Bernie Ecclestone

Pre-season interview with Bernie Ecclestone 

bernie ecclestone

Tighten your belts and ditch the rose-tinted glasses. That is Formula One group CEO Bernie Ecclestone’s advice to F1’s other big players as he ponders the future health of the sport. As for 2012, with six world champions on the grid a fascinating campaign is all but assured. Ecclestone, of course, wants to see it go down to the wire at the very last race - though he admits that could be a case of him wearing the rose-tinted specs…

Q: Bernie, how long is your current workday?

Bernie Ecclestone: Well, I get up around seven in the morning and almost immediately start working - with an open end! (laughs)

Q: Is this workload to some degree connected to the fact that some teams seem to have budget shortfalls?

BE: Let’s put it this way: there are still too many people in Formula One running around with rose-tinted glasses. They obviously like to see the world as they want it to be - wonderful, the sun is shining, isn’t life delightful - and not how it is. The downside of these glasses is that they blind you to reality.

Q: So what is your advice to these ‘daydreamers’?

BE: Change the colour of your glasses and tighten your belts. Stop spending more than you need to.

Q: What do you mean by that?

BE: The teams have to learn to be competitive without tonnes of money. They have to refocus again on the basics - on racing, spending on the sport - and not on baronial motorhomes and all kinds of entertainment.

Q: But what about the ‘rich’ teams, Red Bull, McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari, what are you telling them: don’t spend the money that you have?

BE: We have had this kind of problem for quite a while now as of course they spend what they have. You could install a mandatory budget for all teams - on the basis of the smaller teams - but they [the big teams] don’t like it and fiercely fight against it. 

Q: Could we see such a budget coming in the next few years - whether the big teams are happy with it or not?

BE: I would welcome it. Yes, I think it could happen.

Q: Couldn’t that be implemented in a new Concorde Agreement? What is the state of affairs with that right now?

BE: We are in the middle of discussions.

Q: Where is the weak point?

BE: Money, of course. They [the teams] want to get more money - to be able to spend more!

Q: Aren’t you worried about the cohesion of Formula One? On the one hand you have global players like Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, who want nothing more than to win, then on the other hand there are teams whose intentions are not so clear…

BE: Well, I think there is a true saying in football: the answer is on the ground. That also goes for Formula One. Everybody wants to win, no? The better you do on the track, the better your image will be. They all have to understand this message at the end of the day.

Q: Does the current nature of the sport condemn smaller teams to having to sign pay drivers?

BE: I don’t like the phrase ‘pay driver’. They have deep-pocketed sponsors who support them. What’s wrong with that? I have never seen a driver giving his own money for a ride.

Q: But what if you were a team principal and the sponsor who promised to support one of your drivers was not living up to that commitment. What would you do?

BE: That sounds like a breach of contract - I would sue.

Q: Teams and team principals have come and gone from Formula One over the last 30 years; FOTA has practically eliminated itself; and the FIA, the ruling body of the sport, is sometimes virtually invisible. Are you the only constant in F1?

BE: I am still here, that’s true! (laughs) In fact it is very difficult to find a consensus between all the parties involved. Take everyday life - it is already difficult to find consent between two people. Then try that with 12 team principals! Coming to FIA, we see the FIA representatives in the light blue shirts at every race, don’t we? So they are not invisible at all. Believe me, I am working very hard to balance all these different parties and their needs.

Q: But isn’t it true that you have a substantial advantage over all these ‘part-time’ Formula One players as you’ve been in the game so much longer?

BE: I don’t play any games. It is rather so that I try to look into everybody’s head to find out what they need and what’s the best for them.

Q: Moving to another issue, 12 of this year’s 20 races are outside Europe - is that the way Formula One has to go?

BE: Absolutely. We are a world and not a European championship. Think about this: how many people live in Europe - and how many in Asia or America? If Europe were to have more races the balance would be out of proportion. 

Q: What about Bahrain?

BE: What about it? The organizers say that they have everything under control and for now I think we should believe them.

Q: Have you followed what is going on at the Nurburgring? Rhineland-Palatinate has terminated the contract with the organizers…

BE: Of course I have followed the story - without knowing all the details and background information.

Q: Will F1 return as planned in 2013? What has to happen?

BE: Not a lot. I would say it’s a simple human problem: you need a contact person to negotiate the conditions. Obviously at the moment there is no such thing. 

Q: Coming to the racing, what would you wish for this season?

BE: That the championship will be tighter and decided at the very last race. To be honest, I think it is now me who is wearing rose-tinted glasses… (laughs)

Q: Because of Sebastian Vettel? Only Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher have ever won the title three times in a row. Sebastian could become the third man to do it this season…

BE:… that’s what I meant with the rose-tinted glasses! My guess is that he really can do it again. What points against it? I think anything else would be the surprise. The pre-season tests spoke a quite clear language: the Red Bull looks super competitive again - and Sebastian is only 24, so he still has an enormous potential to fill. Realistically, everything points to Sebastian. He’s got it all: talent, passion, zeal, a clear head - and he hates to lose. I could imagine him beating Michael’s record. Only in backgammon does he need to put in some extra training, but he’s learning with every game! (laughs) Coming back to my 2012 hopes, I hope that McLaren is faster than at the start of last season and able to fight for wins right from the first race. Mercedes is looking pretty competitive, so I have them on my watch list. That leaves me with the hope that Ferrari will catch up soon. If I were to bet now, it would be Sebastian world champion, Mark Webber second and one of the McLaren’s third, probably Lewis Hamilton.

Q: Ferrari seem to be in a rut. What do you see as the reasons for this? Do you think a new start would get them winning again, like when Jean Todt took over in 1993?

BE: No, because Ferrari’s problems have nothing to do with the team management. I am absolutely sure about that. I see problems on the technical side - in the aero department. Instead of firing someone they rather should hire someone - Adrian Newey!

Q: Hardly anybody would argue about Fernando Alonso’s skills, but what about his team mate Felipe Massa?

BE: One thing is clear - Felipe is not really blessed by luck, but he is fast. I rather think that it is a question of alternatives at Ferrari: who from the available drivers is faster than Felipe? I don’t see anybody. But I am sure that Robert Kubica would by now be sitting in a Ferrari had he not had his terrible rally accident.

Q: This season will see six champions on the grid…

BE: That is awesome - and has never happened before in the history of Formula One…

Q: Let’s start with Kimi Raikkonen. What do you expect him to show?

BE: He is an add-on in every respect. I think that a lot will depend on how the car is - and if he can keep up his motivation. For the moment he seems to be super motivated. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Q: What about Michael Schumacher? Will this third comeback year finally bring the breakthrough?

BE: If the car is fast enough, yes. I do hope that’s the case, for him and all the Schumacher fans. He is still a big name and we all profit more from a successful Michael Schumacher than from a beaten one. Ask in the USA - he is still the biggest name there.

Q: One of the interesting things to watch will be the internal McLaren fight between Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. How do you see that developing?

BE: Lewis is a huge talent - that has not changed. He probably was mentally a bit unstable last year and that resulted in a situation where he didn’t show his full potential. On the other hand Jenson Button squeezed the maximum out of his potential - that’s why he finished ahead of Lewis. I dare to predict if both are able to show their full potential Lewis will be in front of Jenson, because in the end he’s faster.

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