Bernie Ecclestone’s four-decade reign as a “dictator” of Formula One had to end if the sport is to get the fresh start it needs, new chairman and chief executive Chase Carey says.
Ecclestone’s time as the colourful ringmaster of the Grand Prix circuit was effectively finished on Monday when US-based Liberty Media completed its takeover of motorsport’s most prestigious brand in a deal valued at about $8 billion.
While the 86-year-old Ecclestone, a former car salesman, was widely credited with transforming Formula One into a multibillion global business, there have been growing complaints in recent years that the sport has failed to modernise under the Englishman’s no-nonsense leadership.
There has also been the view inside and outside the sport — and a concern shared by Carey — that it is wrong for one man to wield as much power as Ecclestone did in Formula One.
Despite sidelining Ecclestone to an advisory role as “chairman emeritus” Carey stressed to the BBC that he had “tremendous respect” for Ecclestone and will value his input.
But he said that F1 “needs to be run differently than for the last four or five years”.
“He has run this sport for his entire adult life and I respect completely that this is a difficult change,” Carey said.
“We have tried to deal with him with the respect he’s due, which is why we offered him the chairman emeritus title.
“He calls himself a dictator. He has run it as a one-man dictator for a long time. I think the sport needs a fresh perspective.”
The American Carey, a vice-chairman of the 21st Century Fox media conglomerate, has a proven record in expansive sport-media growth and expertise in the value and exploitation of sports rights, notably in the US market, where Formula One has struggled to gain a foothold.
But he stressed the new owners would protect historic races, insisting there would still be a British Grand Prix amid speculation the Silverstone course — which has had several run-ins with Ecclestone over staging fees — would be stripped of the event in 2019.
“We needed a sport that while respecting what made it great has a sense of energy and innovation,” Carey said.
“In many ways, in a simplistic sense, the sport said ‘no’ too much and we have to start saying ‘yes’ — not gimmick it up but find ways to do new and exciting things to have the sport continue to grow and interest and excite people.”
As part of the new management structure, Carey will have highly respected former Mercedes F1 team boss Ross Brawn and Sean Bratches, once a sales executive with North American sports television channel ESPN, running the sporting and commercial sides of F1 respectively under him.
Alex Kelham, head of the sports business group at London law firm Lewis Silkin, said the Liberty takeover could create a “host of new opportunities” for a sport that has struggled to attract a new generation of fans and failed to fully embrace social and digital media.
Critics also say the races have become too predictable.
“Teams are likely to welcome the change as an opportunity to re-negotiate some of the terms Bernie Ecclestone historically refused to move on,” Kelham told AFP.
“While Bernie made terrific strides in developing interest in the sport in emerging markets, Liberty’s takeover will likely herald a much greater focus on building new audiences in the US — both through traditional media and online channels — which will further enhance the sport as a key target for brands.”
Murray Walker, the commentator long considered the voice of Formula One in Britain, said the sport owed Ecclestone “an immeasurable debt”.
“The most important thing under Bernie’s rule was the safety aspect,” Walker told the BBC. “Formula One has been absolutely transformed. “