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Ron Dennis on Justin King as successor to Ecclestone: “It would be a steep learning curve”
Posted By: James Allen  |  07 Mar 2014   |  2:43 pm GMT  |  110 comments

With Bernie Ecclestone’s criminal trial in Germany just over a month away and having himself opened up the discussion on possible successors, it has emerged that former Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King is favourite with bookmakers for the role, ahead of Richard Scudamore or the Premier League and Red Bull boss Christian Horner.

At this stage CVC Capital Partners, who would be tasked with deciding in the event that Ecclestone needed replacing, have said nothing beyond what CVC Co-Chairman Donald Mackenzie told London’s High Court in November during the Constantin Medien case,
“It won’t be easy (to find a successor). And we’re still thinking of one, trying to find one.”

City sources insist that CVC are waiting to see what arises in the trial. King, who quit Sainsbury’s recently, has let it be known via friends in motorsport that he would be interested in the role, while Horner has been anointed by Ecclestone himself, but has said he wouldn’t want the job and his employers Red Bull have said they want him to stay in his current role. In addition, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo will have a say in it as he has negotiated a veto right over the CEO in Ferrari’s bilateral deal with F1 Management.

King: Has let it be known he is interested in F1 role

Co-incidentally King was at a dinner in London last week, hosted by a leading City PR firm, at which FIA president Jean Todt also happened to be a guest. But King has several friends in the sport, among whom McLaren boss Ron Dennis is probably the closest.

I asked Dennis yesterday if he thought that King would be suitable for the role; he began by assessing the situation,

“Bernie is Bernie, he has his approach to the task of optimising the commercial aspects of Grand Prix racing, ” said Dennis. “He’s all of the things that most of the world thinks he is; alternative style, very determined. Probably one of the best negotiators the world has ever seen. Whatever unfolds for Bernie inevitably there will be a time when he isn’t involved in F1. Whether that’s in the next few months or a few years isn’t for me to say. I know him well. I consider him a mix of friend and foe. We’ve had some wonderful tussles.

“Courts of law exist to determine rights and wrongs and it’s not for me to judge what the outcome might be. But if it’s the outcome of that or old age, there will be a successor.

“At this stage no-one needs to be considered (for the role). F1 is going to outlive anyone in it.

“As for the suitability of Justin. I know him well. Competence in business is competence in business. But it’s a pretty steep learning curve that he would be faced with. But of course he has the passion for motorsport. It’s not a decision I’ll be taking. I have an opinion of course, but not much influence. It’s not for me to say who Bernie’s successor will be, as and when it happens.”

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I missed this story when it first came out. I was actually working at Sainsbury’s as a customer manager attached to the executive office when Justin King took over, so I have some experience of the man and his methods.

At that time, although it wasn’t common public knowledge, Sainsbury’s was in a woeful state. They’d been locked in a battle with Tesco for years to be the UK’s number one supermarket, but by then it was a battle they’d lost and the damage to the brand and its supply chain was terrible. Sainsbury’s had failed its traditional customer base by shifting it’s emphasis away from quality in order to compete with Tesco and its stuttering supply chain often resulted in empty shelves that drove even more customers away.

Justin took over from Sir Peter Davis, surveyed the scene and took swift action. One of his first actions was to essentially ramp up the number of deliveries to stores. This was controversial, because it meant the company would lose a lot more money through wasted stock, but customers were abandoning Sainsbury’s because they couldn’t always get the products they wanted. Increasing the deliveries was the short term fix that kept customers in store while the whole supply chain was reworked to be more efficient and effective in the medium to long term.

King’s next move was to reposition Sainsbury’s branding. No longer would they try to compete directly with Tesco, a strategy which was always doomed to failure, instead he wanted Sainsbury’s to appeal to those who are happy to pay a little bit more for higher quality. Jamie Oliver was brought in to spearhead the new marketing push, centred around contemporary home cooking with quality ingredients at a fair price. Jamie, as always, was a polarising figure (we had a stock letter to send to people complaining about how annoying he was. It went out several times a day), but the campaign was successful and customers started trickling back.

Justin King’s masterstroke though was identifying the opportunity that lay in entering the convenience store market. Today, with a Tesco Metro, Sainsbury’s or Co-operative on every other street corner, that seems like an obvious idea, but let me assure you that ten years ago it was revolutionary thinking. Sainsbury’s acquired the Jackson’s and Bell’s convenience chains and set about re-branding them as a means of bringing Sainsbury’s to people who just want to pick up something for lunch, or that night’s dinner on the way home.

It wasn’t long before Justin’s changes took hold and Sainsbury’s started moving in the right direction with impressive style. From 2005 to 2008, Sainsbury’s enjoyed twelve consecutive quarters of sales growth and their share price has risen by over a pound during King’s tenure.

So while on the face of it a supermarket boss might seem an unlikely choice as a successor to Bernie Ecclestone at the top of F1, I think King has already displayed many of the qualities you would expect to see in such a position. He’s quick to identify threats and opportunities, has great vision for the future and is willing to take hard decisions and stand by them. He’s the kind of person Frank Williams might describe as a racer, even though they’ve never sat in a racing car in their life, and I think F1 would be in good hands with him.


Im deeply skeptical of having King in to run F1.

I read up on him, he certainly did revive Sansburys fortunes after a major warehouse automation failure by his predecessor.

The problem I have is that F1 is nothing like retail, and despite Kings success as a top manager, he would find it a very different world in F1.

F1 is unique in that the key players (other than CVC who incidentally tried to buy Sainsburys at one point) have worked their way up through the sport.

In other words to use the cliche, its in their DNA.

I think a better appointment would come from someone with massive sport/media experience, especially in the area of negotiatng TV rights, and who also posesses huge political nouse, as does Bernie.


Thanks for that, very interesting

Tom in Adelaide

I always thought Adam Parr was slippery enough for the job.


James, have Ferrari actually used their special right to veto anything in the sport?


Whatever happened to Tony Purnell? Wasn’t he being groomed to take over at some point?


Hi James. Came across this through some Googling. It says CVC is going to put someone in to replace Bernie from outside F1. King or someone else?


I have a suggestion and I know a lot of people will scoff or think I’m joking but I’m very serious. Simon Cowell. Like Bernie he is incredibly driven and usually gets whatever he wants and knows how to command the show and crush those who oppose his vision.


I, and a lot of others, scoff at your suggestion.

kenneth chapman

‘would be too’ conflicted

kenneth chapman

i fear that ross brawn would to conflicted to take on a role such as this.


When the time comes I have a shrewd idea that the teams will wish they had stood together within the FOCA.

Bernie’s divide and rule strategy has worked like a dream but whatever he has done over the years, he has almost always had the interest of the sport in mind along with the moneymaking.

I’m sure Bernie has stopped the board of CVC from doing things that would have been damaging to the sport many times over the years.

The ex-head of a public company, however much he has an interest in Motorsport, will be looking out only for the interests of CVC and it’s board.

That means the sport will be run quite differently.


anyone familiar with what happened to Manchester united have seen the future of f1. Bernie must last forever, maybe frezze him now and just thaw him when f1 needs to negotiate or make more money.


Interestingly with Man Utd it was clearly a mistake to allow Ferguson to nominate his own successor…


It’s not a mistake yet, just a transition process – the same will happen with F1.

Hopefully F1’s transition will be more Barcelona then Man united.


Especially another Scotsman!



Ross is best/right choice. Flavio is incredibly shrewd, but perhaps too much of an insider and would face real opposition from certain influencers. CVC would be too nervous. The next Supremo must focus on better aligning the interests and sustainability of a 20 team grid rather than 10 healthy teams healthy and 10 that barely survive. King seems somewhat of a sensible profile although I know little about him.

Just for fun, let’s hear some plausible, but so far unmentioned names. How about Charlie Whiting?


Personally I feel Mr. Ross Brawn will be the best candidate from his portfolio in F1. Unless Brawn has committed himself to fishing and does not want any physical problem from constant flying. Yes he has made millions from the sale Brawn GP but I’m very sure he still loves Formula One.

The gimmicks of late in F1 has angered many fans and hence the drop in viewership.

Bernie might not want Brawn as I don’t think he will cave in to Bernie’s control behind the scene. Horner will be easier to manipulate as Bernie is a very greedy man.

2014 can be a huge embarrassment in F1 history. Most feel we will see only a few cars at the finishing line.


James, you”ve got good contacts. Do you think you can get hold of a copy of the job description and objectives for Bernie’s job?

I’d love to know what Bernie and CVC think the purpose of Formula 1 is.

Anyone care to speculate on how it might read?


Tha purpose etc is all in the Flotation Prospectus.


Have you got a copy?

What does it say?

kenneth chapman

from what i have read king sounds as though he has credibility. he could be an excellent recruit as he has involvement in the sport via his son and besides this he would obviously surround himself with a team of experts to provide him with the data so that decisions can be made in a clear and concise manner, devoid of partisan principles.

basically i see the role as one where there are many competing interests to be taken into account, analysed and brought together to make F1 more viable and consumer friendly. what is needed is a no nonsense operator devoid of any ‘gimmick oriented’ ideas.

Renan Martinuzzo

I’d like to start by putting the only driver that I think would be acceptable for the job: Nelson Piquet.

After retiring from F1, He started a company that now brings him more money than he ever owned when he was a driver. How many highly paid world champions can say this? He is a competent business man and now the sport from inside out.

Still, the person I think should take the role is eighter Mr. Horner or Mr. Briatore. They have shown the sort of negotiation skills and associated knowledge that is requiered for the job.


Horner is a good TP, but he is too weak to lead F1.

I don’t doubt that Briatore is qualified, but while Bernie’s methods and ideas can be questionable Briatore is on a whole other level.


Singapore 2008 come to mind Random?


For what it’s worth Gaz the FIA felt the same, which is why Briatore (initially) got the lifetime ban 🙂


Yes you’re right, it does appear hypocritical – they both committed an awful crime.

Having said that, Pat served his five year sentence, accepted it, made a full apology and has expressed remorse for what he did. We all make mistakes and it takes a big man to accept he was wrong. I do believe in rehabilitation of offenders, and if Pat is big enough to accept his crime, then I for one will give him the benefit of the doubt.

The difference is Flavio vehemently denied his complicity in crash gate, where as Pat, in his own words “had eternal regret and shame” for his part. Like I said, it takes a big man to own up he was wrong. What Pat did was awful, but at least he admitted it – unlike Flavio, so I base my opinion on those nuances.

I hope that clarifies my position, but I accept it does appear hypocrisy – I hope my opinions now have been shed in a different light.


How do you justify your unqualified praise for Pat Symonds and your simultaneous condemnation of Flavio Briatore?

They were both involved in the same race cheating incident, weren’t they?


It does indeed.

Jose Sanchez kowalsky

I support lauda. What a wonderful mess he would create, given the chance.


The only 2 people I can think of within F1 that would be great for the role are Ross Brawn and Martin Whitmarsh.

King does seem to be an interesting candidate as well though, on the business side of things he made a brilliant success of Sainsbury’s and is seen as someone who is very customer oriented, which would make a nice change for this sport given how much Bernie and co obviously don’t care about the fans. Whats more is that he’s very much aware about motorsport, his son Jordan is the reigning British F3 Champion and aiming for the Euro Series title this year with Carlin. I find it difficult to believe that Justin won’t be clued up on the sport given how involved his son is.


Putting King in after Bernie would be a bit like putting the CEO of Coca-cola in to run apple computers. Which was a disaster.

You need a man with real venom and fire.

A certain [mod] ruthlessness.

Not a manager.


“Actually what it has given us is a sport that just gets better, year-on-year.

Bernie does no pander to the fans, exactly, but what he does do is create a fantastic commercial environment within which the sport can thrive.

What we don’t need is some career manager coming into Formula One thinking because they know the price of baked beans that they can “optimise revenue potential” and “increase the ROI” for shareholders with “innovative new products and compelling marketing strategies”.

What we do need is another Bernie, for all his faults.”

Really? From what I’ve seen we have a sport that goes to increasingly controversial locations hunting for as much money as any banana government (and I mean that as an entirely derogatory term to the governments of these countries) is willing to pay, whilst squeezing the heartland races into total uprofitability. At the same time he’s loaded the commercial payments to the teams so that the big boys will have more money than anyone else regardless of how badly they do whilst the rest of the grid struggles to stay a float as it’s impossible to find many sponsors of note willing to spend the big bucks for branding, not helped by Bernie being one of their main competitors for sponsorship.

It also has to be said, considering he’s the promoter, Bernie has never done anything to actually promote the sport, it’s all left to the teams and individual races, most of which don’t have the money left over for actual promotion.


And what has that given us? It would be nice to have someone running the sport that isn’t in it only to make money for CVC.


Actually what it has given us is a sport that just gets better, year-on-year.

Bernie does no pander to the fans, exactly, but what he does do is create a fantastic commercial environment within which the sport can thrive.

What we don’t need is some career manager coming into Formula One thinking because they know the price of baked beans that they can “optimise revenue potential” and “increase the ROI” for shareholders with “innovative new products and compelling marketing strategies”.

What we do need is another Bernie, for all his faults.


I don’t think Whitmarsh would fit because he spent too much time with one F1 team.

What FOM would need to be looking for is someone with a global vision and strategy to consolidate and increase the fan base, take the business forward, work with the teams and FIA.

Ross Brawn seems the best candidate from the F1 world. He has worked for many teams and been CEO of one, he has a great reputation for strategy, technical excellence, leadership, and understands very well how the teams work. He also worked very well with Jean Todt at Ferrari, so he could work very well with the teams and the FIA. Marketing-wise, I am not so sure, but I am sure he understands what the fans are looking for.

The only other person that could have been a good fit from the F1 world is Flavio Briatore. If it wasn’t for his ban and damaged reputation, I am sure Bernie would have pushed for him.


Whitmarsh has demonstrated in his capacity of FOTA leader that he can put the interests of the sport first, he’s also just been unceremoniously sacked by McLaren so I’m not sure if there’s much favoritism to worry about.

The one downside to Brawn is that he has little experience on the business side of things which was always taken car of by Nick Fry and Toto Wolff, it would have to be a very steep learning curve for him.

I’ve seen the kind of idea’s that Flavio would want to implement, the further he stays away from the job the better.


Horner is too young, and so far none of the others mentioned have the international experience needed.

No, there is only one possibility: Vladimir Putin.


Vlad would be good in this role, but he would need to understand that he cannot invade any country if they refuse to host F1, eg USA. Nor can he “take out” anyone who thinks he is not very handsome and generally the bees knees. And no, he would not be able ride bare-chested atop the race winning car.

Otherwise, he’ll do nicely.


Well, I think it could have a very good choice if Putin leaves his current job.

Apart from nationality, I don’t think there is too much difference between the mindset of Bernie and Putin. They like getting things done their way, and know how to negotiate.

Vladimir would probably bring a great show, with pom-pom girls, free vodka. F1 races would start with pistol shots, and we’d have the first F1 race on ice. If the title goes down the wire, it would be decided on a chess match (while driving in the race). And of course, he would ask advice from his old mates (e.g. Berlusconi) when he runs out of ideas.


Perhaps a live Grizzly or a Siberian Tiger could be released on the track in the final lap, k’know, to keep the casuals involved.

The winner could arm wrestle it with no shirt on. Not sure of what use Vettel’s finger would be under those circumstances.

David in Sydney

I was about to react to your ‘too young’ comment but then I read your last line: all I can say is ‘inspired’



Might as well nominate Keith Lemon too if you are serious about Jezza!


How about Captain Slow and Hamster giving him some assistance?


The triumvirate of F1?

That could work 🙂


JM: Let’s just take a minute to…


JM: What I’m trying to say is…


RH: God it never stops…

Or maybe not 🙁


Keep the faith Randon – if the Big Ape, Captain Slow and Hamster can build a Toyota Hilux that can cross the English Channel, then running F1 would be easy!

Mind you, Jezza’s diplomacy with the race promoters/organisers in the likes of Russia, China and the United States could be an issue!

Leslie D'Amico

Help an American out here, Sainsbury’s is a grocery store? “former Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King” A former executive in the supermarkets & grocery stores industry is the frontrunner to succeed Bernie Ecclestone as the leader of F1 into the 21st century. Since F1 is more about the money than ever before this could be the most brilliant decision of the Formula 1 gods or the most unmitigated disaster yet. Only time will tell


Well said.

It doesn’t matter. CVC is involved in F1 to make money, not for the racing and to make the sport more sustainable. They can cash in anytime and go and never look back at what they left behind.

Racing will never be the #1 priority for the owners of F1 because of the money this beautiful sport can generate.


I think you’re ‘ on the money’ Mister, CVC need a strong cashflow out of F1 to meet their investors expectations. They won’t be appointing someone who is a petrol head first and business person second.


Bernie used to be a used car salesman back in the day, so don’t knock it 😉


Well, yes, Sainsburys is a supermarket – British colloquialism for where you have your weekly shop – Sainsburys market share makes it currently the second biggest supermarket in the UK. It is quite a good turnaround from Mr King as 10 odd years ago it was lagging behind Asda and Tesco (its main UK competitors) – so from a business point he has lifted Sainsburys from a tired and out-dated supermarket to a much more inventive and customer focused business.

That’s a good business record for Mr King – but as you say, could it translate into F1? I really don’t know the answer to that one, but he does have good pedigree when it comes to wheeling and dealing.


Perhaps this is the role that Martin Whitmarsh is off getting ready for now? Would explain why he had already approached Boullier and why he has been so quiet lately…!


I heard from a friend of a friend of Whitmarsh’s that he’s currently in the S of France, and that he’s planning on remaining involved in McLaren motorsport, albeit not F1.

At very best, double hearsay, and not sure what non-F1 motorsport for McLaren there might be. But thought I’d report it…


BBC reported southern Asia.

Either way it won’t be until part way through the season before we find out what happens to MW

Jose Sanchez kowalsky

Road cars, or McLaren electronics.

Jose Sanchez kowalsky

I see dennis more calm on this second coming.


To me the ideal criteria would be as follows :-

– Someone with a strong sporting background and preferably a passion for motor racing (if not directly from)

– a people person with vision and obviously impeccable negotiation skills

-someone whose ethics are unquestionable

– i personally would like to see someone from Automotive Manufacturing who really appreciates cars and can see a direction that maintains the pinnacle of motor sport whilst exchanging ideas with everyday cars. Someone like Carlos Ghosn.. I dont know that just sprung to mind..Bernie was a car dealer years ago so maybe thats the common thread- the love of cars that we can all relate too..thats something that maybe the current short list are lacking even if they are excellent in all other facets – its important people have a real passion to drive this business into the next decade and not just from a business point of view!


First things first: JK needs to get his hair cut like Bernie.

Then we’ll discuss it 🙂


Mr E’s strange pudin basin page boy thatch makes him like a choir boy, so not a good look.

kenneth chapman

don’t knock the guy….having a pretty full head of hair at 84 years of age is quite some feat! [or great DNA]


@random 79

Lol 🙂

thats a good point. Of course Bernie may be a big Beatles fan



If you had to choose a wig would you choose that one? 😉


Or a wig.


It couldn’t be a wig could it?


Not a good look, but still a mandatory requirement for the position.


Being a bit flippant here, but I think Jeremy Clarkson should run FOM after Mr E – what F1 needs is that straight talking, no nonsense 6’5 wooly haired Big Ape Yorkshireman who has no political correctness and calls a spade a spade.

Jezza could also do the regulations too – if he had drafted the regulations this year we would have had a 3.5 litre V16 quad turbo with space thrusters – at the very least!

Seriously though…………to be honest, I would stick with someone from inside the F1 world, but that’s just my opinion – better to have someone who has been in the F1 business from the inside and knows how it works rather than just some business guy who has spent years shuffling paper and side parting his hair – but I admit I don’t know who should take up the reigns.

Actually, that 6’5 wooly haired Big Ape from Yorkshire comes to mind………….


I think Jeremy would be a good choice as someone with a passion for cars and not from the F1 world.

I agree with you though that someone from the F1 world would be better suited, and Ross Brawn would fit best.


Yes – Ross would be a great choice – if he wants the job! Does he want the hassle?


There don’t seem to be (m)any candidates ‘from inside F1’ coming (or being brought) forward though. (Horner says he doesn’t want it). Even though I agree – I have great misgivings about someone NOT familiar with F1 running it.


Would that 3.5 litre V16 quad turbo with space thrusters still have an ERS?


Knowing Jezza, then it would probably have double ERS…….


PS I remember an episode of Top Gear when the Big Ape drove Mr E around Monaco in a Citreon, perhaps they were having a chat off camera about this scenario?


I watched about 14 seasons in two weeks, so I pretty much OD’d on it before I got to that one.

But I’ll pick it up again soon 🙂

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