Bernie Ecclestone used to joke that retirement would come on the day of his funeral but in the end it was an American businessman in a suit who quietly ushered Formula One’s 86-year-old ringmaster towards the exit.
Formula One’s new U.S.-based owner Liberty Media on Monday completed its takeover of the sport’s commercial rights and with it ended one of the longest, most colorful, and controversial reigns in global sport.
Chase Carey, the man with the twirly mustache who had been appointed chairman in September, took the Briton’s place as chief executive overseeing a new management team that includes former team principal Ross Brawn.
On a landmark day for fans and teams alike, some of whom had come almost to believe that Ecclestone might defy the very laws of nature and hang on forever after 40 years in charge, the news still came as a shock.
Ecclestone was handed the title of ‘Chairman Emeritus,’ a newly-created position that recognized the Briton’s historic contribution while removing him from the day-to-day running of the sport.
“The sport is what it is today because of him… and he will always be part of the F1 family,” said Carey in a statement.
He has been a controlling presence, a billionaire who enriched himself and the teams while missing no opportunity to drive a wedge between them when it suited his commercial interests.
“He was the circus master. He was in charge and sometimes you need a sport to be run like that,” former racer Martin Brundle told Sky Sports television. “It was his way or the highway.
“He might not be very tall but he was certainly feared in the paddock… and we all did extremely well hanging on to his shirt-tails.”
If some breathed a sigh of relief that a long-awaited shake-up could now bring the sport into the digital age, there was also gratitude.
“Indeed, I can’t think of a single other person who has had anything like as much influence on building a global sport as he has,” he added, hailing Ecclestone as a “visionary entrepreneur”.
” Bernie will be a very hard act to follow, but he’s created a fantastic springboard from which Chase Carey and his Liberty Media colleagues will be able to take Formula One forward and make it even bigger and even better.”