After nearly four decades of commanding Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone on Monday finally relinquished control of the sport. He didn’t have much say in the decision which was made by F1’s new owner Liberty Media.
The American media giant agreed in September 2016 to buy control of F1 in a deal worth approximately $8 billion. It completed the deal on Monday and in the process appointed 21st Century Fox head Chase Carey as Ecclestone’s replacement. (Some readers will recall that the Rupert Murdoch-linked media giant in 2011 was in the headlines over a deal to take control of Formula One, though it never materialized.)
“I'm proud of the business that I built over the past 40 years and all that I have achieved with Formula One,” Ecclestone said in a statement. “I'm very pleased that the business has been acquired by Liberty and that it intends to invest in the future of F1.”
Ecclestone also thanked the promoters, teams, sponsors and television companies he worked with closely over the years and said he was confident that Carey will be a benefit to the sport.
Ecclestone isn’t leaving F1 just yet, though. The British billionaire, who turns 87 this year, will stay on as an advisor. And in an interesting twist, Ross Brawn, most famous for his stints as technical director at Benetton and Ferrari [NYSE:RACE] in the years Michael Schumacher secured his titles, has been named by Liberty Media as its new motorsports boss.
In their new roles, Carey will be responsible for the commercial aspects of F1 while Brawn handles the sporting and technical side. Brawn was influential in the F1 takeover deal in his previous role as an advisor to Liberty Media.
After a bit of racing in his earlier years, Ecclestone in the 1950s moved into managing F1 drivers, starting with Stuart Lewis-Evans. Later he would also manage Jochen Rindt. In 1972 Ecclestone bought the F1 team Brabham, which he would go on to own for 15 years.
It was during his time at Brabham that Ecclestone became a voice for the teams during negotiations with circuits, television companies and authorities via the formation of the Formula One Constructors Association. His master stroke, however, came in 1981 after he and Max Mosley managed to wrest control of the commercial aspects of F1 from FISA, now part of the FIA. Under his stewardship, Ecclestone helped turn F1 into the world’s most popular annual sports series, with 400 million television viewers tuning in during 2016.
Ecclestone also managed to attract a long list of detractors. This was mainly due to his gradual reorganizing of the decision-making process in F1 that gave him almost absolute control of the sport. In addition, due to the division of money coming in, the big teams got bigger while the smaller teams lost out. And exorbitant fees for hosting races have also seen many classic venues dropped off the calendar.