Ecclestone must now tackle F1 problems and his legacy
BERLIN — Bernie Ecclestone has escaped a possible prison term but faces another big fight as turns his full attention back to Formula One racing.
Ecclestone, 83, has turned the sport into multi-billion dollar operation over the past decades and insists that he is still the right man at the commercial rights helm of F1.
Ecclestone is set to regain his seat on the board of the CVC company which runs F1. He rested the position during the Munich trial in which he was charged to have bribed a banker in connection with the sale of the F1 rights.
The Briton has agreed to pay $100 million to end the trial, and the case is to be closed for good after he has come up with the sum over the next days. After that, he is expected to return to the CVC board.
Ecclestone is wealthy enough that the payment won’t ruin him, but he must now fight for his F1 legacy after being distracted for years over the legal affair in Germany. “It’s been three and a half years of aggravation, travelling, meeting lawyers, and God knows what else, so it is good it is out of the way,” Ecclestone told the PA news agency on Tuesday. “This trial has been going on for two days a week and it was going to go on until October. When you’re trying to run businesses it’s not easy trying to resolve things when you’re dealing with lawyers.”
“This now allows me to do what I do best, which is running F1.”
“Another three months out would have been bad. I’ve been working weekends to catch up with what I’ve been missing during the week.”
The Guardian said on Wednesday that Tuesday’s agreement means that “Ecclestone is able to continue unchallenged at the helm of the multi-billion-pound business, which he is credited with building up over the past four decades. Ecclestone is once again free to take control, with no sign of the veteran sports magnate voluntarily giving up any of his considerable power.”
F1 has been confronted with dwindling race and television attendance, as well as a fierce debate on the quiet turbo engines and constant rule changes. The sport also needs more engagement in social media forums to win over younger fans, and the expansion to Russia (October) and Azerbaijan (2016) has not gone down well everywhere either.
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, in a letter to Ecclestone and CVC boss Donald McKenzie in June, has called for all stakeholders to discuss the future of the sport. “Formula One has been built over the years into a unique marketing and sporting platform and it must now consolidate its ability to attract global sponsors, engage with fans and make racing more exciting,” Ferrari spokesman Renato Bisignani told Autosport magazine at the time.
Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the board of Daimler who run the Mercedes team, called on Ecclestone to share his power.
“In which company must the boss do everything?” Zetsche asked in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung last month, calling for instance for a professional to be in charge of social media marketing. Zetsche added that “we need changes and developments in this respect, regardless of the leadership.”
However, everyone agrees that Ecclestone is still badly needed. “If Bernie stops, it would have been a disaster for Formula One. He has built everything up over three decades and is the only one who knows everything,” Mercedes team top official Niki Lauda said.
World champion Sebastian Vettel said that it was Ecclestone who brought F1 to its current level, and his Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said that “Formula One needs him more than ever in these difficult times.”
But the Guardian also said that “CVC considers its options as to whether he is still the best man do so,” and Ecclestone himself admitted that he won’t be going on forever in the wake of the court case.
“I’ve not really noticed, but it’s probably taken its toll a little bit,” he told PA. — dpa