Bernie…

Bernie Ecclestone is 87 year of age. Good for him. It’s a good score. It is pretty remarkable given his lifestyle for the last 50 years. However, in the end, he sold everything, pocketed the money on offer and was given the role of chairman emeritus of the Formula One group. He said at the the time that he did not know what that meant. In academia there is a honorific element to the description, but in business it means “Shut up, and go away”.

But Ecclestone doesn’t want to hear that. He is used to telling people how it is. He has grown accustomed to people kowtowing to him. Obviously, it is hard for him to accept change, but the shareholdings tell the story and while Bernie can still jerk a few strings with puppets (and Muppets) in the media world, his reign is over. Liberty gave him the option of a graceful exit but, being Bernie the racer that he is, an elegant way out was never going to be easy.

What Bernie says is probably true: one needs to be a dictator to make F1 function properly, but he seems not to have understood that beneath the smiles, the Liberty men in F1 are quite happy to tell Ferrari where to go, if push comes to shove. They showed him the door and they will do the same if Ferrari gets uppity. It might be cruel to make the point, but it is there nonetheless: Ecclestone’s day is done and it would be best for him to go quietly, rather than sounding like someone who craves to be back in the spotlight. The spotlight has moved on and trying to remain a star is all rather too Sunset Boulevard…

Look in your wallet Mr E the answer is there.

88 thoughts on “Bernie…

  1. I can’t help but think that, as with many American acquisitions, Liberty will brashly, arrogantly and ignorantly destroy F1.

    Pundits and journalists will say that “change is good” and that everything new is a positive “development”.

    Then something crucial like Ferrari, Red Bull or Renault will leave and the smelly stuff will hit the fan. Liberty will act brazenly and blame everyone else while their weakened sport is ignored by the youth, hidden behind a tall paywall.

    1. If you characterize Liberty as brash, arrogant or ignorant, I would wager that you haven’t been paying attention, or perhaps you’re just a Bernieboy stirring the pot?

      They opportunistically (using low rates, strong dollar and equity investors) took control of an business that CVC failed to take public or otherwise sell. They didn’t steal it under suspicious circumstances and they’re not looking to flip it for a quick buck. Liberty had been studying the business for years before making an approach.

      They have hired sharp managers and invested in talent to better-manage and monetize the series over a long-term horizon. They are cognizant of the stale viewership and team dominance issues and are working to engage new & existing fans globally through investments in social media, direct-to-consumer content, gaming, etc. This approach may indeed be the opposite of what Bernie did, but it is far from brash, arrogant or ignorant.

      1. That’s what they’ve told you they’re doing whilst history has told us that a successful racing series requires a very short and elderly dictator.

        Time will tell.

        1. Good job you were not around in the 1930s. Apparently not a problem; you appear to have a very short memory.

          What a half-witted and nonsensical comment. A media savvy company such as Liberty is exactly what F1 needs. They have already proven their ability to progress their strategy both cautiously and incrementally.

          I’m as big a Lewis Hamilton fan as they come, but his last 3 titles could be characterised as triumph overcoming adversity.

          How and why did F1 need the shameless profiteering which only benefited a small proportion of the grid, in the last years of Ecclestone’s regime?

          “Go along, Jerry, go along…” [/Seinfeld]

          Good luck taking your caustic comments to Berlin!

          1. I’m not going to argue with you about Bernie & co, nobody stands to gain anything from that.

            However, calling out those with a different opinion as being “half-witted and nonsensical” is just being closed minded. It’s not a healthy mindset.

      2. At the same time, one of the policies that Bernie was criticised for was making deals with pay per view services instead of free to air channels.

        In some markets, there are reports that Liberty Media are looking to switch even more markets to pay per view than Bernie wanted to – there has been talk that Liberty will not be renewing the current free to air options in Germany when their contracts expire, and only pay per view would be available in that sector.

    2. I agree 100%. If Liberty is dumb enough to create a condition for Ferrari to leave, then Formula 1 is dead. Ross Brawn and team has a couple of years to figure out how to make the sport exciting again, otherwise all bets are off.

            1. They were in the same league at their peak but, with the exception of Vanwall (who withdrew for very specific reasons), had all fallen a long way by the time of their demise. So in my opinion they are not comparable with Ferrari leaving.

            2. What a valid point Joe. Gabe and PB illustrate the lack of historical knowledge of the sport of some fans who only, perhaps, recognise Ferrari’s role during the Schumacher era onwards. It certainly wasn’t always like that – during the 60’s Lotus and BRM were equally dominant with Jim Clark, Graham Hill, among others, at the wheel – and just as glamorous, particularly Lotus. Bearing in mind Ferrari’s current lofty attitude towards the fans and media I would say good riddance, such arrogance should not be allowed by Liberty.

              1. well , although I am a great fan of Lotus (cars, Elise, Elite, 111 etc and of course 7, Europa, Elan..) and of Brabham’s designer at the time (Murray), although I was astonished by the appearance of the 6 wheeled Tyrrel etc.. I do not think that even at the peak of their success, their names were as popular and known to the large public as Ferrari’s. But maybe I’m wrong. Jaguars – especially the E – and 007’s Astons were glamourous .. Maybe also the Elan but in the way a Mini was glamourous, and not even as an Alfa Duetto was

        1. This is a totally valid point but none of these teams went to have their cake elsewhere. What if Ferrari were to make something else instead of vanish into the abyss?

          1. If Ferrari leave F1 then Sergio’s time as boss is over.

            the Italian media will crucify him, the share price will tumble, and the shareholders will (most likely) sack him. and everybody knows this.

    3. Renault and Red Bull would leave at some point anyway. So will Merc. So will Honda. When the spend is no longer justifiable in terms of the marketing or R&D the will up sticks.

      Manufacturers aren’t in F1 for the love of F1. This is Honda’s 4th time in F1, Renault’s 3rd as a constructor. Etc.

    4. When you say “hidden behind a tall paywall” I assume you are referring to the deal with Sky TV UK that Bernie entered into in order to line his and CVC’s pockets and which Liberty have publicly criticized but which they admit they are stuck with until 2023.

  2. Bernie is never going away as long as the press keep reporting his increasingly bitter and out-of touch comments. When I see such stories I just ignore or hit ‘delete’.

    When I sit in a $500 grandstand seat watching a boring race I think of Bernie. But am seriously considering doing neither

      1. @BenK – and why is that? Ferrari’s revenue streams are not directly tied to F1, whereas those of Liberty Media are…

        1. Yes I have, Joe. Last one I attended was HK. It was fun. More fun than any F1 race I attended this year. A far younger crowd too. Most F1 fans appear to be… well… without being too unkind… somewhat ‘past their best’. Apart from some of the team members, I can’t honestly recall seeing anyone over 35 in HK this year.

          It’s the future. One you’ll eventually be dragged kicking and screaming into embracing. Ot maybe not?

          1. I don’t understand why many fans see F1 or F-E as a binary choice. Although I currently have zero interest in the later, I understand the raison d’etre of F-E, as well as the attraction for (some) fans and the car manufacturers.

            That the fan demographics are different for each is neither here nor there. I think that they can and will happily co-exist, independently of any fan cross-over.

      1. …only people who never took the trouble to watch it.

        I’m confused as to what kind of Ferrari fan is happy to accept some form of sub-standard racing formula?

        They’ve ventured into other categories, across several continents, in the past. I don’t hear about or read about those successes or failures. I’m not sure they have been even professionally written about!

        Maybe Ferrari leaving F1 could be a good thing. The vast trolling hordes of rabid Vettel fans will hopefully follow, then we can resume respectable racing behaviours…

        1. It´s not about “sub-standard racing formula”, but about everyone being on the same start line… When Ferrari´s (and Mercedes´, Red Bull´s, Renault´s McLaren´s, and what the hell even Williams´s) is a few millions (in several of the teams above, lots of them) further down the road you can hardly call it fair.

        2. Mr Mojo, I’m happy to wager you one years subscription (at whatever price it is by then) to GP+ that by the start of the 2021/2 FE season Ferrari are not only in FE, but their time in F1 is but a memory…

          And I’m not a Ferrari fan. I watch F1 purely for the joy of seeing them implode. I hope to watch them do the same in FE. But I don’t delude myself that they aren’t the team which has come to define ‘motor racing’ in the modern era.

    1. “Nobody in his right mind will contemplate investing in a FERRARI less F1.”

      Have you any evidence or proof to back up this assertion? Because I don’t think Liberty are prepared to listen unless people like you do…..

      Ferrari have had it their own way for far too long. Like Bernie, they risk being yesterdays men or being left behind. Apart from the fact I don’t think they are going anywhere else anyway, precisely because there is nowhere else for them to go.

      Times up.

  3. Ferrari are an amazing asset to motor racing and the F1 brand however they are not the only team in town. I get the sense that Ferrari are over playing there hand and that if it came to it Liberty would let them quit. I’m also pretty sure that if this was to happen under Marchionne he would never be welcomed in Italy ever again.

    1. Thinking about Don Marchionne, i get the feeling he took the soul out of Ferrari. And made it Just the next corporate thing, share holder value first.
      There is something missing in the way the race team is managed. You might call it Passion.

      1. And yet you wouldn’t say the same about Williams would you? There’s far too much mystique around Ferrari, which they have capitalised on to the detriment of the F1 in general I think. Who would buy the road cars without the enhanced image of F1? Better to buy a McLaren. The ‘soul’ started to disappear when Enzo died.

  4. As if the Agnelli’s couldn’t arrange a billion dollar bridge loan to support a nascent series with Ferrari in it. Marchionne has the money to make good his threat.

    1. Well it worked well when Tony George took his ball and made his own league. Only cost his family business north of 200 million in losses and lost revenue.

    2. Maybe he has the money. Maybe they could create a rival series, but nobody will watch it. I keep hearing that Ferrari will jump over to WEC or to Formula E, but in reality nobody aside from a few hardcore motorsport fans watch those.

      If you walked down the street and asked 100 people who just won the WEC world championship, I doubt you would find a single person who knows? But I’ll bet at least a third of those same people would know that Lewis Hamilton just won the F1 title. F1 has the mainstream media coverage, the TV coverage and on the back of that a massive reach. That’s the difference, and why F1 has such value.

  5. Not everything Bernie did was perfect, but overall he did a damn good job in making F1 into the worldwide sport it is today. I miss seeing Bernie put out, and in some cases, start fires to help keep the show on the road.

  6. Bernie is a racer at heart, same cannot be said of Sean and Chase! Mr. Joe, how much time do you personally allow Liberty before judging their impact on the sport?

  7. Read Ferrari’s IPO filing and you will quickly understand they readily understand that Ferrari is just, if not more, dependent on F1 than F1 is dependent on Ferrari

  8. Does Liberty fear Ecclestone in any way? The reason I ask is, given his frequent, jaded and increasingly tiresome attempts to destabilize, I’m surprised he hasn’t been removed from the emeritus position and banned from the paddock for working against its interests. That would be show of strength and, perhaps, a warning to others. It would also be a very sad end to his career that might leave a tear in the eye of even his hardest detractors.

    On another topic, I note today that the manufacturer-dependent DTM has announced an expanded calendar for 2018 that nonetheless excludes Russia. I was wondering whether this solely reflects that series or whether there are any underlying political currents that might reach the increasingly US-controlled F1.

  9. There is no denying that Mr.E was essential in bringing F1 to the highest levels of global attention. But then he also has outlived his usefulness by turning it all into strictly business affair at the expense of the sport side…and that is the legacy that everybody needs to deal with in their own way, whether they see it as positive or negative. But at one of the races this year, I have noticed him (on TV of course) in the room where the first three finishers go before getting onto the podium…and I was astonished to realize that he was just an old man standing in the corner there, with nobody paying much attention to his presence.

  10. The old Ringmaster is out of the loop. So far out, he’s not in the tent or the same field. There was an important meeting a few weeks back between LM, the teams and I believe the FIA. Not a word of what was discussed has leaked out. In the past the press would have known everything within hours, all leaked by the Little Man. That’s how much F1 has changed since LM took over.

    The Little bully lost all of his power overnight. He must have been seething for the last 9 months. Ross Brawn and the others he’s pissed off over the years will have been laughing since the door slammed on Bernie’s arse.

  11. I object to the ‘Bernie the racer’ sobriquet; it is a knee jerk phrase and beneath you Joe. He isn’t and never has been .

      1. He has too often placed business before racing spectacle ( witness circuit choices) ; but differing opinions won’t stop me renewing subscription to the world’s most informative and original F1 site! Thanks for the year Joe and Merry Christmas to you and yours.

    1. Actually, if you read his life story, he once was a racer, so Joe is correct. He tried it out, but he wasn’t up to it.

  12. Joe, I agree entirely with your sentiment that Bernie should have exited stage left gracefully. And I think Mr Massa should have done the same. Still, he has already been given a Blue Blazer (and a pair of boxing gloves?)

  13. Joe,

    Bernie often manipulated the driver market by placing drivers in teams and setting up meetings. Do we know if Liberty will continue to have a hand in the driver market?

  14. Joe, I respectfully recall that your language is reminiscent of when Caterham previously Lotus came on the scene and you were party to their plans on a consultancy basis. Once again you were romantiscised by the vision and potential and fairly bullish about their prospects.

    The two operations are disctinct, of course, but they will have to perform exceedingly well if they are to recreate the magic that Bernie harnessed in order to develop F1 so magnificently. Yes, his attitude waned over the years and you called it consistently, but any move after Bernie will be tough. Having Ross Brawn onside is particularly astute. I do miss the mind games of the old man though; a figure who absolutely did not give two hoots about his public perception was a tonic in this modern day media savvy world.

    1. We’ll see. And I’m afraid your understanding of the Caterham situation is flawed, in pretty much every way. There was potential but it was wasted. I was not a consultant to the F1 team, I was a non executive director of the car company. Very different things. And if you do not respect my ability to have suitable fire walls, why are you reading my stuff and making ill-informed comments?

  15. I find it quite ironic that so many on here are moaning about Liberty when the alternative was CVC+Bernie sucking the damn thing dry!

    Fans should know there are many many amateurs involved the sport that have done it no good in the long run, Bernie being one of them (which does not mean he has not also done something amazing to begin with!) and they are all not really enjoying the change brought by professionals from the entertainment world.

    It will take time, they only started 9 months ago really and the sport cannot be changed fundamentally before 2021, but fans should be thankful there are owners who understand they must provide an environment where fans can enjoy going to and watching F1 races, when was that ever the case before?

  16. Then FT did lunch with Bernie a few weeks back. There were some interesting snippets like asking Putin to let him negotiate the Russian GP contract and other ‘trouble making’ moves. I guess one cannot teach an old dog new tricks.

  17. Hi Joe.. why did you bring Ferrari in a Bernie subject? If it weren’t you I would say it is clickbait…

    Thank you for another year with your interesting and well informed blog, I wish you all the best for you and your dears in 2018!

  18. And what I take away from that interview is the mention of the support Ferrari got all along from Bernie and Max. I wonder what Marchionne would say about that except that it was with another CEO at that time.

  19. I realized just how finished he is at the FIA awards this year where the ”Bernies” were not awarded for the first time.
    Shame I think as they had value.

  20. I don’t get why people think losing Ferrari would be the end of F1. If they quit today and didn’t turn up next season Liberty would instantly be a whole chunk of cash better off, that could be spread around the other teams. You might lose the Italian GP, but would the lack of a Ferrari team, or an Italian race affect the other races, or the sport in general that significantly? I get that they are perceived as a national team to Italians, but to everyone else, I’m not sure why they would care. They provide nothing more than the other 9 teams. 2 cars, 2 drivers, they don’t even seem to provide a PR department that the rest of the teams do!

  21. A (fictional) ex-pimp once said (around the same time that peep shows were first introduced to New York) that a man needs to know when it’s time to get off the stage, especially when he’s slowly being pushed out of his own game.

  22. I don’t understand the link between being a racer and inellegance (“Bernie being the racer that he is, an elegant way out was never going to be easy”)
    I’m privelidged to have many colleagues and friends who earned the right to be called racers, competitors and competition hungry animals all. Excuse them rudeness or inellegance based on that? No need as they are not. And if they were? It would be no excuse.

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