greater transparency in the sport's financial dealings, and Ecclestone's guilty plea may act as a catalyst for reforms and increased scrutiny.