“It’s like a poker game; if you haven’t got enough money… don’t play the game.”

On the fast track with F1 supremo Bernie Ec­cle­stone

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For­mula One boss Bernie Ec­cle­stone is a po­lar­is­ing fig­ure in the eyes of many. A pow­er­ful ne­go­tia­tor and master deal­maker, he has built For­mula One into a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar global op­er­a­tion, hav­ing iden­ti­fied early on the po­ten­tial of tele­vi­sion to turn the sports prop­erty into a world­wide spec­ta­cle. In the process he has made bil­lions from his man­age­ment and own­er­ship of the com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, and earned both fear and re­spect from ad­mir­ers and de­trac­tors alike. At 84, how­ever, Ec­cle­stone is un­der as­sault on sev­eral fronts. The fu­tures of two teams – Cater­ham and Marus­sia – hang in the bal­ance. Pres­sure is mount­ing for a new strat­egy to tackle For­mula One is­sues, from the spi­ralling costs and de­clin­ing tele­vi­sion au­di­ences to fall­ing spon­sor­ships fig­ures. Ec­cle­stone, who has fought bribery al­le­ga­tions in London and Mu­nich, has lived through many of the sport’s ups and downs. Our first in­ter­view takes place at the Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix, where he had just signed a seven-year deal with Fox Sports, then a few weeks later we meet in London at For­mula One Man­age­ment’s of­fices. He re­flects on the need to build For­mula One into an en­ter­tain­ment prop­erty, t he t rends in spon­sor­ships and why he won’t take to so­cial me­dia.

What was your am­bi­tion with For­mula One?

I was rac­ing when I was 16 years old. I’ve al­ways been rac­ing – mo­tor­cy­cles or cars. After that I was the head of a race team and ran a race team, and then do­ing what I do now. I took over things in the late ’70s but un­like most of the suc­cess­ful busi­ness­peo­ple who tend to think they’re ge­niuses, I think most of us are just lucky and hap­pen to be in the right place at the right time. I grasped the op­por­tu­ni­ties that were in front of me, whereas lots of peo­ple don’t but af­ter­wards say, ‘ I could have.’ The peo­ple that have be­come suc­cess­ful have seen an op­por­tu­nity and taken it, what­ever it is. I never thought about be­ing global. It just hap­pened. Things fell into place. Early on I un­der­stood that tele­vi­sion cov­er­age would be im­por­tant and I took con­trol of the tele­vi­sion side of things and made a lot of changes with broad­cast­ers out there – more or less Euro­pean and Asia, rather than Amer­ica. I took con­trol a lot more, so that was im­por­tant.

What does the For­mula One brand stand for?

That’s a dif­fi­cult ques­tion to an­swer. I sup­pose it is a ma­jor sport and most sports are in the en­ter­tain­ment business. Some­times we tend to lose track of the en­ter­tain­ment and get caught up a bit more on the tech­ni­cal as­pect of For­mula One, which I’m not happy about. We are very tech­ni­cal and we need to stay that way but I’d rather see a bit more ef­fort on the en­ter­tain­ment. That nor­mally bal­ances it­self. And it will be­cause we’ve just gone through a par­tic­u­lar phase, so when we’ve worked that out, we’ll be back to where we were. Ob­vi­ously for peo­ple in­volved in For­mula One for mar­ket­ing we have a world­wide au­di­ence and an au­di­ence in the right bracket for peo­ple that are per­haps what you might call up-mar­ket. We’re dif­fer­ent to the foot­ball crowd, if you like. I’m not say­ing there’s any­thing wrong with that mar­ket at all. Quite the op­po­site: the foot­ball au­di­ence is a su­per mar­ket but I think they’re a dif­fer­ent type of viewer.

How can you bring more of the en­ter­tain­ment fac­tor into For­mula One?

En­ter­tain­ment is what peo­ple want to see. If you asked me tonight to go to the bal­let and said it’s fan­tas­tic, I would say, it’s not for me. Sure, it’s good en­ter­tain­ment for a lot of peo­ple but it doesn’t suit me. If I asked peo­ple who like bal­let if they wanted to go to a For­mula One race, they wouldn’t par­tic­u­larly want to go. We don’t know what peo­ple like and don’t like. Maybe if I tried it, I’d love bal­let. I just can’t un­der­stand the rea­son why they have th­ese girls danc­ing on their

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