Sport

Ecclestone ousted as F1 moves into new era

Former Formula One Group chief executive Bernie Ecclestone has been removed from his position as the head of the sport following the finalisation of a takeover deal by Liberty Media last month. Ecclestone’s removal comes as part of a major shakeup in the management of F1.

Ecclestone was a man who divided opinion throughout his long tenure at the helm of Formula One. One of his greatest traits was his opportunism, from his entrance into the world of Formula One as a team manager in the 1950s, to his success as Brabham Team boss in the late 70s and early 80s. When results began to dwindle, Ecclestone took over the running of the sport, offering to take the pressure off the teams, who at this stage were responsible for the running of the competition.

In the mid-1990s he built his powerbase further with the support of former President of the FIA Max Mosley, before eventually making his own company the sole commercial rights holder. In 2000 Mosley granted Ecclestone commercial rights to the sport until 2110 and it is through selling these rights that has made Ecclestone his fortune.

The 86-year-old from Bungay in Suffolk was a shrewd businessman and his way of pushing for the best deal has also been one of the more contentious issues throughout his reign. Ecclestone has often drawn criticism in his relentless pursuit of money and ignoring considerations for what may be best for the sport.

He has undergone frequent scrutiny from race organisers for demanding vast sums of money to stage races at iconic circuits such as Silverstone, Monza and Hockenheim. These are racetracks that have been under threat for many years with Hockenheim and the German Grand Prix in particular suffering continued financial trouble. On the flip side he has been widely praised for securing a vast array of TV rights deals which have allowed F1 to be screened to a wider audience than ever before. However this has drawn fire following a move away from free-to-air TV to pay-per-view in many countries including the UK. In the long term it could prove to be a dangerous strategy for the sport.

Ecclestone has never been far away from controversy and in 2006 was taken to court following a deal which saw the F1 supremo sell his rights to German Company BayernLB, who subsequently sold them back to the Ecclestone owned former rights holders, CVC. In this instance, Ecclestone paid the German court $100m to settle the dispute.

He has also drawn criticism for rubbing shoulders with Russian President Vladimir Putin and dealing with countries that have controversial human rights records. One such incident occurred in 2012 when amid civilian protests against the Bahraini Government, Ecclestone censored coverage of the Force India team from television screens after they had threatened to pull out of the race following a petrol bomb incident.

Despite his numerous failings, it is undeniable that Ecclestone built the sport into what it is today, creating revenue to the tune of $1.5bn. But now is the right time to go. The aging Formula One dictator failed to embrace the age of new technology, claiming he saw no way to make money from platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

He reacted to declining audiences by introducing gimmicks such as double points in 2014 and the introduction of a Drag Reduction System (DRS) in cars which some argue made the sport artificial.

Bernie Ecclestone turned the sport into the powerhouse that continues to captivate so many to this day. Now, however, it is time for change.

There is a realisation that his sport does not need him any more and that it is better equipped to flourish without his presence, beginning with the first race of the new season in Australia in March.

It is clear that 2017 really will mark the beginning of a new era in F1.

19/02/2017

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andrewmackenzie



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