Bernie Ecclestone’s legal wrangles pose the question: Where does Formula 1 go from here?
Bernie Ecclestone reached a crossroads with his Germany court triumph. And so did Formula 1.
Few who know the man will be surprised he has negotiated his way out of a seemingly intractable position when his freedom was threatened.
Nor will it surprise those who have watched him at work over the last 50 years that he even negotiated the price down from €100 million to $100m, effectively saving himself £20m into the bargain.
Some are calling it a defeat. It certainly isn’t that. He has his freedom, continues to rule and continues to build on his huge fortune.
Interestingly, the price of his freedom is the same as he is paying ex-wife Slavicia in maintenance.
Having shaken off one millstone the big question is: what now for F1?
The last time we spoke in detail I got the impression the remarkable wheeler-dealer is finally accepting Father Time is catching up with him. He posed the question: “In October I will be in my 85th year. Do I still want to do then what I have done for God-knows-how-long?”
Unlike a similar conversation a decade before he admitted he is concerned at what he leaves behind. Baron Frankenstein had fallen in love with his monster.
When Merc boss Niki Lauda argued in June that continual stewards’ punishments were wrecking the racing, Ecclestone changed it with a single command. Few moves in the last 20 years had such a significant overnight impact on the show.
GettyF1 supremo Bernie EcclestoneMore money, more problems: Ecclestone has been in the news this week
But how long can an 83-year-old billionaire, with a triple heart bypass, deal with such minutiae on a daily basis?
He admitted himself the very fact he had ended up in court meant the days of the entrepreneur were numbered. So are the days of the dictator.
The new age is crowding in on F1: social media, Twitter, Facebook, internet, wifi are all words that were beyond imagining when he first walked into the paddock in the 1950s. An age F1 has not embraced at all well.
It is an age Ecclestone does not care for, nor understand. The age of the internet is the power of the crowd. How do you teach that to a dictator?
Half as many people turned up to the German Grand Prix as witnessed Sebastian Vettel’s solo run in his home town some months before. Some blamed the World Cup, others the ticket prices, the recent Austrian race or the drivers’ lack of charisma.
No-one could blame show. The race was thriller but in a changing world F1 is aware it needs the professional promotion it has never had. It needs a Grand Plan and a road map to a high tech future.
If Ecclestone wants to leave a powerful, united empire rather than a riven feudal quagmire that, as much as a bulging bank account, would make a legacy worthy of such a great man.
The question is no longer ‘when Bernie leaves F1’, it is ‘what states he leaves it in’.