Chase Carey has given a bracing verdict on the problems facing Formula One after 40 years of Bernie Ecclestone’s supremacy, describing decision-making within the sport as “somewhere between ineffective and dysfunctional”.On his first full day as chief executive of the F1 empire that Ecclestone created, Carey, who made his reputation as a hard-edged negotiator at 21st Century Fox, did not temper his words as he lamented the sustained failure of the business to exploit its global reach.With the takeover by Liberty Media, the US conglomerate he represents, now approved by all parties, Carey acknowledged that the Byzantine world of F1 politics had taken him aback.
“The problems are across the board,” he told The Telegraph. “We’re not marketing the sport, we’re not enabling fans to connect with it on the platforms that are available today, our sponsorship relations are one-dimensional, the events feel old, the hospitality feels as if it’s at least 15 years old.
“There’s a transparency to what we are doing, there’s a context in which decisions are being made. It’s not a case of everybody playing a game of poker, trying to bluff each other. At the moment, it’s not the way it should be if you want a business to be run well.”
The conversations with Ecclestone, sidelined by Liberty and shifted into a largely decorative role as chairman emeritus, are understood to have been difficult. The 86-year-old only discovered he was being forced out in a conference call on Monday night, mournfully claiming afterwards that he had been “deposed”.
Carey, wary of being cast as the American interloper who dethroned F1’s maverick and maddening ringmaster, sought to show some empathy for Ecclestone’s anguish at finding himself marginalised by Liberty in this £6.5 billion deal. “I respect that Bernie has spent the whole of his adult life doing this. It has been a one-man show. He has been at the centre of it. I meant it when I told him that I would value his advice and help as we go forward.”
As personalities, Carey and Ecclestone could hardly be more diametrically opposed. Where Carey has a keen eye for diplomatic protocol and an aversion to acting unilaterally, Ecclestone would always prefer to shoot from the hip, creating outrage and mischief wherever he went.
The elder statesman, a dealmaker extraordinaire, was also unashamedly short-termist in his obsession with the bottom line, awarding grands prix to Bahrain and Azerbaijan despite widespread human rights abuses in those countries.
That Carey wants to make a clean break from the Ecclestone era is shown in the fact that he is not considering moving into his predecessor’s Knightsbridge offices, deeming them unfit for purpose. Instead, he has enlisted the services of former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn, as well as one-time ESPN vice-president Sean Bratches – both ultimately answerable, like him, to John Malone, the little-seen billionaire who controls Liberty – to reinvigorate a sport struggling to engage a younger audience.
Carey confirmed on Tuesday that he wanted to create a ‘destination event’ in the United States, most likely in New York or Las Vegas, which would redress F1’s deficiencies in tapping into the lucrative American market.
He promised, though, that he would keep the core of Western European races – whether in Silverstone, Hockenheim, Monza or Spa – intact. “Liberty have bought the heritage of F1,” Brawn said. “They recognise the value of that.”
The appointment of Brawn is an astute one. A hugely popular figure in the paddock, having had an influence upon 20 world titles at Ferrari, Mercedes and his own team, he offers a precious connection to the past and a protection to Liberty against fears that they might be seeking to Americanise F1 beyond recognition.
Still, the restlessness for action is intense. Nico Rosberg, the champion who announced his retirement in December, said yesterday: “Change has been overdue.”
Brawn, likewise, has grown exasperated from afar at the sport’s struggles to agree upon innovations that work. Pointing to the farrago of the qualifying system trialled last year in Australia, where many cars stayed in their garages amid the confusion of at all, Brawn said: “That’s a good example of where it can go wrong if it’s not properly thought-out. There was a concern that Mercedes were going to dominate the championship again, which of course they did, but any artificial attempt to damage the competitiveness of a team is always fraught. Fans see through these manufactured solutions.
“DRS, or drag reduction system, is not universally popular, either. The fans all know that you press a button in the cockpit and you overtake the car in front. Is that really what they want to see?”
For all his new-found loyalties to Liberty, Brawn did offer a generous tribute to Ecclestone as the toppled general prepared to slip into the sunset. “I admit that a race without Bernie will seem very odd,” he said. “He has been exceptional in what he has achieved. He grabbed this business by the horns and made it what it is today.
“At 86, I hope that he is bowing out gracefully, and viewing everything that he has created with a lot of pride. He was a unique and iconic figure, the likes of which – in F1 at least – will never be seen again.”