Why Bernie Ecclestone had to go
F1’s new owners determined to overhaul F1’s “ineffective and dysfunctional” management
A new era is dawning in Formula 1 following the sport’s takeover by US company Liberty Media and the removal of Bernie Ecclestone as chief executive.
Ecclestone, 86, has been given the nebulous job title of ‘chairman emeritus’ and will theoretically be available for Liberty to call on for advice. But he will no longer be involved in the day-to-day running of the business.
New chairman Chase Carey, 62, a highly respected American media executive and long-time lieutenant of Rupert Murdoch, decided Ecclestone’s continued presence as a representative of Formula 1 was not compatible with the changes Liberty wanted to make. Carey has taken on the title of chief executive and has appointed two managing directors to look after the different sides of the business.
Ross Brawn, former Mercedes F1 boss and ex-Ferrari technical director, will run the sporting and technical side, focusing on changes to modernise F1, while ex-ESPN executive Sean Bratches will handle commercial matters, including race deals, sponsorship and promotion.
Carey described the management of F1 under Ecclestone in recent years as “somewhere between ineffective and dysfunctional”, adding: “It is a great sport, but clearly it has to be improved and we do plan to improve it.
“To some degree it needs a fresh start. Bernie is a one-man team. It was not really the right organisation in today’s world to follow through and build the relationships and opportunities for us in all the areas.
“On the sport’s side, the decision-making is not as effective as it needs to be. Some of the organisations that have been put up to guide the sport have not worked as planned. I have been sincere in saying I value Bernie’s help and advice as we go forward. But I understand this is a big change for him. He calls himself a dictator. He has run it as a one-man dictator for a long time. I think the sport needs a fresh perspective. But he has a lot to continue to offer and he will always be part of the F1 family.”
Ecclestone made it clear he was unhappy about the decision, telling a favoured journalist before the official announcement was made that he had been forced out.
But while Carey was careful to pay tribute to Ecclestone’s achievements in building F1 into a $8bn business, he made it clear that the previous way of running F1 had significant limitations that were preventing it from growing in the 21st century – particularly with reference to promotion and digital media.
“I don’t know if he held it back,” Carey said, “but the way he ran it historically as a oneman operation, it didn’t have a marketing organisation, didn’t have a digital organisation, didn’t really have any engagement in the events being put on and, in some ways, the vehicles set up to govern the sport weren’t operating effectively and efficiently. So if you look at the list of things, opportunities not taken, things put in place that were not working well, there is a great deal more upside than downside.”
Carey’s research into Formula 1 since Liberty began its takeover in September revealed several problems, all of which effectively fell at Ecclestone’s door.
Prime among these was the revenue structure, which is unfairly skewed in favour of the bigger teams. Then there is the fact that the Strategy Group has proved to be an ineffective tool for governing the sport. An overemphasis on doing deals for the sake of the maximum profit, rather than looking at whether they are good for F1 as a whole has caused additional concern, as has questionable, ad hoc rule making, such as the double-points finale in 2014 and the fiasco over the change of qualifying format in 2016. Last but not least were Ecclestone’s repeated,
controversial public interventions, either talking down F1 or making inappropriate comments.
In the press release announcing his departure Ecclestone was conciliatory, but in his only interview so far, he claimed he “didn’t understand” what his new role entailed.
It remains to be seen whether he goes quietly. Already there have been rumours that he plans to set up a rival championship at some point – presumably after the teams’ contracts with F1 expire in 2020 – although Ecclestone insisted in a statement to Reuters that “the last thing” he wanted was “to see [F1] damaged”.
And journalists to whom he is known to leak stories are pushing the idea that the FIA’s one per cent shareholding and its need to approve the Liberty deal represent a conflict of interest. But whatever happens, major changes are inevitable over the next few years.
F1’s new CEO Chase Carey said of Ecclestone: “I think the sport needs a fresh perspective”
Ousted: Ecclestone has claimed that he “doesn’t understand” what his new role as ‘chairman emeritus’ will entail