Max Mosley has questioned Liberty Media’s decision to oust Bernie Eccleston from his position as chief executive of Formula 1, and said he would have “kept him on”.
In his first interview since Ecclestone was moved aside, the former FIA president told me the sport’s new owners may find it “quite difficult” to cope without the 86-year-old, who ran F1 for nearly 40 years.
The American firm completed its $8bn (£6.4bn) takeover of the sport in January.
In September, Ecclestone said he had been asked to stay on for a further three years. But last month, F1’s ringmaster told the German media he had been “dismissed”, with vice-chairman of 21st Century Fox Chase Carey installed as his replacement. Ecclestone has been appointed chairman emeritus.
Speaking to me at F1’s annual Zoom charity auction in London on Friday, Mosley said: “I think it may be quite difficult (for Liberty Media). I think what he (Ecclestone) was brilliant at was dealing with the promoters and the organisers and the whole structure of the championship. For somebody new to come in without all the personal relationships it may be difficult.”
“If it had been me I’d have kept him on doing the things that he’s demonstrably very good at and concentrated my efforts on doing the things that up to now have not been done, like interactive television, virtual reality, social media, the internet and all the rest of it. All of that’s been slightly neglected in Formula 1 and that’s the sort of thing that Liberty will probably be very good at.”
In a wide ranging interview, Mosley, who was president of the sport’s governing body from 1993 to 2009, revealed he thinks:
- Liberty Media should maintain an “open mind” about the format of Grand Prix weekends
- The sport’s new owners have a “difficult” decision to make on whether to pursue more pay TV deals
- The hiring of former technical director and team owner Ross Brawn to help run the sport was “a good choice”
- New rules designed to improve the racing this year are “questionable”
When asked what Ecclestone’s legacy would be, Mosley said: “In a way Formula 1 is his legacy.
“People tend to forget that probably the potential in the World Rally Championship is, and always has been, greater than Formula 1. Arguably also long distance racing like Le Mans. But Bernie came into Formula 1, and it was big when he came in, and he’s made it so much bigger.
“When I was FIA president I kept thinking why can’t we have another Bernie to do the rallies, to do the long distance and there just wasn’t one. All of those different aspects of the sport could be built into just as big a business as Formula 1.”
Liberty’s plans for the future
Carey has stated his wish to make races “bigger, more exciting, more successful”, and put “21 Super Bowls” on the calendar. He also wants to better promote the sport on digital platforms and drive up revenues.
Mosley suggested Liberty should “keep a very open mind” on the future format of Grand Prix weekends, adding: “Just because something’s been successful doesn’t mean it can’t be done better.”
Has the American media giant underestimated the challenge? “It’s hard to tell,” said Mosley. “They may be brilliant and they may have the whole thing completely thought through. On the other hand they may find more difficult than they thought.
“I always imagine if somebody put me in charge of horse racing and said ‘right, you’ve got to sort that out’, it always looks easy from the outside. You see all the things that you think they’re doing wrong. And then when you get all the files and the dossiers put in front of you, you find out what’s really going on.”
Mosley said Liberty’s priority should be “growing the audience”- a task which many observers have noted may be difficult as the sport increasingly disappears from free-to-air television.
But he added that the switch to pay TV does not give him cause for concern, saying: “It’s now become so established it would take a fairly major effort to wreck it.”
“I think there’s always a conflict between getting money from television rights and then perhaps distributing it to the teams but less money from sponsors, or more free-to-air television and more money from sponsors. That’s quite a difficult business decision which Liberty would have to take. “
However Mosley was in no doubt about the wisdom behind Liberty’s decision to hire former technical director and team owner Ross Brawn to help run the sport.
Brawn, who masterminded all seven of Michael Schumacher’s F1 titles at Benetton and Ferrari before winning the title with Jenson Button at his own team, has been appointed to run the sporting and technical side of F1.
“Ross completely understands the sport and he understands what needs to be done and he’s got an absolutely first class analytical brain,” said Mosley.
“I think he’ll be an enormous asset to them and that side (the sporting aspect) isn’t really what Liberty should be doing. Ross is outstanding so they made a good choice there.”
‘Questionable’ new rules for 2017
New-for-2017 rules will see this year’s cars not only look radically different but become much faster.
The tyres will be wider, as will the front wings and the main bodywork of the cars. The result will be more aggressive looking cars, huge downforce gains and lap times up to five seconds a lap quicker.
But many have expressed concerns. More downforce and bigger tyres means higher cornering speeds, but wider cars need to punch a bigger hole in the air meaning slower straight line speeds. In theory, the combined effect will be shorter braking distances therefore potentially making overtaking more difficult.
And Mosley, too, is worried. “My personal view is that it may have gone in the wrong direction,” he said. “I would have gone for less aero and perhaps more mechanical grip.
“Deliberately setting out to make the cars quicker is questionable because all the rules for the last 40 or 50 years brought in by the FIA have been to make the cars slower – either slower or safer, because speed equals danger obviously.”