Ecclestone, the most powerful man in racing
Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty
Rumors have been
rampant in recent weeks that Chris Pook and Bernie Ecclestone
have struck some sort of deal whereby Bernie would either buy
CART, buy a piece of CART, or start some sort of strategic
working relationship with CART. Exactly what may be
coming down only Pook and Ecclestone know for sure, but
suffice it to say something big is cooking.
The question on everyone's mind is why would
Bernie Ecclestone, at the age of 71, want to have CART as a dance partner.
Isn't he supposed to be slowing down, taking it easy in his golden years?
That may be true for most people, but not Bernie. He's driven by
success, and if there's another successful business deal to be had, Bernie
is all over it. It makes getting out of bed each morning exciting.
A few years ago most would scoff at the idea of Bernie having anything to do
with CART. In fact, at one time Bernie viewed CART as a direct
competitor to his F1 series, especially when CART replaced F1 at Long Beach.
Not only he fearful of CART, he disparaged it every time he had a chance.
However, Formula One is in trouble now and Bernie
knows it. FIA president Max Mosley has admitted he does not get
excited about Formula One races anymore. Mosley told BBC Radio 5 Live, "This
season hasn't had the edge where you really look forward to a race and want
to sit down and watch it. "There have been moments of excitement - but not
as many as we hoped for. "Results have been predictable and this season
could have been better from a spectator point of view."
"We have got a problem," he
admitted. "People have stopped watching the television. It's never been a
problem like this before. Maybe it's because people got spoiled. "According
to Bernie it started in the last few races to be quite serious and he is
getting serious complaints from TV companies." Mosley says that they are two
problems facing F1 at this point, 'the show' and the enormous costs
involved. "Even the biggest and richest teams are going to suffer badly if
the smallest three or four go out of business," he said.
The real problems started a few years ago when Bernie
Ecclestone sold the majority ownership of F1. From that
day forward, he lost the complete control he had over F1.
Before, when Bernie would say jump, everyone would say "how
high"? Now, when he says jump, they ask "what for"?
As the cost of F1 has risen, the
control of the sport has fallen to the engine manufacturers.
They are the only ones with deep enough pockets to fuel F1's
thirst for money. Because F1 relies so much on the
manufacturers to stay afloat, they are calling the shots now.
When Mosley and Ecclestone suggest ways to make the sport more
entertaining by reducing technology, or handicapping the
fastest cars, they don't want to cooperate. Each
manufacturer has their own agenda, and each is throwing more
and more money at the sport in an effort to beat the other
But that can only go on for so
long. Eventually costs will become so prohibitive, F1
will be reduced to just a select few companies willing to
spend a fortune each year on F1.
An example of the big boys pushing
their weight around is the latest Minardi issue.
McLaren, Williams, BAR and Jordan have threatened to take Paul Stoddart's
tiny Minardi outfit to arbitration over their controversial
acquisition of prize money.
When Alain Prost's Guyencourt team hit the pavement late last
year, Italian-based Minardi immediately started the argument
that the collapse moved them up to tenth in the 2001
As a result, argued the struggling Faenza team, they should be
awarded the more than $12 million originally destined for
Clearly, though, a band of Formula One teams - led by McLaren
chief Ron Dennis - do not agree that this precedent should be
'I cannot believe that one of the biggest teams is trying to
force one of the smallest teams out of business,' said
47-year-old Stoddart, from Coburg in Australia.
Asked if the loss of the crucial money would spell the end to
his tiny team, Stoddart did not hesitate for a moment: 'It
would totally wipe us out,' he said.
Tom Walkinshaw's Arrows team similarly argued that Prost's $12
million belonged to them, but a meeting of team bosses
eventually awarded the funds to Minardi.
Paul Stoddart, meanwhile, threatened to quit the sport if this
'travesty of injustice' is allowed to proceed.
'I will turn my back on Formula One,' he said at the Suzuka
circuit. 'I cannot afford four months of my time nor the $2
million of costs that it will take to fund a challenge to
'At this time, with all the problems Formula One really does
have, for this to happen for me is nothing short of
'In the last 12 months we have been through so many problems,
the sport as a whole, and we've lost two teams. Now we are
going to lose three as I can't afford to fight this.
'Maybe there's another team that's not so steady as well,' he
mused. 'Do they really want eight teams in Melbourne next
year? I have gone to hell and back again this year and this is
the icing on the cake.
'It's bad enough having to deal with the problems I have had
to deal with, but when you get knives in your back from your
co-team principals, I'm not interested.
'It's a case of 'Is this the straw that breaks the camel's
back, do I want to be involved in a sport with such
individuals in it?' I'm not sure that I do.'
Does all this sound a bit like
CART in past years, with the manufacturers playing politics,
buying teams, buying drivers, in an effort to gain the upper
hand? You bet it does.
Then of course there is the
breakaway F1 series threatened by the manufacturers after the
Concorde agreement expires at the end of 2006. Basically
they are saying, if you don't do things our way, we're going
to take our toys and play elsewhere. It's not hard to
predict what would happen if the manufacturers controlled the
sport. Before long they will be fighting, and be at each
others throat, trying to gain the upper hand both on and off
the track. It's a recipe for complete and utter
Formula One is in trouble, big
trouble, and don't think for one minute this escape the cagey
Ecclestone and his sidekick, FIA President Max Mosley.
They have proposed ways to even the competition in F1 and make
the racing on the track better, with the hope of boosting
their sagging TV ratings. It's hard to justify $1/4
billion budgets if the TV ratings are not there.
While some of their nine proposals
may be approved, it's likely going to be difficult to get
anything really substantial approved because what's good for
one team or manufacturer may not be good for another.
They have as much chance of getting that bunch to agree on the
fact there is a problem, let alone the sweeping changes that
are needed to fix it.
The situation in F1 appears almost
hopeless, but that has never stopped Bernie from finding a
solution, and this time that solution may lie in, of all
Pook make Bernie Ecclestone an offer he couldn't refuse?
He's been smiling like this quite a bit lately.
In a previous article,
CART, like the Phoenix, about
to rise up from the ashes, I suggested I had a gut feeling
CART president Chris Pook may have struck a deal with Bernie
Ecclestone, whereby F1 will start putting restrictions on
engine design to significantly lower runaway costs, and
those engines would be used in both CART and F1. With
identical engines to F1, instantly Ferrari, BMW, Mercedes,
Renault, Toyota, Honda, and Ford/Jaguar have the lucrative
NAFTA market open to them through CART, or whatever new name
Chris and Bernie come up with.
Why would the engine manufacturers agree to this? Because the USA is
the largest market for all the F1 engine manufacturers and having just one
race per year at Indy doesn't give them enough media exposure. In
addition, there are demands for more races around the world that F1 can't
NASCAR, and the IRL to a lesser extent, has the right idea - limit the
technology and exotic materials in their cars. This reduces cost,
equalizes the competition, and moves the money being spent on R&D, to where
it belongs, in promotion and advertising of the series.
I'm not for a
moment suggesting CART and F1 adopt NASCAR's 1950's
technology, or shall I say lack of technology. However,
what is needed is a philosophical change in attitude that
racing is a sport where the competition should be primarily on
the track, and not totally in the Engineering design room,
which to a large extent, is where it is now. Technology
advancements should be focused more on safety and less on
wondering by now where am I going with all this? In
essence, I think both Pook and Ecclestone realize the need to
gain control. NASCAR is successful because it has
complete control over every facet of their sport. With
CART undergoing a complete overhaul of how it does
business, I think perhaps Bernie sees CART as a chance to show
the F1 world how it should be done.
While the plan for
CART is be a feeder series to F1, don't think for a minute it
will be reduced to a F3000 type of series. Not if Bernie
is involved. One would expect he, along with Pook, will
position CART to be everything F1 should be, but
can't....because of lack of control. The costs will be
in check, the competition on the track will be better, and the
series will be commercially successful.
CART, Formula 1A,
or whatever it is called, will be much closer in performance
to F1 than F3 or F3000 is, so in that regard, it will be a
much better training ground for F1. Physically the cars
will be the size of a F1 car (just like NASCAR Busch and
Winston Cup are identical).
having a say in both Formula 1 and CART/Formula 1A, the two
series would have a full schedule of races in the NAFTA
market, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia markets.
Most importantly, though, the new Formula 1A would have
international television and media coverage overnight through
Ecclestone's TV distribution channels! This in
itself will be huge for CART/Formula 1A.
As Commando Cody
writes in his latest article, sponsors who have global
ambitions would have to look seriously at a motorsports series
with 80% global reach. Bernie would not only get a big piece
of the action but Formula One-style racing gets it first real
shot at the U.S. market. No matter how much Bernie and
Max say they're not interested in the American market, NO
marketer willingly turns their back on nearly 300 million
consumers who have more disposable than most. And, with
Formula One drivers coming and going from Formula 1A and the
same style of racing, every new fan of Formula 1A is likely to
become a fan of Formula 1.
CART will adopt
the V10 gasoline F1 engines in 2005. It would seem to me
that between now and then, Ecclestone will try to take it one
step further and convince the F1 manufactures to adopt the
detuned, less expensive CART V10 version universally as a way
to lower costs in F1. He and Pook must think they can
successfully pitch this idea to the manufacturers, or Pook
would not be talking V10's for CART already. How else
could the less well off CART teams afford V10's?
One would think
the manufacturers will realize that a universal engine formula
would suit their interests by opening up the lucrative NAFTA
market to them. If they want to spend money on R&D on
the rest of the car in F1, so be it, but a universal engine
formula that's affordable even for CART teams just makes too
much sense. It'll mean a far less exotic engine in F1 by
today's standards, but it will still rev high, whine like the
dickens, and if the racing is better, no one will care if it's
turning 19,000 RPM or 17,000 RPM.
Because Formula 1A
cars will visibly look the same size as F1 cars, and sound the
same (same engine), Ecclestone will have established 1) a
perfect feeder series for F1. Busch cars look and sound
the same as Cup cars right? 2) An alternate series for
tracks that want a F1 race, but can't get one. If Imola loses
its F1 race, the tifosi will still have a Ferrari
powered car in the race with Formula 1A. 3) a cost
effective racing series whose model for success can possibly
be adopted, in part, by F1 after the Concorde agreement
expires the end of 2006.
In an ideal world,
the F1 crowd will see this model of success and adopt it
lock-stock-and-barrel in 2007. With costs in check, and
control in the hands of the sanctioning body where it belongs,
it would make sense to have both a Formula 1A (Formula 1
Americas) and a Formula 1E (Formula Europe). Both would
play to identical cost-effective rules and, like in all
stick-and-ball sports, there would be an end-of-year 3-race
championship playoff between divisions/series to determine the
overall F1 World Champion. The final three races for F1A
and F1E would be joint races at the same tracks, with the top
14 cars from each series invited to the championship rounds.
and F1 make perfect dance partners?
Can you imagine
how hard all the teams would battle to make the playoffs?
And imagine how much worldwide attention the championship
rounds would garner, something F1-style racing and its
sponsors certainly need. It would be huge, and would
result in 1) a true would champion being crowned, 2) raise the
level of media attention for Formula 1 style racing to new
heights, 3) Bernie Ecclestone once again being declared the
F1-God for saving the sport from itself.
to speculate what Pook and Ecclestone are up to, but suffice
it to say this move has all the makings of completely
differentiating CART from the IRL. Without ovals, CART
will no longer be thought of as Indy Car racing, but F1-style
road racing instead. Then the USA will have three very
distinct top-level forms of racing 1) NASCAR stock cars on
ovals, 2) Open-wheel IRL Indy Cars on ovals, 3) Open-wheel
Formula 1 style cars on road courses. With this
scenario, hopefully all three can co-exist and prosper in
their own market niche, and this Hatfields and McCoys war that
currently exists in American motorsports will cease.
it's safe to say, "we live in interesting times indeed!"
AutoRacing1 is an
independent internet online publication and is not affiliated with, sponsored by, or endorsed
by CART Inc., NASCAR, FIA, FedEx, Winston, or any other series sponsor. This material may not be published,
broadcast, or redistributed without permission. User agreement