Reports of Bernie Ecclestone’s retirement are about as frequent as news that the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is finally coming to America. The long rumored day is finally here, however. The FIA has given its blessing to the sale of the commercial rights to Liberty Media, which will install Chase Carey — a man who has a more luxuriant mustache than Dieter Zetsche — as the new CEO of the sport. Bernie will now be Chairman Emeritus, but says he has no idea what that means.
“I was deposed today,” Ecclestone told Auto Motor und Sport on January 23. “I am simply gone. It’s official. I am no longer the leader of the company. My position has been taken by Chase Carey. My new position is one of those American terms. It’s something like an honorary president. I have this title now, even though I don’t know what it means.”
He added, “My days in the office will be getting quieter now. Maybe I will attend a Grand Prix sometime in the future. I still have many friends in Formula 1, and I still have enough money to afford to attend a race.” Ecclestone may even lose his seat on the World Motor Sport Council, a captive organization whose primary role is to rubber stamp any decisions of the FIA and give them an aura of legitimacy.
Liberty Media has let it be known it wants to expand the media presence of Formula One and is considering new race venues in the United States in Miami, New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It anticipates pumping up the hoopla around each race to rival that of the Super Bowl, with each becoming a week long celebration studded with celebrities and driver “up close and personal” segments.
Bernie Ecclestone was dismissive of social media, insisting that people still wanted to get their news about the sport from print media like newspapers. Liberty Media is intent on dragging the sport into the 21st century, ready or not.
Liberty is not planning to be bound by the special privileges Ecclestone doled out to his favorite team, Ferrari. The Maranello squad currently gets an extra $100 million a year more than any other team. It is essentially a bribe Ecclestone paid to keep Ferrari in the sport.
Liberty CEO Greg Maffei says that payment will likely end. “Thinking about balancing the team payments, so they’re a little more balanced and creates more fairness, has to be weighed — in Ferrari’s mind, I would expect — by the fact that creating a great platform helps our sponsorship revenue, too, so there’s give-and-take. He believes has more than enough revenue to withstand the loss of the Ecclestone special payment, according to Grand Prix.com.
It is the end of an era in Formula One, an era in which Bernie Ecclestone wheedled and cajoled others into doing his bidding, making himself into one of the world’s richest men in the process. Bernie was always focused on “the show,” but never really understood what that meant in a world where presidents are elected based on their Twitter activity. Liberty Media is, first and foremost, a media company. It knows how to play the game and make money doing so.