Lewis Hamilton’s sideswipe at Bernie Ecclestone

Lewis Hamilton - Belgian GP 2015 Pole

There is a battle royal raging in Formula One at present. Bernie Ecclestone is facing a collapse in the sport’s audience and his response is to blame the power unit manufacturers – particularly Mercedes. “The domination of Mercedes is so strong that a good number of people watch the start of a race and then switch off their televisions because Mercedes have made races boring,” Ecclestone told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

“It is not good for the sport. Fans don’t want to know before the start of a Grand Prix who is going to win. It’s a problem for us at the moment and one that we must resolve.”

And it appears many F1 fans agree with Bernie. In a damning verdict, 215,000 fans scored the pinnacle of motorsport as ‘boring’ in the GPDA backed poll earlier this year. F1 supporters also said the sport had gone from “exciting” to “boring” in just five years.

Speaking to the Xinhua news agency, Lewis Hamilton suggests Ecclestone’s rhetoric is questionable. “In the end he has to say something. But if he’s only bored now, he should look at what’s happened over the past 20-30 years”. Hamilton goes on to observe Formula One has seen periods of domination many times before, citing Ferrari, McLaren and Williams eras of success. Lewis also comments that some of these periods of domination were extended, and by comparison Mercedes has been at the top for just two years.

Ecclestone is pushing for a ‘budget’ engine in Formula One, which in reality would be more like the old V8’s the sport abandoned two years ago. Bernie believes the new hybrid engines are the cause of all the sport’s woes and apparently a ‘budget’ engine will get the fans tuning in again.

Yet is this really the case? Isn’t the advent of pay-per-view TV significantly responsible for the meteoric decline in TV audiences?

Despite Lewis Hamilton winning back to back F1 driver titles, the 2015 UK TV viewing figures hit an eight year low. According to the F1Broadcasting blog, Sky’s viewer numbers fell 20% from 2014-15, whilst the BBC’s suffered less with a loss of just 3.6% of their viewers over the same period.

These statistics in themselves tell a tale.

Ferrari have been fighting back hard this week to counter the ‘manufacturers are bad for F1’ agenda being pushed by Ecclestone, who suddenly appears to be a convert to the cause of cost control. “For decades, we have tried to limit financial operations to guarantee more competitiveness,” explained Ecclestone as once again he lobbied for a ‘budget’ power train.

Ferrari have written to the FIA about the recent mandate given to Ecclestone and Todt. This in effect means the duo can make whatever decisions they think ‘necessary’ without gaining agreement through the proper governance channels. Ferrari argue it’s  “intention is simply to make sure that the governance principles” established by Ecclestone and the FIA and agreed with other stakeholders in F1 “continue to be duly complied with”

Ecclestone’s flippant response was as follows. “The only thing we could do is to ignore what Ferrari have said and carry on with it and say: ‘You’ve got a choice – you can leave or go to arbitration and see what the arbitrators think. I think if we went to arbitration, we’d win easy.”

Sergio Marchionne said at the weekend, if Formula One becomes like NASCAR, Ferrari will withdraw from the sport anyway – and probably take most of the current PU manufacturers with them. And in the latest thrust in the battle for hearts and F1 minds, Maranello’s latest offering comes from team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene. He believes F1 could learn a lot from MotoGP on ho0w the sport is run and how their manufacturers are treated.

“There is a great respect for manufacturers in the motorbike world so there is a different methodology. Things are agreed upon together, things are negotiated with all the relevant stakeholders, so decisions are fully shared and taken quickly.

“The federation then takes this on board.

“It is a different approach and attitude, so they really try and come up with quick changes in order to adapt to public taste. They are reactive to listen very carefully, to change and react quickly, involving the relevant stakeholders.

“There is also a great level of respect for the engine manufacturers.”

Sergio Marchionne also emphasised the theme of developing the F1 regulations in a coordinated fashion along with a thinly veiled threat during his Christmas address in Maranello. “It’s a choice that we obviously do not share, because we believe that the development of the regulations should be done in a coordinated manner. This view is also shared by the Mercedes and Renault. Here we spend hundreds of millions of Euros, so we are talking about decisions that should not be taken lightly.

“The problem is that in trying to create a power unit that is more affordable for smaller teams, we are in a way taking away from those organisations that are able to develop. And that is the reason why we go racing. We go to the track to prove to ourselves and to everyone our ability to manage the power unit. If we begin to undermine this advantage, Ferrari has no intention of racing”.

It appears if Bernie gets his way, F1 is set to lose its manufacturers and the unicorn budget engine will see 15 teams and 30 plus cars on the grid once more.

Then again, owning the rights to the F1 brand – but having a series that in no way looks anything like Formula One did before – may be worth even less than the current ‘new’ invisible F1 investors believe.

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28 responses to “Lewis Hamilton’s sideswipe at Bernie Ecclestone

  1. No mention of Red Bull/ Vettel dominance, the one he was most vocal about? Unfortunately I think Ferrari has the biggest fan base and if they start dominating again maybe the viewings will improve as they generally have the most fans on average in every country. And the driver should be Brazilian in the dominating Ferrari. This is the 1st season that I really didn’t care to watch F1. I would just bet on Hamilton 1st, Rosberg 2nd and Vettel 3rd for podium positions and collect the profit after most races. Since it’s so predictable you can at least turn a profit over the season.
    They really have to make the races more exciting and unpredictable to get people to watch and I don’t mean between Roberg and Hamilton but all teams and drivers.

    • The Red Bull/Vettel domination was a different situation. The only reason Hamilton has won back to back WDC’s is purely the Mercedes PU/Chassis combination is so much better than anything else on the grid. Ferrari have manage to prove they are closing the gap slightly with the PU and Red Bull have the chassis (hence why MB wouldn’t supply their PU to them).

      When Red Bull were winning the championships, you had very few races with 1,2 Quali and Podium. F1 is currently boring PPV broadcasts don’t help, but, most races this season I have turned off within the first 30 minutes and some not even bothered watching due to the level of predictability.

  2. Mercedes don’t need Toto Wolff. Lewis seems to be quite capable of stating the Mercedes official position himself. He could give up the music and have a second career in diplomacy 🙂

    • Not as thick as people think that Lewis Hamilton fella, is he? Be the mouthpiece for his payers and get his way in the design development of the car, keep his payers from favouring Rosberg.

      • If an ability to state the bl**din’ obvious is a measure of not being as thick as people think, you’re spot on, old bean 🙂

        • It’s having the balls to state the bleedin’ obvious and at the right time.
          How many drivers do this in today’s over-sanitised, over-scrutinising and over-regulated F1? Probably only Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso and not that often for that matter.

  3. Let’s make things clear. The crux of the matter is that the more popular a sport gets, the more money flow in, the stakes are higher and the sport stops being a sport. Comparisons to other forms of motorsport like motoGP are fruitless, they’re just not as visible and impactful as F1.

    Look at the Premier League. Yes, best league in the world, but sooo predictable. Prior to its inception in the 11 seasons before it started, 13 different teams finished in the top three; in the first 11 seasons of the Premier League, 10 teams did and since 2003, only five teams have managed to finish in the top-three. Plus, it’s on pay-per-view and tickets are quite expensive. But hey, someone has to pay for all those stupid salaries and cronies around.

    All that matters here is control for power. Teams, engines, drivers, tyres, regulations are just pawns in the great chess game between Bernie Kasparov and Sergio Karpov.

    • Control of engines is surely a road to boredom for F1.

      You are right about the money thing. The money splitting formula used by Bernie is too contrived and favours winners.

      F1 is the pinnacle because of technical achievement and pushing the boundaries of what can be conceived and built. F1 has a long history and it needs to keep that too.

      The only good thing I can think of in recent times is the shift of race times, which presumably is better for the global audience.

      DRS is a mixed bag since it is artificially contrived. I like better the technical tweaks teams have use to push the rules – bendy wings, adjustable airflow channels, etc. I’d prefer to allow freely movable wings to DRS.

      All the technical rules prevent innovation which prevents poorer teams from ever coming up with anything clever.

    • “…the more popular a sport gets, the more money flow in, the stakes are higher and the sport stops being a sport.”

      No, the crux of problem is that F1 continues to become less popular, and less money is flowing in.

      Given this problem, the costs of these engines makes them inappropriate, and unsustainable.

      • The Premiership is not predictable this season: Leicester City on top and Chelsea in almost the relegation zone, but I get your point. Let’s face it, for us F1 is a sport but for all of them in F1, it’s just business!

  4. MotoGP, like many other sports, offers a direct subscription to coverage (https://secure.motogp.com/en/subscribe) in addition to traditional coverage which is a mix of free to air/pay (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_MotoGP_broadcasters).

    As for “boring” Lewis and others are right in pointing out historically we’ve had periods of domination and what’s more, much larger gaps between the cars. I remember in the early 90s the Williams and/or Benettons lapping pretty much the entire field race after race and reliability was terrible, with the difference between cars starting a race and cars finishing to be a much wider gap than today.

    It’s perfectly fine to try to improve the racing and not use the past as a means to say “everything is fine” or “everything is actually better” but to pretend that the racing is overall much worse today then it was in the past is absolute rubbish. When Bernie says “It is not good for the sport. Fans don’t want to know before the start of a Grand Prix who is going to win. It’s a problem for us at the moment and one that we must resolve.” the fact is that this has largely been true for years (not at the moment) and Bernie can’t look at himself as a factor in why it continues to be so. I have absolutely no trust in Bernie or Todt coming up with viable solutions. It’s obvious the teams themselves are largely uncooperative with each but Bernie and Todt as healthy dictators is not a reality.

    The rules on the front wings for this past season reduced passing opportunities instantly and was instantly recognized. Aerodynamically and mechanically the engineers know how to improve the ability of the cars to follow and get close and then pass in dirty air but such measures to make it so are usually ignored.

  5. If we take a look through the history books at all those dominant displays prior to the Ferrari/Schumacher Redbull/Vettel and the current Merc borefest its clear to see why F1 was still good when Lotus, Macca and the Williams had superior machinery in the 70’s 80’s and 90’s. The cars failed or the drivers crashed because the drivers pushed the car to the limits. There was no engineer over the radio telling the driver to adjust diff and clutch settings, to save fuel and take care of tyre wear and brake temperatures. There was no warning to the driver of impending engine or gearbox doom and they certainly couldn’t expect marshals to help them cut through the backmarkers. I keep banging on about how this is the area the sport needs to address because drivers are no longer racing, they are simply driving to delta’s and bringing the cars home. It’s boring! And on the occasions we do see a mistake the tracks have miles of run off to allow them to get away with it.

    Banning radio or certain radio comms does not fix this. It simply causes the teams to be more secretive about how they translate a message to a driver. Remove the wizardry from the steering wheel and any other place the teams will attempt to place the buttons, knobs, selectors and toggles and make the drivers work for their money. Place the responsibility of bringing the car home with the driver. The team have the job of building the best car and the driver has the job of being the best on track and that’s how it should be. I can’t simplify it any more than that.

    Technology should be pushed and the cars should be advanced in every single way …F1 is the pinnacle of racing car design but its not the pinnacle of motor sports as a spectacle or as a drivers formula. No amount of DRS, artificial tyre wear or enforced pit stops will change this. It simply looks fake and contrived. Add to that the teams meddling with their drivers when they are simply trying to complete with one another and you don’t even get a repeat of the great 87 and 88 seasons. I’m quite sick to death of journo’s claiming the last two years have been like the great Prost Senna rivalry but in reality it’s been nothing like it. Spa-gate was nothing other than a clumsy mistake by an over desperate young man trying to spot away past his team mate. That shows you how seriously dull the sport has become when everyone gets excited about clipped wing and a flat tyre.

    I pay to watch F1 on TV and I go to the GP’s, I buy autosport, Racecar Engineer and Motorsport news so I think I have the right to say what my beloved sport needs to do. I also believe as a customer that makes me a cog in the wheel and I should be able to promote the above views to the governance of the sport. But they simply don’t listen and instead ask us to complete poorly written surveys about how much overtaking we want to see or what magazine would we like to buy. There is more to racing than this and it needs to change or the sport will fail. Why has Formula E gained fans so quickly? Why do the Americans prefer their stock cars and Indy cars? Why is WEC, MotoGP and Touring Car Competition so popular?

    I think we can all agree here that we want to see F1 become great again but sometimes the simple things are over looked, ..arguing over the size of the wheels, who’s circumnavigated windtunnel allowance and have you ever watched the Team Principle Briefing on TV??? My god its no wonder we are bored bored bored.

    Oh well, I’ll no doubt tune in to another dull FP1 in Melbourne next year to watch a Merc on top, a Redbull fire and a Honda being pushed.

    • My thought about telemetry is simple. All teams must use a single data collection/transmission unit.
      Allow full car to pit during practice and qualifying.
      On race day only safety related information can be sent to the pits, all other is recorded for later analysis.

  6. Times change Lewis…what used to work doesn’t work any more because people have become saturated with stuff that thrills them over time…F1 needs to adapt to that new norm instead of keep pointing towards the dominance of the past and saying it wasn’t hurting the sport back then…the past is the past, and today a better level of excitement is needed to please the public.

  7. For once, Hamilton is saying the right things, and I am sure people will find an angle of attack even here. Every team had its period of domination, and they’ve been way longer than the 2 years Mercedes have had at the top. Bernie just wants more money for himself and less for the teams, as always.

  8. Ferrari would leave f1 if it became nascar. unless of course they made all the engines and provided a chassis. then it would be ok I’m sure.

    • btw also even though there were eras of domination in the past, viewers still tuned in because the cars were more exciting to watch and the personalities were real. this ain’t rocket science.

    • Speaking of NASCAR I wonder what would happen if Ferrari shareholders started talking of Ferrari doing ‘proper’ motorsport US style. I assume that at some point some Chrysler US box will get a Ferrari badge and then they can go racing! Who needs that soft mamby pamby european nonsense. They would have to stick a Ferrari rocker cover on a pushrod lump – a perverse kind of reverse engineering I suppose! Yee Hawww!

      • Considering only 10% of Ferrari shares are publicly owned, Ferrari would probably just let them talk. 10% ownership isn’t going to have sway.

        • I am reminded of when the great(?) Franz Beckenbaur went to play footy for New York Cosmos he would swan around in midfield and make accurate short passes to team mates and generally look good which was his modus operandi. The story goes that the chairman was not impressed that having paid a huge fee for the player they were not getting enough out of him and he supposedly said “tell him to get his ass up front and score some goals”. That was influencing my thinking that the american side of ferrari/fiat/chrysler might be pushed toward NASCAR whether the Ferrari purists like it or not.

  9. MotoGP is the most exciting form of motorsport I know of, and it’s TV ratings are dropping as well. NASCAR is seeing the same thing.

    This is not just an F1 thing, it is an issue for all motorsports.

    People that piss on Bernie for TV ratings going from 600 mln to 450mln, I have to ask, what did Bernie do differently when F1 had 600mln viewers???

  10. Interesting that Arrivabene should look toward motoGP as an example.
    Since 2006 every race has been won by one of only 4 bikes – the works Hondas and Yamahas.
    Now thats what you call domination!
    However, in spite of this it is still far from boring and dull. I don’t recall previous F1 dominations as dull either (McLaren late 80s, Williams 90s, Ferrari 2000s and even RBR). This time though a combination of poor rules and absurd aerodynamics have taken a lot of the thrill away by stifling mechanical competition and hampering overtaking.
    Add to that the freedom the works teams have to control their customers by way of limited mappings and results become predictable. The PUs themselves are not the problem. It’s all the baggage the manufacturers have created.

    I’ve come to quite like these new power units. Let anyone run a v8 but give them the same amount of fuel and see how they get on. They would either run out half way through the race or the v6 units could be let loose with more fuel. Remember, in the 80s the BMW was knocking out 1500bhp in qualy trim from a 4 pot 1.5L and things have moved on in 30 years. These units are potentially very powerful indeed.

    • With respect, your second sentence is factually incorrect – and to a relevant level. Therefore, I stopped reading at that point, reasoning that the erroneous sentence in question is used to support the rest of the comment. Weak foundations make for weak houses.

    • Ferrari dominance was boring as shit! All those other had some sort of rivalry, if only between team mates. Schumacher, once hakinnen was gone, had nothing like that for a couple of years.

  11. You will always have periods of dominance in any sport, that is the nature of it. This will always upset the fans of the teams that are not winning. However, this time, for me, the main difference with Mercedes is the fact that I constantly get the feeling that the whole thing is staged or managed by the team, and I feel cheated. When you have such a dominant car, let Lewis and Nico battle it out, let them race, let them fight, let them take each other out if necessary, but at least, we would feel it is genuine. For me, it is not about knowing who wins before the start (it annoyed me when Schumacher dominated in his Ferrari years, but it did not feel fabricated), but it is knowing that you have 2 drivers who are both capable to battle in the best car on the grid, and knowing from the beginning that after the first corner, the fight is over and the team will control everything. This is what this year made me for the first time in over 20 years fall asleep when watching a race.

  12. Manufacturers want more testing and development opportunities allowing them to properly display their wares to the world, drivers want more control over the cars, fans want more excitement and competitive races, Bernie wants more cars on the grid and more cash in the bank, etc etc.
    Truth is, if you amalgamate most of the comments from all of the powers that be over the past 2 years, there is an obvious solution.
    Throw out the current rule book and allow open slather development of any type of power unit, aero and mechanical chassis configuration. Open slather budgets and thin rule books will bring the big money back to F1. It allows for all comers to put their new technology up against the others and create a new zest for innovation. At present, all we have is the motor industry heavy weights using F1 as a testing series for hybrid road cars. Hybrid road cars have been around for 20 YEARS!!! How is that innovative and futuristic? It certainly isn’t THE PINNACLE of motorsport innovation and propagation!
    This insipid, ludicrous, over regulated, under funded, incestuously motor industry based hybrid formula simply does not work in F1. It is much better suited to motor industry / road car TESTING SERIES like GP2 and WEC!
    If we are to see an influx of truly innovative, well funded, dedicated billionaires come into the sport, the doors need to be flung open to all interested parties from any industry willing to jump into the ring with truck loads of cash and start swinging punches like a drunken sailor at 10 pm on a Friday night.
    Only then will F1 return to THE PINNACLE of motorsport.
    At present all we are seeing is a ‘dead man walking’ scenario and it’s getting closer to the grave every season because nobody has the guts to throw out the old bath water and start things again with a clean tub!

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