Tag Archives: bernie ecclestone

Bernie gets something for nothing

Bahrain Grand Prix returns for 2012

A first - Bahrain pays out for having no Grand Prix. (LG)

Bernie Ecclestone could be the greatest salesman of all time. It could be said that this is a man who could sell sand to the Arabs, but he’s even smarter than that; it seems he has managed to sell nothing to them.

The canceled 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix still brought in more than twenty million dollars to FOM’s coffers, despite the F1 Czar claiming he offered to return the money. According to Bernie they just told him to hang on to it, like you would do if your mate borrowed a t-shirt off you. The likelihood is that there is much more to this story than meets the eye, like so many other seemingly simple arrangements at the highest echelon of our sport.

Anything that comes from the Ringmaster’s mouth needs to be treated with a pinch of salt; in the same interview Ecclestone dropped this gem, “Greece are also trying to do a Formula One race. The Germans will lend them some money” which I can only believe to be a joke for fellow billionaires to chuckle over while swigging port on their artificial island. Were he a comedian Bernie would need to work a little on his material, but this is a telling insight into how seriously he takes talking to the press. The quote has been reported by respected sources, sites and papers with all the deadpan seriousness that Bernie no doubt delivered it in. I sometimes wonder if they shouldn’t get somebody with a sense of humour and a little current affairs nous to duel with him. Paxman verses Ecclestone, now there’s a thought…

I look forward to hearing Bahrain’s take on the story. Perhaps they’ll say it was just a little goodwill for causing Formula One a political headache earlier in the year? Maybe they were contractually bound to pay it? They certainly aren’t in a position to mock Bernie so I doubt they’ll deny the story if asked. The fact is that rich folk don’t get that way by giving away a penny, let alone a few million pounds, without getting something in return.

The cynic within me can’t help but think this payment could be a sweetener ahead of the mooted return to Bahrain in 2012, assuming Ecclestone wasn’t yanking our chain. In that case the question has to be whether Formula One needs to expose itself to criticism from the wider world for effectively being paid double to go back to a place that we now know to have a shocking disregard for humanitarian principles. Of course there are other stops on the Grand Prix world tour that wouldn’t stand up to close scrutiny of their government’s actions, though none have had their misdemeanours splashed around quite so publicly in recent times. Bernie also mentions Cancun in Mexico and Cape Town in South Africa as potential Grand Prix of the future, so why even bother with Bahrain when there are some tourist hotspots waiting in the wings? It’s not like the die-hard fans have missed Sakhir in 2011.

Although I look at motorsport through a rose-tinted visor there are many others who do not. Burning oil, spending tax dollars, involvement with court cases – there is enough ammo out there already without the Bahrain situation becoming any more debatable than it already is. I guess if FOM did genuinely offer to return the cash then they will take the view that their hands are clean, others may not see it the same way.

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The madness of King Bernie

Rain - coming to a desert near you (pic by Marcel Tauch)

For someone who speaks so slowly, softly and considerately Bernie Ecclestone certainly knows how to use words to provoke . From the mouth of the man who brought us such gems as medals in F1 and overtaking lanes, now we’ve been treated to artificial rain as Bernie’s latest suggestion to spice up ‘the show’. Is he mad? You could call him a lot of things, but crazy isn’t one of them.

Although the image of Bernie playing God with his magic rain button is an arresting one, as ever we need not panic about the sanctity of Formula One’s sporting credentials just because the boss has spoken. After all, he doesn’t like the silly overtaking flaps but they’re still happening for 2011, so what he says doesn’t always go.

It seems that Bernie is again using his words to worm his way into the headlines on his own terms, like the skilled politician his role has forced him to become. It’s clear he revels in getting the sport into the papers at the right moments and all the debate over pretend precipitation is a handy distraction from any awkward questions about F1’s presence in places where the populous is getting tetchy about those that govern them. I’d rather have a nice fantasy debate about Formula One racing in wet ‘weather’ than talking about the tense political situation in Bahrain, Bernie and the obliging press clearly think the same.

The really useful stuff was at the end of the Ecclestone interview where he talks of women running F1 in the future. As ever there is likely an agenda here, this time about his own thoughts on a succession plan. The little man with the big statements makes some salient points on women in business, “Women don’t get trapped so easily in their own ego” adding that, “they decide things less emotionally and in the end that serves the cause.”

All this from the man who once phoned up Danica Patrick and said that women were “domestic appliances”…

Is the ruler of Formula One mad? Like the sprinkler systems he pontificates about, Bernie’s madness is turned on and off whenever it suits him.

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Next in line to the throne?

 

Zac Brown in action

Who better to replace a racing wheeler dealer than a racing wheeler dealer?

We all assumed that only the Grim Reaper could tear Bernie from his throne, but now it looks like the long arm of the law could be his eventual downfall. Plebs like myself find law a little bit baffling (which is probably the idea) so I’ll defer to the likes of the excellent Joe Saward for coverage of the case of the missing 50 million, but I did come across a fascinating profile of a possible apprentice for Emporer Ecclestone.

 

We don’t know how Ecclestone will leave the sport he has helmed for so long, but we know that one day Formula One will inevitably find itself searching for a new leader. It seems that The Guardian has found one in American advertising-ace and part-time racer Zac Brown.

 

Zac Brown was last seen contributing to his United Autosport team’s remarkable fourth place finish in the Rolex 24 at Daytona alongside oldie-but-goodies Mark Brundle and Martin Blundell (Murray’s words circa 1993, not mine). He’s also been campaigning his garish Audi R8 GT car (pictured above at the luscious Lodge corner at Oulton Park).

 

Indeed, the launch of his GT3 challenger saw Bernie himself in attendance – the lowest down the racing ladder that Ecclestone has appeared since his own F3 days. It seems that Zac Brown is very well connected indeed, it was akin to seeing Sepp Blatter cheering on the touch-lines for Southport FC.

 

Read the Guardian’s piece here.

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In the hot seat

 

Fancy a go at this? Hirvonen won in his Fiesta, but the star turn of Sweden came from a complete novice. (pic by Ford Europe)

On to happier matters. The new for 2011 World Rally Championship started its hopefully bright future on the gleaming white snow of Sweden last week. The big story was an incredibly tight final day that saw five drivers duking it out for the first victory of the new era, with Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen taking top spot, although the story that caught my eye was about a surprise interloper in this lead scrap – a chap called Chris Patterson.

 

The British interloper was thrust into the limelight at the end of the rally after Petter Solberg was caught speeding by the cops. A rally driver speeding, who’d have thunk it?

 

If you break the limit in Sweden you serve a driving ban that starts 48 hours after the offence, which seems like a pretty strong deterrent for the speedy. This fascinating forfeit for the fast left the former World Rally Champ and all-round nice guy with no choice but to hand the keys of his brand new Citroen over to his co-driver Chris Patterson. More used to looking into his lap than out of the windscreen, the raw rookie found himself needing to hold onto fifth over the final stage with non other than 7 million time champion Sebastian Loeb chasing them down. You can see Chris’ first experience of the driving seat here. It looks like a sterling job with only a little interference from his somewhat over-qualified driving instructor, just look how chuffed he is at the end of the stage!

 

This magic moment brings to mind Bernie Ecclestone in his Brabham days when he reputedly sent a message out on the PA system in Montreal back in 1980 asking if there was anybody in the stands who fancied being an F1 driver after Niki Lauda declared he was “tired of driving in circles”. Argentine driver Ricardo Zunino popped up and gladly took the seat, although it seems unlikely the reality of his appointment was quite so Hollywood. Zunino, a competent hand in F2, was already on Ecclestone’s radar and the ringmaster has always enjoyed a good story, but who are we to ruin such a charming tale?

 

A little more successful as an impromptu stand-in was John Boland. An Irish politician, he went to spectate at the Olympics revival in Athens in 1896 and came home with two gold medals. Unbeknownst to Boland his friend had entered him into the tennis competition where he excelled

by winning the gold in both the singles and doubles at the first modern Olympic Games. He never played competitive tennis again, it wasn’t going to get any better than that. Boland went back to politics, his Olympic golds becoming the world’s best ever holiday souvenirs.

 

The professionalism of sport today makes this about as likely to be repeated as the pilot on your Easyjet flight inviting you to land the plane yourself so he can take some time off and join the mile high club. The Solberg-Patterson car pool is about as close as we’ll see in motorsport to ‘one of us’ being thrust into the spotlight; Renault won’t even let its band of merry reserve drivers loose in its Grand Prix car, so we won’t be seeing Bernie asking the spectators to have a crack at driving any time soon.

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