There has been a lot in the media about Bernie Ecclestone lately. The 80 year old godfather of Formula 1 has had quite a month – in the spotlight during the Bahrain crisis, under pressure over the Gribkowsky case in Germany and now the subject of some painful revelations in a new biography by investigative journalist Tom Bower, which was launched last night after a sensational serialisation in the newspapers.
Unlike Max Mosley, Bernie has never employed a skilled spin doctor, always trusting his own judgement when it comes to when to intervene in the media, put out a message or knowing when and how to respond to unfolding events.
Everyone, myself included, thought Ecclestone’s tactic with Bahrain was to ensure that F1 didn’t forfeit its income by cancelling.
But he took the rather unusual step yesterday of coming out to say that Bahrain would not have to pay for the race if it doesn’t take place. F1 will take the hit if the race doesn’t happen, which means FOM and CVC and the teams will take the hit.
This clearly makes it more likely that the race will be rescheduled during 2011, once the troubles in Bahrain have been resolved. The problem is until they have been, FOM cannot schedule a new date.
There is talk in F1 circles of problems with payments relating to the Valencia Grand Prix and El Pais newspaper in Spain ran an item on it yesterday. This led to some speculation that the slot in June might become free. But that’s likely to be too soon for Bahrain and also way too hot for the racers. Imagine being Petrov or Heidfeld in the Renault with the wraparound exhausts heating up the cockpit and then going out in 50 degrees ambient! So it’s more likely to be at the end of the year with the World Council in June likely to be when it gets announced, if it’s going to be.
Incidentally the stories in the papers about Bahrain paying a $20 million premium to be the first race were not accurate. I’ve never heard of that before.
When I was commentator on ITV’s F1 coverage, the 2006 season started in Bahrain because Melbourne was hosting the Commonwealth Games. What we found was that the viewing figures for the first race were extremely strong because we were able to harvest all the interest raised by the hype building up to the new season. When you have all the hype and then stick the race on at 3am in the UK, the take up is bound to be less. So for European TV markets Bahrain is a far better place to start the season.
This will be an interesting and challenging year for Ecclestone and for CVC. There are continued stories that CVC would like to sell its stake in the sport and take its profit, but until the new Concorde Agreement has been negotiated and the case regarding Gribkowsky resolved, which CVC have hired lawyers and auditors to investigate, they cannot really set a price which will work for them and potential buyers will also want answers to those questions before making a multi billion dollar investment.