WAS BERNIE BAD FOR FOR­MULA 1?

Help or a hin­drance? Bernie Ec­cle­stone splits opin­ions of our writ­ers

Motor Sport News - - Racing News - Matt James Edi­tor, Mo­tor­sport News Kevin Turner Edi­tor, Au­tosport Pho­tos: LAT

NO

Forty years is a long time in anyone’s book. It is cer­tainly an eter­nity in motor rac­ing – but just look how far F1 has come in the time since Bernie Ec­cle­stone took the helm.

F1 would barely muster a cou­ple of lines in the back pages of the na­tional press when I started fol­low­ing it in the 1970s. Some­times, the tabloids would carry noth­ing at all. You would get a 30-minute high­lights show at some un­godly hour on BBC2 on Sun­day night. That was it.

Look at the sport now: it is mas­sive. That suc­cess, like it or not, is down to the vi­sion of one man. He made sure the teams pre­sented a uni­fied front and wres­tled the com­mer­cial rights un­der his con­trol, which gave him power over the en­tire show. For that alone, I am eter­nally grate­ful.

F1 has made many mil­lion­aires, in­clud­ing the team own­ers, and it has be­come one of the most watched sports on the planet. That has made he­roes of its lead­ing play­ers. Is Bernie a bad man for do­ing that? There was a devil-may-care ap­proach to mak­ing sure that F1 re­mained as the king of the hill too. When the World Sportscar Championship was at­tract­ing man­u­fac­turer in­ter­est and looked like it might be­gin to ri­val grand prix rac­ing, Bernie’s dark arts were said to be at work slap­ping it down.

And look at how he has cau­tiously wel­comed all­com­ers into his top-level sin­gle-seater or­bit…an in­creas­ingly in­ter­na­tional Indy­car Championship in the 1990s? Sorted. A1 GP? No prob­lem. For­mula E? Bring it on. Those are just a few ex­am­ples, but what is the old adage about keep­ing your friends close and your en­e­mies closer?

No other se­ries would get any­where near the heights of F1 and Bernie as the undis­puted pin­na­cle of the sport.

And I haven’t even scratched the sur­face in terms of the bril­liant work he and Pro­fes­sor Sid Watkins did to im­prove safety in grand prix rac­ing.

Sure, the sport’s mi­gra­tion to the Mid­dle and Far East is per­turb­ing for its Euro­pean hard­core, but it is a sign of the times. Ec­cle­stone has gone a long way to make sure the money keeps rolling in, and maybe this is his only fail­ing. With Euro­pean gov­ern­ments un­able to match the funds of oil-rich rulers, this is hap­pen­ing in vir­tu­ally ev­ery other in­ter­na­tional sport. World Cup in Qatar, anyone…?

Col­lect­ing the big bucks with­out a nod to the his­tory of the sport, and the con­vo­luted way in which it is dis­trib­uted is a mys­tery wrapped up in an enigma, and Bernie has to carry the can for that.

No suc­cess­ful in­dus­try is run by com­mit­tee. Each has a vi­sion­ary and de­ter­mined leader, and Bernie was that man for F1. I think we owe him a vote of thanks.

YES

There is no doubt that Ec­cle­stone is one of the key fig­ures in mo­tor­sport his­tory and, up un­til the early ‘90s, his early im­pact would have to be con­sid­ered pos­i­tive.

He pro­fes­sion­alised For­mula 1 and brought it to a much wider au­di­ence through his TV deals. Along with other key fig­ures, such as Sid Watkins, he also helped to make F1 safer.

But his legacy will surely be tainted by some of his later deals. There was a strong feel­ing in the sportscar world that he was one of the key ar­chi­tects of the demise of Group C at the end of 1992, al­legedly to get more man­u­fac­tur­ers into F1.

As time went on, the de­sire to in­crease prof­its over­took the needs of the sport. The deal he and then FIA pres­i­dent Max Mosley put to­gether – the sale/pur­chase of F1’s com­mer­cial rights for 100 years – has caused many prob­lems and will prob­a­bly con­tinue to do so.

His re­luc­tance to ex­plore – or al­low F1 to ex­plore – mod­ern me­dia and fan en­gage­ment out­side TV has also sti­fled the very sport he helped to grow.

And then there are the cir­cuits. Quite apart from his deals that al­lowed po­lit­i­cally du­bi­ous (but rich) regimes to host grands prix, Ec­cle­stone has been ruth­less with the tra­di­tional venues and, by ex­ten­sion, F1’s fan base.

The multi-mil­lion pound fees cir­cuits have to pay to host races would be bad enough, but the con­di­tions at­tached make it al­most im­pos­si­ble for tracks to stay in busi­ness with­out the sup­port of ei­ther gov­ern­ment fund­ing or su­per-wealthy pri­vate back­ers.

The sale of tick­ets is the only area where cir­cuits can make money. When Sil­ver­stone still has to prop up the well-at­tended Bri­tish GP with other ac­tiv­i­ties, you know there is some­thing wrong with the busi­ness model, par­tic­u­larly when the five per cent es­ca­la­tor – well above in­fla­tion – is ap­plied year af­ter year af­ter year.

That ap­proach has meant that the French, Ger­man, Ital­ian, Bri­tish and Bel­gian GPS have all been threat­ened, or fallen off the F1 cal­en­dar, dur­ing this century. Ec­cle­stone has been known to step in and help on oc­ca­sion – as though the en­thu­si­asm that brought him to the sport is still there some­where – but that hasn’t stopped the over­all trend.

That’s why fan re­ac­tion to Bernie’s de­par­ture will likely be one of ‘about time’ and ‘good rid­dance’, rather than a more pos­i­tive one that might have pre­vailed had he left ear­lier.

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