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Why Ecclestone has harmed F1 more than he may realise – and why Vatanen may only make it worse

With the fuss finally starting to calm down after Bernie Ecclestone’s ill-considered remarks to The Times, in which he said that dictators like Hitler at least got things done, you might be feeling grateful that the whole sorry episode is out of the way.

In fact, you’re probably wondering why we’re bringing it up at all. Well, the reason is that we think on this occasion Bernie’s made a much more serious gaffe than usual, and that it will only serve to make life much harder for the next FIA president.


Especially if that man (for it will be a man) is Ari Vatanen.

Why? Because, building as he has on last year’s revelations about Max Mosley’s sex life, Ecclestone has given the press an excuse for an outpouring of venom and hostility towards Formula One the like of which we don’t remember for quite a while.

The sport has been portrayed during the last month as a deviation from decent moral standards, an unjustifiable luxury, a sick fetish that no normal person could possibly enjoy, a symptom of corrupted sensibilities, a lurid spectacle that has no place alongside ‘normal’ sport.

Think we’re exaggerating? Quotes below.

Our feeling is that, following the Mosley sex scandal and the recent political mess, this demonstrates powerfully how F1 has got very, very little wriggle-room left. And Ecclestone has just taken up another big chunk of it.

It’s not pleasant reading for fans, but we think it’s important that fans should read it – and understand its implications for their sport.

And a further problem is that the new broom hoping to sweep away the problems by succeeding Max Mosley may bring a whole new set of issues.

Ari Vatanen is a politician and, as anyone following the recent US presidential elections in particular will know, the problem with having that on your CV is that you have to stand up and make statements in public that you can later be held to.

Unfortunately some of Vatanen’s, on the incredibly sensitive issue of climate change, may do nothing to further the image of F1 and instead give fresh ammunition to its critics. However, let’s take this one step at a time.

What people are saying

We make no apology for citing these at length, since it’s the sheer volume of coverage making the same point about the natural alignment of F1 and fascism that builds our argument. Hold your nose and dive in:

  • On July 8 Anthony Lerman wrote the following in The Guardian’s Comment is Free section under the headline “The Führer and Formula One.”

    What could be more appropriate than the combination of the fast and the Führer, Formula One and fascism? Perhaps Ecclestone’s been down at the Estorick gallery of Italian futurism boning up on links between Mussolini and Marinetti’s love affair with fast cars. Wasn’t the painter and writer Wyndham Lewis, whose vorticism movement praised speed, an early admirer of Hitler and fascism? Nightmarish and fantastical — that probably sums up Formula One for Ecclestone right now. Well, wouldn’t you be having nightmares and sleepless nights, and getting your führers confused with your Ferraris, with the Formula One teams threatening revolution? As for fantasy, what other word sums up this orgy of limitless fossil fuel consumption, testosterone-saturated braggadocio and ejaculatory champagne popping? If you own that world, you’re unlikely to think twice about pontificating on the real lives of others. Read the full piece here.

  • On July 9 Marina Hyde wrote the following in The Guardian’s Sport Blog under the headline “Formula One’s fascism fetish should not surprise anyone.”

    European motor racing was inextricably linked with the more extreme aspects of futurism, while the Olympic movement has been positively littered with closet fascists, of whom the most out was the Nazi-sympathising, antisemitic IOC president, Avery Brundage, who went to his grave stubbornly declaring the Berlin games “the finest in modern history”. We have yet to hear a senior sporting figure excuse the Great Leap Forward on the basis that Mao had admirable self-belief, but the minute La Liga gets a Sinophile manager, it will only be a matter of time. One always detects their tacit sense of kinship with the genius leader who gets almost everything right, then blots their copybook with one unfortunate genocide. Hell, you can bust a gut making a club efficient, but the small matter of your taking them from the Premier League to the Coca-Cola in two seasons sees those ingrates remember you uncharitably. Read the full piece here.

  • On July 9 Daily Mail columnist Leo McKinstry wrote the following under the headline “Why Formula One is still so in thrall to the Nazis.”

    Apart from the immediate damage, the incendiary rows over Ecclestone and Mosley have also highlighted the darker side of the Formula One’s politics. Beneath all the glamour, wealth and excitement of motor-racing, there is no doubt the sport has some unpalatable links with right-wing extremism. Since its earliest days, the world of the Grand Prix circuit has attracted a disproportionate share of power-worshippers and bigots with an unhealthy enthusiasm for uniforms. Read the full piece here.

  • On July 11 Daily Mail columnist wrote the following under the headline “Fascism and why, for all our sakes, the removal of this gruesome pair from public life can’t come soon enough.”

    Ecclestone was promoting the childish delusion that Jews control the world banking system, and are therefore to be blamed for its collapse. Again, Sir Oswald would have approved. These are views one might expect from a nutcase world conspiracy theorist, but not really from the head of Formula One. His outbursts seem more remarkable still when we consider that this proponent of tyranny and admirer of Hitler and cheerleader for Max Mosley was once one of the biggest, if not the biggest, donor to the Labour Party, and on friendly terms with Tony Blair. Read the full piece here.

  • On July 12 The Observer’s chief sports writer Paul Hayward wrote the following under the headline “Formula One minus its despots would still lose the race for respect.”

    It’s no big leap to see how this pit-lane Midas might have developed a dictator fantasy, especially while his fellow autocrat, Max Mosley, was using FIA, the sport’s governing body, for the kind of power trip his father, Oswald Mosley, craved as leader of the British Union of Fascists. Ecclestone’s praise for Hitler as a kind of super-powered Rudy Giuliani was either a shocking demonstration of how age (and perhaps divorce) weakens mental faculties, or he has fostered these thoughts all along… The question is not whether culling two geriatrics will restore F1’s identity but whether F1 has an identity to restore. The Formula One Teams Association, who have kept their apparently credible breakaway plan in a safe place, were not squealing especially loudly when the Max and Bernie show was making the good times roll. Until Mosley pushed his luck too far with budget caps and constant rule changes, which displayed his own megalomania, one of the world’s most powerful industries conspired in the dilution of a sport that was meant to portray the motor car in its most desirable form.” Read the full piece here.

  • All this is part of a trend that started back with the News of the World’s unlovely revelations about Max Mosley’s private life. Obviously there are acres of coverage devoted to this and we have no intention of quoting very much of it. Here’s a pertinent example from The Independent last June entitled “Oswald’s legacy: Fast cars and fascism.”

    Questions were inevitably asked about whether the 67-year-old FIA president should continue as the public face of the Formula One hierarchy. Jewish groups, including the Holocaust centre, have called for his resignation and Sir Stirling Moss, the former F1 world champion, has said he does not see how Mr Mosley can continue in his post. Amid reports of dismay among F1 teams from Germany, where BMW and Mercedes are based, to Japan, one senior figure in a European team said yesterday: “On the one hand what Max supposedly does… is his own business. On the other, it is unbelievably damaging for his name of all names to be identified with a fantasy about one of the biggest crimes in human history.” Read the full piece here.

  • Hang on a minute – what’s that about

    Now here’s our point. Having read that lot, do you see much that you personally recognise?

    Are you, for instance, a worshipper of Italian futurism or a subscriber to esoteric political philosophies? Do you have nightmares on a Sunday night as a result of your afternoon’s viewing (forget anything involving Eddie Jordan at this point) or a tacit kinship with dictators?

    If not the fans, the drivers? Do you see the guys up on the podium smiling happily at the end of each race, or working hard during practice and qualifying to get their cars just right, as part of a mechanistic reaction against the threat of international socialism?

    Er, no. Us neither and, to be frank, we find all this pretty insulting. And not just as fans either.

    Our experience of the F1 paddock is distinctly limited, being confined to an all-too-brief half-hour during the recent British Grand Prix. But our overwhelming impression was of a bunch of hard-working men and women, many of them from the UK’s top-flight performance engineering industry, absolutely dedicated to getting the most out of their cars.

    And demonstrating a team spirit and commitment that would be anathema to any kind of dictatorship or fascist cause. Perhaps the columnists above should have applied a moment’s thought to them before penning their words.

    This is, in short, a load of abject nonsense – that almost goes without saying – but it’s nonsense with real traction as the volume of coverage above demonstrates.

    Particularly when you notice how the writers above tie old grievances to new ones – the suggestion about ” a limitless orgy of fossil fuel consumption”. Which brings us on to a new worry.

    Will Ari Vatanen just make things worse?

    Former rally champion and Member of the European Parliament Ari Vatanen is in many respects an excellent choice for FIA president. He’s rapidly become the fan favourite, has shown a willingness to engage with the concerns of the manufacturers and has done great work on road safety.

    But Vatanen’s Achilles heel is his views on climate change, especially as rival and establishment candidate Jean Todt is busily establishing himself as the man who cares about these things and supports the further ‘greening’ of the series.

    It’s something Vatanen became rather unfortunately known for during his time in Strasbourg, with controversy breaking out again during his unsuccessful campaign for re-election this May.

    It’s almost certain his views are more nuanced than they are popularly given credit for, but at the moment we are interested in the way they are presented.

    UPDATE: At this point we originally went on to use some material that was only available in Finnish, from a Helsinki newspaper and from Mr Vatanen’s own website. Because some readers have quite reasonably questioned whether our attempts to translate Finnish quotes from Mr Vatanen were sufficiently reliable, we have sourced a statement he made on climate change on the floor on the European Parliament, making a similar point about the positive link between economic prosperity and carbon emissions, either originally in English or rendered by the Parliament’s official translation service. Here it is:

    Green Paper on ‘Adapting to climate change in Europe – options for EU action’ (debate)

    We are supposed to be honest, but painting a gloomy picture has always been politically very good. It has always paid off. But we are supposed to be serious and we have to look at the figures and remain rational and honest. People can live in Helsinki, with its average annual temperature of 6°C, or they can live in Dakar in 30°C. Two thousand years ago, Julius Caesar was walking on the Rhine because it was frozen over. One thousand years ago, the Vikings were in Greenland — that is why it is called Greenland. Therefore, temperature is not an end in itself, but the prosperity of people is an end in itself and that is what we forget. Why do we have emissions? That is the result of prosperity, and two thirds of people in the world still live in poverty. The human family is arranged as in a staircase: we, the privileged ones, are at the top, and there are four billion people below us who, literally, want to come into the daylight, because two billion people do not even have electricity. So what is our answer? Our answer is to improve our technology. For that we need money and we need our economy to grow. We cannot have money if we are wasting and damaging our economy by applying measures that are counterproductive and very costly. View the full debate record here.

    Here are some additional articles in which Mr Vatanen’s views and record on climate change are considered:

    • An article from the English section of Mr Vatanen’s website giving his views on transport policy.
    • A link to the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat International Edition (published in English) noting that Vatanen’s recent failure to win a third term in the European parliament was due to “negative comments about the climate change debate.” Read it here.

    Following is the original material that we could source in Finnish but not in English, starting with a Helsingin Sanomat piece published in May 2009. We still consider that, on balance, we have got close enough to its meaning to make it worth including, that the opinions expressed are a matter of strong public interest, and that their exact translation and implications should be debated. All we can do is make a start, and here it is.


    Full disclosure: we are not able to translate this ourselves and are relying on Google Translate to do it for us and then giving it a brief clean-up. We know this is a flawed method and that we risk missing nuances of Vatanen’s argument. We will be glad to hear from any Finnish speakers who can clarify our understanding of his statements but believe the broad import is unmistakable:

    MEP Ari Vatanen: Large carbon footprint is a sign of success

    Vatanen finally had an opportunity to present their vision of energy policy. “Avoidance of carbon dioxide emissions is, after Stalinism, the biggest hype, which I have experienced in my life,” said Vatanen.

    He believes that understanding [of] the human impact of global warming is false and falsifies the result of research findings.

    “The carbon footprint increase is only a sign that we have been able to create prosperity,” said Vatanen, who supports nuclear power. Finnish version is here.

    See another translation attempt in the comments of this Sciencepunk blog post >>

    So, the prospective replacement for Max Mosley is in the frame for the belief that the notion of a human contribution to climate change is based on falsification of research and is comparable to Stalinism. How is that one going to play to a Guardian commentariat who already have the knives out, would you say?

    Here’s a bit from Vatanen’s personal website, published on May 27 this year, in which our understanding is that he attempts to provide some context for his reported views and explains them in more depth. Again, Google Translate is responsible for the somewhat garbled result, but we think it’s crucial to include this material since it is Vatanen’s own response to his critics on the subject. He does make a selection of his writings available in English on his website – but unfortunately not this piece.

    Correction, the climate debate

    Living standards rise [with] carbon footprint increases, but the technological development of carbon footprint relative share of the resulting living standards will continue to decrease. Solution to mankind’s problems will not be [to reintroduce the] frame saw, but [to be] even more economical with chainsaws development.

    Most of the world’s people still live in poverty… and the misery of their reduction is a result of CO2 emissions growth. While the industrialized countries to reduce emissions, as developing countries progress, because of the total emissions in any case increase. Or do you wish to condemn most of the hopelessness… because they were born Timbuktu… instead?!

    All believe that the oil runs out, one day, (the present data indicate that more than 100 years later) but the claim at the same time that emissions must be reduced! Front end of the equation cancels the after part. POLICY ON ALL POSSIBLE. That too is normal in politics, that people are the energy, emissions and the planet tuholla deterrent Greens are against nuclear power, even if that is what would replace fossil fuels…


    Only through the growth of the human race to find new solutions to humanity’s problems. Growth arrest means we have unemployment, but in poor countries, hunger! If growth is stopped in industrialized countries, the Greens’ policy, so poor countries can not hope for a better tomorrow. The climate has been more often hotter and the changes have been particularly fierce. Read the Finnish version here.

    At least his recent interview with F1 Fanatic isn’t subject to the same difficulties, having been conducted in English. There Vatanen says the following:

    “At the highest government level we must make them aware of the importance of road transport. Nine times out of ten people choose to make a journey in a private car because of the advantages it gives. Politicians must realise people are not wrong to make this decision, they are just choosing what’s best.

    “I’m not against public transport but private motorists have to pay high costs and I think they should all be treated on an equal footing. Our society cannot function with poor road networks – it must meet the needs of its users. That includes car safety and we have to realise cars have improved in this way by leaps and bounds. Read the full interview here.

    Now, our argument is not about whether you think Ari has a very good point on all this actually, or ought to be cast immediately into the outer darkness, or any view that falls in between those two extremes.

    It’s about the effect that his views will have on the image of motorsport with opinion-formers such as those quoted above who already don’t want to give F1 or motorsport the slightest benefit of the doubt and who have had a field day with Ecclestone’s latest indiscretions.

    Just read that again. It’s probably the most important sentence in this entire article.

    And we think the effect might be terrible. Because, sooner or later, a tipping-point is going to be reached where the money simply turns around and takes itself off to some arena where it will prove much more effective at bringing rewards to the people spending it.

    The reaction over Ecclestone’s Hitler remarks, and the deep-seated hostility to and distrust of Formula One that they reveal in some areas of public life, are something that fans should take very seriously whatever the temptation to dismiss it as lurid nonsense.

    We know we’re not neo-fascist climate change-deniers. And we’re pretty sure you’re not, either. But F1 is heading for a situation where its leaders’ loose words mean we’ll all get tarred with the same poorly-researched brush.

    And the money is in grave danger of walking away.


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