Ecclestone: F1 must remember it’s in “show business”

2012 F1 season

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Bernie Ecclestone says Formula One must remain entertaining to be successful.

The F1 group boss said there is “nothing” he would change about the sport at present: “We have to understand that we are in the entertainment business and this year we have entertained.

“All sports today are show business and it gets dangerous for a sport if people start to forget that.”

Speaking to the official Formula One website Ecclestone said he expects to keep adding new events to the calendar in the near future: “I suppose the next big thing will be Russia. Then we have to get this New York thing picking up again.

“There’s lots of unfinished business – no time to waste one thought on retirement! Look at the Austin race: it was phenomenal. Everybody agreed that it is great that Formula One is back in the States. Maybe we’ll get the Europeans to wake up instead of thinking that [a race] is a God-given thing. When Europeans perform and do their job we are happy to stay.”

Ecclestone, 82, played down speculation he might step aside from his role as CEO of the Formula One Group despite recent criticism from Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo:

“I am – still – a fan of Formula One,” he said. “Probably the bad thing with me is that I put in lots of effort to build Formula One the way it is now, so this is my baby and I want to look after it.

“Sooner or later we’re going to have to get a babysitter. When that will be, who knows? I am in very good shape.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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47 comments on “Ecclestone: F1 must remember it’s in “show business””

  1. I understand his meaning, but I can’t stand how it is often refered to as a ‘show’! It’s almost patronising; to imply that if they don’t introduce gimmiks like DRS then I as a viewer will become bored… Well, I think I’ll be the judge of whether the sport is entertaining me or not, and DRS hasn’t often done that! Get rid of it!

    1. I don’t know how this got on to DRS, but people seem to under-estimate it’s efficiency. From what I see from comments, people only think about the passes that help a driver gain position easily when it should be much harder, but they don’t think about the passes that should be easy, but aren’t without it.

      When was the last time you saw the Trulli-train effect holding faster cars back while helping leaders gain a gap when there really shouldn’t be. 2010? What a coincidence. The sport is definitely much better off for DRS. The occasional easy overtake is a small price to pay for keeping the cars where they should be, not being held up by a slower car just because of the lack of aero.

      1. The sport is definitely much better off for DRS.

        No it isn’t!

        DRS (As well as KERS & Pirelli) is doing nothing but devaluing overtaking by making passing so easy that pretty much every pass is boring to watch now.

        Every time I see one of these boringly easy passes I feel angry & disappointing that something which used to be super exciting to watch (A good battle & an excitingly hard fought for overtake) is now so dull & unexciting to watch.

    2. I think it’s good that it is being considered a show. As a result we have Pirelli tyres and the incentive to introduce something to overtake – whether it works or not is debatable (but works IMO).

      When it wasn’t considered much a show we had boring races.

  2. “We have to understand that we are in the entertainment business and this year we have entertained.”

    Then surely Bernie keeping f1 free-to-air is a number 1 priority on your list.

    1. @force-maikel Haha, no. Since its the entertainment business, they get a lot more money from not having it free-to-air, hence why they went to BSKYB

      1. Sure they get lots of money … for now … but at what cost? At the cost of not entertaining people, and at the cost of treading the path to obscurity!
        In New Zealand, where I live, we USED to have Formula 1 on Free to Air TV, it was a really top class presentation, and there were lots of people that would stay up to midnight to watch it. The race results were religiously mentioned as part of the Monday morning sports results.
        Now it isn’t on Free to Air TV, it’s on pay TV, and not on the basic package either, you have to get the sports package, so it isn’t even an option for many people with pay TV. As far as I can tell almost no one watches it, people talk over the commentary if someone bothers to show it in a bar, the race results seldom get mentioned on the radio sports news, and if you asked people to name a Formula 1 driver you’re more likely to get names like Greg Murphy or Mark Winterbottom (drivers in the Australian V8 Supercars racing series) than Vettel or Alonso, and if you asked for their favourite F1 team you’d get names like Ford and Holden instead of Lotus or Red Bull. Even if the results were mentioned on the radio most people wouldn’t know what they were talking about.
        As much as I like following F1, I really can’t see the point of it. Sure, there has to be a premier car racing series, but having a premier car racing series that no one watches is really pointless.

    2. Timi and Steve are right, F1 is now in “Show Biz” because that is the side of F1 that made Bernie a Billionaire, unfortunately F1 is no longer a mechanical engineering development series which is why the automobile industry has lost interest. Mercedes will be gone in a couple of years if they can’t be regular winners and Luca not threatening to leave is more ominous than his blowing of steam in the past.

    3. keeping f1 free-to-air

      F1 is still FTA.
      Every race is shown on the BBC which last time I checked is a FTA channel.

  3. Well said, again. I like it when a dictator-esque figure actually uses his power to truly benefit those over who he or she rules. Because of the large power, he could do more than a fragmented and compromised board could do. Too bad, most often a dictator mainly abuses his or her power.

    But Ecclestone is a rare exception, a truly remarkable figure.

    1. The ones that stay in charge to long are blinded by the power they posses. It’s time to hand over to somebody else.

      1. Easier said than done. You can say quite a lot about Ecclestone, but he came from the sport and did everything for the best interest of the sport (and his pockets eventually). Maybe he should be replaced, but please, please let it be someone who comes from the Formula 1 world (anyone other than Briatore), and not some banker or investor (anyone from CVC) who just wants to make money.

        1. Yes, and also a distinction should be made – I’m not saying he is the saviour of all people, he did left a few agents in the business at a disadvantage, and yes, he negotiates in an extremely tough manner, making large profits in the meantime, but overall, his tenure is undoubtedly in the black, I think as far the the end-product is concerned. F1 fans have not had the sour taste after a decision which fundamentally flaws a series, like it happened to IndyCar, or the old DTM, for decades. In fact never.

          Passion is also very important – basically, I think, it was passion which enabled him to keep up his good condition and to actually care with the show and not abuse his power.

  4. I guess it was just by sheer luck that the sport managed to survive for so many decades before anyone realised it was a ‘show’ and not just a ‘sport’. I mean, you might imagine that people who were watching for all those years were doing so because, y’know, they were people who enjoyed just seeing lots of cars racing against each other. But you’d be wrong. The thing you really need to understa…. oooh look, there’s a squirrel outside the window!! I’ll be back in a bit!

    1. Absolutely spot on. I’m pretty happy with F1 being just a sport, where technical innovation and excellence is combined with the best drivers in the world showcasing their skills. Not every GP has to be a Brazil 2008, Canada 2011 or Abu Dhabi 2012.

      1. In fairness, I think part of the problem is some of the fans, and their x-factor attitude of ‘if this isn’t incredible, it must be terrible and boo hiss get it off my telly’.

        I hope that @keithcollantine won’t take this in the wrong way, but I’ve always had a bit of a dislike for the ‘rate the race’ features on here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as guilty as anyone for contributing to them, but I do think that it illustrates a certain mindset which places an emphasis on a person judging exactly how entertained they have been by a race based on certain criteria such as how many overtakes there were, whether their favourite driver finished favourably, etc etc. There’s a sense that every race should be more exciting, more spectacular than the last. Every championship should be that little bit harder contested. You only need to look at some of the comments on the ‘rate the race’ features to see that there is very little middle ground as far as a lot of people are concerned – races are either brilliant, or terribly boring and the venue should forever be stricken from the calendar.

        Because of this x-factor mentality, people now seem to place an inflated sense of importance to their own viewership. They aren’t simply spending a couple of hours on a sunday afternoon watching a race, they are doing the whole industry of F1 a favour by lending it their precious precious time, which might otherwise be employed far more productively by, say, watching something else instead, or getting round to clearing out that junk from the garage that their wife has been nagging them about for weeks. They feel that they should be sitting there like Emperor Caligula; their every whim being bent to, to ensure that their enjoyment and stimulation never drops below a certain level, lest they become bored and decide to inflict the worst punishment possible – turning off their telly and looking at something else instead.

        of course, I do appreciate that F1 can only survive if there are people there to watch it. But this attitude, it’s a double bluff. A fallacy. The only reason why Bernie and his chums want to make sure that F1 is as big as it possibly can be, is because it makes them an absolute feck-ton of money. That’s why they’re so desperate to ensure that not a single viewer turns off. it’s got nothing to do with a desire to deliver the best possible product to the loyal fans who have worked so hard by parking their ***** on a sofa for a couple of hours 20 times a year. it’s all because they want to make themselves unimaginably wealthy.

        1. Very eloquently said. And I agree in large part with your views. One thing that struck me is

          it’s got nothing to do with a desire to deliver the best possible product

          . Referring to F1, or sport in general as a ‘product’. I think you hit it dead centre. The powers that be can’t treat F1 as a product, as something to iterate, to engineer or otherwise manufacture.
          The big danger is, as you say, when F1 tries to cater to everyone, to be as accessible and entertaining as possible in that disposable, x-factor way, it loses its essence as a sport and as pure competition. That’s my biggest fear, that in 10 years aids that have improved racing (in my view) like tyre degradation and the hit-and-miss DRS will be but the tip of the iceberg.
          That F1 will be laden down by tricks, technologies and rules designed to artifically create close racing and close championships, all for the sake of entertainment.

          Bernie would love if we had a 4 way championship battle as we did in 2010 every season, but I’d think that would be horrible in a way, if the sport were somehow designed to give a close championship battle every year, or a last lap fight to the finish every race.

          1. +1 for Mazda Squid, I wonder if Bernie has thought about having a few punch-ups in the teams after a pit-stop or maybe an all out brawl between teams, gotta keep people interested and it beats the the hell out of gimmicks like building a more powerful engine.

    2. Well, people in the 70’s thought Gary glitter was good entertainment. Times have moved on.

      1. @hairs, Gary Glitter is a good analogy for F1 as it is now, a similar analogy for F1 as it was would be the Rolling Stones.

  5. “Maybe we’ll get the Europeans to wake up instead of thinking that [a race] is a God-given thing. When Europeans perform and do their job we are happy to stay.”

    What! most of the Spa Francorchamps was completely renovated a couple of years a go to make sure a f1 future was secured. After a couple of difficult years the race became in jeopardy because of your money hunger. It took a lot of difficult discussions between the Walloon government and the circuit owners to convince you to give up. you would sacrifice any of the legendary tracks to go off to some godforsaken country to built a stupid dusty Tilke track with empty grandstands. His comments frighten me. I’m sure as long as Bernie is in charge all European races must die.

  6. I actually completely agree with Bernie on this one. It’s naive not to think of F1 as being in show business, same with every other major sport. If you disagree, please look at the the tyre degredation so many people love, brought in to liven up the show. Same with DRS.

    Bernie’s got the right idea, keep up-to-date, and go where the fans (and money) are. Heck, at the end of every season (apart from this very exciting one we just had) there is usually a debate on what can be done to improve the “racing” or “overtakes”. Because these are racing specific terms, do not forget that their other meaning is just “entertainment”, we want better racing because it’s great to watch, same with overtakes. Don’t bite Bernie’s head off for saying in a different more blunt manner, what so many think.

    1. Just that he doesn’t go where the fans are, he goes where he wants them to be.

      1. @kelsier Well, I disagree, there were tons of fans at Texas, India, Singapore, Abu Dhabi which are some of the most recent additions. If you look, the fact we left Turkey was due to the lack of fans at the track..

  7. OmarR-Pepper (@)
    7th December 2012, 13:10

    Enterteining yes, but in the limits of what should be considered as a sport please. DRS is not a sports item. Woulld you permit to take shorcuts in a marathon? I don’t think so.

    1. Marathon runners don’t have to worry about dirty air preventing them from overtaking though.

      1. OmarR-Pepper (@)
        7th December 2012, 13:49

        @magnificent-geoffrey … mmm, of course I knew that any example would be perfect, but gives an idea, I think. there’s no dirty air, but it’s difficult to “overtake” I guess. And it’s exciting for many people too.

        1. Hope you got that

      2. Formula 1 has been around for decades and only in recent years have we needed something as extreme as DRS to make passing possible, dirty air has never been such a problem like it was in the years that led up to DRS, the aerodynamics of the cars need overhauling so that you can follow someone in dirty air without any serious problem, a push to pass DRS button is not the answer.

        1. dirty air has never been such a problem like it was in the years that led up to DRS

          Its not actually the dirty air thats the problem, According to the engineer’s the amount of dirty air current cars generate is now worse than its been for the last 20-30 years.
          The problem is actually how aero-dependant the current cars are which makes them more sensitive to been affected by that dirty air.

          Cars from the 70s produced a similar amount of turbulent air but the front wings were so ineffective the cars were not affected by it as much.
          Was the same with ground effect cars, They still generated tons of turbulent/dirty air, But because the front wing wasn’t doing as much to generate the downforce (Some drivers even took them off) cars were not affected by it.

          The problem with things like DRS & also the tyres as well as KERS to an extent is that while its true they may add to the ‘show’, As long as there around & seen to be working the issues surrounding the aero won’t be fixed as we have seen with future regulation changes since been dropped.

          I know its not a discussion about DRS but I just want to ad this. While I was never a fan of DRS, I kind of put up with it because it was supposed to be temporary. Now it seems its going to be permanent which is the one thing I feared would happen when it was announced.
          Because of this im going to be far more vocal when i feel its had a negative impact on races in 2013 than I was in 2011/2012.

          1. According to the engineer’s the amount of dirty air current cars generate is now worse than its been for the last 20-30 years.

            This should say that its not any worse now than 20-30yrs ago.

  8. If F1 is show business then why do they have a summer break, just at the time my son and I could go together to watch some races live?

    1. Because those working in the industry are people too. They also want to be with their families and do something other than change tyres in 3 seconds on an expensive car.

      1. Then the F1 industry does not realise it is in the entertainment business, but thinks it is in the motor industry.

  9. Completely agree with Bernie here. It’s extremely naive to think that F1 isn’t “entertainment” as well as sport.
    Go back a few years, and you’d see the majority of people whingeing about processional races and no overtaking, and F1 fixed this to appease the fans. Even today, the instant there’s a boring race, people immediately rant on about how the sport’s rubbish and threaten never to watch it again, as if the entire sport circles around their watching of it. Like it or not, the majority of people watching F1 want “entertainment”. Add on the fact that more and more are paying subscriptions to watch F1, and it means that the sport now has an obligation to entertain.
    Also I completely agree about the European races thing – people have a ridiculous sense of entitlement over it. F1 is expanding more and more (America, Russia, etc.) and some European races will have to make way, whether people like it or not.

    1. Europeans are somewhat justified because the vast majority of the fans are still europeans at this point, and will be for the foreseeable future.

      And there is something to be said about failed and pointless expansion, what do you think people in Bahrain or UAE or Korea are now even close to being places with large concentration of fans? F1 expansion has been pretty much hit and miss.

      Even the US imo is risking being yet another failed expansion attempt(we need to wait a few years to see it). You can take races anywhere you want, as long as there some stupid millionare willing to drop millions on it, but don’t pretend these places are actualy relevant to the sport.

      If the sport is show bussiness then the majority of people being entertained atm are Europeans, so yes they kind of do matter a lot.

  10. It is galling that anyone would see Bernie’s comments as correct, but it is testimony to the Playstation, X-factor attitude that people have today, where they feel they have to be titillated in order to watch something. Sadly, these are exactly the kind of people F1 is looking to attract in it’s desire to make the sport more “inclusive”.
    F1 started as a competitive sport between people who wanted to see who was the fastest around a race track. Unfourtunately today, it has evolved into something much less so. It is not even what Bernie claims it is. F1 is a business first and foremost, entertainment second, and a sport third. For true fans of the sport, these are sad days indeed.

    1. I agree totally but would add, F1 was a development series where “manufacturers” displayed their expertise in building better faster cars.

  11. Sure, all sports are entertainment, but there are better ways that professional leagues have changed and adapted to stay entertaining, without becoming “show-business”. For example, the National Football League redistributes revenues to smaller markets, and gives the worst teams first pick of the best incoming talent, so that the field stays roughly competitive. Green Bay, Wisconsin (population 283,000) is tied with Chicago (population 9 million) in the division standings, and the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl a few years ago after decades of losing seasons. If the games are close, viewers are entertained without sacrificing an ounce of legitimacy. If F1 gave more of the TV revenue to poorer teams like Force India and Williams rather than to Red Bull, the midfield could mix with the front-runners and the racing would improve.
    The National Hockey League lets the players get into fistfights during dull games to keep the ratings up, but when playoffs come around, they stop fighting and play (usually, they didn’t last year) and no one misses the fighting. Because really, hampered as they are by padding and ice skates, they’re better at hockey.
    Moral of the story: “Improve the show” by improving the racing, not by cheep gimmicks.

    1. The champions get more revenue from Tv, Fia, or bernie than those bottom teams you are talkin about, that’s formula 1.

    2. Actually the mid-field and tail enders could and should be getting more money from Bernie, after all they are the performers of the “show”, instead Bernies daughters have each bought the most expensive palaces in Beverly Hills as holiday homes, this money could have kept a couple of teams going through hard times.

  12. I can’t really agree Bernie. For me F1 is not a show, for me it is a sport.
    DRS: I really like it. I agree that it gives us some passes. I brought us really ugly passes. It helped the fast cars to pass the slow cars, but I really loved if slower cars are in front of fast cars. In my Opinion we don’t need DRS, especially at the Pirelli era. The tyres increased the speed difference between a car on old and a car on new tyres. In 2010 the difference between old and new tyres was very small, this made it almost impossible to pass… but now it should be possible . I know i’m not alone with my Opinion about DRS

    1. In 2010 the difference between old and new tyres was very small, this made it almost impossible to pass

      Yet 2010 featured more overtaking than any year since 1989.

      Statistically there was a lot of overtaking in 2010, However sadly people only remember the 2-3 races from that year which didn’t feature much & then say the whole season was boring & featured no passing.

      1. yes 2010 is a bad example. I took it because some people wrote above that it was impossible to pass in 2010.

        The rule changes in 2009 made the cars ugly but I think it made the F1 much better. For me these rule changes are the reason for more passes in 2010 and 2009. In 2011 the drivers just had to wait for the DRS zone.

  13. Somewhat ironically Robby Gordon said the same thing about Motorsports Yesterday about Dakar when Peterhansel said Robby is a “Showman rather then a Racer”. Robby’s response was;

    what Peterhansel needs to understand is this is the entertainment business and it is not just about racecars. If it was just about racecars we would all be driving diesel powered Mini’s and they would sound like a bunch of sewing machines.

    That holds true for pretty much all forms of Motorsport (and sport in general).

  14. In my opinion, F1 has a delicate balance between entertainment and sport. Personally I much prefer the sport part, the engineering, innovation and performance challenges; I feel like that is the heart and soul of F1. But for F1 to continue to be successful, it does need to put on a good show esp. in the modern era with many newer fans from countries with very little racing history joining.
    However, F1 (and Eccelstone) is progressively becoming too focused on the show side, rather than the sport side. The current rules are too restricting for engineers; the FIA needs to open up the rules a bit, to let there be some more significant differences in design paths. And yes, we do need a good show, but I feel like the Pirelli tyres (of 2011 and early 2012) can supply this, without a need for DRS.
    F1 was already popular before this “entertainment” era began. Tons of fans would watch just for some simple, classic racing. Give the teams a budget cap, but open up the rules. If someone happens to dominate a season (i.e. 2011 even with Pirelli and DRS) let it go; that team’s engineers and driver(s) were better than everyone else and they deserve to be champion.

  15. Well said, Bernie. I’m glad he’s taking a glass half-full approach with this, I feel the same. There’s nothing wrong so don’t look for things to fix. People like LdM are of course always going to be bias and the moment an innovation, championship winning piece of aero comes out of Maranello he won’t criticise the dependence on it anymore. We’ve had a good season this year, and heck, even if we hadn’t I don’t think we need get in a panic about it. The beautiful thing about sport is that in essence, it has no one to answer to and nor should it.

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