There is no defending what Bernie Ecclestone said. Venturing on to the tinderbox landscape of the Black Lives Matter movement, Formula One’s irascible former kingpin chose, as usual, not to douse the flames but to ignite an inferno. To argue that “in lots of cases, black people are more racist than white people are” is a grim example of misreading the room, even for a man who brought you such great hits as admiring Hitler’s ability to “get things done” and claiming, when pressed on the notion of staging a grand prix in Syria, that he would have to “take a look at it”.
It is still possible to feel unease, though, at how dramatically F1 has excommunicated Ecclestone. Within hours of him tossing his verbal grenade in a CNN interview, the sport, which usually couches its statements in the blandest corporate bromides, thundered that his comments had “no place in F1 or society”. Plunging the knife ever deeper, F1 depicted him as an irrelevant fossil, whose title as “chairman emeritus” was a mere honorific, and one that had been quietly discontinued five months ago. For the father of modern F1, whose shrewd sense of power and its uses turned elite motorsport into a billion-dollar industry, there could scarcely be a more ignominious end.
Many will not mourn Ecclestone’s public traducing. Often, his views on race, gender and diversity are so outmoded that they require carbon-dating. But for Chase Carey, F1’s chief executive, to throw the 89-year-old to the wolves is more than a little graceless. Without Ecclestone, there would be no brand for Carey and the suits at Liberty Media to sweat. There would be no path for Lewis Hamilton2020欧洲杯体育投注开户 to become a global icon and a £40 million-a-year driver. There would be none of the cachet that has turned the F1 circus into such a glittering proposition for sponsors and punters alike.
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户Ever since Liberty took over in 2017, Carey and Ecclestone have formed about the least likely duo since Noel Gallagher presented a British Comedy Award with Sir Tom Stoppard. To Carey, a circumspect Irish-American who made his name as Rupert Murdoch’s lieutenant at News Corporation, Ecclestone is a baffling period piece, with no feel for F1’s future on digital media. Too right: Ecclestone has never had the slightest interest in courting a millennial audience, for one very simple reason. “Most of these kids haven’t got any money.”
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户Under Ecclestone, F1 was a byword for exclusivity and blue-chip luxury, with paddock passes dispensed as sparingly as top-of-the-range Rolexes. With Carey at the helm, the terms of entry have softened somewhat, with hordes of fans allowed into the pit lane on media days to collect autographs. Ecclestone was always the one item of apparatus he never knew quite what to do with. So, instead of deposing him outright, he shunted him into an executive broom cupboard marked chairman emeritus. As Ecclestone would later ruefully acknowledge: “I’ve got the highest position there is. So high that when I look down, I can’t see anything.”
What Liberty never grasped was Ecclestone’s status as perhaps the most consummate networker on the planet. On one occasion in his suite at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, an audience with him had to be cut short when the King of Spain wandered in. He was always in his element in Russia, too, where he would enjoy the unheard-of privilege of an embrace with Vladimir Putin. One picture from the VIP box in Sochi captures this beautifully. Ecclestone, pressing the flesh with the Russian president, takes centre stage, while Carey sits uneasily off to the side.
Liberty is oddly selective about which elements of the Ecclestone inheritance it keeps, and which it disavows. For instance, it is quite content to keep reaping the vast riches of the race deals he struck with dubious regimes from Bahrain to Azerbaijan. But in the era of Black Lives Matter, it has suddenly decided he is beyond the pale.
This conflicted position is hard to swallow, given that Liberty has itself done little to advance diversity in the past three years. True, F1 now proudly sports a rainbow logo, under the banner of “We Race As One”. And yes, Carey has just launched a foundation to fund apprenticeships for under-represented groups, pledging his own money. But all this comes in rapid response to Hamilton’s interventions on Instagram, castigating the sport’s white-dominated image. Until that point, F1 did not even include the background of its six-time world champion in its official literature on diversity. It was as guilty as any major sport in preferring platitudes to practical measures. Now, apparently, the logical next step is to disown Ecclestone. Carey and his cohort can denounce Ecclestone’s ill-judged language all they like. But they should pause, if only for a second, to consider just where they would be without him.