On Bernie…

So Bernie has been nudged (as gently as possible) into a role with a long title. Chairman emeritus is, nonetheless, fitting. The word emeritus comes from Latin verb “to earn” and is usually conferred upon retired professors and clergymen, although it is also used in business as a mark of distinguished service. The word “merit” comes from the same root.

Love him or loathe him, Mr E, merits the title – not that such a thing will appeal to him at all. Given his character, one could not really expect a more graceful changeover of power, but it was clearly something that Liberty Media felt was essential in order to start the process of change in Formula 1.

The fact that they recognised this need is a good thing. It has been very clear from the start that Liberty wanted a different style of management for the sport, which is so used to being in conflict with itself that some find it hard to imagine it can operate with everyone working together. NASCAR shows this is possible. Not everyone may agree with the France family or with how they do business, but they all understand it is best to work together and keep their disagreements out of the spotlight.

People think that Bernie Ecclestone was a greedy man, but I don’t think this is the truth at all. Money was not the important thing. It was merely a way by which Bernie kept score. Money is only important when you don’t have it and I doubt he can a remember a day when he wasn’t rich. He has been a wealthy man for probably 65 of his 86 years. What was important for Bernie was the power to do the deal and the buzz he got from winning and getting people to agree to do things that they did not want to do. Once he had control of the sport he knew that he had something that people wanted and so it could be monetised and the score could be kept.

Many people think that he did not love the sport, but I don’t think this is right either. I think he loved the gladiators, the men who drove the cars. There was always affection and admiration for what they did. He had tried it himself, remember, with a Connaught in 1958 and he knew that racing drivers were different and special people. In his early years he lost two drivers with whom he was close: Stuart Lewis-Evans in 1958 and Jochen Rindt in 1970. Later he would also lose one of his Brabham drivers, José Carlos Pace, in a plane crash, and another, Elio de Angelis, in a testing accident. I don’t think Bernie ever lost his passion for the drivers, or for some of those with whom he had dealings. He liked the mavericks: Enzo Ferrari, Max Mosley, Colin Chapman, Teddy Mayer, Ken Tyrrell, Frank Williams, Ron Dennis and Eddie Jordan. They were men who made things happen. He liked some of the race promoters as well, particularly Melbourne’s Ron Walker. He was never a big fan of men in blazers, although one sensed that he had a grudging respect for the late Jean Marie Balestre, the FIA President who fought him to a draw in the FISA-FOCA war of 1980-1982.

What he did for Formula 1 over the years was mightily impressive, but how he won control of it and some of his dealings thereafter were less impressive. There was a famous occasion when Bernie informed his fellow FOCA members that he had juggled companies and contracts and had taken over control of all the important deals and that they were henceforth working for him. Ken Tyrrell had to be stopped from strangling him. They fought him a little, but he had the power. He was the paymaster. Over time, the teams clawed back more and more of the money and chipped away at his power, but it was only in recent years that he felt his hands were tied – and he did not like it.

If he made one error, it was in agreeing to sell an option for 25 percent of the shares in the business to Thomas Haffa, a German TV mogul, who had already secured 50 percent of the business. Haffa soon ran into trouble and his empire was gobbled up by KirchBeteiligung, the holding company of a bigger German TV company. In March 2001, Leo Kirch, the boss of KirchBeteiligung, agreed to take over Haffa’s option and borrowed money from the Bavarian state bank – BayernLB – to pay for it. KirchBeteiligung became the controlling shareholder in Formula One. The problem was that Kirch had also borrowed too much money and it began to fail in 2002. BayernLB claimed the Formula One shares, as they had a right to do. That summer Ecclestone and his family’s Bambino Trust snatched control of the primary Formula One operating companies by appointing more directors than they were allowed to. This meant that they had management control of the business. BayernLB and other banks initiated legal action to win back control and after much delaying the first case came to court in December 2004. It was an embarrassing defeat with Mr Justice Park giving a summary judgment in favour of the banks, making it clear that Bambino had no case at all. He rejected one of Bambino’s arguments as “bordering on the hopeless”. He even refused the right to appeal. By 2005 Bernie agreed to settle the other fight with the banks.

They could have removed him from that point onwards, but BayernLB representative Dr Gerhard Gribkowsky argued that Bernie was the key to F1’s success. This led to the famous sale of the banks shares to CVC Capital Partners, which gave Bernie control of the business once again. CVC did not care what he did, as long as it was able to extract the maximum in profit from the business. That suited Mr E fine.

The media never really bothered him and he would happily give the newspapers the headlines they wanted, even if a lot of the stories never came true. He was just playing, keeping F1 in the papers. He had an impressive ability to neuter those who opposed him by sucking them in and making them dependent on him. He could wrap naive journalists around his little finger by tickling their ego, making them feel he was their best buddy. He was a genius at spotting people’s weaknesses and using them to his advantage. He understood greed and ambition and recognised people who might be dangerous to him. It was the old car dealer in action. He was funny, charming and yet utterly ruthless. I remember once, years ago, when I found myself in conflict with him, having worked for his Formula 1 magazine. He had done something which could have been challenged in court. Naive as I was, I said “You can’t do that.” Bernie looked at me with infinite coldness and replied: “I can do whatever I like”. He was right, of course, power overrules rights and wrongs. What was I going to do about it? I couldn’t afford to battle with him as the banks had done – and he knew it. To be fair, he made sure that I was paid all that was owed to me.

Those who do not like him perhaps do not understand that there is a good side to him as well, as there is with almost all human beings. He didn’t want people to see too much of that, and one felt that he saw being kind and caring as some sort of weakness.

When it came to the business, he didn’t see the value of anything that didn’t pay up front, as they say in England “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. If you wanted something you had to pay for it and you had to pay big.

There was rarely investment and when there was it often didn’t work. Early attempts at digital TV and his escapade into publishing both lost a lot of money, although these were nothing compared to the $100 million he had to pay to stop the celebrated trial in Germany.

Bernie’s attention to detail was extraordinary, even back in the days of Brabham when he and McLaren’s Ron Dennis raised the bar every year in terms of professionalism and dragged the sport from its muddy paddocks to the glistening autodromes of the modern era. He took the sport global, but was never comfortable with Americans, who felt that race promoters should be allowed to make money as well. It was a blind spot that made no sense at all. F1 was a consumer business which was barely present in the world’s biggest consumer market. It was all driven by money which is why F1 lost some of its key traditional races, exchanging them for hopeless adventures into the Turkish countryside, Korean marshes and Indian building sites.

CVC’s fixation on profits hurt the sport and, in the end, one sensed that Bernie realised this, but he did’t want to change anything. He wanted to go on doing deals as he had always done deals. He probably stayed on longer than was wise. But it was his train set.

And then one day, it wasn’t.

105 thoughts on “On Bernie…

  1. Good riddance

    In my opinion he has done more damage to the sport in the last 15 years than the good he did before.

    A caring attitude is a strength not a weakness. It’s tho opposite attitude that has got our world into the mess it’s currently in.

    F1 may finally be worth coming back to with this news and the chance to see Valtteri go up against Lewis!

    1. Chris, besides the damage (and being an employee I have seen it from both sides), he has, by virtue of his modus operandi, also done a great service for tens of thousands of people and their families – by building an industry and outsource industries that have created more employment than any politician, and employment that pays WELL above even top remuneration in the “real World”, never mind average remuneration. Not to mention bonus schemes, car schemes, points bonus, WC bonus (guilty as charged) and so on.

      In terms of the spectacle, which would close down without the IT department, I have no time or patience for it anymore, so in that respect it is damaged. I like machinery and drivers racing, not computers and celebrities; that much is 50% tech “progress”, 50% BCE.

      1. Do you think that F1 would have done worse without Bernie at the helm? I’m not convinced; an AT.Kerney report from around 2010 shows that F1 underperformed most other sports in terms of growth. I think any competent and professional management team would done at least as well. What is quite extraordinary though is the Bernie effectively did it single handedly, and the fact that he has been replaced by three people with distinct roles and competences is quite telling.

        1. From 2010, maybe. But Bernie started in the early 70s when F1 was badly run by team bosses who were always squabbling amongst themselves and, Ferrari and Chapman excepted, had little idea about business. There was little TV coverage, and nobody thought that TV rights were worth much. On the FIA side it was a people with blazers and the right sort of background, and who were paying the teams very little. That’s the position that Bernie (with Max Mosley) started from. He did a very good job, and he worked very hard at it. Nobody else in F1 had the vision or the energy that Bernie had.

          What was there in 2010 was built by Bernie.

      2. I’ve also worked under the banner of an f1 team, and not too long ago. I saw the damage if wreaked within the team due to his iron grip and selfish demands.
        It was the hard work of other visionaries that brought the tech industry up to such a high standard.
        Bernie has done nothing but belittle it,and anyone who likes it, there last year’s

  2. Love the story of Bernie but am so looking forward to what comes next. Rock on Ross and the technical squad, let’s have some fun with it. Do not mess up GP2 as it is brilliant racing.

  3. You cant deny what he did for F1 over all the years yet at the same time question other things he did to the contrary. I cant think of anyone that has ruled a sport for so long doing things in his own way.

    I am happy for the change and like many would have preferred it a while back. But it is what it is, so lets hope Liberty can make a few changes for the better and also Ross Brawn I hope should make a difference, lets just wait & see!

    1. There are several examples. Primo Nebiolo of the IAFF from 1981–1999, João Havelange (FIFA) from 1974-1998, Pete Rozelle (NFL) 1960–1989 and Baseball’s Bud Selig 1992–2015, among others.

  4. I went from really loving Bernie Ecclestone to really loathing him over a twenty year period. The less I knew about him clearly the more I liked him.

    In the 1990s he was an almost mythical figure, a person who was driving F1 to bigger and better things.

    I watched him inspecting the track with some Italian GP officials at Monza in 2003. He was adored by the Tiffosi that surrounded me at the Ascari chicane. There was a genuine respect for him amongst the crowd.

    However, as my passion for F1 increased and I found out more by reading and research, things started to go awry.

    I could not understand how the leeches of CVC were allowed to drain the sport of so much wealth when the life blood of the sport was struggling – the classic tracks and the long suffering fans. All down to Bernie selling out.

    His total and complete ignorance of new media / social media was telling – he was too old to take this sport forward. F1 – a technical sport – seemed to shun technology! It was so frustrating!

    With the TV rights going behind paywalls across Europe my sport was becoming unavailable to me. Crazy, as I’m exactly the person F1 should be attracting, I’ve got enough money to buy a race ticket every two or three years, some merchandise, but I can’t afford the hundreds of pounds every year that F1 would cost me if I subscribed to Sky.

    I’m happy to pay a reasonable price to watch races – just not a straightjacket contract. Lets hope Liberty break the chains of paywall TV and allow coverage of F1 to be modern and exciting, multi-platform, multiple channels and multiple price points.

    Traditional advertising lead TV is on the way out (just look at how successful Netflix is becoming). Advertising revenues are under downward pressure from the Facebook / Google model.

    I don’t think Bernie ever got that the world was changing fast. He did great things but also held the sport back in so many fundamental ways.

      1. Could he have stopped the CVC deal? They were buying shares that were not Bernie’s to sell, and CVC were the highest bidder. What was Bernie supposed to do?

    1. Any deals that Bernie ever done were always done on the basis of how much money changed hands in his favour, and not on the basis of what was good for F1 or those that followed the sports..

  5. A very fair and balanced write up there.

    Although he did a tremendous amount for the sport I’m glad that he’s gone, It was certainly time. However Liberty go about it, my only real wish is to see exciting races on exciting tracks and feel that a few teams have a chance of winning on any given weekend hopefully that’s not too much to ask.

  6. I agree that he did a great job into the sport.
    F1 between 1980 and mid-90 changed so much wich profesionalism, and he’s part of it. Last 15 years were hummmm, so so.
    The product(F1) has to live, is a balance, between history(circuits, teams) and going forward.
    From the outside I felt he create more uncertainty and probably kept some serious $$, promoters outside of the sport. My 2 cents.

  7. Anyone who can sell their business several times over and STILL retain control wins my respect, whatever anyone thinks of the person they think he is. As you say Joe, he’s passionate about racing – the recent reminiscing with Lauda, Piquet, Herbie & Charlie etc which can be found online shows that.

    I have a sneaky feeling that he’ll still pop up somewhere along the line; there must be so many little pies with his fingers in them. A thought crossed my mind that he might also invest in a team just so he can stay around and cause a little light mischief, but surely not. Surely not…

    Actually there is nothing that would ever surprise me about Bernie.

    Now let’s all hope that the new management team can take the sport we love in the right direction, and start to make the playing field level.

    1. Perhaps he’ll buy Manor, rename it Brabham, get a supply of Ferrari engines re-branded as Alfa Romeo, and poach the Martini sponsorship from Williams….

      1. If it’s the show I think it is, then it was on Sky F1 over the Christmas break. Brundle was chatting Brabham with them all for an hour. It was excellent TV (as is most of the Sky F1 output). Highlights might be on their website.

        As a side, people moan about the cost to watch the Sky coverage, but I find it decent value through my older HD package. I don’t pay for the Sports channels. Those without the older packages that came bundled with the F1 channel can always tactically buy the Now TV passes and watch the complete season for a reasonable cost – certainly less than a weekend away to Silverstone would cost. Saying that, I suspect most who moan about Sky, would still moan even if it was free.

  8. There are a lot of people in F1 who wouldn’t have survived if Bernie hadn’t slipped them a few shekels. Of course it meant you owed him a favour, but he kept them in the sport. I’ll miss the Bernie of the pre 2000 era…

    1. So far brawn is not only saying all the right things to say but a lot of them, the problems for what he intends to implement depends a lot on what others want.

  9. The person Joe is describing here, accepting of course that the description is accurate, is a successful businessman. And guess what, those who now replace him in charge of F1 are also businessmen. Like him, their first priority will be to make money. And they will want to make at least as much or even more. They will not be looking to make less.

    So many fans and commentators have hailed the end of Bernie, and are sanguine about the good times that the new owners will surely bring. Some even believe that it will cost them less to go to the races, and that the TV paywall is about to go the way of the Berlin wall. All will be cheaper, and we will get more for our money. Yeah, sure thing.

    Others believe there will be an equitable distribution of prize money to the teams. Who knows?

    As a lifelong F1 fan, I have to acknowledge that Bernie created for me and others like me a unique and enthralling product. It need not have turned out that way, it could easily have been far less enthralling and successful. But he had made it what it was, and for that I was and am grateful. I care not one jot about his relations with his employees, or how he made his deals, or whether the cut and thrust of dealing were his only passion.

    Yes I didn’t like the advent of Sky and the end of free to air, I hated that the classic European circuits were always under threat. Will the new boys work it any differently? Yeah, sure thing.

    And don’t even start me off on how the FIA has over the decades governed and managed this greatest of spectacles. That aspect of F1 will doubtless carry on as before, of that we can be sure.

  10. Bernie painted his career on a grand tableau, but to me he was a tawdry little hustler. He became obscenely rich, and I agree that was only about keeping score.

    It became about power, coming out on top in a deal, publicly besting the other guy, country, court or circuit or team owner.

    And also opening his mouth and saying the most ludicrous and appalling things ( about women, social media ( such as this) Putin, the sport ) and having it happen or be taken seriously. He became very out of touch but was so powerful few would say ‘The emperor has no clothes.” Well reality has set in, he’s old, naked and out. Good.

    The days he can be proud of, and honoured for (emeritus) were long ago.

  11. Great article Joe, best I’ve read. In my opinion Bernie started to lose his way when Max Mosley ‘left’ the FIA. The two of them together were formidable. Once Max wasn’t on the scene anymore the more dubious regulations changes started to appear.

      1. Indeed.

        I did think though that it read like a carefully-written *preview* for an obituary. Published before the event and signed off by a lawyer…

      2. When that day arrives I am sure you will have a lot more to say, not that I am wishing any ill fortune on BCE

  12. The King is dead. Long live the King !

    Very excited to see what happens next. It cannot be worse than the last few years : no Vision, no Investment, no Long Term thinking and a bleeding sport.

    Surprisingly, in a way, Bernie was a puppet in the hands of CVC and CVC was playing their cards backstage in the shadow. In a way, Bernie found a tougher cookie in CVC than he is himself.

    As a person in F1, I have been waiting for this change since 2009 and the F1 crisis. I can only be hopeful.

    I also sense the Liberty Media days will bring some disappointments to Liberty Media as they might realise soon that what they want to capitalize on and build in the future is not really more profitable than the past recipes of Bernie. What Bernie has built is an incredible cash machine. Creating further value will be hard. Keeping its present (shareholder) value to its current level will be a challenge in the coming years with traditional Media not willing to pay higher TV rights, local F1 promoters almost all exhausted and half of the teams in a bad situation and the youths not really interested in cars anymore.

    1. I don’t believe that for one minute. I think CVC expected the German legal system to get rid of Mr E and thereafter lacked the cojones to do it. Besides, he made them plenty of money, if only for his own amusement.

  13. Thanks for your insight Joe.

    In my opinion, Bernie stayed perhaps 10 or 15 years too long for teh benefit of the sport, but perhaps not for his own benefit.

    He does not appear to be the type who will take to retirement, clearly thriving on the power and making deals and perhaps just the daily grind and routine.

    I hope he has something else to take F1’s place, as i have unfortunately witnessed too many colleagues retire while fit and healthy but without something to replace the work and they have passed within too short a timeframe.

  14. When Frank Giles was ousted as Editor of The Sunday Times, he was made Editor emeritus. At his leaving party he joked that he had asked Rupert Murdoch what that meant. He said that Rupert had replied, “Well, it’s Latin. E means you’re out and meritus means you deserve it.”

  15. Bernie did a tremendous, amazing job for the sport in the 20th century taking it from keen amateurs in muddy paddocks into a global world-class industry/entertainment that not only produced world-class entertainment for the masses but also technology boosts for the global car industry and reduced emissions by seeing engines become massively more efficient. But frankly since it went on pay TV and costs 300 Euros to go see a race, I think the effect was reducing the numbers from watching the flying adverts, in turn reducing sponsor’s value in supporting teams and decline set in, it was a bridge too far in squeezing blood out of a stone and the sport has slowly declined in the 21st century. Result has been empty seats and eyeballs on tvs are down at a time when the number of TVs in dwellings has skyrocketed globally. Bernie failed to stop corporations putting clauses into drivers contracts forcing drivers into being PR minded politically correct robots. That there are no compelling driving personalities any more – this did real damage to F1. The last truly great charismatic global superstar driver was Senna. When he died in 94 the sport died a little too. The last great driver that told truth to power. As a result the golden era was the 80s-90s. His one and only commercial failure was not cracking the USA market, the biggest market in the world. That required a long term strategy (20-30 years), some investment and patience. Some could say it could not be done, but no long term strategy was put in place to try, just rip out $$ out of any promoter dumb enough to waste their money as they popped up in isolated bursts. That cost F1 a lot.

  16. I’m noticing that as I become ever more indifferent to the sport, I’m becoming better able to appreciate the quality of your writing for its own sake. Beautifully nuanced piece, Joe, thank you as always.

        1. Here’s the comment that didn’t make it out of moderation. Honestly no idea why not:

          > I’m noticing that as I become ever more indifferent to the sport, I’m becoming better able to appreciate the quality of your writing for its own sake. Beautifully nuanced piece, Joe, thank you as always.

  17. A great article Joe. Really well balanced it seems to me. I had an initial feeling last night of “hooray thank goodness” but genuinely was waiting to read what you had to say on the subject to help me get some balance back. I am looking forward to change. Not expecting the clock to be wound back, that’s never a good wish to have, but hopefully some of the frustrations I feel particularly around what I see as an inequitable distribution of money in a clearly wealth sport, may be improved. Well at least I hope so.

  18. I saw the Brundle interview with Bernie on TV again, he came over really well on that. I think he knew the writing was on the wall then. They can run their coffee business and focus on that.

  19. Flashes of brilliance wrapped by unequalled obstinance, driven by domination.

    Let’s hope Liberty’s troika are just as brilliant, obstinate and dominating.

  20. Think I’m going to miss him. Plenty of days I disliked him but also plenty of days I liked him or was laughing with his weird sense of humour. Guess I’ll always feel conflicted about the Bernie.

    Let’s hope the change will start a new and maybe better chapter in F1 for us fans. Social media is nice and all… but it’s not without flaws. Seen plenty of things getting worse because of it. So I’m hoping they are going to deal with it in a smart way and not dumbing down their product or embrace the clickbait society.

  21. Hi Joe, another excellent, and fair, summary of Mr. E’s resume within F1.

    Question: I seem to remember reading somewhere that all of the teams were offered equal shares in the F1 business at the time Bernie took over, for $100,000 each, and they all turned it down.

    True ?

    Thanks,

  22. Bound to be silly season for rumours now, what Liberty will change, how Ross Brawn will get on with Mercedes, what Bernie will do next, etc. Not on this site of course as Joe is far too responsible.

    For a bit of fun though how about a sweepstake on crazy stories?

    Here’s mine:

    Bernie to buy Manor and exploit an unknown loophole in the Concorde Agreement to get Liberty to pay them a loyalty bonus.

    Ross Brawn to “suggest” new interpretations of the rules so that Mercedes’ car is ruled illegal.

    Liberty to cut Silverstone’s hosting fees in half. And rescue the German Grand Prix too.

  23. You touch upon your involvement with Formula 1 Magazine. I wasn’t aware of that, but checking the “back catalogue” I see you listed as news editor. I’d love to read more about the rise and demise of that magazine, the role of Bernie and Tom Rubython in it. I thought it was a terrific magazine, a kind we had not seen since Grand Prix International (and not since). I always thought it’s demise was not caused by financial reasons, but because of (Rubython?) ruffling feathers too much with F1 people.

    1. To be honest I don’t have any desire to revive the memories of the magazine, nor indeed the person you mention. He is long gone from F1 now and I am happy with that.

  24. Bernie’s obits will be a lot more interesting than this week’s flurry of comments. But I doubt that we’ll get to see his emotional side even then.

    Those who have worked with BCE comment about his quiet charity — helping hands to former employees (not just the prominent figures who have popped up in F1) or the donation for a church roof in his home town.

    What about the missing years between managing/advising Stuart Lewis-Evans and Jochen Rindt? How far from the sport did he set himself?

    Like Henry Ford (who established a museum of Americana), BCE proclaims to have little interest in history. BCE owns a significant collection of historic racing cars in which cars from his own past predominate. He didn’t just buy them as investments.

    A complicated man.

  25. I think that this is a very fair apparaisal of him. It is amazing how many people in the cesspool of socla media are so quick to be critical. Especially as when confronted they know almost nothing about him.
    He has made mistakes like all leaders. But overall he has done a fine job and ran a team that built a few decent cars too.
    However the transition from his time at the top is also secure and bringing in Ross Brawn is a great move. It would be nice if thennew owners were not American as there is a good chance it will become just another US media vehicle and be diluted down for the lowest common denominator for the sake of ratings. Time will tell.

  26. Joe,

    Thanks for the great article (and blog) – I was wondering, now that Bernie is no longer directly involved in F1, is there still an opportunity for you to contact him?

    I’m sure that it’s rather ‘raw’ for Bernie at the moment, but after a while once things have settled down I wonder what the chances would be of the two of you sitting down together just to ‘reminisce’ – After all, you’ve both spent the majority of your respective lives immersed in F1 and, now that the pressures and conflicting interests of running F1 are removed, it would be a wonderful opportunity for the ‘ringmaster’ (Bernie) and a respected and well informed journalist (You) to talk about some of the events that have shaped the history of F1. A conversation between two well informed men who were both there, one on the ‘inside’ pulling the leavers that operated the puppets, the other on the ‘outside’ looking on with an keen eye for detail.

    There is a lot of ‘loathing’ of Bernie at the moment, but if the conversations could be recorded (like a living history) then they could, one day, help to form part of Bernie’s legacy and in the years to come, help us all to understand, the what and why of events that happened years ago that made F1 into the global phenomenon it is today.

    I suspect that he’s not as bad as most of us think, and that if we could understand more of what was happening behind the scenes over the course of many years then he may be held in higher regard than he is now.

    Mike.

  27. Thanks for the article Joe, a great read. I’ve huge respect for Bernie and what he’s done. The sport would not be where it is today without him being a dictator – I know it can have negative connotations but it’s true. Remember he along with Sid Watkins and others, helped saved tens or drivers lives and feel he doesn’t the credit he deserves. Agree times move on and Liberty are probably right to change things, but it might not be as great as everyone seems to think – be careful what you wish for. If I was BCE I’d buy Manor and have some fun – racing and politically….

  28. Well the guy is a Legend for sure, and it won’t be the same without The Bolt in charge. He did organize a chaotic sport in the 1970’s/80’s and make it a very good sport, and make a lot of people far more wealthy than they could ever have been without him! But that’s just one side of things.
    I have met some like Bernie, and as Joe says, the thing with them isn’t really the money, as once you are in the 10’s or 100’s of millions it is probably hard to spend! What they like is the thrill of the hunt and the kill….setting themselves against others….pitting their wits against other folk….I sort of get that, although it’s not something i’d be much interested in myself, which is probably why i’m not a billionaire, and he is….because another part of it is that people like Bernie are 24/7/365….they don’t stop, and they don’t much like holidays, they like being on the deal until completion, and then it is the next deal etc,etc.
    I’m sure the image though, is not the whole story, and I wish him well as he created something that I loved and followed for decades. having said that, he should have retired some years back and set out a planned takeover by someone else, or some other people.
    Lots to rejoice that CVC are not in charge now? Yes and no and so what? I gather that Liberty borrowed to fund the purchase, and that means making money to repay the lenders. Does that mean a whole New World for the Fans? Maybe. One would hope so. But in the modern world I find it hard to raise personal expectations to great new heights. Hope i’m wrong and they cut the ticket prices, remove the tv paywall, restore the European rounds as priorities, invest in one or two more US races etc,etc. However, for me, the Jury is out at present. Bringing Brawn back in is probably a good move, although again, time is needed to see how that goes.
    And there’s another Elephant in the Living Room. As F1 has been sliding for a fair time now, will Liberty be able to stop that continuing, and reverse the trend? Or will they find that Bernard’s last Great Deal was to sell on a business that he and his Investors had already milked pretty dry, for an incredibly huge sum, and which may find it is on the way to being History itself, to become replaced by Electric, City based sprints and maybe by just 20 people in a room all on Simulators??

  29. I was watching some F1 races from the seventies and early eighties on Youtube over the weekend, and was struck by the relatively primitive track infrastructure and event management. Compared to today with the cars moving off on formation race after race exactly as the clock chimed the hour. I was thinking of how professional things look now, with large credit to Bernie.

  30. Don’t worry folks, Bernie will be in the headlines again in the summer! There is a third court case against him re the sale of F1 shares.

  31. Bernie may have made a lot of money for himself over the years making the kind of deals he did; but lets not ignore the fact that over the last 40 years or so a lot of other people got rich as a consequence of his deal-making.

  32. I for one will miss Bernie. Another commenter mentioned Senna [paraphrasing] as the last real character in F1 who wasn’t afraid to say whatever the hell he felt like saying. How about Mr E himself? Love him or hate him, there’s no denying he’s a unique character. And lots of fun to watch his unco-operative and disarming style with interviewers, I could never stop laughing when an interviewer would ask a multi-paragraph question, expecting an equally verbose answer, and instead get a shrug and three or four words.

    I won’t argue with the general consensus that Bernie has done a great deal for F1 but that maybe some things would have been better had he relinquished control earlier, although I would suggest that perhaps some of his more outlandish comments are more aptly viewed as a master of manipulation exploiting the media to keep F1 in the headlines, than as what he really thinks, Bernie rarely says what he really thinks; he says what he thinks will have the effect he wants.

    I do hope he’s not going to just disappear. Many things are touted as “the DNA of F1”, depending largely upon the era in which the tout started watching. If anything is truly part of the DNA of F1, surely it’s Bernie. I’d love to see him buy a team and just keep doing what he does. Manor seems ripe, or maybe even Force India. Like a partially deaf grandparent who makes naively racist comments at full volume in a hospital ward staffed largely by our Commonwealth friends, the spectacle of F1 would be greatly diminished without his presence.

    Thanks for everything, Bernie.

  33. As usual, an excellent, well written and balanced article, Joe.
    Bernie served F1 well for 20 years, then did a lot of damage – an enlightened dictator who couldn’t forgo power.

  34. This is the long and erudite version of what I was trying to say to all the people bashing Bernie and saying “good riddance.” Any decent study of character could tell Bernie cared deeply about F1, its health and legacy. He was smart to disguise this because he knew if people thought he sentimental / personally invested it would give them a negotiating advantage (particularly when it comes to the “crown jewel” races).

  35. Joe,
    Thank you for the post on Bernie. It’s good to see a fuller history of the man rather than just the recent past. I understand that he came from a family of modest means. His father was a poor fisherman. He left school with minimal qualifications. He taught himself how to wheel and deal very successfully first with motorbikes then with cars, building or turning around several dealerships in the process. He presented a unified front for FOCA to ensure that the teams got paid and paid well. I remember before the decent TV coverage that developed in the late 1970s early 1980s having to wait until mid-week to read the full race reports in Motoring News or Autosport (in contrast to today’s GP+). In North America, you had to wait until Rob Walker’s race reports were published in the monthly Road and Track magazine many weeks after the race, unless you could locate or subscribe to the aforementioned UK publications. TV coverage in North America was pretty spotty back then, with broadcasts often pre-empted by basketball, football, or golf. So we have to thank Bernie for mainstreaming Formula One and enabling global access to it. Bernie’s certainly no saint, but who among us is?

  36. He cleaned cars with my father’s best friend in the dim and distant past. Even then he had to be the best, so Ray used to tell us. Nice piece, Joe.

  37. I worked for Bernie back in 1977 and 78. He was the second best boss I ever worked for. He did what he had to do for the team and the people that worked there. He knew that it was talented people that were first and then the money. He set the standard for the team very high by example and everyone that ever worked their delivered to that example. I always wondered what he would do after he won a world championship, and now we know.
    When I went back to Formula 1 after a spell in North America we met behind the pit complex in Argentina and he knew all about what I had done in the USA and wanted my impressions of the difference between Indy car and F1. The conversation might have gone on for a lot longer, except John Watson arrived on the scene and thought it should be all about what he was doing.
    Yeah, I would buy him a drink.
    Back in 1977 we were in Mosport and the whole team had gone into Toronto to see the first Star Wars movie. I thought it was pretty “naff” and got up half way through and went outside to await the rest of the team, when up popped Bernie, same opinion, so he got a cab to take us back to Oshawa where we were staying. When we got there he asked if I wanted a drink(!) so we went into the bar and lo and behold, there was John Watson, so Bernie made “Watty” buy the drinks, although I seem to remember he, Bernie, only had a coke.
    There’s more to that story, but he was a great boss.

  38. I’ve read dozens of Bernie articles over the last few days and have to say this is best one I’ve read (although to be honest, most of Joe’s articles are!)

    Giving credit where credit was due and highlighting he wasn’t a perfect nor the devil incarnated. I’ve felt so many are biased one way or the other, love or hate him.

    Thanks Joe for another awesome piece of true journalism!

    1. NBC Sports lets you view the entire race from onboard (as well as pit lane and a few other places), but you don’t get to pick whose and the onboard view, for some reason, mutes the commentary with no options to have it on.

  39. “The media never really bothered him”

    If I recall correctly, an article by the Economist got him and his lawyers a bit bothered.

  40. Vale Bernie.Thanks for the memories. And much thanks to you Joe for your erudite and insightful, analysis, as ever.

  41. Joe, please beg him to start writing that autobiography of his as soon as possible. Maybe you can be the ghostwriter? Make sure it includes not only historical events but more importantly, how he goes about life, what guides him, and the advice he has for kids who aspire to be as great as him.

  42. I’d have paid good money to watch Ken Tyrrell trying to strangle BCE. Bernie may have been the top man at making deals but if it came to fisticuffs I’d have backed Chopper every time…

  43. Is his story impressive in terms of his drive, entrepreneurship and incredible deal-making skills over a very long period of time? Absolutely. Has he been a positive influence on Formula One over the past 10 or 15 years? Not so sure. Yes – he was central to building Formula One into the highly professional, money making machine that it is today in the 70s, 80s and 90s. However,
    the chaotic ownership structure which culminated in CVC’s appalling tenure is directly down to him. The ludicrous carve up him and Max managed to pull-off with the commercial rights deal with the FIA, and his subsequent efforts to leverage these rights for personal gain, eventually resulted in CVC getting their grubby hands on the cake. (BTW – the comparisons between CVC and Liberty seen above are fatuous. Carey has properly engaged with the sport’s stakeholders, including listening the fans it seems, and has laid out a sensible plan which will protect and grow the sport in its traditional core markets, while making races more attractive and entertaining for fans actually attending on the ground. I never saw McKenzie and his shadowy goons undertake such a process. Or indeed engaging with the press in a positive way. Precisely because they were focused on short-term return while Liberty are playing a longer game). I would love to hear a senior sponsorship executive who has worked for one of the teams, say Ekrem Sami, speak about their thoughts on Bernie’s strategic decision making over the past decade. And indeed what the ever more colorful image he cultivated during that period did for the sport’s image with the corporate world and the wider public. And how easy or otherwise it made their jobs in trying to find sponsors for the teams. I imagine their thoughts may not be universally positive. No matter what Bernie’s positive influence has been over the period change has been long overdue. Now we have it hopefully the sport can move forward, grow and realise the massive unlocked potential it has.

  44. I don’t miss any of dinosaurs that recently roamed F1 — Williams, Dennis, Briatore, Montezemolo, Jordan, even Mosley — but I may miss Bernie, depending on what Liberty does. Brawn is a great hire, but “Americanization” of F1 scares me — and I’m American!

  45. I’m reminded of Winston Churchill’s statement –

    “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

    Bernie obviously has accomplished something, and stood up to people to defend his own principles, in his life.

    Not knowing the man, I will nod in admiration. Decisions in leadership are harshly scrutinized, without the scrutinizers being privy to the details of those decision. Jealousy…cluelessness…or simply disagreement ? What drives the anger/resentment/animosity for him ?

    Sure…I’d unsnap my holster if I was entering an negotiations with him…but I also understand that, once the deal is done, his word was/is his bond. That says a lot to me.

  46. I saw Bernie’s sock puppet journalist on the news during a story questioning whether the FIA acted impartially in the sale given the amount of money they made out of it. Is this Bernie trying to do the Bernie thing?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s