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Goodwood festival to celebrate Bernie Ecclestone

Published on: June 19, 2017
Goodwood festival to celebrate Bernie Ecclestone

What's the news?

Normally at this time of year, Goodwood will announce, ahead of the upcoming Festival of Speed, which of the great racing teams or marques will be the central celebrant at the Festival. Whose cars will be lofted above Goodwood House on a towering sculpture by artist Gerry Judah.

With it being the 70th birthday of Ferrari this year, naturally we assumed that the Maranello brand would take centre stage, but no. In a break with tradition, Goodwood will this year honour not a marque but a man. Bernie Ecclestone.

"This is not so much a tribute, but rather a Goodwood celebration of a racer who has had such a huge influence on the sport that we all love," said Lord March, the Festival's founder. "And now that Bernie has stepped aside from running Formula One, he has agreed to spend the weekend at the Festival with many of the great names with whom he has worked during a life dedicated to racing. It's his first visit to the Festival and he will bring with him some great historic Grand Prix cars from his incredible collection."

The choice of Ecclestone will be a controversial one. Since the seventies, Ecclestone consolidated his grip on the commercial reins of Formula One, turning it, almost single-handedly at times, from a minor sport to a global circus. Along the way, he took the Brabham F1 team to two world titles with BMW and Nelson Piquet, before selling the team to concentrate on running Formula One as a global business.

Along the way, he made both billions and enemies, courted controversy, was tried by a German court for possible corruption (released without charge in the end) and eventually became vilified for selling the rights to F1 to venture capitalists who squeezed the sport for money, with scant regard for its traditions or for the survival of smaller teams.

This year, with the buy-out by US-based Liberty Media of F1's commercial rights, Bernie (Mr Ecclestone to his face) was side-lined, pushed out by Liberty's Chase Carey and an incoming troika of technical and financial experts, including former Ferrari team manager Ross Brawn. Ecclestone was pensioned off with the title Chairman Emeritus.

So, the Goodwood tribute will be interesting, not least because Gerry Judah's sculpture will celebrate the so-called 'Five Ages' of Bernie - Driver (he was an entrant in GPs in the fifties), Manager (he handled the affairs of both Stuart Lewis-Evans and 1970 F1 world champ Jochen Rindt, both of whom died in race cars), Team Owner (of Brabham from 1971 to 1988), Impresario, in his years as unquestioned chief of F1 as a global entity and finally Legend, an epithet to which doubtless a few will append addenda.

It will be interesting to see reactions from the motor sport fraternity for the tribute, and interesting too to see the reaction of the man himself, who famously said "I don't think about it, and I don't care" when asked about what his legacy to the sport might be.

Doubtless, you will all have your own opinions, but while I'm no Bernie cheerleader, I would offer this anecdote. In 1979, when Ecclestone and Gordon Murray created the infamous Brabham 'Fan Car' there were instant howls of protest that the car's fast-spinning rear fan was sucking it down to the track, harvesting unheard of levels of downforce, but was illegal as it was a moveable aerodynamic device. Bernie, with a classic butter wouldn't melt face, said "no, absolutely not. It's there to cool the engine because we have this big Alfa Romeo flat-12 and everyone else has nice little V8s and we have to get the air through the car." There was the briefest of pauses. Deadpan, he continued "mind you, it does go down six inches on the springs when they rev the engine..."

Ecclestone famously withdrew the car before it could be banned, conscious of creating goodwill among to other team owners for his growing commercial empire, but the incident tells you everything you need to know about Bernie. A head for innovation, a nose for the unfair advantage, a sly sense of humour and the final hard-headed business decision. Love or hate, you can't deny he's a giant of the sport.

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