London – For 40 years Bernie Ecclestone bestrode Formula One as a diminutive dictator. But on Monday night a conference call ended his rule of an empire.
He walked into one of the rooms in his Knightsbridge offices in late evening, linked up with the sport’s new American owners Liberty Media, and a reign that regularly seemed impregnable was over.
The exact details of the fracture remain unknown - Ecclestone told Sportsmail that a press release would be coming out on Tuesday.
But the day-to-day running of the billion-dollar business will instead be conducted by Chase Carey, a 62-year-old, moustachioed American who has spent the last five months moving towards yesterday’s landmark decision.
"I have been deposed," said Ecclestone. "You will have to wait to see what the press release says: who did what to whom, how the decision was made. But I am not running the company any more."
The 86-year-old Ecclestone has been on borrowed time since Liberty Media announced in September that it was buying the sport from CVC Capital Partners, a private equity firm.
Liberty allowed him to sign a three-year deal as chief executive, but that now seems more clearly than ever to have been a subterfuge for regime change: he would continue only as long as they needed to get their feet under the table.
The deal with Liberty Media was conducted behind Ecclestone’s back by CVC chairman Donald Mackenzie, and sprung on Ecclestone at the Italian Grand Prix.
So perturbed was the octogenarian by the news that he called in his closest associates to his motorhome in the Monza paddock to tell them it might be the last race he attended.
After giving the situation more thought, he decided to stick around rather than give up on an obsession he had run like a family business despite selling to CVC in 2005.
But in the last few weeks he was aware that his future was no longer his to decide.
Instead, he was subject to Carey’s root-and-branch restructuring. When the £6 billion (R100bn) buyout was approved last week by the Liberty board and by the governing FIA, Carey was free to sideline Ecclestone.
Liberty have appointed Ecclestone as chairman emeritus of F1 - shorn of the responsibility for the deal-striking that turned the sport into a global success story and made him a rich man, conservatively estimated to be worth £2bn (R33.6bn).
His wealth was a remarkable statement on the entrepreneurial skills of this son of a Suffolk trawlerman turned second-hand car dealer. He took control of grand prix racing as the leading member of the Formula One Constructors’ Association in the 1970s, seeing the revenue potential of selling television rights for vast sums.
His skills opened doors to the crowned heads of the world, from the reputable to the objectionable.
On his office sideboard are pictures of him with Vladimir Putin, co- creator of the Russian Grand Prix, just one of several new venues opened up as F1 moved to new markets around the world.
Ecclestone was never short of a controversial opinion, saying that woman drivers’ overalls should be white like domestic appliances. He also said he admired Hitler because he got things done.
These maverick comments were never going to be in concert with the squeaky-clean image of Liberty Media, and anyway he was less than four years off 90 - not immortal and hardly attuned to the potential of social media.
However, dispensing with Ecclestone is a gamble.
Formula One is a world of its own and nothing like an ordinary company.