FOM boss Bernie Ecclestone has been making the news lately with a few interviews at F1.com and now the Guardian. His approach to F1 management is explored in both articles and while the F1.com story is a tad more gracious than the Guardianâ€™s tabloid-style, complimentary back-stab, it still prompts good discussion as to who Mr. Ecclestone is and what motivates a man to continue his work even at the soon-to-be ripe age of 80.
Iâ€™ve often been accused of being an Ecclestone sycophant and quite honestly, I admit that I like Mr. E. I certainly donâ€™t always agree with him but I am sure he rarely agrees with me and that makes us even. Ecclestone represents the brain of F1 and it would be no easy task to separate my love of the sport while gnawing at the brain that steers it. Ecclestone, as the head of F1, is too easy a target for the presses derision and it takes very little to blame a guy who admired Hitler and Saddam Hussein for their ability toâ€ get things doneâ€. Without context, the comments are a terse and insensitive as they sound but Eccelstone rarely says anything without it being controversial and often leaves context at the door when making such statements.
There are several takeaways from these two articles and one of them, for me, is Ecclestoneâ€™s issue with the Olympics. For the past few years heâ€™s been vocal about the waste of money a country engages in when hosting the Olympics and most notably the British government. He insinuates that F1 is a better investment than the Olympics because itâ€™s a long-term revenue generator and cost less to build the infrastructure. He has always likened F1 to the Olympics and feels that governments should be backing F1 ventures and not the bombastic expense and ego-driven bravado that comes with playing host to the Olympics.
That model of government backing has worked for F1 in AsiaPac and itâ€™s no mystery that the F1 show has moved east for that reason. Eccelstone maintains that F1 is a global sport and it should be just thatâ€”global and in the east. The counter argument is that the East has no history for F1 racing in which to pad the investment and garner the excitement. Thatâ€™s a true and salient point but F1 doesnâ€™t race for history or passion, it races for profit and entertainment via TV contracts. Ecclestoneâ€™s comment to the Guardian says it all; â€œI do it because I enjoy it. And yesterday is gone. I don’t care what happened yesterday.”
The dictatorial nature of his reign is something he has always maintained as the only way to govern. He means that sincerely, I believe, and often equates it to governments as well as businessâ€”hence the Hitler and Hussein commentsâ€”and often says that his friend and former FIA president Max Mosley would have been a good Prime Minister for that very reason. They both lead best in dictatorial roles and they both get things done. Is it controversial to mention Hitler while admiring Mosley or himself as equally effective people that get jobs done? Absolutely but then Ecclestone knows the value of bad press.
To Ecclestone, no circuit is sacred. No track is beyond the chopping block to make way for governments who are willing to invest in the F1 program. Spa Francorchamps, Monza, Silverstone, Monaco, Canada, United States, Nurburgring or Turkey. None of them have any sway over the economics of the system and while fans heap vitriol on Ecclestone for even thinking of removing some of F1â€™s most storied circuits, he says it takes â€œcourageâ€ to move to new venues and find new revenue sources to support the system. Itâ€™s not draconian, itâ€™s just good business in his mind and from a pure business perspective, heâ€™s right. From a passionate fanâ€™s perspective heâ€™s wrong, Spa and other famous circuits are irreplaceable and represent to soul of F1. The battle rages on.
Contradictory is Ecclestoneâ€™s statement about his position in life and how he views the quality of life he currently enjoys. There is no trophy or championship awarded to him for doing his job. The only measuring stick of accomplishment is the money CVC/FOM makes at the end of the year and while money doesnâ€™t hold anything for him, per his comments at F1.com, he seems to suggest it is the only real reason for waking each morning and continuing his job:
“No, it’s not. I don’t get any individual pleasure because we don’t win races or titles in this job. I’m like most business people. You look back at the end of the year and you see what you’ve achieved by working out how much money the company has made. That’s it.”
Ultimately you may or may not agree with Ecclestone on many things but measuring his personal value is not as easy as running a hack piece in a paper or denouncing his love of profit or making fun of his failed marriage and estranged relationship with his children. The nuances of the series and sport are way too big to marginalize the complexities that make this man a definitive voice in the world of sport. Heâ€™s unique, odd, iron-fisted, shrewd, calculative, reactionary and controversial. Heâ€™s also made F1 what it is and will have a large hand in fashioning its future even at the future-defying age of 80.
I tend to avoid the bravery of being out of range when discussing Ecclestone because I understand the enormous magnitude of the task before him and at 80-years-old, we should all be so lucky as to have a mission and goal that keeps us thriving and in healthy spirits as we work toward building a better beast. He is no oneâ€™s clown and even with age has remained relatively in-touch with his surroundings. Has he embraced Twitter? No, but then which of us have billion-dollar enterprises because we opened a Twitter account? Practical, pragmatic and parochial is Ecclestone. I donâ€™t always agree but I do respect and that is earned and not given away.