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A 40-Year Reign Ended: Bernie Ecclestone Steps Down as Liberty Media Buys F1

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Liberty Media has completed its previously-announced acquisition of Formula One to the tune of $8 billion and Chase Carey has been appointed as the new Chief Executive Officer; former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has been relegated to Chairman Emeritus and will act as advisor to the board.

This marks a time of great possible change for the sport. After spending forty years at the head of F1, Ecclestone had become a very controversial figure, especially in modern times. He was notable for his tough, even devious negotiation tactics, as well as for his many incendiary remarks regarding just about everything in F1, from drivers and circuits to regulations and women—remarks, it should be said, often made not out of heart but as distractions from real issues, or simply for the sake of amusing an 86-year-old with far too much money.

Ecclestone deserves credit for his achievements, though. During his tenure as “F1 Supremo,” he helped F1 achieve immense popularity through pioneering the sale of television rights in the late 70s, and helped the sport remain incredibly profitable even through times of uncertainty.

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Brabham BT33 F1 car

Bernie Ecclestone ran the Brabham racing team for 15 years in the 70s and 80s before he owned F1
Photo: Gerald Swan

New F1 CEO Chase Carey had kind parting words as well. “I would expect this is difficult for Bernie,” he said. “He has run this sport for his entire adult life and I respect completely that this is a difficult change. We have tried to deal with him with the respect he’s due, which is why we offered him the chairman emeritus title. I have been sincere in saying I value his help and advice as we go forward.

“He calls himself a dictator. He has run it as a one-man dictator for a long time. I think the sport needs a fresh perspective. But he has a lot to continue to offer and he will always be part of the F1 family.”

It’s likely Ecclestone has done more harm than good in recent years in his obstinate refusal to move on from TV to the digital age and to reach younger, less affluent audiences. But with American media giant Liberty Media taking the reins, the future suddenly looks brighter for F1, which has been struggling to maintain viewers in the hybrid turbo era and which has been sagging under the weight of ever more obscure regulations. Casey has been vocal about using all digital platforms available and making each Grand Prix as large and exciting as the Super Bowl.

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From left: Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Bernie Ecclestone, Jenson Button, and Sebastian VettelPhoto: Bertho RF1

Part of the F1 family. From left: Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Bernie Ecclestone, Jenson Button, and Sebastian Vettel
Photo: Bertho RF1

Perhaps even more notable is that Ross Brawn has been confirmed to become the sport’s new managing director. Brawn is famous for his part in leading Benetton, Ferrari, and Brawn GP to numerous world championships, and many believe that Mercedes’ success since 2014 can be attributed at least in part to Brawn, even though he left the team at the end of 2013.

There had been rumors—and hopes—of Brawn’s return ever since that retirement and last year the man himself said he was ready to return to F1, though in a strategic rather than a team role. It seems he has gotten what he wanted and fans are keen to see him lead F1 into a new era.

“I feel and I know from experience that F1 tends to be reactive. It has a problem, it reacts and tries to find a solution, but very rarely has the vision of looking forward three-to-five years and deciding where it wants to be,” Brawn said. “So I think we know what fans want: they want entertainment, they want close racing, they want to be able to understand what’s going on. And I think everyone agrees on that. It’s finding the path with all the other teams and all the other people involved to achieve that.”

Ross Brawn