For a whole generation, if not more, the names ‘Formula One’ and ‘Bernie Ecclestone’ went together as seamlessly as Grand Prix. However, Bernie Ecclestone has always been a man to divide opinion - and most of the time because of his opinions! Now though, following the ex F1 Supremo’s recent controversial remarks in a CNN interview, Liberty Media has been very focal making clear that the association between Bernie and F1 is well and truly over.
The world of motorsport media in the western world concluded their Friday evening with a very clear and firm statement emailed globally to all by F1 Head of Communications Liam Parker entitled: Statement from Formula 1 - Bernie Ecclestone comments.
So, what prompted such an action?
Over the years Bernie Ecclestone has made headlines for controversial ideas such as double points at the final race of the 2014 F1 season; and controversial ideas such as his comments on Adolf Hitler which were followed by an unreserved apology for his remarks with him claiming he was an 'idiot' for saying it. So, do not be surprised if the coming days feature such a retraction.
On this occasion, at a time when the civil rights movement for Black Lives Matter has been sparking debate, Ecclestone’s comments to CNN have been widely condemned.
"Lewis is a little bit special," Ecclestone remarked in conversation with CNN Sport's Amanda Davies. "First, he's very, very, very talented as a driver and he seems to be now extremely talented when's he standing up and can make speeches. This last campaign he's doing for Black people is wonderful. He's doing a great job and it's people like that -- easily recognisable -- that people listen to."
People are indeed listening to Lewis Hamilton’s thoughts on this movement and viewing his daily Instagram posts but Ecclestone didn’t just choose to praise the actions of the 6-time F1 World Champion and instead posed a question as to how much of a difference the recently announced Hamilton Commission would actually have:
"I don't think it's going to do anything bad or good for Formula One," Ecclestone said. "It'll just make people think which is more important. I think that's the same for everybody. People ought to think a little bit and think: 'Well, what the hell. Somebody's not the same as White people and Black people should think the same about White people.'
Ecclestone’s views were certainly entering worrying territory and then he commented:
"In lots of cases, Black people are more racist than what White people are."
This remark and his lack of being able to provide any supporting evidence to this comment is no doubt what prompted such a response by Formula One and the statement was certainly a firm one:
“At a time when unity is needed to tackle racism and inequality, we completely disagree with Bernie Ecclestone’s comments that have no place in Formula 1 or society. Mr Ecclestone has played no role in Formula 1 since he left our organisation in 2017, his title Chairman Emeritus, being honorific expired, in January 2020.”
Motorlat previously reported on the distinct lack of coverage that Bernie Ecclestone received last year from Liberty Media when the Shanghai Grand Prix commemorated 1000 Grand Prix of the sport - and that was when he still had his honourary title Chairman Emeritus. This shows that Liberty Media even then were keen to separate themselves from the former F1 Supremo.
Now, following this latest event, the situation is clear for all to see - Bernie Ecclestone has no part, influence or right to comment on Formula One, the sport many would claim he ‘created’.
Later in the CNN interview Ecclestone would comment on how he did not believe controversial statues should be removed but instead: "I think they need to start being taught at school…So they grow up not having to think about these things. I think it's completely stupid taking all these statues down. They should've left them there. Take the kids from school to look and say why they're there and what the people did and how wrong it was what they did."
However, once Ecclestone uttered that "In lots of cases, Black people are more racist than what White people are.” The interview may as well have ended as the headlines had already been written.
In the days prior to this, former IndyCar and NASCAR racing driver Willie T. Ribbs had recapped the tale of the time Bernie Ecclestone almost signed him to Brabham in 1986 and in this interview, he praised the billionaire:
"I don't even know if Formula One would exist now if it wasn't for Bernie Ecclestone," said Ribbs. "He wanted me in the car. He wanted me in Formula One…. His sponsors at the time were Italian. They wanted Italian drivers, and I totally respect him. I have no issues with that. My goal was to be in Formula One, but Bernie Ecclestone made a statement because Bernie Ecclestone put the first man of color, first Black man, in a Formula 1 car."
Willie T. Ribbs was clearly respected by Bernie Ecclestone and vice versa and 6-time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton also had a good relationship with Ecclestone but as news of this broke, so did Hamilton preceding the CNN article on his Instagram story with:
‘Damn I just don’t even know where to start on this one.’
The coming days will surely feature many comments from giants of motorsport expressing anger and displeasure at Ecclestone’s remarks. Some may also come to the defence of the former F1 maestro and as previously suggested the controversial figure may issue one of his typical retractions and apologies.
In the end, as with so many regrettable, hurtful, discriminatory remarks said the world over the question posed to Bernie Ecclestone should be – why say it in the first place?