23rd of January 2017 will be remembered in the history of Formula One and Motorsport forever, maybe as the day it did what it needed to do to starve off seemingly permanent decline. As on this day, the new owners, who seem to be saying they are going to do everything Formula one fans have been wanting to hear for about 10 years, overthrew the money and Putin loving, long standing CEO and self proclaimed dictator of Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone.
From driving a Formula One car in the 1950s, Ecclestone rose from being a used car dealer in Norfolk, to an owner of a championship winning Formula One team, to the boss of the sport. In the early years, particularly in the 1990s and early 2000s, Ecclestone’s dictatorship did a lot to the sport. For example Ecclestone marketed the sport brilliantly, allowing broadcasters to create a more immersive experience, made the racing safer for drivers and spectators alike and made the sport one of the biggest brands in the world (in 2010 the 2005 Canadian Grand Prix was the third most watched live sporting event ever). Ecclestone was once compared to Hitler, something he saw as a compliment, when he said Hitler at least got things done. So i guess in Bernie Ecclestone’s opinion, his achievements were similar to Hitler building the Autobahns, factories and creating Volkswagen.
Of course, like all great dictators, Ecclestone was always going to first, lose the plot, and second, have his head end up on a metaphorical spike while the fans of the sport dance round it like the Ewoks at the end of Return of the Jedi.
Bernie’s madness seemed to stem from one idea, trying to make the sport more global and even more profitable. At first this had good results, including the brilliant Malaysian Grand Prix circuit, but quickly, his caused problems. Starting in 2004 with the creation of the Bahrain Grand Prix, Ecclestone started just handing out Grand Prix to the highest bidders, many with rotten human rights records, meaning that fans saw that they were in these countries for the wrong reasons. Secondly Eccelstone effectively gave an monopoly of the design of new circuits to one man, Hermann Tilke. This resulted on a lot of these new circuits being too samey, and boring, making less of a variety of circuits than what was used to in formula one prior to this. This was worsened by Ecclestone’s lack of compassion and care, for Formula One’s more traditional, more loved, but less financially able circuits, particularly in Europe.
Things went bad to worse when CVC, an investment company, brought a majority stake hold and backed Ecclestone in 2006. From that date, every decision Ecclestone then made seemed to only benefit the investors economically in the short term and leave the sport worse off, the recent sale of rights to televise Formula One exclusively to Sky, and therefore shrinking the viewership of the sport underlined this.
Worse still, Ecclestone also lost control of the decision making process of the sport at a more basic level. Ecclestone did nothing to prevent the unfair spread of prize funds which have seen so many teams almost fall to oblivion and a few to oblivion in recent years, he created a sport not viable for manufacturers (especially compared to Formula E). Worst of all, Ecclestone created a strategy group which was basically just an oligarchy of the most wealthy teams and a few close friends to make the decisions of how to run the sport could the “strategy group”. This led to, for example, the disastrous elimination qualifying which only lasted for 2 races last season. And then to add these problems was the fact that Bernie Ecclestone didn’t just completely understand the age of social media, he has refused to let the sport utilise it, with even recently drivers being banned from posting in and around race events without his permission.
It is unsurprising therefore, many fans like myself, were absolutely ecstatic when we heard Ecclestone had been kicked out of his CEO position by Liberty Media, creating an atmosphere which also made it seem like Trump had resigned 2 days in. Ecclestone might have made Formula One what it is today, but he also created the problems which engulf it today, and the sport is definitely in better hands now that he’s gone.
To Liberty Media and the new CEO Chase Carey, I say crack on, and do everything you say you want to do with the sport.
The final word on Ecclestone should really come from Harvey Dent in the Dark Knight.