#F1 Features: The Fall of the Empire, Part One: The inevitable goes unseen

Sometimes you can just be too close to the situation. As it unfolds, events may appear to be similar to something you’ve seen many times before, and so the natural assumption is that the outcome will once again be similar.

A number of contributors to TJ13 have in recent weeks contacted via social media, senior F1 folk of gravitas; with many years’ experience in the sport and of solid reputation. Questions have been posed over the apparent and ever increasing random meanderings, destructive comments and opinions voiced by the once F1 Supremo.

The response has been interesting. Whilst a number of these individuals are in no way devotees of the great small man, amongst them is almost a universal belief that whatever Bernie does, he is one step ahead of the rest. Further, there is a confidence in Bernie’s ‘plan’ and that it will see him coming up smelling of roses once again in the end.

bernie_ecclestoneThe Formula One empire built over the past decades, has been described by many of the ‘professional’ commentators as a dictatorship; though often couched as benevolent, with the man from Suffolk revered as the ruling General extraordinaire.

Yet the lesson of history is – that people fail to learn the lessons of history; and when opened, the annals of human existence make it ultimately clear, which fate inevitably befalls each and every dictatorship.

Dictators must subjugate any potential challenger to their authority both swiftly and in a manner which strikes fear into other potential revolutionaries. The slightest of dissenting thoughts must be controlled, because should the questioning mind become the mind-set of the masses, then the trickle of non-conformist opinion will rise and become a torrent of uncontrollable rebellion that will sweep away the status quo – and herald a new dawn.

Often the beginning of the end for a dynasty is predicated by a stalking horse. One of the UK’s longest serving Prime Ministers discovered she was weaker than she believed, when in 1990 the little known Sir Anthony Meyer challenged her to a Conservative Party Leadership contest.

Within the year the apparently indefatigable Iron Lady of British Politics was gone from power forever.

When history reflects on Ecclestone’s contribution to Formula One, it could well be that Adam Parr is cast in the role of stalking horse to the empire.

In November 2006, Parr was appointed chief executive officer of Williams F1, replacing departing CEO Chris Chapple. He became respected for innovation in the field of hybrid technology and Adam was promoted to the role of chairman of Williams Grand Prix Engineering Limited, which he held from July 2010 to March 2012. He was responsible for the day-to-day running of the F1 team, and gained a reputation in the paddock as a ‘forward thinker’.

2008 French Grand PrixHowever, in 2011, Parr threw down the gauntlet to emperor Ecclestone. During a Fans Forum event in Montreal, he made a number of bold claims, one of which was that Bernie was advancing in years and was missing a trick or two.

“The way F1 is consumed is going to change over the next few years. There’s so much content you should be able to enjoy. Bernie has two or three cameras on every car. Then there are all the circuit cameras”, reasoned Parr and he concluded, “There’s an astonishing richness of material and we’re not really touching that at the moment.”

It was Parr’s next comments which probably tipped over the apple cart, when he claimed the insight that, “There are two things that Bernie thinks about. First, he likes to control the amount of material that’s available. He believes that rarity is an important characteristic of our sport.

Second, he believes if he sells the rights to the BBC in the UK, for example, they should have the rights to everything. They can replay it on their iPlayer system, they can do the internet, they can do everything. He thinks that’s the way to maximise revenue”.

Clearly Adam was in disagreement with Ecclestone’s way of managing these contracts. He continued, “The problem is, our total TV revenues as a sport are less than 500 million US dollars (£308 million). By comparison, the NFL is 4.2 billion US dollars (£2.6 billion) and Turkish soccer is a little bit more than us. I think it’s time that we challenge him”. BOOM!

The then chairperson of FOTA, Martin Whitmarsh, added. “As for the ownership of the sport, the commercial rights holder will want to keep as much money as possible and the teams will want to have as much as possible as well.

But while we’re squabbling about who gets how much of the pie, what we ought to be concentrating on is growing the sport and making the pie bigger.”

Adam Parr left Formula One a few months later and Williams received a £25m one off payment from FOM as recorded in their 2012 accounts as an ‘exceptional item’.

Yet Parr’s themes struck home. Ecclestone has for years repeatedly ground out amusing mantric one liners such as, “F1 teams have more money than God” and “they should only spend what they have,” Yet much of the narrative in Formula One circles has moved forward and particularly this year, “growing the pot” together with the debates on the development of social media and the segmentation of broadcasting and image rights within Formula One, have repeatedly come to the fore.

Parr may not be a stalking horse in the purist form, as this would convey the idea of and individual mounting a challenge against someone, knowingly on behalf of an anonymous third party. If the challenge fails, then the anonymous party will not be tainted by association with the failed coup. In fact Adam was not acting covertly on behalf of anyone else, but expressing his passionate views for the development and improvement of Formula One.

For this, forward thinking Formula One fans should be eternally grateful.

Ecclestone was weakened by this public attack, and his response was clear for all to see.

To those less enchanted by Ecclestone’s mesmeric charms and without personal experience of his warmth and generosity, it may be a less complex task, to cut through the mists and fog obscuring the impending reality which is about to be enacted.

It looks almost certain that Bernie is ‘going down’ and soon as CVC inch ever closer to ditching their long standing CEO.

Paul Walsh, the former chief executive of the drinks giant – Diageo – who bought much of the Mallya Empire, is on the verge of being appointed as chairman of the Formula One Group of companies.

Walsh has a reputation for not suffering fools gladly, and Ecclestone is no longer a board member since being forced to resign his directorships prior to the criminal trial brought in Germany.

With Formula One perpetually in the news for negative reasons, CVC appear to have decided the ‘cons’ of Ecclestone’s inclusion outweigh the ‘pros’, and are calling time on the great entrepreneurs tenure at the top of F1. Though there is no guarantee that Bernie will not deploy a ‘scorched earth strategy’ from up his sleeve.

For the questioning mind, there have been a number of extraordinary events recently which indicated the sands of time were shifting more quickly than those distracted have realised. Ecclestone was forced to publicly apologise by Donald McKenzie for calling Force India, Lotus and Sauber – “beggers” and “idiots” and as TJ13 reported in October, CVC have been quietly engaging with these teams as they struggle to persuade Ecclestone to resolve the current unfair financial practices within the sport.

In part two of this series, we will examine further ‘signs of the end of the age’ which have been ignored by many. Yet for a few, the Wizard of Oz has been in plain view for some time, and the frailty Ecclestone has been presenting has been no mask of convenience, adorned to cloak his next Machiavellian move of the pieces on the board – in his game of Formula One.

Previous TJ13 articles

The Day the F1 music died A forward to the current series

Ecclestone, Parr and the night of the long knives Written in 2012, charting the events of the Parr challenge on Ecclestone

The F1 party is actually organised by the Mad Hatter A commentary on banal matters frequently ignored by the F1 Press

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12 responses to “#F1 Features: The Fall of the Empire, Part One: The inevitable goes unseen

  1. I said it before and I will say it again. A dictatorship is the only thing that works.. The teams are like little children who need a strickt teacher.

    • And Ecclestone is a grownup ?

      What’s needed is a sensible structure which eliminates some of the incentives to perverse behaviour, as opposed to the rolling dystopia Ecclestone built.

    • Bruznic, I usually find myself agreeing with much of your commentary, but not in this case. When one suggests dictatorship for sports governance, one is immediately reminded of FIFA and Blatter…a profoundly corrupt, criminal regime. Disgusting & exploitative.

      There’s no reason the teams can’t pursue rational self-interest while also working together w/ the sport’s other stakeholders to encourage long-term economic stability, in a collaborative environment. Governance would necessarily have to change to facilitate that cooperation, but that’s exactly why Ecclestone must go, and why his forcing Adam Parr out of F1 by threatening Williams’ financial security was dastardly…

      Just this week, iirc, it was announced that Swiss gov’t will be cracking down on corrupt sports governance like that practiced by FIFA:

      http://www.eurosport.com/football/world-cup/2014/swiss-to-increase-oversight-of-fifa-other-sports-bodies_sto4502555/story.shtml

      The only good dictator is one whose head is on a spike!

      • Oh, and of course my point in posting the eurosport news link – when FIA is based in France, not Switzerland – is to highlight the fact that tolerance for corrupt, dictatorial, criminal rule over international sports federations is waning even in that bastion of anti-transparency sentiment…

  2. Well, I do believe this has been coming for a while and might have even mentioned it in the podcast an episode or two ago *humblebrag*. But the fact of the matter is the pie hasn’t grown relative to the F1’s profile, and Bernie is the person to hold responsible, much like LdM at Ferrari. IF you replace all the other parts, and it still doesn’t work, those at the top need to go.

    And I will just say that given when the commercial rights hit the market relative to the overall global economy, Bernie was just basically one lucky bastard who got credit for lots of things that were never in his control. He even admitted as much in that Asia interview that caused such consternation, which perversely I found admirable as so many people in his position would insist the exact opposite, displaying a complete and total lack of understanding of reality.

    • It’s not just that the pie hasn’t grown – as far as the teams are concerned, in terms of independent revenue, it has shrunk massively. Commercial sponsorship is maybe a third of what it once was, and they are now utterly dependent on distribution of TV revenues.

      That in itself is maybe not disastrous, but the way the revenue is distributed is utterly screwed up – and the only reason Ecclestone wasn’t an object of public contempt much sooner is that he’s managed to cloak everything under a blanket of commercial secrecy for so long.

      • Very much so, but the overall growing of the economy and thus rise of TV income allowed the sport to continue despite mismanagement, until the new formula kicked in and made it impossible to sustain in its present configuration, save for the top teams.

        • When the sycophantic hagiographers finally no longer hold sway over the Ecclestone narrative, it will be interesting to see if his malevolent rule over F1 is finally assessed accurately – critically…

  3. Mmmm.
    I guess half a fairy tale is better then no fairy tale.
    The fairy tale is Bernie falling; I don’t have any gripe with that.
    The half arises from Adam Parr not being his replacement.
    Would’ve been more than entirely fitting?
    Ah well….swings and roundathings.

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