Bernie Ecclestone on News Corp, engines, Bahrain & more 07 May 2011
The season may be just three races old, but its already been one of the busiest ever in terms of press coverage. Not only is the thrilling on-track action providing huge headlines, there have also been several off-track stories to keep the media on their toes. Speaking exclusively to Formula1.com, Formula One Group CEO Bernie Ecclestone tackles recent reports of a bid to buy F1s commercial rights, discusses the future engine downsizing, and gives an insight into the prospects of the Bahrain and Turkey races
Q: When rumours broke that Rupert Murdochs News Corp is interested in buying the commercial rights to Formula One from CVC it was met with quite some surprise that somebody your age could be the future of F1
Bernie Ecclestone: Well, he wouldnt do it. Hes got a lot of staff. And it would be his son James who would be leading the charge, not Rupert.
Q: Having one person lead the sport has been a successful model for Formula One racing. Would James Murdoch be a suitable candidate to lead this one-man show?
BE: No. Firstly these people will have to prove what they want to do. I would want to buy lots of things and I dont have the money, so we will have to wait and see.
Q: There are many rumours out there and people would like to hear some answers
BE: Well, CVC has given the answer. They are the major shareholders and they do not want to sell. That is 100 percent for sure
Q: So was it all a rumour?
BE: No. Somebody might say that they want to do it, but it doesnt mean that when somebody wants to buy something the owner wants to sell. And CVC made it very clear that they dont want to sell.
Q: Does that mean that Formula One will go on as it is?
BE: Yes, because if people dont want to sell, others have to accept that fact. Its as simple as that.
Q: Could CVC sell when they want to, or do you have the right to veto any sale?
BE: I dont have any veto.
Q: Four teams - Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari - are reportedly set to meet the interested party next week. Have the four teams contacted you about that meeting?
BE: No. But I thought that Ferrari wont need to go because one of the people who hopes hes going to be an investor owns Ferrari, so that whole story sounds a bit weird. You have to be careful about such rumours, but then again rumours are part of Formula One and always have been. I hope these people come to their senses. The teams should be happy to have somebody like CVC not selling to the wrong people, trying to maintain a good level for them and supporting me so that I can go to work and earn some money for the teams.
Q: So how do you think all these rumours started?
BE: I dont think that it was all a rumour because Murdoch hasnt got anything really big to drive their TV audiences and Formula One would be good for that. They have been trying to buy the TV rights from us for a long time, but we wont because they are not free-to-air television broadcasters. They are a subscription service. Very recently they wanted to do something in Germany, in the UK and in Italy, where they are, but we couldnt do it. Sky is doing an incredible job but if you look at their audience they are nowhere. With these figures it would be almost impossible for teams to find sponsors. That would be suicidal.
Q: Formula One racing is in a very good shape right now. The races are exciting and the TV audiences are soaring. Could that be a reason why their appetite has been whetted?
BE: Probably, but firstly they didnt know if it was for sale, and secondly they didnt know what the price tag was. I would never start to say that Im interested in something without knowing how much it is. There have been so many rumours out there lately and I go along with Colin Chapman - why spoil a good story with the truth?
Q: Returning to the good shape of Formula One right now, it looks like all the changes - the new tyres, the moveable rear wings, etc - are working well. Did you expect them to work so well?
BE: When we switched to Pirelli I asked them to make tyres that wouldnt last for more than a third of the race, and they said that technically they couldnt. I told them that I dont want to have a tyre that goes on at the start and comes off at the finish. Thats not exciting. So you can imagine that I am so happy with Pirelli and I thank them. Theyve done a super job.
Q: How concerned are you about FIA President Jean Todts plans to downsize the engines?
BE: First of all, I do not have any problems with Jean. We have a very good relationship. I was the one who took him out of Peugeot and put him in Ferrari. I am not happy with the engines. Take a GP3 car - it is how a Formula One car will sound in the future! People come to a Formula One race for the sound and the speed. I think Jean is following what Max (Mosley) started and I do not know why he started the whole idea about green racing. If you think that there is more fuel used in the Tour de France then we should start a different discussion. If you really want to reduce emissions you could say to the promoters to reduce the capacity of their circuits by ten or 15 percent. Fifteen percent less people coming to a race would make a difference and then you could do the same with football. That would make a difference.
Q: What about the race in Bahrain? The deadline for a decision has now been postponed until June
BE: Its difficult to say. If they are happy to have the race, I am sure we are happy to be there. But we would need a guarantee that there wont be problems. But right now I dont know how anybody could guarantee that because it might be peaceful now, but who knows in the future?
Q: What about Japan? After the terrible earthquake and tsunami is the race in doubt?
BE: No, not at all.
Q: And finally, what about Istanbul? Will this years race be the last here?
BE: We will be happy to race here for exactly the same fees that we get from other European races, like Hungary does. Other countries seem to believe that Formula One is good for their country. If Turkey believes it doesnt need any good public relations, thats fine. Its up to them to make up their mind. I cannot do it for them. But as I said before, I hope that we can clear everything up over the weekend. We dont want to leave here.