LONDON: The end of Bernie Ecclestone’s four-decade reign of Formula One could see it return to being a more entertaining spectacle, former McLaren chief executive Martin Whitmarsh told Agence France-Presse on Wednesday.
Ecclestone’s time as the colorful ringmaster of the Grand Prix circuit effectively ended Monday when US-based Liberty Media completed its takeover of motor sport’s most prestigious brand in a deal valued at about $8 billion.
Whitmarsh, who spent 24 years at Formula One powerhouse McLaren before stepping down in 2014, said Ecclestone’s departure was the end of an era but a necessary one for the sport to re-energize itself. “It is the end of an era but it is a move forward moment,” Whitmarsh, who is now chief executive of Ben Ainslie Racing, told AFP on the sidelines of the unveiling of a new framework agreement for yachting’s The Americas Cup.
“I was probably enemy number one of Bernie on occasion [Whitmarsh was president of the Formula One Teams Association in 2010] but you have got to like the guy and respect what he did originally,” he said.
“He has a certain charm and charisma and is an extraordinary individual. He deserves lots of plaudits for what he achieved,” Whitmarsh added.
However, Whitmarsh said the writing on the wall for 86-year-old Ecclestone had become apparent in recent years.
“In any business or enterprise there does come a time when change is needed,” he said.
“It was pretty obvious something was going to happen. Anyone saying it was a surprise development hasn’t been watching what’s been going on.
“It’s been obvious over the last couple of years that it was going to happen and even more so the past couple of months.
“Some people might not understand that and be shocked by it but it is a going forward moment.
Whitmarsh said it was clear how Formula One could get back on track.
“What you need to have is something focused on entertainment which is what we [America’s Cup yachts] are trying to do and to control the costs,” said the 58-year-old Englishman.
“A sporting contest has to be exciting, you have got to engineer it to have an unpredictable outcome till the very last lap.
“Absolute fans might like to watch domination but it isn’t enduring. The sport has also got to be relevant to stakeholders because it is an expensive sport for them to be there to be funding.
“You also have to make sure it is a sustainable business because there is a team about to disappear and there are other teams close to disappearing.
“That spooks the herd and doesn’t encourage investors to come in.”
Whitmarsh, who described his nine-month break between McLaren and BAR as “life-changing,” was categorical when it was put to him if would he like to be termed the ‘Ecclestone of yachting’ once his time there finishes.
“I hope not,” he said.