Free man Bernie eyes a new F1 gimmickComment on this story
London - Bernie Ecclestone’s fixer in the paddock, his Man Friday and most loyal lieutenant, is a Sardinian called Pasquale Lattuneddu.
For years, he has whispered that “Bernie will live forever…120 or 130 eassssily…we’ll all be gone before he is.”
Yesterday there appeared to be some strange truth in Lattuneddu’s prediction when Ecclestone resumed control of Formula One after striking the deal of a lifetime of extraordinary deals: paying $100 million (R1.07 billion) to a German court to stop a bribery trial that could have put him in prison for 10 years.
Ecclestone left, as the court spokesman said, a “free man” and “no conclusion on guilt or innocence.”
He flew straight back to London to “do what I do best, which is run F1.”
Ecclestone, who is 83, said he would resume his place on the board that runs F1, Delta Topco, having relinquished his position earlier this year to fight the charges in Munich. There is no legal impediment to his doing so.
So Ecclestone seems to have won once again despite opposition factions within the business and the teams.
He remains a shareholder and works as F1 chief executive of CVC, the private equity firm who have made more than five times their outlay since buying into the sport in 2005-6.
SO WHAT LIES AHEAD FOR F1?
There are those who think that Ecclestone is too old, or too dictatorial or too reluctant to market the sport in a modern world of social media. The detractors have pointed to falling TV audiences this season.
Ecclestone enraged many by saying that the internet was a passing fad. It is this kind of old-fashioned view that the modernisers will hope he addresses now he is firmly back in his office.
Despite the grumbling, it remains true that Ecclestone has created a phenomenon in four decades running the sport.
Much of the wealth has been accrued through TV rights deals. He has also raised massive revenues from nations or individuals who want to stage a race.
He has, as one very senior figure in the ownership of the sport told me, won round several of his detractors because he makes “palaces out of sand” - races in the desert, or indeed in Baku, where the calendar takes grand prix racing in 2016.
At every race we hear debates in the paddock about how to improve “the show.” I hope Ecclestone proceeds with caution in this area. The sport should be wary of gimmicks, such as double points for the last race, that devalue the world championship.
It should be bolder, and replace two of the practice sessions with races - not championship races with points counting towards the drivers’ title, but fun, short sprints of, say, 20 laps, perhaps with reverse grids - something that should never be contemplated for the main race on Sundays.
Ecclestone is in favour of elitism, making the drivers nearly unavailable to the public. There is a fashion to decry this, and a call for fans to be allowed into or closer to the paddock and garages. Fine, if it can be done without damaging the allure and glamour of the spectacle.
It is to these challenges, and more, that Ecclestone returned to his desk.