Formula One CEO Bernie Ecclestone is stepping aside, marking an end to his decades-long reign over the international auto racing series.
Ecclestone, 86, will become chairman emeritus and will be replaced as CEO by former 21st Century Fox Inc. executive Chase Carey. The leadership change was announced Monday as John Malone’s Liberty Media Corp. completed the $4.4 billion acquisition of Formula One from private equity firm CVC Capital Partners Ltd.
Liberty Media wants to revive global interest in Formula One by building its digital presence and expanding in markets like the U.S., while retaining the circuit’s loyal European fan base. The company is counting on 63-year-old Carey, a longtime veteran of the TV industry who also ran DirecTV, to rejuvenate the business as chairman and CEO.
Formula One held an annual race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 2000 to 2007, but left after crowds fell from more than 200,000 to about 100,000.
Ecclestone, once a salesman of used motorcycle parts, became a billionaire by building Formula One auto racing into a global brand. He co-founded Formula One in 1978, selling TV and advertising rights for the series of races known as the Grand Prix. He played a crucial role in negotiating the sale of the company to CVC a decade ago, when Formula One was controlled by bank lenders, principally Germany’s Bayerische Landesbank.
In 2013, Ecclestone was charged in Germany and sued in the U.K. for paying a German banker to influence the sale of BayernLB’s stake in Formula One. The matter ended in 2014, when Ecclestone agreed to pay a $100 million fine to settle the German case, and a London judge dismissed the suit there.
Ecclestone has been hailed for his strategic moves, like expanding the sport into new countries including Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and China. Even into his 70s, Ecclestone still personally handled negotiations with racing teams, while maintaining lucrative relationships with countries that hosted the events.
But attendance has gradually declined in some of Formula One’s larger markets, such as Germany, and former executives have said the sport needs to be marketed more to younger consumers by using social media and mobile advertising.