EXCLUSIVE: Bernie Ecclestone has slammed Formula 1 documentaries currently on the market and said audiences will prefer the “reality” of his upcoming series Lucky!, which Deadline can reveal has added a trio of broadcast and streaming partners.
DAZN, Discovery+ and Star+/ESPN Latin America have boarded the eight-part program, which comes from Senna producer Manish Pandey and tells the story of the development of Formula 1 through the eyes of the nonagenarian media mogul. It’s set to launch this December following a production process that began during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, and its producers have spent the past few months successfully shopping it directly to buyers.
Global sports streamer DAZN acquired rights in Japan, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain and Italy, while Discovery+ grabbed rights in the UK and Ireland. Disney-owned ESPN LatAm acquired rights for its Star+ streaming service and ESPN channels in the region. Other deals are known to be close to completion.
In an exclusive interview with Deadline ahead of launch, Ecclestone referred several times to “an American [Formula 1] documentary on Netflix at the moment” being “just an American take on the story” of the motor sport, which he is widely credited with transforming into a multi-billion dollar business.
He did not name the doc, but was almost certainly referring to Box to Box Productions’ behind-the-scenes doc series Formula 1: Drive to Survive. Pushed on how much he had watched, he simply responded: “I do not need to see it because it is not true.”
Ecclestone said Lucky!, which the BAFTA-winning Pandey produced through his Jiva Maya banner, was instead “reality — and in most cases people prefer reality.” The show is billed as the “intensely personal story of Bernie Ecclestone as he realizes his vision to create and develop a sport to rival the Soccer World Cup and the Olympics.”
The former F1 CEO and Emeritus Chairman has been embroiled in a series of controversies this year, and recently denied fraud by false representation after a UK tax authority investigation alleged he has undeclared assets worth more than £400M ($451M) stored overseas.
Ecclestone and Lucky! writer-director Pandey have a friendship stretching back more than 15 years, and the Formula 1 guru said: “I would not have made this documentary — and I hate that word — with anyone else.” However, Pandey added: “This is not a love letter to Bernie.”
Now aged 91, the controversial Ecclestone remains an enigma but he allowed Pandey to film extensively at his homes in Gstaad and Ibiza over nearly eight weeks during the Covid-19 lockdown, revealing his life story and the how Formula 1 grew into a phenomenal success under his stewardship. Pandey said close to 100 hours of footage had been shot for the eight-part series.
“Lucky! is a series I have been writing and researching all my life,” said Pandey. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to work with Bernie and tell the story of a genius showman and unrivaled businessman who created a sports franchise single-handedly, something that will probably never be done again.”
Original music for the series will be composed by Antonio Pinto, who worked with Pandey on Senna.
Zone Vision co-founder and international TV veteran Chris Sharp, who runs Jiva Maya along with Pandey and former Virgin Head of TV William Campbell, struck the deals with DAZN, Discovery+ and Star+/ESPN, directly.
“In his 70 years in the sport, Bernie dealt with public figures from Mandela to Blair, and with drivers from Fangio to Senna to Hamilton to Verstappen,” said Pandey. “Our key broadcast partners, DAZN, discovery+ and Star+, have been incredibly supportive and I look forward to working with each of them to make the series a success in their individual markets.”
DAZN’s EVP Global Commissioning and Original Content, Grant Best, said: “Sport is full of entrepreneurial characters and their stories that change the game. For over 40y years, Bernie Ecclestone’s vision transformed F1 into one of the biggest annual sporting events in the world. DAZN continues to work with exceptional filmmakers and we are delighted to be working with Manish Pandey, who is bringing this incredible story to our sports fans in some of our biggest markets.”