#F1 Fables – The story of Bernard Ecclestone and Formula 1

A couple of my most memorable childhood stories included the Emperor’s new clothes and the little boy who cried ‘Wolf’. I’m sure my parents and mother in particular read these tales to me more frequently than others to ensure I understood the moral behind the fiction.

The latter tale was part of Aesop’s fables (No. 210) and from it is derived the English idiom “to cry wolf“, which means to give a false alarm.

Yet, when you unpack the tale there is a sterner message about truth, falsehood and a person’s reputation.

The tale concerns a shepherd boy who repeatedly tricks nearby villagers into thinking a wolf is attacking his flock. When a wolf actually does appear, the villagers do not trust the boy’s cries for help, and the flock is destroyed. The moral at the end of the Greek version of the story states that it “shows that this is how liars are rewarded: even if they tell the truth, no one eventually believes them“.

The former tale written by Hans Christian Anderson is also believed to have its origins in Aesop’s catalogue. A vain Emperor cares about nothing except wearing and displaying clothes hires two swindlers who promise him the finest, best suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or “hopelessly stupid“. The Emperor’s minister’s cannot see the clothing themselves, but pretend that they can for fear of appearing unfit for their positions and the Emperor does the same.

Finally the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they mime dressing him and the Emperor marches in procession before his subjects. The townsfolk play along with the pretence not wanting to appear unfit for their positions or stupid. Then a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretence, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. (Wiki).

The phrase “emperor’s new clothes” has become an idiom bout logical fallacies (Graves, Joseph L. 200). The Emperor’s New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium).  Marc Petrowsky suggests the story is an example of what happens because of pluralistic ignorance.

This is a story about a situation where “no one believes, but everyone believes that everyone else believes.” (Hansen, Jens Ulrik. 2011. “A Logic-Based Approach to Pluralistic Ignorance”).

Aesop himself is an ancient Greek writer believed to have lived around 620–564 BC. Yet his very existence is questioned and (if they ever existed) no writings by him survive, numerous tales credited to him were gathered across the centuries and in many languages in a storytelling tradition that continues to this day.

I know I’ve been away from it all but don’t worry – TJ13 is still an F1 site.

Yet having no internet, no F1, no international and daily news was a most incredible and bizarre life for one who is connected the human consciousness my every waking moment via a number of mobile devices.

There is a saying, ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ which of course refers to ideas (rather than 21st century products) and the truism here is that there is nothing truly novel in existence. Every new idea has some sort of precedent or echo from the past and F1 can easily be interpreted through the prism of these stories and ideas pretty well I suggest.

It is commonly accepted that Bernie Ecclestone is a best a loveable rogue and the book, “No Angel” was sanctioned by Ecclestone himself and as such is an admittance of the fact.

Yet Bernie is no loveable rogue. He is an arch manipulator, liar and a master of pretence. This is not to say he isn’t personable and even loyal to friends and some of those he does business with. He at times is indeed generous and even kind, but he appears to always be looking for the next angle – rarely gives a straight answer – and even if he does make an absolute statement such as ‘Germany is a done deal’, most of us now do not believe him.

Aesop’s predictions for Bernie have come true. You can only get away with crying ‘wolf’ for so long.

Ecclestone is uber rich because he lied and deceived the simple folk of F1. He has negotiated back room deals for the teams with TV companies, sponsors and race organisers which delivered to them riches beyond their wildest dreams.

His trick has always been to play one side off against the other; to make one party believe something is true and to then force their hand to act.

Of course when one party believes in Bernie’s position, another is persuaded with a promise of favour and quickly the rest follow suit. Yet, “no one really believes, but everyone believes that everyone else believes“, so they all toe the line.

Yet the emperor can only pull off this stunt in a culture where pretentiousness, pomposity, hypocrisy, collective denial or hollow ostentatiousness is given oxygen.

The F1 supremo is about to be extracted from this world of hypocrisy and delusion and will enter one where the air is quite different. By September 10, the court in Munich will have closed the window for Ecclestone’s lawyers to reply to the charges and most probably issue a date for a trial to begin in November.

Bernie will receive no special favours; his cries of wolf will gain no ear. Arguing black is white and even arriving naked in a Cinderella coach pulled by white horses will confuse no one.

The wheels of justice at present appear likely to see him sentenced as Gribkowsky – his partner in crime – to do some porridge (English idiom for jail time).

Porridge was a traditional food in much of Northern Europe and Russia. Barley was a common grain used, though other grains and yellow peas could be used, depending on local conditions. It was primarily………..

Sorry I digress. It is generally accepted that the leader of an organistion determines the organisational culture. So maybe F1 will be able to find a new leader who understands the point of another of Aesop’s fables. It goes like this:-

One day the various parts of the human body, including the brain, arms, legs, eyes, feet, hands, lungs, etc., got together to discuss the body’s belly and what they thought about its contribution to the group efforts on behalf of the body.

The body parts were all unhappy and resentful for various reasons, and chose to target their collective anxieties at the belly, in a rather bullying way. The unhappy body parts decided that the belly was not doing enough towards maintaining the body’s operations, and accused the belly of spending its time lazily consuming food and allowing other members to do all the work.

We have decided that we will no longer do what we need to do in order to feed you,” they said to the belly, “because you do nothing to help us, and you are lazy and unproductive.” And they stopped feeding the belly.

The belly soon starved. But then so did the body and all of its parts starve too. The unhappy body parts now realized – too late unfortunately to save themselves and the body – that although the belly seemed to be doing nothing, it had in fact been fulfilling a vital function necessary for the wellbeing of the body and all of its parts…..

12 responses to “#F1 Fables – The story of Bernard Ecclestone and Formula 1

  1. Sitting here reading this drivel just makes me want to wretch. Clearly this simplistic aptitude you seem to ascribe to the F1 team owners who you claim have blindly followed Mr E comes from a parallel universe that I am definitely not part of. The so called “simple folk of F1” that you claimed he has “deceived” is so far from the actual truth that I wonder why I am even wasting my time this early in the morning in setting you straight.

    These “simple folk” have Bernie to thank for their private jets, vast property empires, lavish lifestyles and all the accoutrements of a success. These folk would still be running their teams from phone boxes (ok, maybe pay-as-you-go mobiles now) and living from hand to mouth if it was not for his very, very savvy business acumen. All he did was professionalise the sport to ensure that it became sustainable and not a footnote in automobile history. Without him it would most likely still be controlled and administered by self important minor European nobility who treated it as a hobby for their weekend pleasure. No, without Bernie, we would not have F1 today, end of!

    And before you start accusing me of working for FOM, I don’t, but I first met the man more than 40 years ago. I have also been fortunate to be present during some moments when events happened where he took the sport forward both commercially and administratively; and let me tell you this, he did it with the full blessing, support and thanks of these “simple folk”!

    • I think you and I read different articles… As you say, maybe it’s too early in the morning for you?

    • BJF said it. Mr Harris, if you didn’t get the last part of the article you should read it again. It states exactly what you argue so passionately.

    • Dear Mr. Harris,

      You’re obviously not very familiar with the concept of criticism and sarcasm. I’m going to answer your rather harsh critic by an exxageration:

      Germany wouldn’t have the world’s best system of Autobahns if it weren’t for a chap called Adolf Hitler, who ordered its construction. He also ordered the founding of Volkswagen, which these days happens to be the second or third-largest car manufacturer in the world. Unfortunately he also had a nasty habbit of gassing jews and invading neighbouring countries, so even if he did a lot of good for a Germany that was devastated from the crippling conditions of the Versailles treaty and the world economic crisis, doesn’t mean we should overlook his crimes.
      Now before you go off half-cocked and accuse me of putting Mr. E and Hitler in one context – one is a mass murderer and war monger, the other is a common criminal, so they of course cannot be compared. But the principle is the same:

      Yes, Ecclestone basically made F1 the sport that it is now, but to achieve that, he employed methods that are questionable in the best and down-right criminal in the worst cases. He routinely employs blackmail (ask Adam Parr how his departure from Williams came about), basically runs the shop like an absolutist monarch and as the munich trial shows, he seems to resort to crime if it fits his agenda. So, while he has done a lot of good for the sport, it doesn’t mean one cannot criticize the method he employed while doing it…

      • I invoke Godwin’s Law:

        “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”

  2. Welcome back! Ah! Refreshing! I often find that some time away gives one a fresh perspective, free – for a while – from the chatter of the everyday. I could wax lyrical, if I didn’t have to go to work! I’ve just time to thank Mr. John Myburgh for his excellent stewardship in your absence, as well as all of the regular contributors.

    • Indeed, I am not fully back yet. Should be in chambers late Wednesday/early Thursday.

      I have been reading all the contributions from the past 3 weeks over the last 6 hours and I have to say – huge respect to you all.

      Truly some world class articles and writing and I can see styles developing nicely.

      At this rate, TJ13 will be the No. 1 goto fans site in just a few years. F1 for the fans, by the fans – showing the pro’s how it’s done…

      One particular mention I will make is that John M has done a fabulous job with the news which is a damn site harder than it looks to do – day in day out…

      If anyone would like to join the news team, please say Hi to Email us and we’ve got a modular learning approach to help you get going if you need it.

      Gotta dash… speak soon.

  3. Were it not for Bernie there would be no F1 on tv, circuits would be disused airfields with primitive levels of safety, F1 would not be the most watched sport in the world bar the olympics and world cup.

    He has made mistakes, he can be infuriating at times, but he deserves incredible respect for what he has done for F1

  4. I think that Bernie has done a lot for F1, but even more for himself. His decisions in general involve getting as much money for the commercial rights holder of the moment and very rarely with a view to improving the spectacle of the competition. His dealings are well documented so I’m not going to get into it, but I feel it’s a little short sighted to think that although Bernie did take control of the commercial rights, whoever would have been in control had it not been him would not have been able to do a good job but with a more reasonable deal for all involved. I think had the teams been given a more reasonable slice of the revenues, we may now have a competition with more manufacturers and a better standard of competition. Also, I think someone else might have made deals with tracks based on whether they provide a great race, rather than based just on whether they bring enough money to satisfy Bernies pocket. Currently, I am frustrated with the way Marrusia are being treated, Bernie seems determined to get rid of them as they are weakest at the moment, but they are only that because Bernie will not give them money to compete. Would he be acting the same if McLaren/Williams were having a couple of years of struggles? It’s short sighted to boot out the weakest as when they are gone, does that mean he’ll pick on the next weak team? F1 should distribute the money with maybe 80% equally between all competitors, 10% on success and 10% on historical performance. Then we might see a more equal competition….and hopefully more manufacturers!

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