The world of Formula One as we know it has been shaped by a few individuals, and among them Bernie Ecclestone stands out as a towering figure. In 2023, years after he officially stepped down from the helm of the sport, his influence and commentary continues to reverberate throughout the paddock and among fans.
Born in 1930, Bernie’s involvement in Formula One began as a team owner in the late 1970s. But it was his vision of the commercial potential of the sport that put him in the annals of F1 history. He understood the value of television rights early on and successfully transformed F1 from a niche motorsport event into a global media juggernaut.
By the time he sold his final stake in the sport in 2017, Ecclestone had overseen its rise to the pinnacle of motorsport, with an estimated global audience of 500 million.
The transformation didn’t come without its fair share of controversy. Over the years, Ecclestone has been seen by many as an autocrat, pushing his vision for the sport in his own way, often at odds with teams, drivers and national sanctioning bodies. His deals, both in terms of race venues and commercial rights, have often raised eyebrows, but have undoubtedly been instrumental in bringing the sport to new markets and increasing its global footprint.
Bernie Ecclestone is no longer be the ringmaster of the F1 circus, but his legacy and influence remain undeniable. While F1 has seen changes in leadership and ownership, with Liberty Media now steering its course, echoes of Bernie’s leadership style and business acumen can still be felt.
Criticism of modern F1
That’s not to say the 93-year-old has faded into the background. Far from it. As recently as this year, he was in the news for his outspoken and often critical views on the current direction of the sport. His comments about F1’s expansion into America, and the Miami Grand Prix in particular, reflect his belief in a certain purity of the sport, a vision he feels the current leadership may be straying from. Ecclestone’s concerns about a crowded calendar and the influence of streaming platforms such as Netflix show his ever-watchful eye on the sport’s evolving landscape.
The global motorsport spectacle that is Formula One has undergone radical changes over the years. Not everyone, especially some of its former stalwarts, have welcomed these changes.
Ecclestone’s main bone of contention seems to be the expansion of Formula One in the USA, particularly the introduction of the Miami Grand Prix. Speaking to the Daily Mail, he expressed his dissatisfaction with the way the event has been run, suggesting that organisers have tried too hard to mimic American culture rather than retain the essence of the sport.
“The thing in Miami – the way they did it was crazy, they were trying to be American instead of – like me – showing pure Formula One as it was and not as it could be,” he complained.
This year has seen a significant increase in the American presence on the F1 calendar. Alongside the long-running Austin Grand Prix, two new races have been added: the aforementioned Miami Grand Prix and the Las Vegas Grand Prix, which will be held for the first time as a night race on the iconic Las Vegas Strip. Although aimed at attracting a wider American audience, these additions have not gone down well with traditionalists such as Ecclestone.
Netflix’s overwhelming influence
Another point of contention for Ecclestone is the influence of streaming giant Netflix, particularly through its ‘Drive to Survive’ series. Ecclestone stated, “Netflix has ‘a little bit’ too much influence on those in charge of F1”.
He noted that Netflix’s interest in entertainment could be fleeting, contrasting it with F1’s long-standing relationships with traditional broadcasters.
“Netflix are in the entertainment business as long as it suits them. They’re not like our old networks that were with us forever” said the former F1 boss.
Away from the media, Ecclestone has expressed concern about the physical and emotional demands the sport places on its teams and staff. With the announcement that the calendar will be expanded to 24 races next year, he warns that such a hectic schedule may be too much.
“I think 18 races is enough. We used to have 20 and I often thought that was a bit too much,” he reflected. Ecclestone’s concerns extend beyond the circuits. He worries that the relentless travel and pressure could put a strain on the personal relationships of those involved, leading to a potential “wave of divorce”.
“Soon they will have to employ twice as many people,” says Ecclestone, “With 22 or 23 races, there will be too many divorces. It’s a question of when.”
As a solution, Ecclestone proposed a streamlined calendar of 18 “prestigious” races, which he believes would be the perfect blend of sport and spectacle without the burnout.
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