Formula One (F1) boss Bernie Ecclestone has revealed that the motor sport is exploring potential agreements with social media giants like Twitter and Facebook, in public conversation with WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell.
In an explosive fireside chat at Advertising Week Europe in London, Ecclestone sat with Sorrell – a member of the F1 board – to discuss topics as far-ranging as the UK’s referendum to leave the European Union, the role of gender diversity, and how he plan to make the sport more compelling for fans.
Regarding the potential for a so-called ‘Brexit’, Ecclestone defied Sorrell – who is in favour of the UK remaining part of the EU – by saying he would be inclined to vote ‘leave’. “I don’t see what Europe does for England. I don’t see any value,” said Ecclestone.
Sorrell was quick to put forward his pro-immigration counter-argument – his parents arrived in the UK from Russia in the late nineteenth century – and insisted that ‘Brexit’ would be damaging for the British economy, with international companies moving operations to other locations.
“I know clients will close plants, I know jobs will go. The question is how long that will happen for,” said Sorrell, who insisted that highly “motivated” immigrants from countries like Syria can “make a contribution to the economy” if given the chance.
Many of Ecclestone’s arguments split opinion in the audience, including his assertion that Russia’s president Vladmir Putin “should be running Europe”. He claimed that Donald Trump, running to become the Republican presidential candidate in the US, would make a “fantastic” president.
He also had strong words for those in the F1 community, arguing that drivers ought to keep quite on the administrative side of the business (“we don’t need their opinions”) and that teams like current champions Mercedes require a “wake-up call”.
“Any sporting event people go to, you don’t want to know more or less who is going to win. Now you say Lewis [Hamilton] on pole, he will win the race, and Nico [Rosberg] will be second. We have been putting on a lousy show,” he said, though emphasising his hopes that the Ferrari team will be more competitive this year.
Prompted by Sorrell to discuss new media and technology, and citing the recent deal signed by Twitter to live broadcast NFL games, Ecclestone revealed that F1 is exploring ways to expand the reach of the sport to those consumers no longer tuning into linear TV.
“We support it wherever we can. I’m supporting our staff dealing with this, to make sure we do more,” he said, while Sorrell hinted that “some pretty exciting things with hardware and software” are on the horizon.
A question from the floor regarding gender diversity saw Ecclestone end the session in controversy once more, questioning whether women are “physically able” to drive the cars quickly, and if they would be “taken seriously”.
However, he did add his hope that women be appointed to more senior business roles (“they are more competent, and they don’t have massive egos”), a sentiment Sorrell shared: “I’ve said publicly, women in our business do a better job than men, often. And in some of the things we do they are much more effectively.”