Bernie Ecclestone has enjoyed a week of verbal onslaught in which he has claimed that Mercedes and Ferrari have no loyalty and will leave the sport through fickleness. He has also questioned the format stating that to engage the younger audience, the race needs to be chopped into two shorter sprints.
“It could happen to us that Mercedes and Ferrari run away, but honestly, if the races get better, this may not be such a terrible vision. We have to expect the manufacturers to leave us anyway.
Mercedes will retire on the day when it suits them and it’s something we had before – look at Honda, BMW and Toyota. They go when Formula 1 has done the job for them.”
– Bernie Ecclestone
This well circulated quote doesn’t actually shed light on anything with regards to Mercedes or Ferrari. He might as well have said “Our planet will eventually be engulfed by our own Sun”. It’s true, but it isn’t necessarily something we need to worry about in the immediate future. What it does say, is that Ecclestone can envision the sport existing beyond two of the biggest names in the game – even if the very real legacy payments at the end of the season completely oppose his sudden stance.
It could be an acceptance that the future of the sport under Liberty Media is bound to a smaller degree of financial favoritism for certain teams, a warning that Ferrari may throw their toys out of the pram should a franchise system be introduced.
Ecclestone also shared his concerns with the length of the current race format, insisting that two shorter races over the weekend might bring in the younger fan base. His reason was blunt, pretty insulting, but not unfounded. He said,
“People have a much shorter attention span and a lot of sports are looking at introducing shorter forms of their games. The television audiences went up for Brazil. We had a long race with the heavy rain and a couple of crashes but that meant we had two starts because of the red flags and people tuned in.
We need to look at the traditional concept of one long race. Two 40-minute races with a 40-minute break in the middle when the drivers could be interviewed, cars worked on, would be attractive to viewers, the TV companies, the sponsors and advertisers would love it.
Cars would qualify on a Saturday as usual for the first race and that would set the grid for the second. It would shake things up with lighter, faster cars.”
– Bernie Ecclestone
It isn’t that people’s attention spans are shortening, it’s that there are more options of entertainment competing for our attention in this day and age. I don’t think Motorsport fans have shorter attention spans than most – quite the opposite. Look at how popular the WRC is, you watch for days before being given a result. The WEC is another championship that defies Ecclestone’s claim. Even the British Touring Car Championship, whilst cut into three sprint races, is broadcast with a package of supporting Championships that lasts all-day-long!
It’s likely that Ecclestone is throwing these ideas out at Liberty Media’s behest and it’s fitting that “his” latest idea is essentially an Americanized format that introduces a half-time advertising slot. Great for revenue, great for brand exposure, great for whoever’s planted on stage at the interval, but yet again, it’s the fans who finish at the back.
It’s really easy to take a stab at Bernie for this, but one thing he also said this week does make some sense and sheds light on the biggest issue with the Championship at the moment.
“The regulation book should be retitled ‘Don’t Race’.
They are written in a such a convoluted way and there are so many that nobody, including the drivers, knows the right thing to do. Too many drivers hit the radio at the first sign of pressure or contact. ‘He hit me, he squeezed me, he blocked me, tell the stewards.
The proper drivers are frustrated, so are the viewers, and so am I. It is crazy. The rules are like bollards now, slowing everything, stopping drivers from doing what comes naturally. Let them sort it out. If it is dangerous we can deal with it.
In the old days the drivers knew who was capable of what and raced accordingly. You can’t always back off and wait for the stewards. We need to make it easier for drivers to race fairly. I don’t want to see them using run-off areas which are there to save them from damage. But we don’t get these problems at circuits like Monaco, Canada, which have walls.”
– Bernie Ecclestone