Time to Go: An open letter to Formula One Empresario Bernie Ecclestone

F2Dear Bernie,

My, how times have changed! Oh you look tired. No surprise, after all those years running one of the richest and most complex sports on the planet. It must be hard building an empire and then watching it slowly crumble.

I wonder if you think much about the halcyon days of your love child – Formula One. The ‘good old days’ when Formula One was real. Real people, real characters and real racing. Back then a Formula One Team could be bought and sold for the price of a house. Hard to imagine that in 1972 you paid Brabham owner Ron Tauranac $120,000 for the whole outfit!

Bernie, you were wise enough to realize you didn’t have the talent to race seriously after crashing your Formula 3 car too many times. But at least you can claim to have competed in two F1 races in 1958! So, you turned to driver management (Jochen Rindt) and then in 1970 to team ownership, with your acquisition of Brabham.

These were the days when the world looked up to F1 as the pinnacle of motor racing.  You had mixed success with Brabham and then after your star driver and friend – Nelson Piquet quit because you wouldn’t pay him what he wanted, you sold the team for $5 million in 1978 and shifted your focus to FOCA – the Formula One Constructors Association, with lawyer Max Mosley by your side. So began your move to control the sport. The start of F1 Czar Dom.

You guys did a pretty good job for several decades. However, as your appetite for riches grew, F1 morphed into more of a show business. It became less about the racing and more about the television rights. You seemed to stop caring if grandstands were packed, because TV rights money trumped ticket sales, and even if a Grand Prix had poor attendance because the “show”
sucked, it didn’t matter anymore.

There were some great races in the 80s and 90s and then it slowly began a downward spiral. Which brings me to where the sport finds itself today. And what a sorry state it is…

Why?  I think its because of you Bernie. You sold your soul to the devil. It’s hard to believe that you lived in and witnessed the sport in the early years. Have you forgotten what it was like to witness a Jim Clark or Jackie Stewart at full tilt, sideways through a sweeper?

F1Ah wait. I’m sorry. Perhaps it’s your hearing that is going, but the sound of a Ferrari V12 making its way through the Lesmo corners at Monza was better than any music I’ve ever heard. It made the hairs on my neck rise.  It was gut-wrenchingly beautiful. A symphony of sound. You criticized the engine sound in 2014, yet what has changed. What have you done to improve the sound and spectacle of the sport?

What do we have now Bernie? Cars that sound like earth moving equipment, engines so complicated to run and so expensive, that teams like McLaren Honda can’t even run at full power in race trim so they can preserve their precious power units in case they implode. Why because of harsh testing restrictions and all sorts of other nonsense to supposedly save costs, yet the engines alone are the most expensive ever run in the sport.

Formula One is a sport of contradictions. In the eighties Formula One stopped running the South African Grand Prix, due to sanctions against apartheid. Tough for us fans who lived there back then, but completely understandable given the necessity to support those affected by the unjust policies of the government.

So what have you learned since then Bernie… How many Grands Prix currently run in countries with worse human rights abuses than the old apartheid government ever had.

Russia and China top the list, and then there are questionable states like Bahrain…
What message are you sending the world by staging these races and supporting dictators, Bernie? I see you like hanging out with the ‘Darth Vader’ of the modern world, your old chum Vladimir Putin.  Yes, his army is actively killing Ukrainians while you drink champagne together trackside in Sochi. Not to mention all the stuff he does to dissenters in his own country.
And what about China… Need I say more…it seems you would sell a race to anyone who comes up with the right amount of cash? Good thing Hitler is long gone.

F3I never thought I’d say that Indycar is more interesting to watch then Formula One, but seriously, at least they have some racing in Indycar, not just pit stop passing and all sorts of scientific calculations to help one car or driver get ahead of the other. Passing seems to have vanished too in Formula One. Yes the notion that a driver has to summon extra courage and plan a maneuver to get ahead of another is sadly almost foreign to F1 nowadays.

Bring back 1000 horsepower cars, rules that allow for passing and sideways action, and get rid of some of crazy rules that ban development and testing. Then make Formula One accessible to fans again by opening it up more on race weekends.  Let fans buy pit passes for $30 instead of $3000.

It’s time for you to retire Bernie. Retire before your drown your baby in your dirty bathwater. Formula One needs a new visionary and a clean image. Sports and politics do mix. You can’t ignore politics when you stage a sport on a global platform. Formula One needs to set an example and steer clear of countries that don’t respect humanity.

What Formula One desperately needs is someone, who can figure out a way to return what used to the motor racing’s premier formula to its rightful place in the pecking order. Its not you Bernie!

Paul Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed by guest Columnist do not necessary reflect those of The Fast Lane Car.  Colorado-based photojournalist Paul Shippey got hooked on Formula One when he attended his first Grand Prix at the tender age of four in South   Africa. He worked in the sport as a Formula One reporter in the nineties and was a PR executive for Ford   during the Stewart Grand Prix era.