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Why F1’s Wily Old Bernie Cannot Be Replaced

by on April 29, 2013

Wily.  Here is a word which most people from my generation associate with an infamous cartoon.  Wile E. Coyote was a well-known antagonist from  one of my favorite Looney Tunes cartoon series with the Road Runner.   Of course, as a child, I never made the connection between the character’s name and its clever if not deceitful traits.

Now that I understand the definition of the word “Wily”, it all makes sense.  I decided to include the definition of the word from two well-respected online sources for your convenience.

  1. Oxford Dictionary: Definition of wily – adjective (wilier, wiliest) : skilled at gaining an advantage, especially deceitfully

  2. Meriam-Webster Dictionary: Definition of wily (adjective) : clever at attaining one’s ends by indirect and often deceptive means

Doesn’t that describe Mr. Ecclestone to a certain degree?

A little known fact is that Mr. E was automobile and motorcycle salesman in his younger days.  He had this unbelievable skill to sell.  An incredible judge of character who was able to talk his way out of any situation or into anyone’s wallet.  Bernie was able to evaluate any vehicle and do two things incredibly well.  The first was to be able to purchase the vehicle from the owner at a ridiculously low price while make the seller feel as though he/she struck a deal.  The second was the ability to sell that same vehicle for a lofty profit while making the buyer feel as though he/she had also struck a deal.  Bernie never grew emotionally attached to anything.  He saw each vehicle as an opportunity to make money.

Recently there has been a lot of talk about Bernie and CVC reconsidering their position to float Formula One on the Singapore stock exchange.  Due to the less than hospitable global economic climate in recent years, they decided to forgo the initial attempt at floating F1.  They now feel the time may be right to move forward again at some point this year.

There will certainly be questions asked about the current state of the sport, its financial situation and of course the succession plan for Mr. E when he is no longer the driving force behind F1.

For many years, very few people have asked the question of what happens to F1 when Bernie is no longer around?  Bernie hasn’t really been in any ill-health and there has never been a reason to believe that he had lost interest in running the show. Recently however, the question has been raised publicly.  The 82-year-old Brit is not getting any younger for starters, but that isn’t the really the reason.

It might have more to do with the implications of the bribery scandal and the possible repercussions if Bernie is indicted.  Gerhard Gribkowsky, a German banker,  confessed to taking bribes from Bernie Ecclestone in 2006 over the sale of F1 to CVC.  It is possible (although it seems unlikely) that Ecclestone could be forced out either at the hands of the court or FOM board members.

So what happens if and when Bernie is gone?  Well, some believe Bernie will never give up and will never die.  Intent on remaining at the helm of F1 defying death like a cockroach surviving nuclear holocaust.  The reality is that Formula One will likely fall into some sort of corporate structure.  It will likely be generic and bland, governed by vote by a bunch of suit and tie types that haven’t the foggiest clue.

Bernie can never be replaced.  No person alive has his wiliness.  No one can enter into negotiations like Bernie, financially undress the other party and walk out with an iron-clad deal, all while the other party feel as though they came out ahead.  No one.

You see, Ecclestone also knows how to manipulate the media.  Every time he needs to negotiate a deal for a Grand Prix, he makes a simple statement or two that media jump all over.  For instance, before negotiating a deal with Australia, he might mention that Bahrain would be willing to host the F1 season opener.  The weather in Melbourne doesn’t lend itself to hosting a GP during it’s winter months, so it would likely want to retain its position as the F1 season opening round.

Any time F1 is in the news is a win for Bernie. Even if it’s not all positive, it still gets people talking about the sport.  No one has the networking skills nor the Motorsport network that Bernie has built over what seems like a lifetime. No one knows the history or the people of F1 places and things or deals. He is a one man F1 band that holds all the key and their secrets.

Much like his days selling motorcycles and cars after WWII, Bernie doesn’t get emotionally attached.  He knows new markets like Russia and Thailand could easily take the place of just about any circuit on the current F1 calendar.  Nothing is sacred except perhaps the  Monaco GP, but I reckon it too could be replaced…far easier than Bernie could.


Author: Ernie Black



From → Formula One

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