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Bernie explains and gives F1 pause for thought
Bernie explains and gives F1 pause for thought
Posted By:   |  06 Jul 2009   |  3:34 pm GMT  |  41 comments

Bernie Ecclestone’s interview in the Times last weekend has brought a furious response from politicians and virtual silence from the F1 community.

Most people in F1 don’t really want to get drawn into it, as they argue he shouldn’t have allowed himself to be in the first place.

What most people don’t understand is why he did the interview. He didn’t appear to have a key message to sell, such as “I know the breakaway threat looked bad, but F1 is now in the best shape it’s ever been in, ” or something of that kind.

There are suggestions that it may have been to help his old friend and colleague Max Mosley and suggestions to the opposite. It certainly aroused some uncomfortable memories of last year’s News of the World headlines and their Nazi association, which Mosley successfully challenged in court.

But actually I think what has happened here is extremely timely in the current debate about F1 and what direction it should take next in terms of governance.

Ecclestone has spoken to Bild newspaper, the German equivalent of the Sun to say that he has been misunderstood,

“All this is a big misunderstanding,” he said. “In the interview we were talking about structures and that it can sometimes be good to act and make strong decisions without reservation. I wasn’t using Hitler as a positive example, but pointing out that before his dreadful crimes he worked successfully against unemployment and economic problems.

“It was never my intention to hurt the feelings of any community. Many people in my closest circle of friends are Jewish.”

Ecclestone himself is Jewish and on his Saturdays off he can be seen in a very famous London cafe with his largely Jewish friends, drinking coffee and discussing.

Although he has got into trouble for choosing some poor examples to illustrate his point, he seems to have been trying to make the wider point that democracy is on the wrong path, that politicians today are more concerned with their image, distracted by the 24 hour news cycle, than they are with getting things done. He believes that the best system of government is where people put their faith in dictators and trust them to make tough decisions and get things done.

In this his start point is his own experience in motor sport and it has some interesting reflections on the current situation in F1 with an uneasy truce currently in place between the teams and the men who run the sport.

It has been proven over the years in motor sport that the best way to run a racing series is by a ‘benevolent dictatorship’. This is true at all levels. Someone needs to get things done and make decisions and the rest abide by them. Series run by the teams themselves don’t really work, like CART in the USA for example.

F1 is where it is today because it has been run by a dictatorship and for many years the team owners like Ron Dennis, Frank Williams and even Luca di Montezemolo were quite happy to go along with it because their series became the biggest motor sport show on Earth.

But now times have changed and that is what the F1 power struggle is all about.

The key to it is the ‘benevolent’ bit. If a tough, strong, but fair leader is in charge then things get done and it works, as long as everyone is treated equally. The teams feel that this is no longer the case and they are highlighting instances like the selection of new teams, (with today’s allegations in the Telegraph that having a Cosworth engine contract was a requirement for entry) to show that this system of governance has gone down the wrong track.

What the F1 teams want, motivated by the manufacturers, is a more democratic F1. This is why Max Mosley’s message to the FIA members is that their institution is under threat because the Formula One Teams Association thinks it can run the sport itself. History would suggest that it would be a mistake for them to try to do that and I think it is what Bernie was trying to say (obliquely) in the interview with the Times. But the problem is, he chose some bad examples to illustrate his point.

His words have hurt many people it seems, but I think what will hurt him about this episode is the impression that he is out of touch, an accusation levelled at him over his response to the racism incident where Spanish fans mocked Lewis Hamilton.

The interesting thing will be whether anyone in F1 seeks to capitalise on this episode or whether the teams will remain focussed on Mosley and his ‘retirement’ in October.

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stevie p – bernie is a genius. you can’t create such a complicated web of companies and businesses controlling the highest level of international sport that no-one else can touch (let alone understand) with structures and deals that are such that you earn billions of dollars, without a few brain cells.

as for his comments – some are saying that they are a dig at max. i disagree, if bernie wanted max to go, he would not have been allowed to say he was coming back. instead, it looks to me like bernie is trying to take some focus away from the corruption surrounding the FIA-F1 teams.


James you made a factual error there , Bernie is not Jewish , he has Jewish freinds but he himself is not Jewish .

In an interview with the Jewish Cronicle he said

“Most of my mates are Jewish people, I spoke to two or three very prominent Jewish people today. One of them said to me, ‘Bernie, you’re more Jewish than all of my friends’.


I think Bernie likes the idea of dictators because he is at the top doing the dictating, when the shoe is on the other foot like it is with FOTA he does not like it, for he loses power and that is just not on. No dictator likes to lose power.
The FIA has an impotant part to play in F1 but it is as a body that sets the rules in conjunction with the teams and then administer those rules in a fair and just manner.


Whatever makes you think The Bolt is Jewish?


It is being reported that the prime minister of Baden-Württemberg has cancelled a meeting with Bernie to discuss whether to continue alternating the German F1 race between the two German circuits.

The cynic in me says that is the result Bernie was after with his comments.


You speak of losing touch…is there any way ………under the past year that we could not claim…. both of these so called intelligent men have lost touch…or is it when in a black strapped Tutu…or Bernie wishing for a more clear view on Hitler’s rein…(then it does become clear how far this has gone)….give me a break …..These two have been a train wreck in their private lives and their business practices.

Double retirement….please


Have just seen Bernie’s column in the Times (“Dazed & Diffused: Portait of a dictator as a old man”, etc).

F1, it would seem, is determined to morph seamlessly into a reality TV show, with Ecclestone sounding and looking more like his own Spitting Image puppet with every day that passes.

What is Endemol’s number? Someone should pitch it now: “Max & Bernie: The Faster Show”.

I was going to suggest a Bernie & Max blog, but who needs that when the Times is always there to catch every syllable.

PS: Did anyone notice Ed Gorman’s “list of F1’s most dictator-like folks” (aka the power list)? As if you needed a list that when past “B” …

Howard Hughes

This is another pathetic media storm in a teacup. Bernie was right – in a sport like F1 you need a benevolent dictator to get things done and not waste time getting bogged down in trying to govern by committee. And yes, his wistful declaration that he wishes that elements of managing a country / economy through a crisis could be handled the same way was right too. Wouldn’t you really prefer a Bernie, or a Warren Buffett, or even a tiny group of genius-level businessmen taking control of the Exchequer for a period of, say, 6 months, instead of Darling?!

And the whole foaming at the mouth response to the Hitler analogy is typical – typically daft and hysterical. Hitler was a bad man. A very very bad man. We get it, and so does Bernie. But it’s become a cultural bete noir to render any examination or analysis of anything economically positive he might have ever done as the final taboo. It’s become a knee jerk reaction industry to suddenly call for the heads of anyone who might opine that at least the guy played some part in dragging a battered country from its knees in the 20s to global pre-eminence by the 30s. He was sick, evil, twisted, demonic etc etc. Course he bloody was. But he was also one of the greatest orators of all time, and I can’t frankly think of anyone else who’s had quite the ability to mold and shape an entire nation’s will around his own.

It’s just such a shame that any reference to his undoubted skills (cos you don’t get to stand in front of hundreds of thousands of fanatical supporters unless you’re at least slightly good at leadership) draws the inevitable cries of resignation.

And isn’t it funny how he could have said pretty much the same about Pol Pot, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Stalin etc and not quite generated the same global oppobrium?

Seriously guys – bashing Bernie for this says more about your own intellects than it does his.


In a further article, Bernie has admitted that the quotes attributed to him in the article were spot on. Whilst I accept that this is unusual, I think the ‘gutter press’ accusation is more than harsh. Further, Eccs must have been party to the interview. Three journos turned up so it was hardly doorstepping.


Amazing how many people can miss the point and only see something to complain about. The PC brigade (now the absolute bain of the UK) who are somewhat more dictatorial in their self righteous assertions will always latch immediately on to the downside and in their passion to be publicly right totally ignore the original point of the message.

In my view Bernie has achieved his objective, handsomely, this was to have a small dig at Max and to get publicity, not once but twice and possibly some more times. What a pity there is no proper chat show on UK tv any more, Ross is ok but dumbed down to the national attention span, so guests only last a few minutes each. Bernie would make an excellent guest choice for Parkinson if he were still going not to mention many others who need to be interviewed properly by hosts asking not just the
pre-approved “happy” questions, but those we want the answers to.

James how about it as a special for ITV or does Bernie parlo d’Italiano?


I would like to endorse those last two sentiments Paul.
”Best blog in the West !” JA.


My wife comes from Zimbabwe so I have a vastly different view on dictators. And for Dictators ever being “benevolant”, can you name five? I will take one though.
Can you and Bernie answer this question, why would people, business’s and manufacturers who put Billions of dollars into a sport not want a say on how it is run? Would you like to run a team and have the ruling body make changes to rules every year or two and make deals with some teams and not others to get what they want? Would you not want a say and know that there is a voice of reason on the other end listening?
I think Bernie likes the idea of dictators because he is at the top doing the dictating, when the shoe is on the other foot like it is with FOTA he does not like it, for he loses power and that is just not on. No dictator likes to lose power.
The FIA has an impotant part to play in F1 but it is as a body that sets the rules in conjunction with the teams and then administer those rules in a fair and just manner.
At the moment there is way too many stories going around about how the selection process for the new teams has been undertaken. Whether true or not mud sticks and so far the FIA is looking like a rather muddy pig at the feeding trough. [mod]


James – if you’re talking about the same London cafe where I’ve seen Bernie with his mates, he hasn’t been there in a while – not since they refurbished anyway.

I’m still not sure what Bernie was going on about, btw. If he was saying that dictators make good leaders because they take decisive action, that kind of goes without saying. The problem is they don’t necessarily take the right action. And that’s arguably what Max’s problem has been.

He’s taken Formula 1 to the brink of collapse, fighting too many forces simultaneously. Rather like trying to hold the Western front while pushing through the Russian winter towards Moscow, to continue the somewhat inappropriate analogy.

I agree with ‘on F1’, as well – Bernie’s not Jewish himself – but he does have a lot of Jewish friends. I have this on good authority, because my wife is Jewish and claims to be able to tell at a glance if someone else is Jewish too (not always correctly, I must say). She did hesitate when she saw Bernie, but is confident he’s not. Not that his ethnicity or religion is of any importance. The problem for F1 is Bernie’s age – he’s not far off 80 and is sounding more like Prince Philip with each passing day.


Just a question James related to dictatorial rule and power vacuums; if Bernie were drop dead tomorrow (or to get run over by one of those empty buses he recently talked about), what happens to FOM?

Is there a succession via inheritance? Do the FIA (aka Mosely) have a say? And what about CVC?


That’s the most even-handed perspective I’ve seen on the subject, great piece.

I’m in two minds about Bernie. I love to hate him and sometimes I hate to love him :-). I do think he and CVC have been allowed take too much of the F1 cake and that is to the detriment of real F1 fans (and real F1 circuits).

However the hysteria of the last few days is typical of the lily-livered PC bull that is rampant in modern society, especially in the UK. First of all, do people not realise that Bernie himself is of Jewish stock? Hell even I knew that… Although it was silly to broach such a touchy subject the fact is he’s right – Hitler DID get the economy back on track, increase employment and rapidly modernise the country.

It was a silly example to use, the kind of half-baked argument a guy might use in a pub after 9 pints of Guinness.

Personally I thought maybe his dictator references were an attempt to damn Max by association (?) I just don’t think Bernie would bother yapping to the broadsheets without some sort of motive…


Thanks very much for that perspective James. I still think it was an appallingly stupid thing to say – obviously the man has never heard of Godwin’s Law!! However your comments do make sense in terms of putting his comments in the context in which he meant them to be taken.

Doesn’t change the fact that if he honestly didn’t know he would be slated for this, he’s totally out of touch with reality. They need to go, the pair of them. But of course the question is who replaces them, and until they have the cojones to address that question and put people’s minds at rest, the uncertainty around F1’s future will continue and deepen.


The key to being a benevolent dictator is being able to stay under the radar. BE’s problem is that he LOVES the radar. And now the radar is burning him good.


Good commentary, as ever. Bernie was misquoted in the original article, but thats the gutter press for you…

Shame that none of the main stream dead tree press will run something like the above.

Ah but… when was the last time I bought a paper? Yonks ago. Last time I used autosport/f1live/allenonf1… daily….

Keep up the good work; your blog style gets better and better.



James, it must be pointed out that Bernie Ecclestone is not Jewish. According to the biography written by Terry Lovell Ecclestone’s parents were married in church – which hardly means he is Jewish! Sorry for raising for this, but it is important that this fact is raised.


This whole thing about new teams being told they have to use Cosworth engines really stinks. Is it true? If so is this legal?


I’ll leave the argument about whether there has ever been a fair, decent, or benign dictatorship – or even one that got things done – and whether Hitler’s economics were sustainable without a war and concentrate on Mosley and his ‘benign dictatorship’ of F1 being good for it.

He didn’t start out as the whole power of the FiA. Indeed in the early days he had to share power with Balestre, the latter’s demise being long and rather drawn out, a rather sad end for someone who was always an enthusiast.

I was more than satisfied with the change as, unlike his predecessor, Mosley sort of bumbled about in the background not doing much but, at the same time, not doing much wrong. The senate had power and authority and F1 went through a period, all too short, where there was strong management despite being committee led.

In retrospect, the change came when a rather minor proposition of Mosley’s was rejected by the ruling committee. For some reason Mosley threw a bit of a wobbly and resigned on some principle. His resignation then slipped his mind and he turned up for work and, it has been reported, turned a number of the committee, especially those who voted against the proposition, out onto the street.

Even then you had to be considerably more astute than I was to notice much difference at the time although there were mumblings and rumours of dissent.

The change in Mosley’s authority came to my notice with the enquiry into the Benetton fire at the German GP (note, Ecclestone: not the first time a holocaust has marred the German race) when one of the most dangerous acts I can remember either before or since in the sport went unpunished. If there had been a committee running the sport then I wonder if the removal of a safety device in a fuel hose would have been considered forgettable.

Then we had the Indy FiAsco and a whole series of –gates. All this post totalitarian rule, all these under Mosley’s watch. All of them causing untold harm to F1.

But James, one phrase of yours I agree with entirely in its sentiments if not its grammar: F1 is where it is today because it has been run by a dictatorship.

Just ask yourself if F1 has ever been in a more parlous state that it is today. We have been hit by daily scandals and revelations of conduct which is, at best, ill-advised.

I felt sorry for Balestra when he was unceremoniously kicked out. There was never ever any doubt that he loved motor racing. He wasn’t particularly good at the role of president. However, he never really harmed F1. That epitaph is beyond Mosley.

But what is it with the sport? We have Balestra who was, for whatever reason, in the French SS, Mosley who was an activist in the Union Movement, the post war reincarnation of the British Union of Fascists, and Ecclestone now an apologist for Hitler.

Sorry to have a go at your tremendous blog, James, but I felt it needed saying.


Perhaps I’m being a bit of a devil’s advocate, but I think what Ecclestone has said was largely taken out of context. Does he have a special talent for putting his foot in his mouth? You bet!

But anyone who has followed F1 for more than a week or two will know that Ecclestone doesn’t care much for politics, race, or any other issue unless it directly affects F1.


Sanity in a world of selectively-edited quotations!


So, why would Max want to control the source of supply for F1 engines ?

Because he still wants to play power and domination games with F1 for many years to come ?

Was it just a ruse to excuse the ‘strange’ choice of new entrants ?

What advantages would it have for Max if he got 3 new ‘lapdog’ teams in, who maybe ‘owe’ him something, or are run in part by his cronies, FIA or otherwise…not just, say the 3 best possible new entrants regardless of any ties to FOTA Manufacturers via their engine supplies ?

It must be he still wants to play power and domination games with F1 for many years to come, what other explanation is there, the ‘man’ has no intention of leaving us alone or stopping this grotesque farce.

The Flying Finn

Hope that this wont be taken out of context and used against Bernie (although its pretty certain that it will..) Just read eleswhere that talks with a german politician on the future of the GP was cancelled due to the controversy, which proves Bernie’s point that democratic politicians are about popularity and staying in office and not doing the right thing and getting things done. Same with companies (eg car makers) on wall st focused on next quarter’s numbers to please analysts and shareholders, which is no doubt what this FOTA thing is all about isnt it ?

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