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 ?é?ú2.25bn.
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