Bernie Ecclestone has a formidable reputation as a deal maker and he ruled Formula 1 with an iron hand until his desire to pocket cash eventually saw him lose control of the empire – and get eased aside.
Some would now have us believe that the 86-year-old Peter Pan is now going to start a rival championship to Formula 1.
Good luck to him with that.
The biggest problem he has is that he will now be trying to break down the safeguards that he put in place to stop people doing this…
The F1 race promoters of the world are either tied into long term deals that Bernie struck with them, backed up by government guarantees in lots of cases. And those who are free, probably don’t much like the Ecclestone business model and so he will need to develop a new one.
The rules and trademarks of F1 are copyrighted (to a lesser or greater extent), including GP1, GP2 and GP3. Liberty Media can use them if they so desire, but from what I hear GP2 will soon become F2 and GP3 will become F3.
The FIA has a recognised right to decide on who can use the word “World Championship” in motorsport. Overturning that would takes years in court. The FIA likes money, of course, but it is unlikely to undermine its primary asset, as F1 provides the vast majority of its current revenue – thanks to Mr E.
The big F1 teams, notably Ferrari, are tied in by contract, with huge penalty clauses, until the end of 2020. Maybe they might switch after that, but most of them seem to be quite excited at the prospect of working with Liberty and it will take some time for them to become sufficiently disillusioned to want to walk away. They believe that Liberty will be good for F1 because it will bring new ideas.
Most TV companies in F1 have long term deals as well. They are all carefully overlapping to stop all being lost at the same time. Those channels that do not have deals will not pay much for a new championship, usually new championships have to pay the TV companies.
Liberty’s John Malone owns a significant share of Formula E, and in any case Mr E abhors quiet electric cars and doesn’t want to become that kind of Mr E. He wants loud, noisy and dangerous machinery. To introduce this would require safety work at circuits which someone would have to pay for – and which the FIA would have to clear. And combatting that would be relatively simple for Formula One, with a gentle step in the same direction, which is in any case quite likely.
Bernie has rarely invested his own money so it is hard to imagine he will fund chassis and engines to create machinery for a new series. It is not likely that he will find someone else to do it. The manufacturers looked at doing their own championship a few years ago and concluded it was prohibitively expensive and would not succeed.
He might buy a touring car series but then NASCAR, DTM, Supercars and the FIA would not be very helpful.
There are a couple of other things which will make a new escapade rather challenging. This summer Mr E will go back to court over the question of the sale of F1 to CVC Capital Partners 10 years ago. Maybe he will find a way to win, despite the fact that Britain does not seem to have any get-out clauses as Germany did. If a civil suit proves there was criminal activity, would the authorities not want to pursue that question further? Whatever the details, it will take up time and energy and while Bernie is anything but an average 86-year-old, it will take an awful lot of help from disciples of Serge Voronoff (who died at 85) and Paul Niehans (who made it to 88) to keep going at the same rate, even if one drinks gallons of water and eats tons of blueberries every day.
The oldest known human was Jeanne Calment, who died at 122, back in 1997, but her regime of a cigarette every day, two glasses of port and lots of chocolate might not work for everyone. According to data released not long ago by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) men can expect to live to an average age of 84.4 years in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the highest such figure in the UK.
The other key question is how many big corporations are going to invest heavily in a business run by someone who is knocking 90, who won’t have a succession plan…
So, realistically, this is a story for Bernie’s media puppets only. Check out the usual places and no doubt the story will appear, along with the hopeless arguments about how the EU, the British Government and the Pope will soon all combine to stop Liberty. Just check the names of the authors before reading further and save yourself the effort. The names are always the same.