Bernie Ecclestone: End of glorious four decades?
Almost everything has changed since the dangerous era of the 60s during which the maximum number of drivers lost their lives. Many teams and drivers have come, some performing extraordinarily and becoming legends while others slowly fading out of the limelight as time passed.
One of the most famous being Michael Schumacher who had his first drive in 1991 and retired just last year after a three-year sabbatical in between. That makes a mammoth 21-year period.
But, another man has seen much more and lived through it all. A small man from Suffolk by the name of Bernie Ecclestone. Although being one of the shortest persons on the grid, he stands much taller than anyone else linked to the sport. In fact, very few will debate the point that whatever Formula 1 is today, it is just because of that one man.
It is very difficult to quantify how much Bernie has done for the sport. Right from trying to revive a team to surviving the FOCA-FISA war to doing numerous business deals with different people through the years as the supremo, he has done what very few would even think of doing, forget about actually undertaking such jobs and completing them simultaneously.
What was Formula 1 in the 70s? A sport attended by only the rich and seen mainly in Europe. TV feeds were limited as there were only a few cameramen track-side. Compare that to what it is now. Races in almost all the continents and in countries which one couldn’t even think of having a race track.
One can watch the race in the comfort of their homes with terrific camera feeds allowing fans to experience the race whichever way they like: pit lane channel, on-board, helicopter cam and what not. The way things are progressing, it won’t be long when even TV telecast becomes a thing of the past and everybody will access live feed on internet. Who is behind this all? Bernie.
Was his path to success very smooth? Not at all. But to make his job easier, he did adopt some means which didn’t go down well with everybody. Even then, the results are all that matter and they are for everybody to see.
Everything was peaceful until his association with German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky. What happened between the two and why Bernie has been indicted has been analysed in detail, so we wouldn’t be talking about that here. What we shall be focussing on is who might succeed him and how that might affect the sport.
One thing is certain- whoever replaces the Englishman would find it very difficult to stay in that position for even half his tenure. Currently, more than half of the races are held outside Europe and when the calendar expands further, chances are rare that the sport will look towards its homeland. Not only that, situations like those in Bahrain are even more difficult to manage.
Is there anyone really capable of stepping into his shoes and performing right from the start? Ask the paddock and the majority will say no.
That is the stature that Bernie has developed for himself in these last four decades. Right since starting as a manager for Stuart Lewis-Evans, he honed his skills and used them cunningly to rise to the top of the sport. If he is put behind the bars though, then there is no option for CVC but to find a replacement from wherever suitable, inside or outside.
During the last year or so, some CEOs have come to the fore as possible replacements: Richard Scudamore of the Premier League, Sainsbury’s Justin King to name a few. From inside the sport, most probable candidates are Red Bull team principal Christian Horner or Sauber’s Monisha Kaltenborn.
Even if they take over the reins, it won’t be the same because most of them will not have such a deep involvement in the sport as Bernie. People like Monisha have studied management and found their way into the F1 teams through associations with other sponsors while Bernie learnt his trade the ‘core’ way starting from being a car dealer on Warren Street.
Whatever happens, things are not looking smooth with F1 for the time being with several cases pending against Bernie and no outright suitable candidate as a replacement.
Formula 1 is standing at a crossroad where a few wrong decisions might put the existence of the sport into jeopardy. What will happen to fans like us who plan their life around F1 weekends? Nobody knows for sure.