Formula 1 has made legitimate strides in growing its audience during the Liberty Media era. Chalk it up to a combination of actual marketing to people other than rich white dudes; captivating, accessible programming like Netflix’s Drive To Survive; and the embrace of digital platforms and social media.
Things are going well, but the insatiable lust for content to keep the gravy train rolling always results in at least one ill-advised move. Like the decision to air an eight-part docuseries on Bernie Ecclestone, F1's ex-boss and real-life Mr. Burns with hair, who historically opposed basically all of the things that are making the sport fun and successful now.
The rights to write, produce and direct the series, called Lucky!, were awarded to Manish Pandey. Pandey wrote the 2010 Senna documentary, a film I still enjoy even if it lionizes the Brazilian racing legend’s perceived moral superiority to a questionable degree and did Alain Prost sort of dirty. It never fails to leave me sniffling and blubbering every couple of years when I find myself watching it again, usually to introduce the sport to a friend.
Lucky! will trace Ecclestone’s slow takeover of F1 that began in the ’70s, and the decisions he made to consolidate control and ownership of the series. Decisions that ultimately kept it alive and allowed it to prosper. It’s a complex, interesting story of sports politics that should be told, but the big question is how Pandey decides to tell it.
Put another way, this could be a comprehensive, authoritative analysis of one of the most turbulent eras of the biggest motorsport in the world and the guy at the center of it all — or it could be a vanity project rivaling FIFA’s United Passions that chooses to whitewash the image of a man that cannot open his mouth without saying something ignorant and disconnected at best, or heartless at worst — whether he “saved” F1 or not.
Something tells me Ecclestone wouldn’t be doing this unless the second scenario was essentially guaranteed. Here’s what he had to say about getting Pandey on board, via Variety:
“This is the first time I’ve trusted anyone to tell my story and the story of Formula 1 and Manish is the only storyteller and director who I believe can bring these to the screen. And he isn’t just a great storyteller – he’s also a great fan. He’s been watching Formula 1 since he could walk and his knowledge of the world and its ‘movers and shakers’ is encyclopaedic and his passion unsurpassed.”
Pandey happens to be a pretty big fan of Ecclestone too, calling F1's former boss “incredibly personable and immensely funny” after spending a good chunk of time with him filming at his home during the COVID-19 lockdown. And it’s not only Ecclestone that trusts Pandey; F1 has opened its archives of footage for the effort, and CEO Stefano Domenicali seems pretty jazzed about it:
“Formula 1 is a truly global sport with over seventy years of history created by Bernie that has a huge part of making the sport what it is,” added Stefano Domenicali, CEO, Formula 1. “With half a billion global fans and races in 23 countries the interest and excitement around Formula 1 is huge and there will be eager anticipation for this series that will take the viewers on a journey into the life of one of sport’s most interesting characters.”
Pandey could get away with deifying Ayrton Senna — racing fans were already doing it long before he did, and it’s the dichotomy of Senna’s skill and ruthlessness on track and spirituality off of it that made him such a curious figure and likable hero.
I’m not saying Pandey is going to do the same for Ecclestone, but I’ll be very interested to see how he attempts to present a dude who once called women “domestic appliances” and Hitler an admirable leader in any kind of favorable light. Personally, that’s the drama I’ll be tuning in for.