In conversation - Bernie Ecclestone & Sebastian Vettel 29 Jun 2011
It is a rare experience to see some sixty-odd years melt away to nothing. But that is exactly what happens when Formula One group CEO Bernie Ecclestone and reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel come together - be it for a game of backgammon or a chat about business. Former driver Gerhard Berger once said that Vettel may be 23 but he looks 19 and thinks like a 33 year-old, whilst 80 year-old Ecclestone swears he is not a day older at heart than the Red Bull driver. Regardless of their respective ages, its clear this duo have established a firm friendship
Q: Bernie, do you remember when you congratulated Sebastian after winning the title?
Bernie Ecclestone: I am not really sure if I congratulated him at all. I guess I just said 'well done' to him.
Sebastian Vettel: Thats true. It was well done. But I got the ruler from Bernie in Abu Dhabi.
Q: A ruler?
SV: Yep. This ruler has the names of all the Formula One champions engraved and the words just in case you missed what just happened. I didnt!
BE: And you received the silver telegram that all champions receive from me
Q: Bernie, you were always convinced that Sebastian would win the championship. Why was that?
BE: Because you cant hide talent. I try with myself all the time and I cant! (laughs)
Q: Why do the two of you get along so well?
BE: We are the same age (laughs) and I always look for guys I can beat in backgammon
SV: and thats why we are no longer friends! (grins)
BE: Right, because Seb momentarily has the upper hand, but be sure I will bounce back.
SV: Coming back to reality, of course I knew Bernie from TV when I started in Formula One. I was totally surprised when we finally met that he welcomed me with open arms and respected me from the very first moment. It almost left me speechless, as did his offer to come to him whenever I feel I am having a problem - from a guy who was larger than life for me. But I also remember that when I got my super license in Istanbul he came up to me saying, Dont mess it up, boy!
Q: Bernie, you have always said that the world champion is the sports first ambassador and you havent been totally satisfied with how Sebastians predecessors have managed that mantle. How well is he playing the role of ambassador?
BE: Well, the first thing is that I dont like that some of the drivers are completely under the thumb of their teams and sponsors. With Sebastian it is different. He is still his own master, which is obviously also because Red Bull and Didi Mateschitz allow it
SV: Thats true.
BE: Every Formula One driver - and especially the champion - owes his success, his money and his popularity to the sport. That is why he ought to give something back - to be open and accessible. Thats why I complained about Fernando Alonso who in my view didnt represent Formula One well enough.
Q: Bernie, you were present recently in Mallorca when Sebastian was appearing on a huge German Saturday evening TV programme. Did he do well - is a new career possible?
BE: I have to say I didnt have the slightest idea what was going on, but from what I saw - how he behaved and how the audience reacted to him - I liked what I saw. Thats how I expect a champion to be.
SV: I knew that Bernie was in the audience so I tried to behave! (laughs) But as nice as a change is, racing is where my heart is. Formula One is the highest level on which I can prove to myself and to others how good I am. I enjoy that challenge - and people admire me for it. I feel hugely privileged. So I believe that after what the sport gives me, I ought to give back.
Q: What has been your most emotional moment in Formula One racing. Was it in Abu Dhabi last year after you won the title?
SV: To be honest, on the Abu Dhabi podium I felt somewhat empty and lost. I hadnt really realized what had just happened. It was a dream come true to test a Formula One car, then the dream got bigger when I was driving one and making it onto the podium and winning a race, so when the title was mine it was almost a bit too much for me. But instinctively I knew that it was very addictive - I want more of the same!
BE: That mindset is all that matters. I probably shouldnt say this, but I am sure Seb would race without even getting paid. But that doesnt mean I would suggest he should race for free!
SV: But thats the gist of the matter. With all the glamour that surrounds us, some seem to forget what we are here for. I try to keep my feet on the ground. I dont feel any bigger than my friends from schooldays. I would say I am only privileged in one thing and thats that Ive found something in life that gives me a great deal of satisfaction. Based on that view, yes, I probably would even pay to drive a Formula One car.
BE: Shush... You can think that, but never say it! (laughs)
SV: But thats how I think, because if I didnt love what I do I probably wouldnt be so successful. Money was never a motivator for me.
Q: Has Bernie already complained that you are too dominant this season?
SV: Should he?
BE: Sebastian is in a similar position as Michael (Schumacher). Sebastian is the best right now and thats why he is dominating, and thats what makes it so interesting for the fans, because every race weekend starts with a big question mark - who will be able to beat Vettel? Thats why fans tune in.
Q: Were you surprised he has been so dominant after his title win?
BE: No, because he has an absolute will to win - and has everything in his hands to do it.
Q: Would you say that his competitors lack that will?
BE: No. But probably others dont have the package that Sebastian has right now.
Q: Bernie, you have seen many champions. Who comes closest to Sebastian?
BE: He reminds me of Jochen Rindt. Seb will always stay grounded, no matter how big the success. That is what makes real champions. That was also Jochens strength. Plus both are lousy losers
SV: How true! Even in backgammon! (laughs) My expression then is somewhat similar to the one I wore after I lost the race in Canada.
Q: Bernie, what did you think when Schumacher was so close to the back of Vettel after one of the safety car phases in Montreal?
BE: Nothing really - I was a bit sad that Michael hadnt made it onto the podium.
SV: I was completely relaxed because I knew with Michael on my back he would keep the others at bay for quite some time. We all know how wide Michaels car can get if you want to overtake him (laughs)
Q: Would you love to drive for Ferrari?
SV: Lets get this straight. To win races is not easy; to win championships even less so - at whatever team. I feel completely happy at Red Bull. Of course Ferrari and Mercedes do come with a huge legend, but I am not into myth right now. Whats important for me is that when I come from the track and look in the mirror in my hotel room I want to be able to say, yes, thats me and I am satisfied with what I see. After Abu Dhabi it feels good to know that I dont have anything to prove to myself any more.
Q: There are people who argue that Ferrari were so dominant because they had Schumacher and Red Bull are because they have Sebastian
BE: Thats b*ll*cks. The opposite is true. The competition Sebastian is facing is much bigger than that confronted by Michael. That makes Sebs wins even more noteworthy. I dont see a reason why there shouldnt be a Red Bull era just as Ferrari had theirs with Michael.
Q: Could you see Sebastian and Lewis (Hamilton) as team mates?
BE: Sebastian must not worry about anybody as team mate. Hes the best.
SV: Thanks very much! (laughs) In the end I dont waste too many thoughts on who is my team mate. I want to be the best so I have to beat them all, with the same car or any other. I would never ask my team to get me a team mate to my liking, but I expect two things from whoever has the second cockpit: honesty and respect.
BE: Look at the driver contracts that we have today. They are sometimes 80 or more pages. And why? Because nobody trusts anybody any more. Today drivers come to the track with an entourage - a manager, a secretary, a psychologist and a physiotherapist! Thats all ridiculous. When I was running my team my driver contracts were two pages maximum. If there is trust you dont need more.
SV: Mine has fifty pages
Q: Between the two of you, how many pages would a contract have?
Both simultaneously: None at all!
SV: Of course, Bernie is a shrewd businessman. But he also loves what he does
BE: Exactly. Otherwise I wouldnt do it.
SV: Bernie is a true gentleman. That I knew from the first moment we met
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