Time to move on: Liberty right to sideline Bernie

The early reshaping of F1’s landscape following Bernie Ecclestone’s unseating in January proves that Liberty Media were right not to give him the extra time that he wanted. Keeping him within reach just outside of the inner sanctum does however yield a nice balance of freedom and reliance as Liberty heads into the great unknown.

Over the weekend former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has done the rounds in the UK press in a bid to make his views heard following his removal from power by new commercial rights owners Liberty Media. If by any slim chance you had forgotten about Mr E, he has popped up a week before the 2017 season opener to remind us of his presence. Thanks, Bernie.

During his tenure, Ecclestone transformed Formula One from the disorganised, informal Sunday afternoon get-together it once was into the glamorous sporting juggernaut we know and love today. For that Bernie, I would like to offer my sincerest thanks.

For a number of years now, Bernie’s efforts to expand the sport into new geographic realms have served only to line the pockets of previous rights holders CVC and did not contribute to the long-term growth or health of the sport. The F1 circus has been dragged from pillar to post, circumnavigating the globe and pitching up in seemingly random locations with little thought spared for its dedicated fanbase. Mr E said as much over the weekend in an interview with the Mail on Sunday.

“I knew CVC wanted to sell the company – I was doing all I could to make sure the company was set up to make good profits in order that they could sell”.

 

In fairness, he had a job to do and he has excelled in maximising profits for his previous employers. He successfully sidestepped the potential landmines of selling a product that has under-delivered in sporting terms and alienating large sections of the fanbase masterfully, still convincing the rich and powerful to part with their hard-earned for the privilege of staging a Grand Prix. Seemingly untouchable, many believed his time in charge would only come to a conclusion on his terms. Even if you don’t like the man, chances are you still admire his ability to cling on to power.

Chase Carey was right to backtrack on the original plan that would have seen Bernie keep partial control of the reins for at least a year. Formula One fans are patient but it was time to give something back and removing Ecclestone did just that.

In the end, he was F1’s prime limiting factor. As a result of an elitist approach the sport has lagged behind in areas in which it should be assuming the role of pioneer. Liberty are aware of this and the early steps have been positive ones.

The one-man band has taken F1 on a long journey but in order to ascend further a different approach is required. The latest chapter begins at a crossroads. Had Bernie stayed, the hiring of Sean Bratches and Ross Brawn probably wouldn’t have happened. It would have beem incredibly difficult to have someone invested into your visions and ethos when theirs has been considerably different for some time.

The stagnation process under CVC looks set to be in reversal and extracting Ecclestone from his Iron Throne was a pivotal step to ensure swift and forward-moving actions. The new owners have set about making F1 their own and must be congratulated for taking a decisove yet well thought-out approach. Berne summed it up well in the interview:

“If somebody buys a car, they want to drive it”.

In the contemporary sporting arena, social media dictates the need for accessibility if athletes and teams alike are to increase and maintain a strong following. With so many investing so much time into social media and alternative viewing methods F1 can’t afford to keep to the confines of its bubble. Fans want new, shiny and immersive experiences and in order to meet their demands you must be prepared to innovate and listen.

A great example of Liberty’s willingness to embrace this philosophy came about during pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. The American organisation’s relaxing of rules prohibiting level of social media interaction with fans led to widespread praise and has given a taste of what’s to come.

In theory the possibilities are endless. The internet is saturated with different forms of communication and media and following Bernie’s ousting the teams have more freedom looking ahead.

Liberty’s plan of better engagement, better racing and keeping the sport’s roots in Western Europe are so far removed from the Bernie/CVC ideals that keeping him in the inner circle would have been counter-productive. I disagree that they are attempting to remove the history he has woven as they are merely focused on shaping a better future.

In his time in charge it was very much my way or the highway when engaging with Ecclestone. He does, however, appear to have mellowed as he has been firmly placed in the back seat, at least being open to the notion that Liberty’s approach could prove to be the right one.

“In F1, we have been running a five-star Michelin restaurant, not a hamburger joint. But maybe now the cuisine will be more accessible. Maybe it will even have a better taste.”

Admittedly, the sport does have an aura of grandiose superiority that draws people in. Gladiators behind the wheel of machines that very few experience certainly has the michelin-star feel but why does this have to be extended to the paddock? Allowing more access won’t detract from the feel and the spectacle so a best of both worlds model coukd work.

Following the overthrow of Bernie Ecclestone, Liberty Media have begun the Americanisation process in earnest. They have said all the right things and taken early steps to give us, the fans, what we crave. Keeping Mr E at arm’s length has thus far enabled them to make their mark but utilise his knowledge and contacts as and when they are required.

The shift in power was long overdue and we are already reaping the rewards. Long may it continue.

Headline Image Source: Motorsport.com

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