Bernie jettisons $28m in shares

Bernie Ecclestone's exit will revitalise the sport, says former McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh.
Bernie Ecclestone's exit will revitalise the sport, says former McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Briton's departure a positive step for F1's prospects, predicts former McLaren boss

LONDON • The end of Bernie Ecclestone's four-decade reign in Formula One could see the sport return to being a more entertaining spectacle, former McLaren chief executive Martin Whitmarsh said on Wednesday.

Ecclestone's time as the colourful ringmaster of the Grand Prix circuit effectively ended on Monday when US-based Liberty Media completed its takeover of motorsport's most prestigious brand in a deal valued at about US$8 billion (S$11.35billion).

According to a prospectus released on Wednesday, seven of F1's key figures are selling up to US$39.9 million of shares in Liberty and the biggest seller is Ecclestone, who became F1's chairman emeritus following the takeover, after 40 years at the helm.

He is selling up to 950,599 shares worth US$28 million, leaving him with 0.5 per cent of the company.

Whitmarsh, who spent 24 years at Formula One powerhouse McLaren before stepping down in 2014, said Ecclestone's departure was the end of an epoch but was necessary for the sport to re-energise 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 America's Cup.

  • 0.5

    Percentage of shares Bernie Ecclestone will own in Liberty Media after selling shares worth US$28m upon assuming the position of chairman emeritus.

"I was probably enemy No. 1 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 has a certain charm and charisma and is an extraordinary individual. He deserves lots of plaudits for what he achieved."

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."

The 58-year-old Englishman 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 are trying to do and to control the costs," he said.

"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."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2017, with the headline 'Bernie jettisons $28m in shares'. Print Edition | Subscribe