The end of the Ecclestone era
I never thought I’d see the day. Bernie might have 40-or-so more years on the clock than I do, but that immovable presence running Formula 1 would surely remain just that.
He’d outstay us all, would Bernie – ageing, yes, but remaining in control. His advancing years (86, as of 28 October 2016) and ever-lengthening period in charge were just numbers that had long ago ceased to bear any relation to conventional working lifespans.
He’d seen off his one true power rival, Jean-Marie Balestre, back in the early ’80s, while outlasting peers such as Enzo Ferrari, Colin Chapman, Ken Tyrrell, Luca Di Montezemolo, Ron Dennis and others. Even when his old chum Max Mosley left the F1 scene in 2009, Ecclestone carried on regardless with an insatiable thirst for new territories and more growth.
Time and a fast-changing global media landscape did catch up with him and ‘Mr E’ is no longer ‘Mr Formula 1’.
As omnipotent emperor, Ecclestone was unbound by the humdrum shackles of conventional existence. Bribery trial? Ha! What bribery trial? That can be paid off (quite legally, under German law, of course). Media vilification over the latest politically incorrect outburst (“Hitler – he got things done”)? So what? Another circuit deal with a regime of questionable repute? No matter. So long as Bernie was in charge, the show would go on. A little F1 Racing in-joke even considered that one of our past staffers – of similar stature to Ecclestone – had been recruited to Bernie’s Formula One Management operation not for his considerable professional abilities, but rather to become a ‘body host’ for the Ecclestone brain, when the moment of physical incapacity eventually arrived.
But time and a fast-changing global media landscape did catch up with him and ‘Mr E’ is no longer ‘Mr Formula 1’. His role at the helm has been taken by not one, but three wise men: Chase Carey, Sean Bratches and Ross Brawn and, as we detail in this month’s Insider pages, their plans are bold – even refreshing. Already there’s talk of greater fan engagement, simplified sporting and technical regulations and an approach to business that seeks to work for the health of the sport’s future, rather than focusing on short-term financial gain.
There are many who will say that Ecclestone remained in control too long, that he could easily have chosen an earlier moment to depart on his own terms, leaving a legacy as one of the most successful sporting entrepreneurs the world has yet seen.
Instead, we’re left to ponder his appointment as ‘Chairman Emeritus’ of F1, with a consultancy role but no executive authority. It’s unlikely to appeal to a man who took F1 as “a diamond in the dirt” (the words of Gordon Murray, Ecclestone’s designer in his Brabham team-owning days) and polished it into something so beguiling it was impossible to resist for Liberty Media – giants of the global sports-entertainment industry.
But as Ecclestone himself would surely agree, timing is all. Sometimes you just have to know when to go.