Is Bernie Ecclestone’s power waning?

Bernie Ecclestone, 2008, 470150

The outward impression is that Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley are at war with one another. Writing in Autocar this week Alan Henry said that relations between the two have deteriorated to the point that Mosley has stopped taking Ecclestone’s calls.

Ecclestone made a big play in the run-up to the FIA General Assembly last week to try and turn the vote against Mosley, to no avail.

It is rare to witness Ecclestone not getting what he wants in Formula 1. But this is not the first time he and Mosley have been at odds and you have to wonder if Mosley is beginning to get the upper hand over Ecclestone.

The recent developments made me think back to the 2005 United States Grand Prix when Mosley refused to brook any compromise in the wake of Michelin’s discovery that their tyres were failing without warning due to the peculiar forces exerted upon them at turn 13 of the Indianapolis track.

This was the kind of situation where, in earlier years, Ecclestone would bang heads together and reach a compromise to keep the show on the road. But it didn’t happen. The race started with just six Bridgestone-shod cars, outraged fans threw bottles onto the track, and F1′s image was tarnished in a vital market, perhaps fatally.

Martin Brundle, in one of his stand-out career moments for ITV, collared Ecclestone on the grid and grilled him about what was about to unfold. Ecclestone, usually all brashness and bluster, for once looked utterly powerless.

Ecclestone now seems to be in the same position, unable to shift Mosley from power in the wake of the sex scandal that has made the FIA and, by association, Formula 1, into a laughing stock.

His reaction to Mosley winning the vote last week was to suggest F1 should split from the FIA and form a new series. But none of the teams seem to have any appetite for that doomsday scenario (publicly at least), perhaps because it looks so much like the one that almost destroyed open wheel racing in America during the CART/IRL split.

Ecclestone still retains a stake in the ownership of the F1 commercial rights but the majority owner is CVC Capital Partners. Henry, in his article, alluded to claims that CVC director Martin Sorrell is very unhappy with the situation concerning Mosley – he believes top commercial sponsors will steer clear of F1 because of the bad publicity surrounding Mosley.

As part of the terms by which they acquired a 75% stake in F1 in 2006 CVC allowed Ecclestone to remain at the helm. But how long will they allow that to continue if Ecclestone, whom we previously thought was all-powerful in F1, is unable to get rid of someone who they feel is damaging the Formula 1 brand? And do they have the power to move Ecclestone aside?

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15 comments on Is Bernie Ecclestone’s power waning?

  1. Cooperman said on 12th June 2008, 15:20

    That’s a terrific insight into the situation by Alan Henry and yourself, Keith.

    I’ve always found it difficult to see Bernie as anything other than all-powerful. Even when he’s talking rubbish to Brundle or making odd-sounding comments to the sort of F1 sites that report anything, he’s usually covering up something else that’s going on or trying to make a serious issue look like it’s nothing. He’s an excellent strategist.

    CVC would be mad to remove Bernie. He’s literally moved the sport from what Frank Williams recently called a ‘financial joke’ to the multi-dollar industry / show / whatever it is today.

    It would certainly be a cruel turn of events if Mosely’s career outlived Bernie’s.

  2. Ray said on 12th June 2008, 16:20

    Well he’s lost control over Max. It’s nobodies job to get rid of Max other than the FIA. What we are seeing now is the letter of the law laid down in all it’s ugliness.

    It’s ironic to see all the rules Max has put in place over the years, to keep himself relatively safe and in complete control, come back to haunt him. He said he would stand down if he got a vote of no confidence, but from what I’ve heard, there isn’t actually a rule that would dictate he should.

    And so now we are seeing Max at his worst/best. The situation is spectacular but I wouldn’t say Bernie’s power is diminishing. Let’s not forget, he’s still managing to get McLaren up to garage number 5 on a regular basis.

  3. Dan M said on 12th June 2008, 16:59

    Somewhat off topic, in 2005 Bernie seemed like the good guy, trying to get a respectable race run (so he could deepen his pockets of course), but then just 2 years later he was quick to turn his back on America because the money wasn’t there.

    I think the CEO’s of the major corporations don’t have the gull or insight of Bernie, if they were smart they would do what he is telling them to.

    This is a far different situation from the CART split, NASCAR was up and coming at the time, it was a perfect storm of sorts. I don’t see that happening this time.

  4. well one thing to remember – F1 may be FIA’s jewel in the crown, but FIA is not only about F1 … Ecclestone may still be able to push his agenda when it comes to F1 commercial decisions (like dumping US GP and threatening Silverstone or Melbourne) but who is or is not FIA president is clearly beyond his reach …

  5. Gman said on 12th June 2008, 20:56

    As I’ve heard and researched more about the 2005 USGP, it becomes more and more clear to me that Max was the main force behind the laughingstock that occured. Bernie, by most accounts I’ve seen, did try to keep the race on track…probably for his own greedy reasons, but no complaints if it made a good show.

    Indeed the image of F1 took a beating that day, but the damage done in America will fade away if the series dose return and puts out a good product. In order to do that, however, Bernie needs to do the right thing and put the USGP back on the schedule..

    Overall, Bernie is still all-powerful in the F1 world, but perhaps he can’t push around Max as easily as he expects to be able to. It appears that Max’s continued presence as FIA boss is threatining F1′s continued success in some small ways, and in my opinion, this will be perhaps the biggest test of who holds the winning cards at the F1 table- Bernie or Max.

  6. Ray said on 12th June 2008, 20:59

    I’m enjoying the latest rumor on grandprix.com. The pieces of the puzzle are slowly falling into place. News Corp wants to buy out CVC. Interesting! A breakaway series, here we come!!

  7. Sassan said on 12th June 2008, 21:45

    I think it is very selfish that Mosely is staying but Ecclestone believes this is his oppurtunity to take control of F1. There is another thought that Mosely said that F1 would be out of the FIA’s control just to save himself. I do agree with GMAN that Ecclestone thought Mosely would be a feather that he could push around. There has always been tension between FOM and FIA for years and remember the FISA/FOCA war.

    What do you think Keith?

  8. read that report/rumor on grandprix.com – well wouldnt put it past news corp to do that but how it would be broadcast after the new deal with the bbc? – where did they get the money to get F1 in the first place??
    A1 isnt the big draw it was perceived to be – good idea but boring cars/formula?

  9. Dan Brunell said on 13th June 2008, 0:25

    I think the difference between this and the CART split is that the teams and tracks where fighting between them while in this case, you have the tracks and teams all pretty firmly on Bernie’s side on this one.

    It all depends where Ferrari is at. If they and Bernie decide that they need to dump the FIA, they will and all the rest of the teams will follow.

    Remember, the FIA just adjudicates Formula One. They have no ties or financial interests with the teams or tracks; the agreement only extends between Bernie and the FIA. Bernie can literal move Formula One’ headquarters to the USA, Switzerland, or anywhere out of the EU zone and have complete control of the series including rulemaking.

  10. Barret B said on 13th June 2008, 3:11

    Speaking of taking the USGP off the calendar, why does a small market like Bahrain get a GP? When I watched the race this year on Speed Network here in the States the commentator said the attendance is only around 30,000. What’s up with that?

  11. the limit said on 13th June 2008, 3:46

    The reason circuits like Bahrain are on the calender is because they were government funded enterprises, built on the back of government money. Unlike circuits like Silverstone that are private ventures.
    In short, it means that the F1 supremos get to have their cake and eat it.
    On the point of Ecclestone. Reading your article Keith I am impressed that you mentioned Indianapolis 2005, one of the most embarrassing grands prix in living memory.
    It would appear, looking at all the evidence, that Ecclestone is being, slowly but surely, kicked out of his own party.
    I can remember very well the Martin Brundle interview you mention in your article, and how Ecclestone recoiled from Brundle’s questioning. I can also remember Monza 2006, and Brundle questioning Mosley on Fernando Alonso’s grid penalty for ‘ruining’ Massa’s hot lap.
    Remember, the lap in which Alonso is so far in front of the Ferrari it is just about visible on Massa’s onboard camera.
    Brundle pulled no punches with Max, letting him know just how unfair he felt Alonso had been treated.
    Mosley, in his typical manner, shrugged off the incident claiming that the decision was right but without stating the reasons for it.
    The way in which Mosley spoke to Brundle, his manner, changed my view on the men in charge of Formula One.
    Until that moment, I had always viewed Bernie Ecclestone as the man incharge.
    A shrewd, accomplished businessman, a driven man. That day in Monza, I got a glimpse of the real Max Mosley.
    It was then that I realised just what a nasty piece of work Max Mosley really is.
    Alonso was quite right that day for suggesting that F1 ‘is no longer a sport’ in his eyes. He knew he had been shafted by the system.
    The latest sex scandal, and Mosley’s redemption infront of the FIA hearing, only add salt into the wounds. As I have said before, Mosley knows too much on too many people, and would be a serious threat if he was ever ousted from office.
    Personally, I am no fan of either man. If push came to shove, I would rather see Max walk than Bernie…

  12. Gman said on 13th June 2008, 5:11

    I doubt it’s still around, but could anyone find a clip of that interview from Indy 2005 on YouTube or any similar source?

  13. Gman said on 13th June 2008, 5:16

    And Barret, I asked the same basic question when I first began to follow F1 around a year or so ago. The basic concept is whomever pays the most to Bernie and the rest of the FOM management are the ones to get the GPs. This policy explains why you see races in places such as Bahrain, Malaysia, etc.. that would not be considered a traditional market for F1. On the same token, it also endangers races in places such as Australia, Britain and France, where the funding situation is a bit different. A crazy policy, but perhaps the best example of Bernie’s power in Formula 1 decision-making.

  14. Jean said on 13th June 2008, 7:39

    Maybe when Max was busy in the room with his five women , Bernie was next door with a drill and a video camera ?

  15. @ Dan #9 – With a little research I found that Bernie/Bernies Wife/CVC/FOM own the legal rights to the names used by all the teams racing in F1 – supposedly for publicity purposes, but it does mean that if the teams want to race in other series, they cannot take the name with them. Most of the names include F1, I notice, so this is probably their get-out!
    I think maybe Bernie has been to Ferrari and the other teams with an idea to move out of FIA control, but has probably found that the Manufacturers have ties with other race series where they are content with what the FIA brings, and the silence in the pit lane shows that the teams are keeping clear of any personal fighting between Bernie and Max.
    However, I do agree that Bernie is losing his image as a ‘fixer’ too, and maybe sees a split with the FIA as a way to win more influence again. I think that the recent rule changes and cost capping will see F1 heading downhill unless FIA/FOM can attract more Manufacturers.

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