It takes a brave man to argue with Stirling Moss about motor sport. However, his statement that Bernie Ecclestone is “exceptionally important” to ensuring the ongoing prosperity of Formula One seems highly questionable.
Ecclestone has had a vice-like grip on the sport since becoming the chief executive of the Formula One Constructors’ Association in 1978. While he has undeniably helped to extend the sport’s global appeal (often by accepting huge sums of money from states with suspect human rights records), in other ways the sport is on its knees. The demographic of the television audience is particularly alarming. Young people are simply not willing to spend two hours watching races and have little interest in the intricacies of the debates surrounding engines and tyres.
The sport is struggling to retain its mainstream appeal as neutrals tire of watching hegemonic teams cruise to another title. When one of the sport’s most respected and marketable drivers, Fernando Alonso, is considering retiring due to his disillusionment with the sport, it is time to scrutinise Bernie Ecclestone’s record at the helm. Earlier this month reigning champion Lewis Hamilton reiterated his frustration at the limitations imposed upon drivers by the need to manage their tyres. This prevents them from racing as close to the limit as they, and the fans, would like. In August, Jenson Button went even further and called for a radical overhaul of the sport, arguing it was needed to re-energise interest in F1.
It remains to be seen whether the new owners of Formula One, Liberty Media, will seek to address any of these concerns. However, their pledge to work alongside Ecclestone for three years is hardly the major step forward many were hoping for.