Ecclestone ruled F1 for 40 years
Billionaire pioneered TV rights deals
Leaves legacy for new owner Liberty Media
Bernie Ecclestone may have been ousted as Formula One’s supremo, but his legacy lives on.
The 86-year-old frequently divided opinion during his 40 years in charge of the sport, but his impact on its fortunes (and his own) is beyond doubt.
“Bernie Ecclestone is a little man with enormous energy,” veteran F1 journalist Maurice Hamilton told CNN’s The Circuit.
“He used that energy to lift himself more or less by the bootstraps from being a secondhand car salesman to one of the wealthiest men in sport.”
Ecclestone, whose personal fortune is rated at $2.9 billion by Forbes, oversaw F1’s transformation from an amateurish operation in the 1970s to the $8 billion business formally acquired in January by new US owner Liberty Media.
“He could see where it needed to raise its game to a professional standard,” Hamilton says.
“The image was of greasy mechanics fettling old cars and Ecclestone stopped all that. All the teams had to make their cars look presentable.”
The Englishman also took the TV companies to task as he sought to optimize F1’s revenue, Hamilton says.
“If Bernie is to be remembered for any one specific thing, it was his ability to realize and maximize the effect of TV coverage of the sport.”
Instead of allowing broadcasters to cherry-pick races to televise, Ecclestone demanded they sign deals that guaranteed season-long coverage.
“He made a template, if you like, for other sports to follow with regard to utilizing television to the maximum – not only for the coverage but also financially,” Hamilton adds.
But with TV ratings now on the slide – F1 has lost a third of its viewers since 2008 – and Ecclestone’s disdain for social media – he once described it as “nonsense” – the time is right for fresh leadership in the sport, Hamilton argues.
“Liberty Media – as their title suggests – are very aware of how to promote the sport: they can see where all the faults are,” he says.
“It needed a boost, and I think we’re going to get it.”
With the first race of the 2017 season starting Sunday in Australia, F1 is about to enter a new era – but many people in the paddock at Melbourne will likely echo Hamilton’s final assessment.
“Along the way, of course, he made some enemies but overall Bernie Ecclestone – the man who ruled the race for 40 years – did a lot of good and he will be remembered as the man that made Formula One what it is today.”