Ecclestone: Is he still relevant?

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With FIA president Max Mosley presumably stepping down this month, many of us have found the continuance of Bernie Ecclestone’s profundity somewhat less amusing or relevant of late. Color me reactionary but with the velvet glove leaving; the iron fist seems embarrassingly stark, exposed, coarse, crude and plainly unattractive.

The recent berating of Ecclestone in public by senior board members of CVC Capital Partners has also tarnished the once chrome-like gleam of F1’s commercial rights boss. If you are anything like me, you still don’t discount his power, pull and sway over the sport but there is a nagging feeling in the back of your mind that he’s not long for the world of F1 and could be put out to pasture by the CVC.

Nevertheless, Ecclestone continues to render judgment and commentary on the sport that has made his ex-wife a very rich woman. Not a single discussion of cost-cutting goes by without Ecclestone debasing the manufacturers for their lavish spending and extravagant lifestyles. Never mind then that Ecclestone himself is not living in squalor or flying coach. Nor is his friend and life-long business partner Max Mosley.

Ecclestone imparted his wisdom on Auto Moto und Sport this week regarding F1 and many topics that have befallen the sport over the last few years. have done a dandy job of fashioning a full review of the interview replete with insightful commentary and revelation but I found the article interesting for a few additional reasons that I thought I would share.

Hockenheim and Canada: Hockenheim was somewhere Ecclestone wanted to be and the financial arrangement was such that allowed for the risk to be taken by Ecclestone. Presumably, as Mark Hallam points out in podcast #127, I am sure the profits go back to the risk taker as well leaving the German track very little in revenue apart from the sale of funnel cakes and thick, dark beer with chunks of stuff floating in it.

“We wanted to return to Hockenheim, they wanted a race. In the end, we have found a compromise. The biggest hurdle was the finances”.

Canada is another beast altogether. As Entropy, our F1B regular from the North Pole explained via the French language press in Canada; it’s about taxes and the reluctance of Ecclestone to pay any on the money he makes from the grand prix. Can’t imagine the lack of desire to pay taxes on Ecclestone’s part. Perhaps Slavica Ecclestone attorney is interested in his cash haul from Canada as well.

“There are still issues with Canada. They want the race, we want it. The problem is the laws in the country”.

Those pesky laws! One can presume he means tax laws. Yes, Bernie, the taxes are to support the collective and this is the socialist model you were admiring wasn’t it? After all you had lots to say about the failure of free-market economies and Western Civilization. Namely that Hitler would be better suited for running a government and F1.

Testing: Perhaps you are a fan of the in-season testing ban this year but I can say without a doubt that I am not. It is dangerous to be honest and yet more of Mosley’s pragmatism run amok. But what do we do about it? I would like to see testing back in F1 but Ecclestone proposes a MotoGP-style testing program that would see teams stay and extra day after the race and test at the track (I am sure Monaco residents would love that idea). This is better than no testing but perhaps a Thursday practice session for next year makes more sense as we are not refueling cars now and many of the races, presumably, will not be won through pit stop strategies rather on track performance. Testing prior to the grand prix will allow teams to get a grip on the track and the things needed to ensure their cars will be competitive during the race and fielded with the perfect strategy to win.

“I am sure that we test in the future on Monday after the race. The cars are there, the people too. This keeps costs within limits. So we can give young drivers a chance. The failure of the current system is that it is virtually impossible to test young drivers. This protects the established drivers, but it is absolutely wrong. A test on Monday after the race would be ideal. One might compare the lap times with each other directly”.

Manufacturers leaving F1: It has been assumed that the recently signed Concorde Agreement that sees the teams remaining in F1 until 2012 has some verbiage about leaving early with a certain amount of teeth behind the event should another team choose to leave like Honda or BMW (one presumes this is the reason BMW didn’t sign the Concorde Agreement that left them out of the 2010 grid even after they sold the team to Qadbak..the kings of cloak-n-dagger acquisitions). Ecclestone seems to corroborate that notion by suggesting that none the teams will leave and when asked what insurance he has that they will not, Ecclestone says;

“I see no other producer to get out. You have made a warranty until 2012, and I’m sure they will respect this promise. Of the small teams, it could perhaps not make two”.

What assurance or recourse do you have should they leave?

“We could sue them”.

Scandals: Ecclestone has always maintained that all publicity is good publicity; or so he has implied. The Renault scandal is no different. When asked if F1’s spate of scandals have damaged the sport, Ecclestone says no. The translator is not to good on this question so I will paraphrase. Effectively Ecclestone suggests that while there have been some comments made or grousing about the scandals, he doesn’t think this represents the opinions of 100’s of millions of viewers of F1.

Gold Medals: You may recall that Ecclestone suggested, and nearly passed, an Olympic-style gold medal system for race wins. He who has the most gold, wins. This would have placed Jenson Button winning shortly after mid-season. When asked if Button is a legitimate champion as he has just defended himself in to the title; Ecclestone said,

“You know that I do not like the current points system”.

Astutely his gold medal system was pointed out to him as not being a good system based on this year due to Buttons early season dominance to which Ecclestone said,

“In my system, he would not have won the first six races”.

Flavio Briatore: Perhaps the most humorous comment was regarding his friend and defrocked leader of Renault F1. Ecclestone didn’t like the “lifetime” ban for Briatore. He thought that was too harsh. Instead he suggested that a 50 year ban would have been better—which is as good as a lifetime ban for a man Briatore’s age. With friends like that, who needs enemas?

Yes it is always an entertaining moment when Ecclestone decides to open his pie hole. The oddity of his words are sounding more and more out of touch as each month goes by. Is it hard to imagine a man of his age and position still becoming senile? Most men his age are playing checkers, sipping coffee, ogling elderly women at nursing homes and wearing Depends adult diapers. Ecclestone is attempting to remain in control of a system that sadly or gladly has passed him by. Yes, he still knows where all the bodies are buried and the right buttons to press to launch the Mosley Missile of defense through offense but without Mosely at the helm of the “sworn protector” of F1—it remains to be seen just how relevant Ecclestone will be in 24 months.

With statements like this one regarding teams pay out from the CVC,

“Teams will spend less money, we must pay them less, which relieves the organizers and the cheaper tickets to sell to the fans”.

One might suggest that Ecclestone’s tenure will end with the completion of the 2012 Concorde Agreement. Perhaps Max Mosley will have found another organization for he and Bernie to take over—I’m thinking a French nursing home with German prison-themed elderly women and the dastardly influence of a manufacturer of adult undergarments like Depends that they can lobby against and win big with. Not to mention the sport of choice? Checkers…with television rights of course and a governing body to insure there are 64 squares on each board and that the board has a system that takes checker movement energy and converts it to usable energy for their surveillance camera system located in the women’s lavatory.


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