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Exclusive interview with Bernie Ecclestone 07 Dec 2012

Bernie Ecclestone (GBR) Formula One group CEO.
Formula One World Championship, Rd19 United States Grand Prix, Preparations, Austin, Texas, 15 November 2012 Ross Brawn (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 Team Principal, Bernie Ecclestone (GBR) Formula One group CEO, Norbert Haug (GER) Mercedes Sporting Director with Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 and cake to celebrate his 300th Grand Prix.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, Belgian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Saturday, 1 September 2012 (L to R): Formula One group CEO Bernie Ecclestone (GBR)  and Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari on the grid. Formula One World Championship, Rd15, United States Grand Prix, Indianapolis, USA, 26 September 2003. Bernie Ecclestone (GBR) welcomes Michael Schumacher (GER) Jordan to F1 for his first race. Belgian Grand Prix, Spa, 25 August 1991 (L to R): Bernie Ecclestone (GBR) Formula One group CEO and Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, Sunday, 8 July 2012 Bernie Ecclestone wishes Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel all the best for the race Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4-27 retires from the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Singapore Grand Prix, Race, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Sunday, 23 September 2012 The start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd19 United States Grand Prix, Race, Austin, Texas, 18 November 2012 World Champion Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme with Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes AMG F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd20 Brazilian Grand Prix, Race, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 25 November 2012 Lord Hesketh in 1974 Bernie Ecclestone (GBR) Formula One group CEO.
Formula One World Championship, Rd18, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Practice, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Friday, 2 November 2012

Having presided over one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory, including a welcome return to the United States and an ever-burgeoning fan base, you might expect Formula One group CEO Bernie Ecclestone to be enjoying a well-earned winter break. Instead he’s working harder than ever to look after his ‘baby’ and doesn’t plan to step back anytime soon. We talked to him about the championship just gone and about what the future holds…

Q: The chequered flag in Brazil signalled the end of Michael Schumacher’s F1 career. Michael has been fantastic for Formula One racing over the past three - but was F1 racing also good for Michael?
Bernie Ecclestone:
To be honest I don’t think that Formula One needed to be good for Schuey. He enjoyed racing and was there helping to do good things for Formula One. We will miss Michael, because even though he wasn’t winning races in those three years, he is still very popular.

Q: So, if he is still a poster boy for the sport, have you ever tried to keep him involved in other roles?
Well, we wouldn’t and we couldn’t keep him in another role because he is too close to Mercedes. It would have been easier when he was still close to Ferrari, I guess.

Q: How do you see Michael’s future?
He doesn’t have to work, he doesn’t have to worry and he can do what he wants to do. Doesn’t that sound good?

Q: In Hollywood there is a thing called the ‘Greta Garbo rule’: after the final take the person disappears so that the legend can live on. Did the last three years damage Schumacher’s legend?
I would rather he had stopped as a seven-time world champion than stopping now. People new to the sport - people who have joined the F1 fan fraternity just recently - will remember Michael now, not as he was. They don’t see the hero that he was but the human that can fail. I think the important thing is - and this is probably difficult - to know when you can’t do what you used to do anymore and then hand it over to somebody else. I hope that’s what I can do: when I feel I can’t deliver, I will certainly say goodbye.

Q: Maybe it’s just that Michael is not as pretty as Greta Garbo was…
Ha, you have to understand the case with Michael: he is a competitive guy - that makes all the difference. That’s why he started to play around with the motorcycles some years ago.

Q: Now we have Sebastian Vettel writing a new chapter in Formula One history: a 25-year-old who has won three world titles in a row. Is he the champion that Formula One racing needs? Has his charisma grown proportionally to his racing skills?
He will be alright. He will grow into this. He is now super confident - because a large part of charisma is self-esteem and not ego as some might think. (laughs) I say watch him next year.

Q: Is there anything still missing in Sebastian? A star quality that the likes of Ayrton Senna, Jim Clark or Jochen Rindt had?
Today Sebastian is the yardstick. Times are simply different today and that doesn’t only go for drivers. The whole environment is different. We have many more do’s and don’ts than back in the old days. Remember when Sebastian swore on the podium? He immediately got into trouble. If that had been James Hunt or Graham Hill, they wouldn’t have cared - and nobody else would have cared. Look at the television culture today - the f-word has become part of normal conversation. I don’t think that Sebastian’s spontaneous expression was a big deal for a lot of people - just for a few people. Complete nonsense! So if you ask what the real difference is between past drivers and today’s drivers, it’s that they were characters before and they’re not allowed to be characters now.

Q: 2012 was a fantastic season. It had everything: surprise, unpredictability and a title fight that went down to the wire. After all your years in Formula One racing, was there anything that surprised even you in 2012?
I was a bit surprised that Ferrari weren’t a bit more competitive, and I was surprised that McLaren had so many failures. On the positive side it was a good year in terms of TV audiences - the public perception was phenomenal. We also went to a new place - Austin - and it was perfectly prepared. So at the moment everything with Formula One is super positive.

Q: There are a quite a few young drivers on the grid that look promising. Have you seen anybody that you would bet money on in the future?
There are a lot of young guys out there and you don’t know how good they really are unless they get into a good car. They might be much better than they look right now.

Q: Do you think that Vettel can break Schumacher’s record of seven world titles?
Difficult. A seven-time world champion - that’s not easy. He is not half way there. It will be a question of how good his team will stay - or how bad the others are. When Michael won his five titles with Ferrari it was because Ferrari did a better job than any other team - that is the same with Red Bull at the moment. Whether they can continue, you don’t know. Let’s wait and see.

Q: There is a new documentary film, entitled ‘1’, about the making of modern Formula One and in it Lord Hesketh - former owner of Hesketh Racing - describes a meeting of the then ten team principals - one of them you - where you offered them a share of the TV rights that you just had bought. Lord Hesketh said how he recalls nine fools sitting at the table, as none understood the importance of your offer. How do you see it today? Were they fools?
Well, I thought back then that we are all in it together and we should try to make it work together. That was the idea behind the offer.

Q: Were you surprised that they rejected the offer?
No, not really. They were a bit silly. But don’t forget, I took all the risk - and if I hadn’t been able to make this work I would have been the one in trouble. They were probably right at that time.

Q: Let’s look to the future. What would you like to change?
Nothing really. We have to understand that we are in the entertainment business and this year we have entertained. All sports today are show business and it gets dangerous for a sport if people start to forget that.

Q: You have added another venue to the calendar in each of the last four years. Will it carry on that way?
Yes. I suppose the next big thing will be Russia. Then we have to get this New York thing picking up again. There’s lots of unfinished business - no time to waste one thought on retirement! (laughs) Look at the Austin race: it was phenomenal. Everybody agreed that it is great that Formula One is back in the States. Maybe we’ll get the Europeans to wake up instead of thinking that it (a race) is a God-given thing. When Europeans perform and do their job we are happy to stay.

Q: You go to almost every race. You obviously have a lot of commercial interests to look after, but do you still consider yourself a Formula One fan?
I am - still - a fan of Formula One. Probably the bad thing with me is that I put in lots of effort to build Formula One the way it is now, so this is my baby and I want to look after it. Sooner or later we’re going to have to get a babysitter. When that will be, who knows? I am in very good shape. (laughs)

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