Editorial

The genius of one Bernard Ecclestone
His latest tactic is to tap government tax dollars

 by Mark Cipolloni
November 30, 2003

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Bernie Ecclestone speaks softly, but carries a big stick

Many ask, where would Formula One be without Bernard (Bernie) Ecclestone, the mastermind behind the sport's immense popularity?  His marketing genius has not only made him incredibly wealthy, but the majority of team owners and drivers as well.  At the ripe old age of 73, the soft-spoken former F1 driver is more in charge of the sport than ever.  And his cunning ability to maneuver F1 to higher levels is simply magical. 

Ecclestone never actually started a F1 race.  Once he did not qualify and another time he had to withdraw.

Luckily for F1, he decided to change his focus from driving to managing the career of Jochen Rindt (who posthumously won the world championship in 1970, driving for Lotus). Bernie later became the owner of the Brabham team, successfully managing the outfit to win two drivers' championships with Nelson Piquet in 1981 and 1983.

Born in 1930 at St Peters (Suffolk) in Great Britain, at the young age of 16 he left school to pursue his passion: motorsport. More than 50 years later, Ecclestone is now one of the richest people in Great Britain, ahead of the Queen of England!

His success is clearly the result of always being one step ahead of everyone else.  To him, Formula One is like a chess match, where the grand masters are always 10 or 20 moves ahead of their opponents.  Ecclestone is clearly the Grand Master of motorsport, and his genius now has governments on their knees, at times begging for mercy.

In case you have not noticed, his latest tactic to extract as much money out of F1 as possible is to play one government against another.  Through cunning behind the scenes moves and  careful planning, he has raised the image of F1 to that of something every country desires, whether to put a particular city or country on the map or bring in large sums of tourism dollars. 

F1 has become so expensive, gone are the days when simple ticket and concession sales can cover the sanction fee he charges. One-by-one Ecclestone is forcing the "privateer" promoter either out of business or to seek government assistance. 

And if they do not want to play his game, well there's another country waiting in the wings who is willing to pay....and they can afford it because the government is willing to subsidize the event with tax dollars just to get the race. 

So powerful and cunning is Ecclestone he is willing to challenge the world anti-tobacco movement in each country head-on, canceling their coveted F1 race if they don't bend their anti-tobacco rules for F1.  Who else would even dare to attempt such a thing?

Ecclestone now has so many countries in his back pocket asking for a race that the "traditional" races on the calendar are in jeopardy of losing their event if they can't meet Ecclestone's money, tobacco, and circuit improvement demands. 

When the European Union countries agreed to a tobacco ad ban in 2006 and then reneged on that date and passed anti-tobacco legislation that kicked in earlier, Ecclestone threatened to move races out of Europe to other countries who were not so anti-tobacco. And he made good on his threat.  

But was it really tobacco legislation that was the issue or did he use that as a smoke screen to extract more money from his unsuspecting victims?

Austria, Belgium and Canada are the latest examples of countries that had to cough up extra money to keep their F1 race.  Belgium and Canada did, Austria didn't. In Canada the tobacco laws were not changed, they just had to pay large sums of additional money to keep their event.

France is the latest target.  The Magny-Cours promoter could not afford his high prices, so France, tied as the oldest most traditional Grand Prix on the calendar lost their race.  A new promoter may step up to take over the event, but it looks certain the government is going to have to subsidize it one way or the other. Who will be next?

In some respects this upheaval in the F1 schedule is healthy in that the sport is moving away from being so European-centric to becoming a truer worldwide championship.  Turkey, Bahrain, China, Dubai, Malaysia, Russia, who would have ever thought those countries would ever be interested in F1?

You have to give Ecclestone credit, he certainly is a mastermind who has moved from making race promoters his puppets, to entire governments. 

There are many in the F1 paddock who hope he never retires. I for one enjoy watching him maneuver.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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