Ecclestone has a limited input as adviser to F1’s new owners

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SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) Returning to the Formula One paddock for the first time since he stopped running the series, Bernie Ecclestone spoke of his limited input as an adviser to the new owners.

The autocratic Ecclestone moved aside in January after nearly 40 years in charge, when U.S. sports and entertainment firm Liberty Media took over.

Chase Carey replaced him as chief executive; Sean Bratches was hired as the managing director of commercial operations; and former Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn came in as managing director of motorsports.

The 86-year-old Ecclestone was asked to carry on as an honorary chairman, but he says it has not taken up much time.

“This morning I spoke to Chase on one or two issues,” Ecclestone said at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Friday. “Never met Sean. I met Ross for 10 minutes this year. I knew Ross from the past obviously and I feel sorry for Chase being thrown in the deep end.”

The new owners are tasked with rebuilding F1’s popularity after years of predictable races. Red Bull dominated from 2010-13 and Mercedes has crushing the competition from 2013-16.

“Nothing disrespectful, but there is very little I could have done, or you could do: It’s the racing that’s been bad,” Ecclestone said. “If we have Ferrari going well and Red Bull going well, it would come back again and the public will be interested.”

This year’s championship promises so far to be much more exciting after title fights largely between drivers on the same team. Sebastian Vettel won four straight titles for Red Bull and then Lewis Hamilton won two for Mercedes before losing to his now-retired teammate Nico Rosberg last year.

After two races, Vettel is level on points with Hamilton, but more importantly, Ferrari is challenging Mercedes.

“The racing is better up to now than it was last year,” Ecclestone said.

New rule changes, such as wider tires and improved aerodynamics, have helped bring a buzz back. But Ecclestone cautioned against reading too much into them.

“The tire size was the same five years ago. They say the wider tires are going to be something special. They are the same as they were,” Ecclestone said. “Every year they play around with bits and pieces, stick bits on and take bits off. So we haven’t done a lot to the cars.”

Ecclestone transformed F1 into a multi-billion business. He started in the 1970s primarily negotiating with circuits before taking up a position of power as the commercial rights holder in the 1990s, massively increasing the series’ TV exposure.

“I was running the company to try and make money for the shareholders. It doesn’t seem that’s the thing that’s driving them. He (Carey) wants to get more happy spectators I think.”

But Ecclestone does not envy him.

“I wouldn’t want to be having to deliver to a public company today. I feel sorry for Chase having to do that.”

Ecclestone overlooked social media. The new owners are looking to heavily increase digital coverage.

“It’s interesting, because I didn’t believe in doing that,” he said.

In recent years, issues were regularly raised about the top-heavy distribution of wealth in the series and fears raised about the future of famed races such as the Italian Grand Prix and the German GP – which has struggled to host races – in the face of rising track fees.

With hindsight, Ecclestone accepts he could have done things better.

“I charged them too much for what we provided so I feel a bit responsible,” he said. “Nothing to do with Liberty, and it went on my watch. We didn’t deliver the show that we charged them for.”

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”