Belfast Telegraph

F1 will be forever grateful but it was time for Bernie to wave goodbye: Hamilton

By Sammy Hamill

Acclaimed motorsport author and Formula One broadcaster Maurice Hamilton tweeted: "I and many others have had a lot to thank Bernie Ecclestone for these past 40 years. But it was definitely time for Mr E to stand aside."

The Ulster-born F1 analyst admits the ousting of Formula One ringmaster Ecclestone happened faster than expected but he says the takeover by the American Liberty Media group was always going to bring to an end the reign of a man who single-handedly built grand prix racing into a multi-billion dollar business and turned it into his personal fiefdom.

"It could hardly have been otherwise when it became clear that the thinking of Liberty Media was directly opposed to the ruthless policy of the man who made F1 what it is today," wrote Hamilton in his blog.

"His relentless and obsessive pursuit of the dollar has been at the expense of bringing F1 in line with the expectations of a world now far removed from Ecclestone's mantra: 'If you don't like it or can't afford it, then sod off!'."

He went on: "Having taken a couple of months to examine the state of the motorsport business, the American organisation's F1 boss, Chase Carey, reached several conclusions. Not one of them matched Ecclestone's unique business model for a sport that Carey described as 'dysfunctional'.

"One pertinent comment was that 'significant business and sporting decisions have been made solely for financial reasons'.

"Ally this to the observation that 'the longest standing races are struggling to fund themselves and risk dropping off the calendar' and you have a proposed sea change that will come as a huge relief to struggling classics such as the British, Italian and German Grands Prix, not to mention the sport's oldest race, the French Grand Prix, long since shoved onto the hard shoulder by flash new races with nothing more than an ability to meet the excessive fees.

"The time has come for Bernie to finally sod off; a brutal helping of rough justice he ought to understand."

From car salesman to team owner to billionaire and unchallenged ruler of the most glamorous sport in the world, Ecclestone was a phenomenon - clever, ruthless and controversial.

But, like Hamilton says, many have the little octogenarian to thank for their careers, among them Belfast's British Grand Prix winner John Watson. It was Ecclestone who recruited the Ulsterman back in 1972 although their paths had crossed in unusual circumstances two years earlier after Watson crashed in an F2 race at Rouen in France.

Watson recalled: "In practice, through the final flat-out right-hander, a rear tyre deflated and I was off into the barriers, almost tore the car in two. I broke my arm, broke my leg and fractured my ankle.

"I ended up in an appalling French hospital, but Bernie Ecclestone, whom I'd never met, got me flown back to Belfast in Jochen Rindt's plane."

Maybe, as always, Ecclestone had an ulterior motive, possibly recognising Watson's early potential.

Watson said: "I signed with Bernie at the end of 1972, essentially to be an F2 driver with some hope of moving into F1. He then made available one of the 1973 Brabham BT42s that the team had used, supplying it to one of his car dealer friends, Paul Michaels at Hexagon. With engineers that he had in his own business and a couple of other people, we set out on an F1 trail which you could do back then but not now."

Watson, of course, went on to drive for Surtees, Penske and McLaren, winning five times and coming within a handful of points of becoming World champion in 1982.

Now a respected commentator, he felt his friend Bernie had been ignoring the difficulties F1 was facing and wrote last year: "Formula One has a major problem but the sport is putting its head in the sand.

"Two thirds of the grid are struggling, and barely able to make it to the race. Right now F1 needs to have a good look at itself and decide what it is trying to achieve. The product is in need of a massive kickstart.

"What's going on? Bernie Ecclestone has done a phenomenal job but somebody needs to step in because of the dire state the middle and bottom of the grid is in. You can't have a race with just four big teams."

The decline into administration of the Manor team, despite an injection of £30m by Belfast owner Stephen Fitzpatrick, seems to confirm Ecclestone's neglect of the lower ranks of the grid.

However, Gary Anderson, the Coleraine-born engineer who designed the Jordan, Stewart and Jaguar F1 cars, says F1 has much to be grateful for. He and Ecclestone go back a long way.

"Bernie was my first boss in motorsport as the team owner at Brabham and I've lived through the changes he has made to it," he said. "Before him, F1 was nothing more than just a load of independent teams not working together.

"What he did is turn it into something that could then be sold to people with the teams and drivers everybody knows."

But few will shed too many tears for Ecclestone. Already rich beyond imagination, he is said to have pocketed another £800m from the Liberty deal. He can afford to sod off.

Belfast Telegraph


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