Exclusive interview with Bernie Ecclestone 07 Dec 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 hes working harder than ever to look after his baby and doesnt 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 Schumachers 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 dont 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 wasnt 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?
BE: Well, we wouldnt and we couldnt 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 Michaels future?
BE: He doesnt have to work, he doesnt have to worry and he can do what he wants to do. Doesnt 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 Schumachers legend?
BE: 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 dont 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 cant do what you used to do anymore and then hand it over to somebody else. I hope thats what I can do: when I feel I cant deliver, I will certainly say goodbye.
Q: Maybe its just that Michael is not as pretty as Greta Garbo was
BE: Ha, you have to understand the case with Michael: he is a competitive guy - that makes all the difference. Thats 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?
BE: 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?
BE: Today Sebastian is the yardstick. Times are simply different today and that doesnt only go for drivers. The whole environment is different. We have many more dos and donts 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 wouldnt have cared - and nobody else would have cared. Look at the television culture today - the f-word has become part of normal conversation. I dont think that Sebastians 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 todays drivers, its that they were characters before and theyre 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?
BE: I was a bit surprised that Ferrari werent 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?
BE: There are a lot of young guys out there and you dont 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 Schumachers record of seven world titles?
BE: Difficult. A seven-time world champion - thats 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 dont know. Lets 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?
BE: 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?
BE: No, not really. They were a bit silly. But dont forget, I took all the risk - and if I hadnt been able to make this work I would have been the one in trouble. They were probably right at that time.
Q: Lets look to the future. What would you like to change?
BE: 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?
BE: Yes. I suppose the next big thing will be Russia. Then we have to get this New York thing picking up again. Theres 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 well 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?
BE: 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 were going to have to get a babysitter. When that will be, who knows? I am in very good shape. (laughs)
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