Editorial

If I were Bernie

 

 by Mark Cipolloni
March 4, 2003

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First let's get something straight, I'm not Bernie Ecclestone, and I will never claim to be. However, many have asked about the Bernie buying into CART rumors, primarily "what's in it for Bernie, why would he buy CART when he has Formula One, and does CART really need Bernie?"  There is no guarantee that he's going to buy CART.  However, assuming by chance he does,  I thought it best I respond to those questions in my best Walter Mitty impersonation.......If I were Bernie.

It's an overcast damp day in London on a Tuesday morning and Bernie is just getting into his office not far from his home in Chelsea Square. No sooner does he take his rain slicker off and grab a cup of coffee, the telephone rings....

BERNIE: Hello, Bernie speaking

MAX MOSLEY: It's me Max, you'll never guess what Ron Dennis did today?

BERNIE: no, not again.

MAX: yes, he wrote me another letter.


Ron and Frank are so frustrating, sometimes I want to poke my eye out

BERNIE: another letter?

MAX: yup, this time he says we've gone too far with our proposed F1 rules changes, he says he's going to pop the big vein in his neck.

BERNIE: tell him he's constipated, and send him a case of Ex-Lax and two corks.

MAX: two corks?

BERNIE: yes two corks.  One in case he swallows a whole jar of the Ex-Lax, he could plug the resulting leak, and the other one for his mouth, it runneth over.
MAX: OK, I'll send him the Ex-Lax and the two corks.

BERNIE: what else does he say?

MAX: he says he spent all those millions of dollars on building his little fiefdom called Paragon, and it'll be a cold day in hell before he let's you and me cut all the technology out of Formula One.  He says F1 is the breeding ground for new technology and he's close to building the first driverless F1 car.  He says this is the essence of F1 and we must not lose sight of where we've been and where we're going.

BERNIE:  tell him if he doesn't shut up and mind his own business,  I'm going to take his driverless car and drive it where the sun don't shine.  I have had it with these F1 team owners.  It's time I show them whose boss around here.  I'll get back with you.

MAX: OK, goodbye.  Call me when you've taken care of the matter.

BERNIE: I'll do that.

Berne then dials CART President Chris Pook, the telephone rings......

CHRIS: Hello

BERNIE: it's me Chris, Bernie.  Did I wake you?

CHRIS: yes Bernie, it's only 3:00 AM here in California.

BERNIE: 3:00 AM and you're still in bed?  Are you on vacation?

CHRIS:  No, I'm not on vacation Bernie, us normal people sleep at 3:00 AM!

BERNIE: Well you can sleep another time.  I've got a plan.

CHRIS: Oh boy, this had better be good.

BERNIE: Chris, when have you known my plans not to be good?  Anyway, here's the plan.  I have decided to buy CART.

CHRIS: Why that is fantastic.  Buy all of it?

BERNIE: No, just a controlling interest.  I want to announce it by Friday.

CHRIS: Can we get it done that fast?  Why Friday?

BERNIE:  Two reasons.  First I am concerned that stock car racing is becoming so successful in the USA that open wheel racing may become extinct, at least on the ovals.  I want to head that off by boosting up CART and raising the awareness of F1 in North America.  Second, I want to show the manufacturers and team owners in F1 who is boss.

CHRIS:  They already know you are the boss Bernie.


The F1 owners just won't jump for me anymore.  I must devise a plan

BERNIE: At one time I used to walk down pit road and say jump and they would all ask, how high?  Now when I say jump, they ask me, why?  They are beginning to talk about gaining control, taking some of my money, etc.  We all know that a manufacturer or team owner run series will never succeed.  Never has, never will. They are their own worse enemy, I must save them from their own stupidity.

CHRIS:  OK, so what is the plan.

BERNIE: It is a multi-part plan.  First. We will announce that CART is adopting the 2006 six-race per engine F1 engine rules lock, stock, and barrel.  This will bring value to the F1 engine manufacturers because we instantly open up the entire NAFTA market to them with many races, not just the Canadian GP and the USGP.  They don't have to compete in CART, but by doing this the door is wide open to them.

CHRIS: But Bernie, we developed our own V-10 spec.  It's essentially an IRL V-8 with two more cylinders.  We were just getting ready to announce it.

BERNIE: Are you crazy?  CART isn't strong enough right now to be coming out with an engine unique to that series.  You will be painting yourself on an island.  Perhaps you will get a couple of engine manufacturers to play, but then when one pulls out, you will be down a stream without a paddle again.  You want to have as many manufacturers as possible.  That brings more money into the series by way of advertising dollars, hospitality, etc.  CART is cash poor with just one manufacturer right now.  We will need 5 or more for sure.

CHRIS: But our teams can't afford a F1 engine.

BERNIE: Nonsense.  F1 engines must last 6 races between rebuilds in 2006 and we are going to ban exotic materials and issue a standard ECM.  By today's standards, they will be dirt cheap.  Plus, with the manufacturers involved, they subsidize the teams.  It's possible they may even supply them for free at that point because I'm going to bring them more value at a lower cost, as you will see when I am finished.  It will cost them less to compete in both series than it does today to compete in F1, far less.

CHRIS: But what about their breakaway series threat?


I'm so devious, I have it all figured out

BERNIE: Don't worry I'm so devious I have that all figured out. I am in the process of buying back all rights to F1 and will try to renegotiate the Concorde agreement with the manufacturers.  After all that, if they still go ahead with their breakaway series, Max and I have agreed to declare that any driver participating in that series will not qualify for a F1 Super License because it's a competing series to F1, it dilutes the World Championship and, therefore, will not be recognized by the FIA as a series.  Their hopes of ever becoming World Driving Champion will be lost unless they race in F1A first.  We will have John Judd, Cosworth, or someone like that make an engine for it, and sell the naming rights to any manufacturer (such as the Koreans, Audi, GM, etc.) who wants to compete in F1 at a bargain price to do so.  I have had many companies tell me they would love to compete if the costs were lower.  We will have no shortage of companies to take their place.

CHRIS:  OK, it sounds good so far, we will adopt the same engine formula.  What else?

BERNIE: Second, we are going to rename CART to Formula 1A.  The "A" meaning Americas.  CART and Champ Car are not worldwide branded names.  Never were, never will be.  I can add the "A" after F1 and it will become instantly recognizable.

CHRIS: Where exactly will CART be positioned then?

BERNIE:  We will make it a small step down the ladder to F1.  Same size cars, same HP, just a little heavier and, therefore, slower.  And we will promote the hell out of it to make it ultra-successful.  It will be a better training ground for F1 than F3000 is because the cars will be bigger and have the same HP as F1.

CHRIS:  What about TV?  Our current TV deal is killing us with low ratings.

BERNIE:  First we will do a TV deal to televise all the races live on my entire F1 TV distribution channels worldwide.  When F1A and F1 race together at certain venues, Formula F1A will race Sunday morning at 10:00 AM local time and F1 will race at 1:00 AM.  When they race at separate venues, they will race on alternating weekends.  In order to bring sponsors value, we must make F1A almost as popular as F1.

CHRIS:  What else?

BERNIE:  I will get some bigger F1 teams to start F1A teams too since their costs will be way down.  I will also get some name F1 drivers to drive in a F1A race or two.  I'm sure I can get Montoya to run some F1A races for the Williams junior/F1A team.  Juan already has experience at all CART tracks.  If I can get Ron Dennis to start a McLaren F1A team I'm hoping he will have less time to write his annoying letters.

CHRIS: That will certainly help.  How many races would we race together?

BERNIE: Maybe four maximum.  Places like Monza and Monaco come to mind.  We will do others too.  In fact, being CART has September 14th wide open on their calendar this year, we will run CART Champ Cars (nee F1A) along with F1 at Monza during the Italian GP weekend.  We will run it on Saturday and make it the Saturday feature race.  Maybe I will get one of the Ferrari drivers to run in the F1A race, that should get the tifosi talking.  We will also announce Ferrari's plans to enter F1A in 2006 when the engines are the same in both series.  The tifosi will go bananas.  Ferrari's entry into F1A will secure its future.

CHRIS:  How about Long Beach?


Quiet, Don't tell anyone, I have a plan for TV and the future of the USGP

BERNIE: Not until 2006.  I will not renew my contract with Tony George and Indy.  Attendance has dropped way off and he does not support our cause, road racing.  He's part of the oval track cartel and I simply won't do business with them.  We can move the USGP back to Long Beach.

CHRIS:  If we raced F1A and F1 together at LB, that would be huge for the city of Long Beach and for us.  That would bring enormous attention to F1 and to future F1 drivers.  It would help immensely to have both series race together on the USGP weekend. Tony won't be happy.

BERNIE:  I gave Tony his chance to have CART/F1A race at Indy with F1.

CHRIS:  What did he say?

BERNIE:  He said "I don't want to have anything to do with CART".

CHRIS:  What did you say?

BERNIE:  I said, fine, if that's the way you want it.  Your partner ABC will lose the F1 TV rights in 2003 and you will lose your F1 race when this contract ends.  Too bad you spent all that money building that road course.  You can race your IRL cars there.

CHRIS:  I would have loved to see his face then.  Couldn't happen to a better fella.  Now he must know what it's like to drive nails in a coffin.  What else do you have planned?

BERNIE:  I will also guarantee the winner of the F1A championship each year a full-time ride in F1 the next year, even if I have to start my own team again.  We will make winning the F1A title a coveted goal.

CHRIS:  Let's talk more about TV

BERNIE:  We will negotiate the contracts as one, giving us a better chance of leveraging them and getting good over-the-air deals in most countries.  We need almost all CART races on CBS.  We can't sell sponsors on F1A with dismal 0.2 ratings on SPEED Channel.  Maybe we will put all F1 races on CBS too, tape delayed perhaps.

CHRIS:  What about China?

BERNIE:  I see a big future in China, I'm surprised you don't have a race scheduled for China yet.  China is a key emerging market.  We will race F1 in Shanghai and F1A in Beijing.  That will cover their two biggest markets.

CHRIS: The South Korean car companies are gaining market share too. Ditto for the Korean tire companies.  David Clare tells me the Koreans are interested.

BERNIE:  I would like to have at least one series race in South Korea, but not until that nut who runs North Korea is out of power.  He might lob a nuke warhead over at any time.

CHRIS:  What about our existing ladder series?

BERNIE:  You must get them in line with the rest of the world.  Make the Barber Dodge Pro series run to F3 specs and the Toyota Atlantic series run to F3000 specs.  Actually, I like the Telefonica World Series specs better, it is a cheaper F3000 formula than the FIA F3000 spec series.

CHRIS: Are you worried about oval track racing and NASCAR jumping to overseas markets?

BERNIE:  Yes, a little, but it's a free market so you can't stop them.  That is why I want to solidify road racing around the world.  Bringing CART closer to F1 and calling it F1A will help strengthen our cause and our influence.  Road Racing fans are usually more sophisticated.  They understand that full throttle oval racing isn't really racing.  We will make a big issue out of this, that are drivers require a far greater skill set - true driving champions.


OK, I think I have matters taken care of Max

CHRIS: All this sounds good, can I get back to sleep now?

BERNIE: Sure Chris, but if you are going to run F1A for me, you really are going to have to learn to sleep less. And next time we talk I will fill you in on Phase 2 of my plan.

CHRIS: Phase 2?  Isn't this enough?

BERNIE:  It's never enough Chris.  Phase 2 is going to set the racing world on its ear.  My apologies to your lovely wife for waking her up so early.

CHRIS:  I can hardly wait.

 

Berne then dials Max Mosley back, the telephone rings......

 

MAX: Hello, Mosley here.

BERNIE:  OK the matters taken care of Max.  I've bought CART and will call it F1A.  I can do that since I own the F1 naming rights.  If Ron or Frank and the manufacturers try to start their breakaway series, I will rename F1A to F1 and we will continue like nothing happened.  Ron can go ahead and build his driverless car.  Yeah, that will really excite the fans.

MAX:  Bernie, you are a genius.

BERNIE: I know Max, I know. But I do like a challenge once in awhile.  It keeps me feeling young.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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