Ernie Black, also known as F1 Goggles or @GOGGS_ON_F1. Formula One fan since birth. Creatively expressing my opinion online on anything F1 related. Actively looking for new and fun ways to introduce the sport to a new generation of F1 fans.
June 28th, 2012 (F1plus / Ernie Black).- I recently spent the weekend chatting with some Formula One personalities that have been in the sport for the last 30-40 years. These are they type of people that know Bernie and have a special relationships him, (some closer to him than others).
I'm talking about the kind of relationship that would see them share the back seat of a hire car and chat on the way to a function, candidly.The more I hear about Bernie, the more I think it all comes down to money for him.
There was a time I really didn't think anything of it. I believed Bernie really had a passion for the sport, having owned a team and being involved in it for so long. I believed that in order to do that, you really had to love it. It turns out I may have been wrong. I'm under the distinct feeling now that Bernie cares little about Formula One (really) and even less for it's fans.
Bernie is an extraordinary mind and brilliant business man. His life reads like a novel with many experiences on both sides of the hard covers. It could stand alone on a shelf in a library in its own section with many headings. If this sounds confusing, I apologize, however, if you do a little homework and research Bernie's achievements and experiences, I promise you, it will certainly paint a clearer picture.
What I learned about the 81 year old Brit and CEO of FOM from Suffolk is that it seems to really be all about the money. I thought I'd ask a few questions about why F1 seems to be moving away from it's European roots and venturing into countries that have never truly had an interest in Motorsports.
Every single person I sat with answered with one simple word..."Money". Naturally I then asked if F1 might be headed in the direction of a pay-per-view type model? I was told, possibly full or hybrid...why? Money. I threw out the question about the US, and how it went from having not a single F1 GP in years to now having one this season (Austin), two next season (Austin, New Jersey possibly) and quite possibly three by 2015 (Austin, New Jersey and Long Beach)...Money! What about Bahrain?...Money!
Bernie and the press, not always friends.
Along with the money comes an “Elitist” status. This image which many argue is why F1 continues to race around Monaco. There is historical significance to Monaco, but mainly it still all comes down to Money. Something we as race fans often forget is that cities, businesses, developers and promoters want F1 to come to town because it literally puts them on the map.
Hosting an F1 event elevates a city/country to an elite status and puts the eyes of viewers around the world focused squarely on it. Media, tourists, TV, publicity and local economies all benefit from the attention F1 brings with it. It's more than racing, it is a brand. Even with the world in financial crisis, everyone stretches themselves to purchase that name brand item, no different from wanting to associate with the rich and famous of the F1 circus.
This is what is fundamentally wrong in several ways with F1 as a business. Although it is successful, it could be so much more. My eyes were open to a number of reasons why F1 could do better on the business side. I mean monumentally better. North America is a huge potential market, but F1 simply isn't interesting enough to new and younger spectators. There are no familiar faces or names. One might argue that most will recognize the Ferrari or Lotus brand, but who in the US has heard of Caterham, or Williams or Marussia?
Fans drive the sport’s popularity and are directly responsible for revenue stream, so if Bernie cared more about the fans and their Formula One experience, it could effectively line his pockets much more handsomely. To give you an idea, Disney's CARS franchise, essentially a cartoon about a race car, is worth more than Formula One.
Bernie and the title contenders at the end of the 2010 season. (Charles Coates / LAT)
Recently there have been some headlines regarding the race in New Jersey being called off. I've been in contact with some people that suggest that this is Bernie's way of keeping this venue in the public eye. No such thing as bad press and Ecclestone is the master of manipulation.
He's worked too hard for too long to snag a Grand Prix in New York to just let it go over a few later payments from promoters.
Just yesterday there have been stories making the rounds about Bernie's involvement with Gribkowsky and the alleged bribery scandal. Is it true that Bernie gave him money? Yes, I don't believe either party deny it, however, proving that it was a bribe will near impossible.
After all, it really only comes down to one mans word against another. Bernie has enough smart people around him to fabricate a believable story to suit his needs in this situation if push came to shove, I'm sure.
So what happens to F1 after Bernie? If you ask people who know him, they will all swear, he'll never die. The general belief is that Formula One will enter into the "Corporate" era. Where decisions about Grand Prix', fans, promotion, marketing will all be made based on research and statistics and numbers and voted on by a committee.
The real problem or rather challenge will be that no one can do deals quite like Bernie can. He's simply the best. He's been in every backroom, under every table, in front of every lawyer, developer, promoter, race circuit owner and government official. No one person knows all the players in this game like Bernie. He holds the key piece to the puzzle. It's a case of the golden rule. He who has the gold makes the rule, and Bernie's got a vault full of it.