Over the past year, he has unsuccessfully attempted (twice) to replace F1’s scoring system with a ‘medal’ structure in which the driver with the most race wins (as opposed to the most points) becomes world champion. He later suggested a lottery to determine the top ten grid positions, which similarly failed to gain traction.
And now, at Ferrari’s pre-season media bash, he has suggested introducing short cuts at F1 tracks in an attempt to promote overtaking and prevent processional races.
"I've tried to push the teams with a number of proposals. Imagine a short cut which a driver can use five times every race. Then you wouldn’t get stuck behind a slower car."
Is Bernie being serious here, or is this just an act of verbal mischief designed to provoke a reaction from the teams and generate global column inches for F1, both of which he is a past master at doing?
In the past, whenever Ecclestone or FIA president Max Mosley said something, it generally happened. But Mosley has now gone, replaced by Jean Todt, and F1’s reputation and economics have taken a battering: we have had ‘Crashgate’, Honda, Toyota, BMW and Renault have all exited the sport since December 2008, and major sponsors have chosen to reprioritise their budgets.
F1 is at a watershed. This is hardly a unique occurrence in a sport which has historically thrived on chaos and upheaval, but for the first time Bernie’s pronouncements seem strangely out of step, desperate even. For over 30 years, Ecclestone has masterfully manipulated the ebb and flow of F1’s tidal politics, sometimes pitching outrageous ideas but always ultimately getting what he really wants. He is still doing the former, but without achieving the latter.
The suggested medal system was radical, but not entirely barmy (and, ultimately, F1’s points system has been overhauled for 2010). The top 10 lottery was more nonsensical, threatening as it did to make a mockery of the idea that F1 is all about performance being directly correlated with results.
But, seriously, short cuts to promote overtaking? What’s the real agenda here, Bernie? Is there even an agenda at all, other than publicity? And whatever will he think of next? All pit stops have to be executed at the nearest branch of Kwik Fit? Traffic lights to control the flow of cars and prevent anyone from running away with a race? Or perhaps giving every driver a box of thumb tacks they can drop in the path of trailing cars?
Or maybe Bernie’s grand plan to rejuvenate F1 is to replace Toyota, BMW and Renault with the Ant Hill Mob, Professor Pat Pending and Dick Dastardly and Muttley?
He wouldn’t, would he?