F1 Winter Break
Ecclestone in the news at start of a challenging year
Ecclestone in the news at start of a challenging year
Posted By: James Allen  |  25 Feb 2011   |  11:25 am GMT  |  75 comments

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.

Photo: Darren Heath

He was criticised last year for his comments regarding dictators and more recently his handling of the Bahrain crisis, for not coming straight out and saying that the race was off because of the deaths of the protesters.

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.

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I take your point about the timing being better for the European audiences.

But having twice as many viewers watching a tedious procession through a car park in the desert is hardly good for the sport's image, is it?


Last year wasn't great - due to a bad combination of the new loop spreading the field and new rules but you are forgetting that previous races at Bahrain had plenty of passing etc


I don't like Bahrain either but I don't see what's special about Melbourne from a TV Viewer point of view.

Those who visit every circuit might have a different opinion but most of us don't and there's nothing in F1 making you feel the atmosphere in the paddock or the stands during a race. It's not a stadium.


But I think Keith still has a point, even if previous Bahrain GPs were better/had more passing.

It's still not the ideal place to start the season. It lacks the drama, the colour, the passion of Melbourne. As a venue it is clinical and feels sterile.

It's all the same reasons why people prefer Interlagos (or Suzuka in the past) to host the final round. There's an inherent excitement about those venues that the Abu Dhabis and Bahrains are not remotely able to compete with.

I'm just about willing to accept the Bahrain GP as a race in its own right - but other than being a more helpful time for TV I don't think there's much to justify it being the opening round.

Besides, in TV viewing terms Australia gets two showings, in the UK anyway - so you get all the viewers who want to see it live plus all the people who want to see it but aren't quite so dedicated to get up early. If they show the Australian GP re-run at the same time as Bahrain is live it negates all the advantage.


I love the season starting in Australia.

It seems a fitting beginning to set the alarm for 0430, fall out of bed, stick on the kettle, grab the glasses (no chance of contact lenses going in at that hour) and load the toaster with bread.

Then fall back into bed at 0945 or so and watch it all again later.


Bahrain GP 2006 was a corker!!

I must be in the minority because I really like the track layout at Bahrain. Although I wasn't impressed by the extra bit (new loop) they used last season - for me it spoiled the flow of the track and what was a great run from the top of the hill through a kink to a tight right hairpin. It also negated the wide corner exit at turn 4 too... and all because they were trying to trump Abu Dhabi's length (if you'll pardon the expression).


James, I think that a new date should have been provided for Bahrain GP, otherwise it should have been cancelled.

How long can Ecclestone delay the decision? And how sure may he be at the time of setting a new date that the situation will be stable by then?

I'm Spanish, but I would like to see a GP in France.


How long will it take to resolve the problems?


5 or 6 years I should think, if it is done peacefully and as a gradual process. However if it is done by revolution probably only a couple of years.

Resolving the problem to Bernie, is just ensuring that all the F1 circus does not come into contact with protesters.

I am sure that the King will attempt to buy off the protesters with more free houses and a minimum wage, whether that would work over the race period is perhaps not the ethical question, but it may allow a race.

The forward exhaust systems are an interesting device full of potential problems and I would imagine quite serious and dangerous ones, as are the KERS components and their connecting cables.


I am sure that the King will attempt to buy off the protesters with more free houses and a minimum wage, whether that would work over the race period is perhaps not the ethical question, but it may allow a race...jonrob

Bribe the people with their own money...nice one.


At 80 years.. it seems that BE is becoming the victim of his own non-willingness to set up a proper organization and groom a successor.

How can the teams, most highly professional organizations with clear management structures with business continuity in mind... accept this state of affairs at FOM?

The risk if Bernie goes into dementia or passes away.. and the management vacuum that will create... you'd think that at least FOTA etc would put this on their non-public agenda.


Whether Bernie has been good or bad for the sport is one of those imponderables that get aired after you've fought you way to the catch-fencing at 6 am and are stuck there until the end of the race.

As to who his successor will be, it would appear that when the new concord agreement is sorted, and possibly the case involving the sale of stakes to CVC, there might not be much of a job to inherit.

Is the new CA going to revolutionise the sport as everyone seems to be hinting, although without producing evidence to support it? Is Patrick Head's move to sell his interests in Williams an indication of what he feels might be the result of this change?

For some time last season Bernie appeared to be under attack, and not only for his outrageous comments. If he cannot cling to power, for whatever reason, then there will probably be a considerable degree of infighting, the main result of which will be to hurt our sport.

There is a considerable amount of money sloshing around out there and everyone will want a bit. Let's face it, I would.

As for Bahrain, the situation there is either calming or Libya has merely pushed it off the front page. Certainly the Royal Family has been make the right sorts of noises although there seems to be a reluctance from the other side to enter into negotiations.

Rescheduling would appear to be the most likely option at this stage, but hopefully towards the end of the season when the temperature is merely very hot.

I'm with others who have posted on here: Bahrain was not the place to open the season. We want something dramatic, something exciting, something to get the heart racing. Bahrain should have been buried between two exciting races.


>Whether Bernie has been good or bad for the sport is one of those imponderables<

No its not. Without Bernie there would *be no F1 as we know it.




On the money.

Ecclestone saw it first and got in early. F1 with all its highly motivated professional people would have evolved the things that the man is supposedly taking credit for, so to me its all a non starter that Ecclestone is wonderful. Good things have been done but these would have happened anyway.

To me the legacy will be his greed and the damage to F1 thats been done.


You are right Rich C, F1 would not be as we know it without Bernie. Harvey raises several good reasons why Bernie is not necessarily a God and asks if this is the best F1 could have been. His answers to his own question are sound and I would like to add a few of my own.

Imola, Zandvoort, Osterreichring and the French Grand Prix, wherever it might be held.

Instead we have Bahrain, China, Abu Dhabi etc.

We are forever hearing that the heart of F1 is Europe, race times in Middle and Far East countries are scheduled to suit European audiences.

Instead, European venues are being priced out by Bernie's ever increasing fees, there are any number of reports out there of declining audiences, Spa might disappear because folks can no longer afford the tickets.

We used to be able to drive to the European GPs, buy the tickets and still have money for a few beers. We could also walk around most circuits during practice, choose where to watch on raceday and get there early. No need for impossibly expensive stand seats that confine you to one place for an entire weekend.


You can't blame Donington on Bernie. He was offered what he wanted, an up-to-date facility for the British GP, but Gillett just couldn't deliver. What is worse, he started the building work despite not having the funds in place. Bernie even extended the deadlines for them but alas to no avail. At the time the BRDC couldn't commit funding to improve Silverstones facilities. Thankfully they found the funds. Don't forget a lot of national tracks around the world are backed by their governments.

Bernie is a stubborn old man, and it is thanks to that that F1 is where it is.


I agree with Harvey. Bernie didn't invent motorsport or open wheel racing. For better or worse he's just the guy currently selling the top tier of it. In alternative universes, how many worse versions of F1 without Bernie are there compared to better ones? We will never know.


..perhps, but would that be a bad thing?


Thanks for replying to my comment:

That there would be no F1 as we know it without Bernie is not in doubt. The question is: is this F1 the best that could have been? If he had not taken over marketing where would we now be?

Many suggest professionalism being the thing he has brought to the sport but this ignores the fact that it was the likes of Head/Williams and Dennis who searched out quality engineers and produced professional outfits. Indeed, Bernie was part of it with Brabham.

Television coverage, another triumph of Bernie we are told, generally lagged behind other sports. One wonders if the price was set too high.

Bernie deals in marketing. He's demanded that circuits improve their facilites and this is the one area where, I'm told, his influence has been overwhelming.

No one enjoyed being stuck in traffic at Silverstone. And none enjoyed visits to the toilets in the old days. But does being able to relieve oneself in comparative healthy areas mean he's some sort of F1 god?

But in others it has not been so good. Are you going to the French GP this year? Are you happy with what happened to Donington? Does Bahrain drage you to the edge of your seat?

There are many way in which F1 could have progressed in the years since he took over marketing. Perhaps some of the money that he has taken from the sport could have been invested in it. You knever know your luck.

I was a big fan of Brabham when he was in charge - the BT54 is still awe inspiring - but I see little or no difference from a spectator's point of view in the racing. If anything it could be that it has dropped off in some ways, with the new circuits being difficult to tell apart.

Certain aspects of F1 are largely Bernie's creation. But all he did was get in early. F1's potential would have been picked up within a few years but perhaps with a bit more of the profits going to the teams.

It seems odd to me that at a time when countries are paying multi millions for the honour of running a GP, television companies around the world have to be pushed away, that the teams are limited as to what they can spend.

I'm not suggesting the racing would be better if they had more money but I am saying that just because Bernie saw a trend and grabbed it it doesn't make his influence beneficial.

Bernie is in some ways the architect of F1 today. If you think this is the best that could have been then ok. There's nothing else to say. But not eveyone agrees.

I can see nothing good about the size of CVC/Bernie's take. That money could have been put to better use.


I get the sense that Mr E has covered all eventualities but just doesn't want Joe Public to find out least they then feel he's overstayed his welcome.

Rumour mill has a Zak Brown to replace Mr E? I would prefer this american Mr B than the italian Mr B whose name was in the mix not so long ago.



Assuming you mean the ex/part-time racer and not the country-western singer?

I can't see 'glamorous' Euro-centric F1 ever accepting one of those - gasp - plebeian Americans for El Supremo's job.


having made that point... remains my admiration for the man, his cleverness and wish that he will be with us for a long time! But he must set up his succession.

mohamed south africa

great article james


James, you say that "for European TV markets Bahrain is a far better place to start the season" because viewing figures are stronger for Bahrain than they are for Australia. You are correct because I think 4.78 million tuned into the Bahrain GP last year compared to 2 million for the 6am Australian GP.

But why not put an Americas race like Brazil or maybe an old favourite Argentina for the start of the season; the race start is on primetime for most European countries, would be an excellent curtainraiser viewing figures wise as well (Brazil GP got 8.8m in 2008 for ITV, 6.6m in 2009 for BBC, so viewing figures are very strong). We know that the Brazilian GP until 2003 often was the first or second race of a new season, so why can't Bernie do this again and put maybe Argentina or Spa or even Estoril (another great track) as the season ending race?


You have a point, but comparing the viewing figures in Brazil to those in Australia and Bahrain doesn't show much. You have to remember that those two Brazilian GPs were title deciders (although in 2009 there was a bit of a chance it wouldn't be)

There's always going to be way more viewers for the last race than for the first.

But with the time zones it would make sense


I'm not. I was comparing the two viewing figures for the Grands Prix. The viewing figures are for the BBC1 and ITV1 showings.


What about the millions of viewers here in Asia? Australia is perfect. Late afternoon at the pub watching the first race of the season. Lovely. Can't wait.


Well in the old days the season did start in that part of the world


"Everyone, myself included, thought Ecclestone’s tactic with Bahrain was to ensure that F1 didn’t forfeit its income by cancelling."

I saw it more as a case of Ecclestone challenging the Crown Prince to get his country in order. Because if the Crown Prince had said yes to the race and it had gone ahead in an unstable climate, it would have been very embarrassing for him (and not for Formula 1, because all Bernie would have to say is "It was his call - we didn't have any people in Bahrain, and he's the Prince, so he's supposed to know these things"), as it would have shown that he was completely out of touch with his own country.


James, do you have a link where I could read about these rumored problems with the Valencia GP? I can't find anything searching at elpais.com


I'd love to know too, was thinking of heading down to watch the Valencia GP this year. How much substance do you think these rumours have?


I have never been a fan of Bahrain. It just doesn't have any character and looks bland on TV. Last year was a nightmare due to the infield section. I have always felt the first and last races should be at established circuits with history.

F1 is missing a trick by changing the venues every year. Adelaide or Suzuka used to be the crowning place for champions with Brazil kicking the year off. They shouldn't be giving these important races to nations that have only just got into the sport. I have no idea where the common sense was to move the finale to Abu Dhabi where the circuit doesn't allow for decent races.


Glad they've changed it to Brazil this year, much more fitting a finale.


I think I'm right that Bahrain and Abu Dhabi have to be either at the start, or the end of the season, due to their climate. F1 wants to get to new markets, but there are some practical issues that go some way to determining the dates.

This is true for most races to be honest, remember the mudbath when Silverstone was brought forward a few years ago?


Completely, completely off topic, but there are some great quotes on Robert Kubica in Autosport this week.

My favourite of which was from Mr Boullier, when asked it is that makes Robert great, Boullier replied

"Well its not his PR skills, thats for certain"

Brilliant. Get well soon Robert.

I havent seen a more universally liked GP driver for some time. I rarely hear anyone having a go at RK. I think he's excellent, and my driver of the year by a mile last year.


We'll never know about Bahrain, whether the conflict in Bahrain lasts for months or years. F1 needs to find a backup grand prix incase we don't return to Bahrain next year. May I suggest Jerez, because the teams test there already and have a good knowledge of the track. It would be a decent track to go to as a season opener, good for European audiences with an afternoon start time. I'm not sure you know this, James, but the last grand prix to be held in Jerez, the 1997 European Grand Prix (infamous for obvious reasons) attracted 5.68 million viewers, so provided it attracted enough fanfare, a Jerez grand prix would be very good to start the season with or even end it with,


But then three races in Spain?


We could get rid of Valencia - its future is being threatened anyway and it is one of the most boring races on the calendar. As for Catalunya, there's an inherent lack of overtaking and races are very predictable there. I suggest that we should put Australia as race 1, maybe return to Portugal with Estoril to replace Catalunya in May, and put Jerez at the end of the season after Brazil.


Ah but after the cock up with the podium presentations in 1997, the FIA said that Jerez would never hold an F1 race again...


It is very important to have the scheduling issue with the Bahrain GP resolved very quickly as it will become a huge issue in the latter stages of the season if there is more than one driver or team capable of winning the Drivers or Constructors titles like we witnessed in 2011.

The number of possible points scenarios would baffle even a seasoned F1 fan.


"once the troubles in Bahrain have been resolved"

I agree they will probably run another race but F1 has never been squmesh about the real word issues, so I think they will wait until there are not protesters not been shot in the streets... rather then "solved". Anyway - hard to tell the real situation vs. what we see on the news.


"Everyone, myself included, thought Ecclestone’s tactic with Bahrain was to ensure that F1 didn’t forfeit its income by cancelling."

Me to. But it didn't come as any surprise that Eccelston would be putting financial implications before moral ones. Granted they sadly gave Bahrain their money back, but this saved them having to pay Bahrain a fortune for cancelling.

If F1 wants to take advantage of the European market why not just start the season in Europe? I don't see the point of sticking the race in the middle of the desert were the stands are only half full anyway.


Bore-ain, Abu Dhrabi....these aren't races meant for true fans, they are little backyard parties for a few extremely rich people to show off their cribs. When they are gone (and they will be gone), these races will be quickly forgotten.


So many see it that way and believe it will go down that way...


They can skip Bahrain if it was up to me, don't quite like that track.


as soon as the season starts, all this talk about bahrain will fade away. We are on withdraw symtoms yet.


Bernie's got problems? So have we.....having to wait an extra 2 weeks for a race! ;o)

On a more serious note, lets hope the people of Bahrain suffer no more violence and get things sorted in a peaceful way.


Great article james.

So do you think that valencia will stay on the calender?

also do you have any information on the autosport story a few days ago that said the catayluna race could be under threat after 2012?



Let's be very honest, all recent tracks are not helping to create real racing. Bahrain, Turkey, Abu Dhabi, Valencia - these are all worst races that you force yourself to watch....


If these really are the worst races, why has Spa had the lowest race day attendance of any GP for the past 2 years, and the second lowest (averaged over 3 years) TV audience figures?


I can't explain why SPA has the lowest attendant. You ask any F1 fan - Spa is the race they are all look forward to see. We do not have to ask F1 fans, let's ask drivers - Spa is a magic circuit for them.

I love Spa! Of of the best for me!


You're not taking into account the fact that for the past couple of years now, the Belgian Grand Prix has been scheduled on the August bank holiday weekend and naturally on bank holidays, ratings will be lower than usual. If the Grand Prix was scheduled a week before the bank holiday weekend in August, it would probably average about 4.6/4.7 million as opposed to 3.9/4 million for the current late August slot.


I had the good fortune to visit Turkey in 2009 and went to the GP. I walked the whole track with a friend over the practice session and (lamentable) support races. It is a stunning circuit. Much more in the mold of a Spa, but without the forest. The elevation changes are terrific and you can really see the drivers work hard to get their lap time (and not just at Turn 8).

It was a shame that there was only 12 of us there to watch the race, in a somewhat desolate patch of land far from Istanbul, but the race was brilliant. In my opinion, Tilke's best creation.


100% agree. And last year's race was more than eventful. Also remember the GP2 race where Hamilton went from something like 18th to 2nd after a spin?


James, can you shed any light on why Tilke has a complete monopoly on the designing of new tracks. Would it not make more sense to allow other designers for more variety. Yes Turkey is great, as is Sepang but think his newer tracks have become too predictable.


THat's a whole story in itself. It's not complete monopoly - Silverstone used Populous to design its new section


I think that was in 2006.


Turkey has produced some great races - last year's grand prix was excellent and was all capped off by the two Red Bulls coming together on lap 40 I believe. But for the rest, I have to agree with AlexD; races in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and Valencia are very very poor indeed. Quite frankly, I could design a better race track; and it's the same person designing these new tracks - Hermann Tilke. Get someone else to design them!!!



Great point about Bernie's dictator comments.

One of many in a long line of strange if not mis guided comments that he has made to the press.

I recall an interview with the BBC in 2009 in which Ecclestone strongly defended Briatore after being found guilty after Crashgate and he said "Giving somebody life - they don't even do that for murder". My jaw dropped when I heard that one!

I'm not surprised Bernie was backing Briatore (a close business partner at QPR). Renault escaped it's own Spygate and Crashgate. Some teams seem to have teflon coats when you compare that to McLaren's $100m fine! That was the day I became a McLaren supporter because of the treatment they received!

It boils down to whether you were one of Max's or Bernie's friends!


Spot on, same here!!!



I hope one day Ron gets a knighthood after creating one F1's most successful teams and an innovative sports car brand employing many people).

Compare that to Bernie's and Max's achievements who I hope don't get within sniffing distance of Buckingham Palace!


To much emphasis on administration in all sports these days,the show will always go on,no ones indispensable except teams & drivers,administrators good or bad are a dime a hundred dozen these days,they churn them out daily at your local university.Its like lame stream media actually believe that the show will come to an abrupt end because of B Ecclestone's woes.Bernie was of more interest to F1 fans when he was top dog at Brabham,as head honcho of CVC I & I'm sure FOTA could care less if he & his self manufactured dramas disappeared tomorrow.


I used to care about the character of Bernie, Max, etc. Then I grew up.

I watch for the cool looking cars thy go round and round and make me want to have a smoke, drink a red bull, chase it with a Johny Walker and call my friend on my Vodaphone.

What he does to get the show on my TV or cars on the grid no longer interests me. Even if people must be paid of, what's wrong with that? If he wants me to watch his marketing infomercials events the cars and drivers better be there. Otherwise, I use magical remote to turn to another channel.


Ron hasn't been knighted? I'm surprised by that. Would like to see Bernie be knighted, how he brought the sport into global attention and such, deserves it I'd say.


To get a knighthood you have to do something for your country!

What has Bernie done? I know that he played his part in landing McLaren, a British team with a $100m fine which may had more to do with history and politics than anything else.

But was happy to defend one his best friends, Briatore after Crashgate.


One of the most passionless, stale races on the calendar.


I've never really got the critisisms surrounding Bahrain in terms of the racing?

I'll admit its not the best looking circuit because of the desert colors & big tarmac Run-Off's, However it has actually produced some very good racing over the years.

2004 was a good race with a lot of good racing, especially some side-by-side stuff round turns 1/2/3.

2005 was much the same as was 2006 which also featured a very high number of passes (34 from memory).

I remember some nice racing in 2007 & again a fair few passes. I recall Coulthard making his way through the field passing a lot of cars.

2008 wasnt as good & 2009 wasn't great either.

The whole problem with 2010 was the new loop. If you look at the GP2 Asia series. They ran the old layout & put on 2 fantastic races, 2 weeks later ran the new loop as the F1 support & put on 2 of the worst GP2 races ever.

Valencia & Abu-Dhabi are my 2 least favorite Tilke circuits, But in terms of actual racing his others tend to deliver more often than not. Problem been people tend to ignore the good bits of racing simply because they would rather heap critisism on Tilke & refuse to admit a circuit he designed produced a good race.



I wonder why Ecclestone never treated Silverstone with the same respect he does and is for a track in the middle of a soulless place that gives boring races and just happens to be controlled by a Prince in a dictatorship for want of any other name whom treats it's normal folk with little though if any ant all (after all how many of them wanted or want an F1 Grand Prix)?

In my view as a chap who has followed F1 since the 1960's Ecclestone IS NOT the man who should be controlling it, just reflect on how many times he's put his foot in it, only in today's money driven F1 could he have got away with and STILL be in charge.

Another point, in my opinion F1 should never have end up in his hands in the first place just ask McLaren, Ferrari and Williams on their views on that.

I'd also like to say, the fact that not one - NOT A SINGLE F1 journalist who relies on F1 for their living had the balls to say it it should have been said when all the troubles kicked off for, I suspect, fear of their F1 passes being taken away............

F1 or not, right is always right.


Just a thought Magny-Cours has just gained a good road to it and the first sector with KERS and ADW would be great places to pass.


Agreed. I miss M Cours - always good races there. Not many F1 folk liked it because of the hotels in the area!


James, what do you make of Ecclestone's new biography? And about this revelation http://www.planet-f1.com/news/3213/6783588/-Alonso-wanted-to-sabotage-Hamilton-s-car-


I just don't understand the middle eastern culture, so much poor people and a handful of rich ones. Surely a civil unrest is bound to break out. It's only logical.

Intelligence and greed don't get along, but when it does some form of negativity arises. Can be violent though.


Saying that, if Bahrain used the outer circuit it would make for a more unique venue and it would be one I'd really look forward to.

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