In 1930, a fisherman and his wife from St Peter, South Elmham, had a child who would become many things…including one of the wealthiest men in the United Kingdom. As a young man, Bernie Eccelstone would become a seller of motorcycle parts after the war and eventually he waded into the sale of cars while plying his skills as a racer in the early 50’s.
While success on track was moderate, Ecclestone reckoned managing drivers might be an opportunity and while he tried a few more races himself, it was eventual team ownership that ensconced Ecclestone in the world of Formula 1.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, Ecclestone was managing names like Jochen Rindt and was the Goodyear motorsport distributor for Europe through his company, International Racing Tyre Service. His companies and investments were far and wide and all self-built through tenacious work and a shrewd eye for making a profit at whatever he did.
Often times there are role models for how we approach our businesses or life’s challenges and perhaps one could argue that the shrewd and ruthless nature that Ecclestone had become known for was possibly admired and replicated from watching, working and dealing with Colin Chapman of Lotus. Ecclestone even imagined a Lotus super team and attempted to lure Jackie Stewart to Lotus to team up with Jochen Rindt.
Ecclestone acquired Brabham and infused himself in the world of motorsport. Much has been written about the FISA/FOCA war, his relationship with Max Mosley (FIA president), and his wealth from F1 and perhaps the loathing and bemoaning from fans and press is justified but I’ve never been one to heap insult or take up the sport of bashing Bernie. To me, he is and will always be Formula 1 regardless of his stepping down from the post he’s held for over 40 years.
Like any head of an organization, when things go well, you’re accused of being greedy and when things go poorly, you’re accused of being a royal cock-up but I’ve never hopped on that bandwagon. I’ve always appreciated what Ecclestone has done for the sport and remained realistic to his faults.
What anyone born after the 1985 may not be aware of is just why Ecclestone is so core to the DNA of F1. The simplest way to describe his investment and risk in F1 is to recognize that he, no one else, was chosen to lead the teams through the control of the sport from a very bombastic regulatory body led by a very bombastic Frenchman name jean-Marie Balestre. When teams were asked to underwrite the races as circuit owners weren’t willing, it was Ecclestone who fronted the cash to make it happen. When F1 faced a daunting global economic crisis, he moved F1 to emerging markets ripe with cash in order to the keep the series insulated from economic austerity.
Ecclestone has worked with the biggest names in Motorsport including Chapman, Enzo Ferrari, Brabham, and just about every driver from the 1960’s onward. He’s negotiated some of the biggest deals in the sport’s history and managed the career of numerous drivers directly or from afar. Ecclestone is shrewd but you’d be hard pressed to find a team boss that also sees the brilliant side of his acumen. He is the least common denominator of the last 40 years of F1 and there isn’t a story about F1 that his name isn’t attached to in some shape or form.
Ecclestone’s departure from F1 was inevitable and the timing is, as they say, everything. Regardless of its inevitability, this is a singular moment in one of the world’s biggest sports and in many ways, Ecclestone created that. Liberty will now attempt to grow the sport in a new era with new business models intended to balance their investment and grow its topline performance as well as discover new revenue streams from its intellectual property and broadcast rights.
Many suggest that F1 needs saving but its balance sheet and the returns CVC Capital made as majority owners seems to suggest a different view. Some say it shouldn’t take $400m to race in F1 but the “world-relevant” engine is the majority owner of that problem as manifest by the ever-escalating technology costs and focus. Ecclestone knew this. He knew the sport had lost its DNA and balance but with the F1 Strategy Group, a democracy was formed (Ecclestone’s own doing) and it was going to be difficult to affect any change away from vested interests of the top teams and a socially responsible FIA.
It’s a nervous time but an exciting time to see what Liberty have in store for their new company. I am eager to see what Liberty Media does and how they see the sport of F1 for the next 20 years. There will be negative stories and positive stories about Ecclestone and for reasons known to those authors, tweeters and posters. I’ve not shared their Ecclestone experiences so my recollection of him will remain positive and I will take the high road, it seems to be the road less traveled judging by the reactions on social media.
I am saddened, however, by the vacuum left by such and indispensable man as Ecclestone. As is befitting modern day journalism penchants, there will be plenty of con pieces for every pro article. They will be written for one desire, achieving clicks and ad dollars—publish or perish. The reality is, Ecclestone is no angel but he is one of the most successful men in the UK and the author of Formula 1 from men-in-garages to a global sport worth billions. He’s made millionaires out of a lot of people associated with F1 and beyond his business acumen lies the heart of a racer.
I will look back on his tenure as the F1 chief as an iconic era that took the sport to heights no team boss could ever have imagined back in 1968. I’ve never known F1 without Bernie Ecclestone and I am intrigued to see just what will become of the sport I have loved, much of it due to Ecclestone’s hand, since I was a boy sitting with my father, holding a Corgi Lotus 72 and watching Emo and Mario race.
I’ve never met Mr. Ecclestone but I owe him a great deal of gratitude for creating such a large part of my life. Here is wishing Liberty Media all the success in providing another large part of my life with their efforts in F1 moving forward.