Jackie Stewart’s criticism is persuasive but he can offer more than words

Jackie Stewart gave a scathing criticism of Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley

Jackie Stewart gave a scathing criticism of Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley

Sir Jackie Stewart’s interview in yesterday’s Times, spread across the inside back pages, is a must-read.

Stewart’s criticism of Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley’s governance of Formula 1 is as rational as it is critical. His message is simple – they have stayed too long, they must be replaced – and it’s entirely persuasive.

But what role could Sir Jackie play in replacing Ecclestone and Mosley?

Here’s a sample of some of Stewart’s remarks to The Times:

Lack of progress

It has taken too long to achieve the things it should have achieved years ago and that other sports have long ago matured to, and other sports have prepared themselves more fully for the opportunities that have come their way.

There are all kinds of things you could apply this criticism to. Yesterday we were talking about how slow F1 has been to adopt high definition television broadcasts. Meanwhile sports like football have had HD for years and are already experimenting with the next innovation – three-dimensional broadcasts.

Other sports can expand into traditional markets without sacrificing their traditional bases. But F1 has sacrificed France, Canada and the United States to bring Bahrain and Abu Dhabi onto the calendar.

These are just some of the ways F1 is struggling to move forwards and is being left behind by other sports. I can think of no better example than the under-exploited F1.com.

Distribution of revenue

Ferrari’s Luca di Montezemolo has criticised Ecclestone over how little of F1′s revenues go to the teams, which was another point Stewart picked up on:

The teams have got all the capital investment, yet they get no more than 50% of the revenues. The next largest capital investment is by the racetracks who currently receive little or nothing from the revenues apart from what they get for bums on seats. Hardly any of them receive anything from TV revenues or the circuit advertising or the title sponsorship or the commercial hospitality. How can they reinvest when they have little or no income outside of spectator attendance fees?

Race hosting fees have gotten so high that almost every race on the calendar is now supported in some way by a local or national government. Even manufacturer teams like Honda are now balking at the cost of running Formula 1 teams. Meanwhile Ecclestone has accrued a personal fortune in excess of ??2.25bn.

Succession plans

Ecclestone reaches his 79th birthday this year and although he shows no signs of relinquishing his control of the sport, one day he will inevitably have to let someone else run F1. But, as Stewart points out, he’s not interested in doing that:

I don’t think Bernie can bring people in to help him in a transition phase. He has been so used to total control that if you look at his structure you have to ask yourself ‘is there a successor?’ and you would say ‘no’. That is wrong.

It’s unpleasant to have to point out that Ecclestone will become increasingly vulnerable as he grows older. But it’s a reality he must face up to by forming a succession plan.

Stewart for president?

These are all fair and accurate criticism of how F1 is governed and they resonate with opinions that have been voiced by myself and many other people on this blog. But who is going to stand up for them within the FIA? Who is going to take on Max Mosley in this year when he has said he will step down as president?

Some have suggested Stewart should take up the cause. And it’s tempting to deduce from this interview that he is declaring his candidacy.

Should he choose to do that he would, in my opinion, be a fine choice of president. But I don’t think he’s considering standing as a candidate should Mosley come good on his promise to step down this year. In the interview Stewart reiterates his earlier position saying:

The FIA should replace him with somebody not from within its organisation or even within motorsport. They should go out and headhunt a CEO who is going to rebuild the structure in line with modern practice to satisfy the investors in the sport and to give the FIA total transparency.

As three-times world champion, Grand Prix-winning team owner, staunch safety advocate and more, Stewart has already given much to the sport. But I wonder if he’s got someone in mind for the role of president, someone who shares his view of the state of Formula 1?

Either way, I hope he is planning to do more than talk about the problem. I think he is exactly the sort of person who should be involved in running Formula 1.

More reaction to Stewart’s interview:

Read more: Jackie Stewart biography

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24 comments on Jackie Stewart’s criticism is persuasive but he can offer more than words

  1. Jackie Stewart talks a lot of sense, and I agree with him that the organisation of F1 (and the FIA) needs a total shakeup to make it a dynamic, foreward looking and transparent organisation – it appears to be a two man club with deals brokered with secret handshakes and brown envelopes stuffed with cash.

    I don’t think Jackie fancies the job for himself, though he is very well placed, and very well qualified to do it. I think he feels that he has too many enemies already within the power structure, and his idea of getting a business orientated CEO in for Formula 1 is excellent.

  2. Yes, Jackie does usually say the sensible things, and I think that he is probably closer to the fans, and the teams in what he is saying than either Bernie or Max..
    BUT – how is he going to make the change happen? We saw last year that Max can flex his ego and get enough backing to survive in the FIA for as long as he wants, so any replacement will have to be a very dominating personality, with the ability to persuade all the motorsport organisations of the right way to go.
    On the other hand, has Jackie (or anybody else) been to CVC and pointed out where Bernie is going wrong with FOM? Unless they are persuaded otherwise, anything said in the press or the pitlane is less than useless.
    I said it last year and I will remind you again. We as fans have to get the word to the media, the teams and the motorsport organisations that we are not happy either. Lets have banners up at the races, lets have questions at press conferences.
    This is a sport for us all to enjoy, and not be led down a path which only lines the pockets of two very silly old men!

  3. Go on Sir Jackie give it to them straight…… Could you imagine a Sir Bernie or a Sir Max? Heaven forbid….
    That aside F1 does need to be shook up. Anyone remember the first race in the United States after 911? who would of thought it would be dropped a few years later. F1 helped America by staging the first sporting event after 911…..
    ive pondered for months what id do if i was worth 2.4 billion like bernie.

  4. schumi the greatest said on 6th January 2009, 12:53

    The thing i find most shocking is how little the teams receive from bernie. At the end of the day without the big manafacturers like ferrari, mercedes, renault, bmw formula 1 loses its credibility….id say f1 needs these companies more than they need f1, after all all f1 does for them is cause an enormous black hole in their pockets. Without these companies f1 is nothing, if you look at other sports eg football, the players and clubs earn millions because without them football wouldnt be watchjed by so many people, wothout the talented players and the financial backing of the clubs football wouldnt be half the sport it is now.

    quite frankly f1 should be giving the teams alot more back, they make the sport what it is , not bernie and max’s rubbish politicking. Circuits for example pay maybe what £50 million a year to host a grand prix, then it goes up 10% every year, if that paticular circuit is on a 5 year contract, in the last year of that contract they are payin £75million for the exact same thing, its ludicrous and the vast majority of it goes straight to some little old man. Another thing i dont get is why fia dont own the commercial rights to f1, it should all be under 1 company.

    And keith is right, f1 is marketed so badly, how often did itv advertise its races?? f1.com is one of the worst websites you can find, it just repeats press conferences.

    Who wants a bahrain grand prix anyway, the circuit is rubbish, no overtking, no atmosphere. Some crappy little desert can host a grand prix because they give bernie a shed load of oil money, but america, the biggest superpower on the planet, whose economy practically runs everybody elses, could be worth billions to f1 if they actually marketed it properly, rather than just sending the teams over there, get some publicity stunts going and try and make the americans wonder what all the fuss is about.

    Does bernie really need to make that much money?? surley, by giving up a bit, he can safeguard the future of f1 and even make it bigger, what does and 80 year old need billions for??

  5. DG

    This is a sport for us all to enjoy, and not be led down a path which only lines the pockets of two very silly old men!

    We’ve already gone down the path, into the house, taken our shoes off, gone up stairs, had a bath, changed into something more comfortable and got into bed with the buggers.

    Most of the time I think JS talks a big pile of the stuff dung beetles like to roll around. For once he’s talking some sense but he could have said this years ago. Of course it didn’t suit him to do so then and he didn’t but now the BRDC are loosing the British GP and his involvements in F1 are down to a tartan wearing minimal he can pretty much say what he likes without recrimination. I think he would be an awful choice to succeed Mosely and I agree with him that someone more neutral would be better. Someone like Tony Purnell would be an excellent choice and his lack of senile dementia is surely a plus.

  6. K: We’ve already gone down the path, into the house, taken our shoes off, gone up stairs, had a bath, changed into something more comfortable and got into bed with the buggers.

    Thats why I was asking what can actually be done about it now. The only alternative left open for the teams and the circuits is to refuse to work with Bernie and start their own series, which as we all know is very difficult to do.
    However, I agree that Bernie does seem to be more afraid of the teams now that Ferrari are on their side, perhaps he can see the writing on the wall?

  7. James said on 6th January 2009, 14:22

    K – JYS is no longer with the BRDC, if I’m not mistaken. He does however have very close relationships with several F1 partners and even if you’re a critic you can’t deny he has his finger on the pulse – he’s been there and done it, both on the driver, entrant, and business side.

    • He’s not the Head of the BRDC but I imagine he’s still a member, I thought all F1 champs were given at least an honorary membership. I thought he was still the RBS hanger on of choice although I hope that changes now we the people have saved their bacon. Yes he’s been there and done it but he has a propensity to spout out any old chaff when a mic is put in front of him. We need a new generation to sweap away the cobwebs and cronies and blow some fresh air into the sport. It’s only gonna happen over Ecclestone’s dead body. Who knows maybe his soon to be ex-wife will end up in charge, wouldn’t that be hilarious.

  8. donwatters said on 6th January 2009, 15:49

    If Sirs Jackie & Stirling are not up for the gig, perhaps the sport could interest someone like Bob Lutz or if he’s too American, maybe Ron Dennis could be convinced to take early retirement from McLaren. Hey, how about Peter Sauber?

  9. James said on 6th January 2009, 16:46

    The relationship (within F1) between the regulator, promoter, and the constructors has been extraordinary for a number of years; I expect a business person would find it extraordinarily arcane and inefficient. What appears superficially to be a large, structured organisation (the FIA in particular) seems more akin to an extended school-tie network, where the ‘Aristocracy of Pull’ (apologies to Ayn Rand) has more sway than sensible, sustainable preservation of the sport.

    Of course, they’ve made bags of money. Obscene amounts, both for themselves and the constructors. This is great when times are good, but earlier in the year when the French GP was given up on cost grounds, I knew something was wrong. The home of GP racing didn’t even try and save itself; such was the expense involved. One could argue that this was classic French Laissez Faire disinterest, but quite aside from history that country’s contribution to modern F1 is priceless.

    The real nail in the coffin – for me – was the news that the ‘new breed’ of GP hosts were not invulnerable; those cash-rich countries that had deep pockets and no democratic accountability when it came to spending it; China hinted that – keep it quiet – their event was perhaps a bit on the steep side.

    Coupled with the inherent vulnerability of total manufacturer buy-in of most teams – they are fickle, the garagistas are not – and you have a very challenging situation. When those companies do not see value in F1, they will walk; and take their assets with them. This wouldn’t be so bad if it was ‘just’ an engine supplier (Honda have walked out before, as have Renault)

    F1 needs a savvy CEO who will give the Manufacturers exposure and value, but understand the innovation, flexibility, and excellence that the private teams bring; they cannot be priced out.

  10. Adrian said on 6th January 2009, 16:52

    Peter Sauber is an excellent suggestion, but I fear that anyone appointed from a current team would have their independence questioned. You think the “pro-ferrari” theories are bad with Mosley in charge, can you imagine if Ron Dennis got the job!!

  11. > It’s unpleasant to have to point out that Ecclestone will become increasingly vulnerable as he grows older. But it’s a reality he must face up to by forming a succession plan.

    This has been an elephant in the corner for quite a while now, especially with Bernie getting so obviously arbitrary and cantankerous in his decision-making.

    What’s so striking about Sir Jackie’s interview is not what he’s saying – in many ways he’s stating the bleeding obvious. It’s the fact that someone stating the bleeding obvious is regarded as such a valuable and timely contribution to the sport. And the fact that it is just that.

    On a lighter note, as a McLaren fan, and after the couple of years that the team’s had at the hands of the FIA, the idea of Rocket Ron in charge does bring a huge great big smiley grin to my face.

    Can you imagine the press conference? “I am prepared to confirm that in 2010 we will most likely be seeing a linear progression of approximately two dozen events temporally delineated at approximately fortnightly intervals in which a number of teams probably in excess of ten will be undertaking racing activities in a variety of global settings. These will almost certainly take place under the auspices and nomenclature of Formula One racing – but don’t quote me on that.”

    Viva Ronspeak! Or maybe I am being harsh…

    > Hey, how about Peter Sauber?

    But this is an excellent idea.

  12. Accidental Mick said on 6th January 2009, 19:17

    @DG
    I think youn are forgetting (or perhaps didn’t realise)how much work Jackie Stewart, when he was President, put in to persuade the teams and the circuits to be more safety concious. Without his efforts we would still be getting several drivers killed every year.

    • I do know that Jackie was one of the first to push for safer cars and circuits after a very nasty year of fatalaties, and I am sure he can be very persuasive if he wants to be.
      But I am agreeing with others that he may not be the man to head the FIA, and may not in fact want to. He is correct to say that the FIA needs a businessman at the head, one who can do the deals with the motorsport associations and the series organisers, without losing the point that the FIA is there to regulate, not manipulate.
      Also, it would be interesting to know if he has contacts with CVC at any level, and if they would have him as a figurehead instead of Bernie, as that is a role that would suit him quite well, although given his previous contacts with Ford and his current connection with Williams, he could never be seen as unbiased.

  13. beneboy said on 6th January 2009, 19:22

    When Bernie convinced the teams to give him control of the commercial rights he promised to double their money as long as they didn’t ask any questions or interfere.

    At the time it looked like a great deal for the teams so they all went for it, in reality he was doing them over from the start. He got them more money but was keeping most of it for himself.

    If the teams wanted to do something about it they should have done it when he sold out to CVC and they have no-one but themselves to blame for not doing so.

    Bernie is great at making TV deals and taking money from governments but he’s lost in the on-line world and by failing to keep up with the technology he’s now failing to maximise the marketing potential of the sport.

    Add in the ridiculous situation with the races at the moment and you really have to question how he’s still got so much power and why the teams continue to allow him to have it.
    All it would take was a letter from the teams stating that they won’t race in 2010 without US & Canadian GP’s on the calender and he’d have no choice but to get them sorted.

    What’s so striking about Sir Jackie’s interview is not what he’s saying – in many ways he’s stating the bleeding obvious. It’s the fact that someone stating the bleeding obvious is regarded as such a valuable and timely contribution to the sport.

    Couldn’t agree more, almost every F1 fan in the world has been saying the same things for years so why has it taken them so long to work it out ?

  14. Why replace some old men, with other old men?

  15. Steven Roy said on 7th January 2009, 2:30

    Jackie Stewart as usual is talking perfect sense and he is not saying anything that he hasn’t said before. I have found a few people on different sites saying that normally he talks rubbish. I would like to see a few examples of that because I have read everything I can about him or by him for the past few decades and don’t remember much that was wrong. Maybe that means I am not as intelligent or as critical as the people who have a go at him.

    The problem F1 has is that although Bernie is still doing the deals Max sold him the commercial rights for a fraction of their worth and Bernie sold them on for significantly more. So now CVC can do pretty much want they want when Bernie retires or dies and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

    Hopefully when Max is finally replaced by someone competent the orignal deal will become the subject of a court case and F1 will gain form it. Personally I think the best thing that could happen is for the teams and circuits to set up their own championship when the current contracts end. It is absolutely senseless that the people who invest the most in the sport get the least return and Bernie who has had none of his own money invested since he sold Brabham takes out more than anyone else with the exception of CVC’s creditors.

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