Q&A: Bernie Ecclestone on Bahrain, Vettel, rain making and more 01 Mar 2011
The 2010 Formula One season was a smash hit with audiences worldwide. 2011 started with the cancellation of the season opener in Bahrain, but Formula One Group CEO Bernie Ecclestone is confident that if circumstances allow, the teams together with the FIA will do their best to make a return possible, even if it does mean a shorter summer break. Whatever happens, it looks like were set for another terrific season and, as always, Ecclestone has a few ideas up his sleeves for even more excitement in the years to come
Q: Should the race in Bahrain have been cancelled earlier, as many now suggest?
Bernie Ecclestone: No. That was not possible. Shortly before the crisis I had lunch with the Crown Prince (HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa) and there was absolutely no indication of what would come just days after. He was full of ideas for the future then shortly after the chain of events set in. There was almost no time to react. Of course we needed a decision by February 21, and that is what I told him. He asked what I would do if I were him, and I answered, You are there. We in Europe are hardly in the situation to make a serious judgment of the conditions. Decide what is best for your country. He then cancelled the race and I think it was the right decision. It was not an easy one, as it was Formula One that put Bahrain on the map. Before 2004 - when Formula One raced there for the first time - not many people knew Bahrain.
Q: Critics complained that neither Formula One chiefs nor the FIA had uttered a word on the political situation in Bahrain. How political should Formula One racing be?
BE: Formula One must never be political - full stop. My job is it to do the best deals possible for Formula One - to secure jobs. Five thousand people have jobs which are directly or indirectly connected to Formula One, and I want to secure these jobs. It is not my business to make politics. We have politicians for that.
Q: Are there plans to reschedule the race?
BE: To do that the FIA has to change the calendar, and Bahrain has to apply for a new slot. The FIA World Council will meet at the beginning of March and could look into the situation. I have already spoken with FIA President Jean Todt about the possibility of finding a new date and we both agreed that a decision has to be made before the season starts.
Q: Team managers, who are responsible for the logistics, have suggested that an alternative race is only viable in Europe
BE: Its all very easy. We dont need an alternative race anywhere in Europe or any other place. We need a race in Bahrain. If the Crown Prince is of the opinion that his country is able to host a race we will return to Bahrain. I think the teams are sensible enough even to race in Bahrain in the summer break, and despite high temperatures, because this is the way we can support the country.
Q: Lets now focus on the sporting side of things and a question thats puzzling many - can Michael Schumacher win again?
BE: I have not the slightest doubt about it. If he has a competitive car, hes a title contender.
Q: In the history of Formula One racing there have been only two world champions - Niki Lauda and Alain Prost - who successfully came back and won the title again
BE: There are differences. Niki had won two titles before he retired and Alain Prost three. Michael retired as a seven-time world champion. Thats a bit of another league. When Lauda returned it was with McLaren and Prost with Williams, which were both the top teams at that time and that was unfortunately not the case with Mercedes last season. Michael is still very motivated and his physical fitness is as good as in his heyday. When you talk to him you feel with every word and every gesture that he wants to win again - more than anything else. If Mercedes gives him a competitive car, he will win again.
Q: Is it that the level of competition Schumacher faces is much higher? Lauda and Prost didnt have to compete with the likes of Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton, Button or Webber
BW: Thats true. In the old days there werent so many A-list drivers on the grid. In those days you had a maximum of three drivers eligible for the title and only two teams. It was either McLaren racing against Ferrari, or Williams against Ferrari or Williams against McLaren, but that was it. Today we have four, probably even five teams able to win races. That means that eight or nine guys are fighting for the top spot on the podium. Unfortunately one of them is in hospital. For me Robert Kubica is one of the top drivers.
Q: Kubica had an accident while driving a rally car. Mark Webber and Michael Schumacher had accidents on a bike and a motorbike respectively. Isnt it about time that teams stop their stars from engaging in dangerous leisure activities?
BE: Let me say one thing, if you could choose your kind of accident I am sure they would all choose a Formula One car. Remember 2007 in Montreal? Kubicas crash looked horrible and yet he got out of the car with a concussion and a twisted ankle. That clearly demonstrates that Formula One has become a truly safe sport. To prohibit certain activities will not do as it implies that you have to control their free time. I would have my own ideas of how to handle that situation.
Q: What ideas?
BE: Take Kubica. Between two tests he was rallying and had this accident. I would have told him, Listen, you are rallying next week so I guess you are a bit too tired for the test on the following weekend. So lets have your team mate and the reserve man do the sessions. Do you think he would have taken the chance to rally? I dont think so.
Q: What are your impressions of the tests so far?
BE: Looks like Red Bull again has the best car and the others have to close a gap before the first race.
Q: Should the other teams not manage to close that gap, who is your favourite - Sebastian Vettel or Mark Webber?
BE: Very clearly Sebastian!
Q: At just 23 years-old, hes obviously only at the beginning of his career. How long do you see him in a Red Bull?
BE: At the moment there is no reason why he should have wandering eyes, but one day I do see him with Ferrari. In the life of every successful Formula One driver comes the moment when he wants to sit in a Ferrari.
Q: If you were to return to on-track action, what team would you choose, which drivers, which team principal and which third driver?
BE: The team could only be Ferrari, because of the myth, because I knew Enzo (Ferrari) and because Ferrari is special. Drivers - Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. I would be the team principal myself because I dont see anybody able to handle these two guys in the right way, especially as Alonso is said to be a bit difficult! I dont believe that, even if we have proof that others failed. For a third man? Probably the one with the most money, or Nico Hulkenberg. Hes a good guy and has perspective.
Q: Sebastian Vettel recently criticised the radical ways of Formula One racing, especially the moveable rear wings. He believes they are only on the car to satisfy the TV audience. Do you agree?
BE: Hes probably right. It is very difficult to control it by the stewards because the window of usage is very small. The chances for protests are inevitably there. To me this system looks pretty dangerous. What if the wings are not up again before the corner and the driver is lacking downforce? That could easily lead to incidents. We have to observe it carefully.
Q: Are there any ideas that youre considering to boost excitement?
BE: I stick to it - lets have medals instead of points. Drivers want to win and they are not racing for second, third or fourth place. So lets have a system where wins count. Last season it would have worked pretty well. Vettel and Alonso would have been even after the last race with five gold medals each, and the same number of silver and bronze medals. Vettel would have won the world championship because he had more fourth places I call that a thriller!
Q: Any more ideas?
BE: Yes. Look at the races we have now. Overtaking is almost impossible because in the dry there is only one line good for maximum speed because of the rubber on the track. You have a completely different picture when it is wet. We always had the most exciting races in the wet so lets think of making rain
Q: Making rain?
BE: Yes. There are race tracks that you can make artificially wet and it would be easy to have such systems at a number of tracks. Why not let it rain in the middle of a race? For 20 minutes or the last ten laps? Maybe with a two-minute warning ahead of it. Suspense would be guaranteed and it would be the same for all.
Q: If were speaking of same for all, how fair is Formula One racing? Teams with smaller budgets hardly ever make it to the podium
BE: It is not fair if a team with a £60 million budget has to compete with one that has a £300 million allowance. But thats how it is. You have the same sort of unfairness in many sports. Take soccer for example. Real Madrid or Bayern Munich can easily spend £60 million on new players and other clubs cant. Life is not fair.
Q: But there are teams which have financial problems. Is Formula One racing still too expensive?
BE: Formula One people will always spend whatever they have in their pocket. Thats a fact. Only technical limits will keep them away from spending sprees. I think we are heading in the right direction. Stable rules help save money.
Q: Whats your view on the 2013 rule for four-cylinder engines?
BE: As long as the sound is still there its fine with me.
Q: What are you thoughts on teams choosing drivers for monetary reasons rather than talent?
BE: Thats the way it is. But if a guy has that special something, a team will always find a way to keep him even if he comes without funding. The fact is that if sponsors are willing to invest there will always be someone to take it.
Q: The Williams team is planning an IPO (initial public offering). What do you think about that?
BE: I think its good. Others should also think about it, as I believe that there are enough interested buyers out there. Formula One is by far the best global platform to market a brand.
Q: So the phrase money makes the world go around is a fact?
BE: Sex and money make the world go around. That is why I am sure that not so long from now 50 percent of the decision makers in the economy and politics will be women. Women have always had a strong influence, and have probably been in the background for too long. Isnt there the saying that behind every successful man there is a woman?
Q: That suggests that you think women have a different approach to making decisions
BE: Yes, I do. I think that women dont get trapped so easily in their own ego. Women dont have to play golf to make deals, they simply have to work harder to get the same acceptance as men. As their egos dont stand in their way they decide things less emotionally and in the end that serves the cause.
Q: That all sounds as if you could imagine women running Formula One racing?
BE: Absolutely. Probably in three to five years.
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