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Bernie's Christmas grenade


Twice in recent months, Bernie Ecclestone has been accused of lobbing grenades into the F1 paddock with the intention of causing trouble.

The first came in reaction to the former F1 supremo's claim that Mercedes had helped Ferrari improve its engine.

"For good reason," he told La Repubblica, "a world championship won against Sauber is one thing, one won against Ferrari is another."

"He's the only one who is able to sit on the other side of the world and throw a hand grenade and it actually lands in the paddock," responded Toto Wolff of the claim.

"These stories are fantastic and I've missed them a little bit," he told Reuters. "I've missed the hand grenades and the pop-up meetings and the crisis situation and the rule and divide."

A few weeks later, Wolff once again referred to hand grenades when asked, in Abu Dhabi, how he felt the sport had changed over the past twelve months.

"Well, 12 months ago Bernie was around," he replied. "We miss the odd hand grenade flying through the paddock, but this is new times and what we need to do is support the new owners and the management to grow Formula 1."

Ever the diplomat, Wolff omitted to mention the row that was already bubbling away following Liberty Media's revealing of its initial proposal for the 2021 engine rules, far less the maelstrom that would follow should predictions about the sport's new owners plans for the prize pot prove accurate.

While, Wolff, and thereby Mercedes, was offering its support to Liberty, predictably, Ferrari had already blown its top, Sergio Marchionne expressing his unease with the engine regulation in no uncertain terms.

While the sport pats itself on the back with various awards ceremonies, reflects on season past while excitedly looking ahead to 2018, winding down for a much needed Christmas break before the whole process begins again, at a time most of us are wondering if we sent a card to Uncle George or whether we should buy in some extra milk because the shops are shut for a whole day, Bernie has taken the opportunity to lob a festive grenade.

"Democracy has no place in Formula 1," he tells Switzerland's Sonntagsblick.

"The new owners will soon realize this because so far they have achieved nothing," he adds.

Asked about Ferrari's threat to quit the sport, he replies: "That old game... If they don't win, there is usually panic. Max Mosley and I could write a long list of all the times we helped Ferrari, but they always deny it."

Barely has Bernie pulled the pin than Marchionne, taking full advantage of his team's traditional Christmas media luncheon, not only reiterates his threat of quitting F1, he takes it one step further, suggesting that his team could head to a breakaway series.

Of course, we've been down this route a few times before, and indeed it was Ferrari that actually scuppered one of the most serious threats to F1 when it was won over by Bernie's promises of lucre, thereby leaving fellow 'rebel' teams with no alternative but to meekly follow.

The current row however, isn't merely about engine rules or budget caps, it is about that very thing the drives F1, and we don't mean fuel.

Liberty is not only looking to share the prize pot more evenly, with the hope of seeing the smaller teams challenge for podiums and even wins, it intends doing away with the special bonuses given to certain teams... by previous arrangement with a certain Bernard Charles Ecclestone.

As John Cale made clear in Mercenaries (Ready for War), "trying to separate me from my money is like trying to separate me from my life".

Fact is, the various deals that Bernie left in place, in particular the prize money and bonuses make the sport unsustainable, it simply cannot continue paying out at that level.

While Liberty might well eye a possible deal with the likes of Silverstone which would see its hosting fees reduced - a move that would necessitate similar agreement with other tracks - the teams would never agree to this coming out of their share. Consequently, no such deals can be made.

Even the increasingly Liberty friendly Christian Horner has made clear that he wants to see the smaller teams receive more money, while at the same time making clear that he has no intention of allowing Red Bull's revenue stream to be compromised.

Be it Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull stamping its feet and threatening to throw its toys out of the pram and walk away, the big difference this time around, in terms of a breakaway series is that the teams won't be playing hardball with Bernie but with Chase Carey and his team who have yet to discover for themselves why the previous F1 supremo's dictatorial style of management was necessary.

Liberty has made much of the fact that under Bernie's management the sport wasn't progressing and missing out on various new revenue streams. True, in many ways he was a dinosaur, however, as long as the money was regularly flowing in the teams simply didn't care.

Now, as reality kicks in and the bigger teams realise just how hard Liberty's vision for the future could hit them in their pockets, the rumblings of discontent begin… in the months and years ahead they will only grow louder.

While, there is sure to be a clause in any contract Bernie has with Liberty in terms of working 'against' F1, it is unlikely to last beyond 2020, which would set the scene perfectly.

In many ways, right now reality must be kicking in for Liberty as it realises just what it has bought for all those billions, a sport in which you either accept the status quo and allow things to continue as is, though a few more million in prize money wouldn't go amiss, or one you try to bring into the 21st century alongside other sports but risks losing its competitors in the process.

Ever eager to rubbish F1 under Bernie - which does make one wonder why it sought to buy the sport in the first place - like the man says, much of Liberty's input thus far has been talk.

OK, we have a bright shiny HQ in the heart of London, tons more staff to help fill that HQ and run the sport, we have Ross Brawn building a phantom F1 team, a new logo and the London F1 Event... which will be followed by a number of similar events next year in the likes of Berlin, Marseille and Moscow.

Incidentally, the London event was put together by TBA, a marketing agency headed by one Guy Horner, or as the Liberty friendly Red Bull team boss calls him "bruv".

Yet other than that, what has Liberty done thus far other than talk, that and rattle the cages of the three leading manufacturers.

While the sceptic in us cannot help but think that right from the outset Bernie sold Liberty a pup, fully aware that the sport as we know it was reaching a watershed, on the other hand perhaps this is merely another one of those hiccoughs the sport faces from time to time.

Either way, we take Ferrari's threat seriously, even more so now that Bernie is not only not there to cajole the ever melodramatic outfit but on the outside looking in, a large box of grenades by his side.


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1. Posted by Your Mom's Best Friend, 21/12/2017 16:51

"Hmm, looks like Zak Brown's motorsport network lost one of their many trolls !

Way to keep it classy son.

Not to worry though, I won't be coming round for too much longer --- so you can stay asleep until then !"

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2. Posted by -ape-, 21/12/2017 9:36

"Mom's friend ....please ....-Yawn- ZZZzzzzzzzz"

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3. Posted by Your Mom's Best Friend, 21/12/2017 1:43

"@ Spin

Believe it or not, for my sins I too have worked for, and/or in unhappily close proximity to, several "extreme high net worth" individuals. Not venture capitalists per se, but not too far afield. And I am very, very thankful that those days are now long and forever behind me. With the -possible- exception of one, all were vulgar and repulsive examples of humanity. More than one of them, on different occasions actually offered to "mentor" me, "take me on" or some such nonsense. At those times, aside from the fact that I've never desired to be anything at all like that kind of wealthy, I didn't feel that I required personal instructions in sociopathy, so I politely declined all of the invitations.

As to the meat of the comments, I feel that we agree more than not, but for clarity:

I never said anything about HOW Ecclestone (or whoever) likes to exercise their power, public or private. I don't think that, maybe upon further reflection, you would disagree that it's not a binary, it's obviously both... I won't now bang on about means and ends, but regardless, I also did not say that he/they are not insatiably greedy, that the ever greater acquisition of money wasn't important to them. Quite the opposite.

But only that at a certain point, for that tiny minority that possess an near-unimaginable excess of money, it opens further doors to depravity that are beforehand closed. And that once across that threshold, priorities change. I don't think that Ecclestone started out the way he ended up. I have no doubt that, in his earlier days at least, it really only was just about "The Money". Just as it obviously is, and always will be, for the majority of the clowns involved (Horner, Wolff, Arrivabene, fill-in-the-blank). Where we apparently disagree is that you feel that, for all involved, that's all that it's about.

You make many great points: The "unvirtuous circle", Ecclestone getting over on the likes of Dennis et al, Ecclestone's almost-certain napoleon-complex being one of the drivers of his behavior, and finally - and most saliently - the notion that, when the time is right, he might buy it all back. Again.

On that last point, there have been several times over the years where that, to me, seemed to be his game: After having built it up, undermine F1 from within, weaken it to the point of collapse, buy it back and start over again. How can people who are so smart be simultaneously so stupid ?

And in a way, that was my point: Ecclestone is far beyond mere venality. To Bernie in his sphere, and to others like him in theirs, it's all just a game. Its only real purpose: Not more money, but only to satisfy the ephemeral vulgar fancies of their bloated, hindenburg-sized egos. It's pathetically sad really. He could have done so much more that was of true, lasting benefit to F1, and the larger world. And I'm not just talking of donating money to an orphanage, a war-widows' fund or something equally cliche'.

Anyway, agree or disagree, I sincerely thank you for the thoughtful exchange ~"

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4. Posted by Spindoctor, 20/12/2017 14:49

"Having worked for some of the wealthiest VC operators around, I must, to some extent, disagree with Your Mum's BF.
Sure they like power, but they like to exercise it sub-rosa. You won't even know the names of most of my ex-employers, but they are undoubtedly as rich as Croesus and nearly as rich as Bernie. Of course it's an unvirtuous circle: money begets power, power money. Check-out any corrupt regime the World over.

Bernie enjoyed his power over F1, but he exercised it largely in Private, and he did so solely to increase his own wealth. I expect he really loved bashing Ron Dennis, and Enzo, who unlike Bernie were genuine entrepreneurs, who built proper businesses which made more than mere paper money. His sense of inferiority about his diminutive stature no-doubt diminished by said bashing. Ultimately, however it was, and always will be solely about "The Money".

Liberty undoubtedly bought a "pup", or perhaps more accuratekly, Bernie sold them one, and will be enjoying their discomfiture as the value of their expensive "asset" devalues by the hour. Maybe he'l even "do a Branson" and wait 'til its almost worthless, then buy it back, as Ricky did with his airline....."

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5. Posted by Your Mom's Best Friend, 20/12/2017 1:10

"This is something that many people, most perhaps, simply have little to no understanding of:

It's not about money.

While on the surface it may appear to be, for people in positions like that which Ecclestone has too long enjoyed it is not.

It is about power. And control.

Further this, Lord Acton's most famous quote. Though hackneyed and cliche' to some, contains far more, rather than little, truth.

To be a millionaire, even a multi-millionaire, is one thing. I won't say that it's "easy", but it is easier to achieve than many imagine. But to be a billionaire-plus ? That is another thing entirely. To Ecclestone, and the other few thousand on earth like him, money long ago ceased being an End in itself, and has transmuted strictly into a Means.

If reports of Ecclestone's "worth" are to be believed, then it isn't merely hyperbolic to say that he is wealthy far, far beyond the dreams of avarice, to paraphrase Edward Moore. Never forget we are speaking of a man who, in a court of "law", bribed his way out of a bribery charge.

Absolutely no one should be surprised to see what he is certainly still capable of doing, and may yet still do in near future."

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6. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 19/12/2017 17:48

"Some use his early years as a trader in the used-car and bike market as an insult. Rather they should re-consider this as an indicator of a very astute businessman. Liberty saw F1's riches, and greed totally blinded them to the realities. "Caveat Emptor" has never been better demonstrated!"

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7. Posted by Ro, 19/12/2017 16:50

"Methinks that Bernie was right on the money to sell it at the time he did. He realised that it was in decline and he was never a fan of the latest spec of engine and he surely did not like the feeling of Manufacturers so heavily involved in the sport. Bernie has always been a businessman and as far as he was concerned its was all about the MONEY."

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8. Posted by Rob, 19/12/2017 14:55

"So what we could have is a new Manufacturers' series and a Liberty spec car/engine show, with the drivers going wherever the money was best. What a swamp for a future."

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9. Posted by Motorsport-fan, 19/12/2017 14:10

"If Ferrari / Mercedes / Red Bull / Mclaren where to walk away and set up there own rival series, you would have to give a great chance of working."

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