In conversation - Bernie Ecclestone & Norbert Haug 21 Apr 2010
One is the architect of modern Formula One racing, the other a paddock stalwart of over 15 years, who has recently led Mercedes return to works-team status for the first time since 1955. So who better to discuss manufacturer teams, Michael Schumachers comeback and the sports highs and lows than Formula One Group CEO Bernie Ecclestone and Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug? In a candid interview held at the Malaysian Grand Prix both were keen to chat
Q: Bernie, why should a car manufacturer like Mercedes be involved in Formula One racing?
Bernie Ecclestone: Because it is by far the best platform for a manufacturer.
BE: Well, yes, Honda, BMW and Toyota withdrew. But why do you think they walked away?
Q: Because they lacked success?
Norbert Haug: Those who have been successful and have won titles are still part of Formula One - Ferrari, Renault and Mercedes. I can only say that our investment in the purchase of Brawn GP paid off. No other team had more exposure over the winter than the rebirth of the real Silver Arrows.
Q: Bernie, if you were the chairman of Mercedes, would you have purchased a Formula One team in times like these?
BE: To be honest it was always my opinion that Mercedes should have taken over McLaren years ago. So what theyve done now is absolutely sound. Now its theirs to call the shots.
NH: The beauty of this purchase also has a very positive financial aspect - because Brawn GP won the championship last season we get substantial funding from the rights holder, and we have partnered with great sponsors. These two aspects are funding the team and not Mercedes. We contribute with the engine and a small group of people in key areas - and thats it. Its a very efficient system, and I am sure Bernie would agree when I say that how weve done it could be a role model for when other manufacturers join Formula One. Of course our board members are racers, but they only gave the nod because we can promote our products on the most important motorsport platform in the world - and demonstrate our willingness to compete, which has been part of the Mercedes spirit since the beginning - the first Mercedes car was a racing car.
BE: In the future Mercedes should pay for their participation in the F1 world championship, considering how much publicity theyve received lately. (Laughs). But lets be serious, manufacturers are all there for different reasons. Mercedes are racers. Theyve been racing for a 100 years. Theyve always been there. The other people come and go. BMW came with us when I had Brabham - we won the world championship with them - and they left. Toyota have been more or less rally people in the past and turned to Formula One. I probably shouldnt say what Im going to say, but I think the team was mismanaged, and my guess is that if they had been managed properly they would still be with us.
Q: How valuable is the combination of Michael Schumacher and Mercedes?
BE: Michaels Mercedes comeback has a touch of magic. I dont know any other combination that on the one hand is so fascinating and on the other has a huge potential to be extremely successful. Maybe the only other that springs to my mind is Fernando Alonso and Ferrari. Michael is an asset to every team - and Mercedes can save a lot of money because they can get rid of the team manager, as Michael has already been the team manager at Benetton and Ferrari! (Laughs)
Q: How would you judge Schumachers first four races?
BE: I am sure Norbert would be the first to admit that Michaels results are not purely down to Michael, but they have to do with the fact that Mercedes is not performing on the same level as Red Bull and McLaren.
NH: At the moment we dont have the best performing car on the grid. We have known that fact since the first day of testing, but we are in good shape for the future. Other teams are still working with double the headcount that we do. This should not sound like an excuse but rather an explanation. We will definitely be fighting for victories soon.
Q: What makes you so convinced?
NH: Ross Brawn knows how to execute, so does Michael, and Nico (Rosberg) is enormously talented and already hugely experienced for someone so young. I have been in Formula One since 1994 and have had my own experiences. Our engines failed at times in the past, which caused McLaren-Mercedes to lose three championships. But today the Mercedes engine is one of the most reliable and strongest on the grid. I know that we will succeed with Mercedes GP.
BE: Sometimes it is necessary to lose in order to learn how to win!
Q: If you say that you must have some experience of losing probably with Brabham?
BE: What do you mean? We won a couple of championships.
Q: Two to be exact.
BE: And what has Mercedes won?
NH: Three - in the new age. Fifty percent more! (Laughs)
Q: Schumacher is already being criticised
BE: Anybody who criticizes Michael is wrong. He deserves better.
NH: No, for sure he doesnt deserve that. He stimulates everybody, including Nico. To work together with him and to profit from his experience can only be positive. Who can match Michael Schumachers benchmark? He is truly one of the best.
Q: At the moment Nico is outperforming Michael. Why?
BE: Nico is very talented and Michael was on holiday for three years. Ask me the same question after another two races. At the moment I would say, dont underestimate Michael. Give him time to adapt to the new car and the new tyres. At the moment hes something of a newbie who has to get accustomed to the trade again.
NH: We all know that Michael would be his first and foremost critic if he realized that this job is not for him anymore. But thats not the case. Within the team, Michael is extremely constructive. I think at the moment hes realizing how much he has missed all that. If you are a rock n roll star you want to be on stage and not contemplating life from your sofa. This enthusiasm is firing up the whole team.
BE: Michael would have never returned had he not been convinced that he can do the job. He is not a tourist in the paddock - hes here to win. And he will win again.
Q: Is Red Bulls Sebastian Vettel still your title favourite?
BE: Yes. Ill stick with what Ive said.
NH: Bernie will change his opinion over the course of the season. (Laughs) But lets be serious, I am also impressed by Sebastian. He is a fabulous lad. How he has developed into a sharp, highly concentrated and yet very relaxed young man is intriguing, and Red Bull is doing a great job. That theyve cultivated such a talent - hats off! Of course we also would have loved Sebastian to join us, but for the moment it is Red Bull deservedly earning the laurels.