I went to see Bernie Ecclestone in Brazil, because I overheard a Portuguese announcement in the Media Centre (if that appalling facility can truly be given such a grandiose title) telling the local press that they were invited to an event that was not being publicised for the rest of us. I figured it might be some announced about the new pit building that is supposed to be in the pipeline for Interlagos, and so I snuck down to the paddock, found a crowd of folk waiting for Mr E, and then spotted the man himself and quickly asked what was going on.
“I’m retiring,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
I laughed and went back to work. It was clearly some kind of presentation of a painting to the race organiser – which is why the international press had not been invited.
You can say that many a true word is spoken in jest – and I did for a moment ponder whether perhaps the Brazilian GP might be Bernie’s last as CEO of the Formula One group – but anyone who knows Bernie understands that the only kind of retirement he is ever going to take will be one that is forced upon him.
Maybe that will happen.
It is very interesting at the moment to follow the Ecclestone story in different outlets around the world. The German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which has been pretty much on the nail from the start with regard to the Gribkowsky Case and subsequent investigation into Mr E, clearly enjoys a very close relationship with the local prosecution service and is saying that an indictment is expected in the coming weeks. The newspaper, which is less good on the subject of F1 itself, says that the plan is for the board of the Formula One group to appoint a temporary CEO from amongst its own membership and that no replacement would be appointed until after the court case in Germany is completed.
Back in the UK, the Independent has reported that some of the race promoters will stop being involved in the sport if Ecclestone goes. I did not need to look up the name of the author on that story. Only one I know would have written such tosh. The problem with this sort of things is that the Internet picks up every story and spins it around and so this myth that some races will stop being involved without Ecclestone has been spread around by the monkeys with typewriters, who do not understand, nor care, what they are copying.
No-one, least of all the author, has asked the obvious question: Why on earth would any promoter give up a race if Bernie was not there? They are not there to serve Mr E. They are there to serve their bosses: be that a city or a region. The locals are using F1 to their own advantage, and Bernie is exploiting them accordingly, as befits his abilities as a great businessman. If he goes, the Formula One group would likely end up with less demanding negotiators, in which case the local promoters have much more to gain (or perhaps less to lose) from dealing with the sport’s next generation, whoever that might be.
The idea that promoters will be like the widows of Hindus who would throw themselves on the funeral pyre is a truly daft idea. There is no doubt that some of the promoters are Ecclestone’s mates – particularly Melbourne’s Ron Walker – and have helped him a great deal over the years, but this does not mean that the races they represent will simply fold up and go away. Even if they do, there will not be a shortage of new candidates.
A cynic would suggest that this is simply scaremongering, but what is really fascinating is that someone somewhere felt it was necessary to try to get this message across to CVC Capital Partners. The fact that there was a newspaper dumb enough to publish such a piece without checking is sadly to be expected in this day and age.