News and views on motorsports

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Interview With The Vampire

Bernie Ecclestone was interviewed by The Independent recently in this article here. The interview covers a range of subjects from The Great Train Robbery, SLEC, the good old days in the 70s, the GPWC to the current crop of team owners.

Like him or not, its a fascinating interview. But one of the points that interested me the most was his statement: "You know, we never invited the manufacturers into Formula One. They saw it as a showcase, like an enormous car showroom for them to sell their products, and the way they're acting at the moment they're dirtying the glass, so people can't see in..."

Now I'd take issue with Bernie with "dirtying the glass" but he's right about one thing. The manufacturers were never invited into Formula 1. At the start there were really specialist engine manufacturers and a whole bunch of pure racing teams.

Today, we can see disturbing headlines like this in the media. Perhaps the last of the great specialists engine makers, Cosworth is in trouble by losing their major client. In days gone by, we had makers like Hart, Judd, Mugen and even Ilmor. All but one of them have now gone. Ilmor has been absorbed into the great Mercedes empire.

The complete corporatisation of Formula 1 is at hand. The problem is, it just doesn't feel like racing anymore. Its corporation vs corporation, with all the attendant Ron-speak and PR and marketing led robo drivers. As Bernie himself says: "Drivers who were more outspoken, like Eddie Irvine and Jacques Villeneuve, were good for you, the media, and good for us. But now, if drivers say something a bit borderline, the team owner screams at them because the sponsor screams at him, so nobody says anything. In the 1970s the guys didn't give a damn what they said and did."

In the long run will the manufacturers stay in Grand Prix racing? People like Ron Dennis and Frank Williams have been around for ages now. This racing is in their blood. The manufacturers are more selective. Staying on depends on how well they do. Toyota have threatened withdrawal if they didn't see results. Ford have gone because of the bean counters. Renault could be next if Carlos has his way.

If there is to be a successful GPWC, it should be the teams and not the manufacturers that come together, just as FOCA did in the past. For it is they who will be around long after their engine suppliers or corporate backers are gone.

Incidentally, doesn't the GPWC look a lot like the DTM in how its organised? Lots of manufacturer reps sitting on the board of that one. But so far the DTM has been a success.

Bernie though, isn't worried at all about the GPWC. Or at least he says he isn't. Somewhere between the Concorde Agreement and the GPWC manifesto is perhaps the best solution for the future of Grand Prix racing.


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