Say what you like about Mr Ecclestone, F1 did benefit from his leadership
HE forthcoming season is all about change in F1, but there is none greater, or more unexpected, than the sudden departure of Bernie Ecclestone (86) after four decades at the helm.
Following the rst stages of F1’s acquisition by Liberty Media last September, it was suggested that Ecclestone would stay on as de facto head of the sport, at least for as long as it took the American organisation to nd its way around such a complex business.
But when Liberty’s rst detailed look prompted stark conclusions, none of which matched Ecclestone’s unique business model, it was clear his tenure as acting chief would be brief. A description of F1 as “dysfunctional” was just the beginning. In fact, the irony was that the same summary could have been uttered by Ecclestone when he rst arrived as an F1 player in 1972.
Purchase of Brabham had brought Bernie face to face with the shambling, piecemeal negotiating procedure between individual F1 teams and Grand Prix organisers. He had little dif culty in persuading fellow competitors of the bene ts associated with collective bargaining. This was to be the foundation of his powerbase; Ecclestone extending his in uence to television by forcing broadcasters to pay for an annual contract rather than cherry-picking the more popular races.
For his part, Bernie realised he needed to present a professional package, and F1 was anything but. Race schedules were as varied as the quality and quantity of the entry, with teams stay-
Ting away if they were uncompetitive. Ecclestone’s eye for detail and perfection (Brabham was one of the rst teams to have mechanics in uniforms, colour-coded to each day) led to a strict timetable and a guaranteed entry. Standards and the sport’s popularity rose in company with increased exposure and income, with Bernie taking his substantial cut of the latter. The team principals did not mind, as they too began to enjoy previously untold wealth.
By pulling F1 by the bootstraps from a shambling semi-amateur collection of car racers, Ecclestone was on course to turn it into one of the biggest television sports in the world, outside the Olympics and the Soccer World Cup.
He may have had help along the way, but it was Bernie who orchestrated the talent – and money – of others as he moulded his astute vision into reality. You could argue that other entrepreneurs might have eventually done the same. But none would have achieved it with the same blend of air, audacity, cheek … and ruthlessness.
When necessary, Ecclestone readily made enemies. It was part of Bernie’s modus operandi that went back to the Fifties when he dealt in second-hand motorcycles and cars. Traders would be halfway home before realising that in the intricate exchange involving several vehicles, they had ended with something they didn’t actually want.
It would be the same decades later, as race organisers negotiating with Ecclestone would nd, to their detriment, that he had deftly switched currencies during a process deliberately made