“I was dismissed today. This is official. I no longer run the company. My position has been taken,” were the words of Formula 1’s outgoing tsar just hours before it was officially announced that Liberty Media had finalised the acquisition of Formula 1.
Bernie Ecclestone has always been a man of deserving admiration. Despite his questionable and sometimes devious behaviour, he has spent over 50 years involved in F1, 39 of which at its summit as CEO. But in sport, much like in life, change is inevitable and salubrious.
F1 has been in need of a shake-up for quite some time. It has become distant from the wider world by failing to embrace social media and exploit it for revenue by engaging new fans – there was a big risk of the sport stagnating if it wasn’t willing to change its ways.
As explained in a previous blog, outgoing majority share holders CVC have been largely criticised for their outwardly passive approach over the last ten years. Liberty, on the other hand, have taken over the helm and look to be taking the new task – as mammoth as it may be – very seriously. Liberty is set to be renamed Formula 1 Group over the next few months, illustrating their intent on becoming F1 and not just being a shareholder or investor.
Carey takes over as CEO, whist Ecclestone has been given the title ‘Chairman Emeritus’, emeritus being derived from the Latin meaning a veteran soldier who has served his time. How fitting.
Elsewhere, Ross Brawn returns to F1 as managing director sporting and Sean Bratches Joins as managing director commercial.
“I’m very pleased that the business has been acquired by Liberty and that it intends to invest in the future of F1. I am sure that Chase will execute his role in a way that will benefit the sport,” Ecclestone said.
It’s uncertain how much power Ecclestone will have short to medium term. It’s expected he will take an advisory role, but it’s difficult to see a place for him – and his methods – in F1’s revised boardroom structure. His new title is likely only to serve as an appreciation to the service he has given to F1 over many decades and ultimately making it into what it is today.
Despite pledging his “tremendous respect” to Ecclestone, Carey told BBC SPORT that F1 “needs to be run differently than for the last four or five years”.
“Bernie is a one-man team. It was not right in today’s world,” he said.
“The decision-making is not as effective as it needs to be. Clearly it has to be improved.”
The recruitment of Brawn as sporting managing director pushes 86-year-old Ecclestone out even further. Brawn is accredited as being the most successful technical director in motor racing’s history, and his influence at board-level during a career spanning four decades has previously proven invaluable any team he has worked for.
Brawn will now step to the other side of the table with a more habitual role than previously thought.
“It’s fantastic to be returning to the world of Formula 1,” Brawn said of his new position. “I’ve enjoyed consulting with Liberty Media these last few months and I’m looking forward to working with Chase, Sean and the rest of the Formula 1 Team to help the evolution of the sport.
“We have an almost unprecedented opportunity to work together with the teams and promoters for a better F1 for them and, most importantly, for the fans.”
Brawn’s input will be key to F1 over the course of his time as sporting MD. All team bosses and drivers respect what he has achieved throughout his career, winning no less than 22 world championships with Benetton, Ferrari, and more recently Mercedes which will play into Liberty’s hands.
In his book, Total Competition: Lessons in Strategy from Formula 1, Brawn calls for a more simplified set of regulations is the way forward for F1 in order to make the sport more accessible and understandable for fans.
Liberty has pledged to make F1 more accessible to teams with modest budgets, whilst Ferrari’s annual historic bonus of £70m is under threat, along with other top teams like Mercedes, Red Bull, Williams and McLaren which receives bonuses for simply competing.
“If you’re Ferrari, you have enormous sponsorship revenue that goes directly to you. That’s going to be impacted more positively by great races. So thinking about balancing the team payments, so they’re a little more balanced and creates more fairness, has to be weighed, in Ferrari’s mind, I would expect, by the fact that creating a great platform helps our sponsorship revenue, too, so there’s give-and-take,” Liberty’s chief executive Greg Maffei told Forbes.
Elsewhere, tracks like Silverstone are very likely to receive help in order to stage a race every year after it emerged that the circuit is contemplating using their ‘get out’ clause for 2019 and terminate a contract that would otherwise expire in 2026.
So what of the man who made all of this possible? Bernie has always been seen an enigmatic figure, not unfamiliar to criminal activity and a litany controversial comments.
But it’s because of him you are reading this blog about Formula 1, and maybe even why you have interest in the sport at all.
Let us not forget, with F1 is only coming into its 68th season – the world could easily live without 22 drivers circulating a circuit somewhere every fortnight no matter what hardcore fans might tell you.
What Bernie has achieved is made all the circulating somehow relevant and worthwhile for the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Red Bull to want a piece – Liberty now has the task of maintaining that relevance and the lure F1 has boasted whist under Bernie’s control.
He took a pastime for playboys and aristocrats and turned it into an international phenomenon that has inspired, captivated and intrigued millions.
We have a lot to thank him for.