By Joshua Robinson
Bernie Ecclestone, who turned Formula One from an elite motor racing series into a global media rights empire over four decades, stepped away from his role as the sport's "supremo" on Monday as Liberty Media completed its takeover, appointing Chase Carey as chief executive.
The decision came four months after Liberty Media Corp. agreed to acquire Formula One in a cash-and-stock deal that valued it at $4.4 billion. Mr. Carey, once the chief operating officer at 21st Century Fox Inc., had previously served as F1's chairman, but Monday's announcement solidified his operational control over the world's premier motor sport. Mr. Carey held the same role at News Corp, owner of The Wall Street Journal, before Rupert Murdoch split his media empire between two companies.
"F1 has huge potential with multiple untapped opportunities," Mr. Carey said in a statement.
With the deal, Liberty Media Group will be renamed the Formula One Group.
The transition marks the end of an era for F1 after 40 years of evolution based on Mr. Ecclestone's guidance, instincts and whims. A former team owner in the 1970s, he grew his influence by winning the right to negotiate television contracts for the races. From there, he drove the series' growth by taking it to far-flung markets and pushing broadcasters to innovate with everything from onboard cameras to live readings of the car's instruments.
Meanwhile, Ross Brawn, who retired after winning 16 F1 titles,returns to the sport as Formula One Group's managing director for motor sports while Sean Braches, the former ESPN sales veteran, joins the company as managing director for commercial operations.
In the days when Mr. Ecclestone, now 86, rose to prominence, most of the F1 calendar focused on Europe while the number of races hovered around 14 per season. In 2016, the calendar featured 21 races in 21 different countries from Monaco to Malaysia.
Liberty Media estimates the sport draws around 400 million unique television viewers globally. But that figure is the result of sliding ratings in recent years, according to industry experts, and Liberty faces a challenge in reversing that trend. In the U.S., for instance, F1 still ranks far behind Nascar.
Easily recognized around the F1 paddock by his short stature, round glasses and mop of white hair, Mr. Ecclestone was also known for his short temper and inflammatory statements about the future of the sport. He has accused the dominant Mercedes team of making the sport "boring," openly called for a revolution in the rules, and once promised that his retirement from F1 would coincide with his funeral.
His exit wasn't quite so dramatic, but Liberty Media's announcement was pre-empted by comments from Mr. Ecclestone that suggested the transition was bumpier than expected.
"I was dismissed today," he told the German racing publication Auto, Motor und Sport. "This is official. I do not run the company anymore."
Mr. Ecclestone couldn't be reached for comment.
Liberty Media said Mr. Ecclestone will retain an advisory role as chairman emeritus of F1, but any real influence remains unclear. As of Monday evening, he was still holding talks with the Russian promoter of the Sochi Grand Prix, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation.
Write to Joshua Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END)Dow Jones Newswires
January 23, 2017 19:33 ET (00:33 GMT)
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