Pre-season interview with Bernie Ecclestone 13 Mar 2013
With the Formula One paddock preparing to do battle once more in Melbourne at the 2013 Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix, what better time to talk shop with Formula One group CEO Bernie Ecclestone?
And with topics including the new season, women drivers, his ideal F1 team, Mercedes management changes, future race venues and Lewis Hamiltons dog, theres plenty to talk about
Q: Bernie, Formula One racing is heading into a new season and once again its only guys on the grid. Will we see a female driver within the next couple of years, given the success - and stardom - that Danica Patrick has in the United States?
Bernie Ecclestone: There should be no reason why not, providing that we find a team to take her. Danica would be good to have with one of the teams now. All the things that people worry about - whether a woman can cope with the G-forces and all that - she has proven that she can. Shes been there and done it. What I think - and I cannot blame her for it - is that she will hardly want to give up the exposure she has in the US to come here and maybe not make it.
Q: Aged 30, Danica is now unlikely to try to make a switch to unknown F1 territory F1. But what do you think: how long will it take to find somebody like her - a woman capable of making the step into F1 racing?
BE: I have been looking for a woman for years! I always thought that this could be a good idea.
Q: Red Bull, with their young driver programme, are hugely supportive of new driver talent, especially in the US. But even in their vast programme there is no woman in sight
BE: I spoke with (Red Bull boss) Didi (Dietrich) Mateschitz some time ago about the issue of an American team and at that time I said that we would want an American woman driver. He seems ready.
Q: Do you still feel excitement about the start of a new season - after all these years?
BE: Oh yes! I havent got the slightest idea - like everybody else - who is going to make it and who is not. Isnt that what makes the suspense?
Q: So what do you expect from 2013?
BE: I very recently spoke to (Ferrari team principal) Stefano (Domenicali) who was in London to see me and he said that he still expects Red Bull to be the danger for them. And I agree: they are - and they are super competitive. And from Red Bulls point of view their biggest competitor will be Ferrari.
Q: Mercedes have been on the grid for three years now with little success. For 2013 theyve brought in new people with Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff - and a new driver with Lewis Hamilton. Will it work now?
BE: First, in the tests they have shown that they are much more competitive than in previous times. When I spoke with them about taking Lewis I said if you take him you get the right sort of people because they think they are joining a winning team now. Niki and Toto - that looks good, so I am sure that they will be competitive. I would be hugely surprised if they dont win races - on merit and not for other reasons!
Q: Obviously one person who thought that with Lewis it would be a winning team is Paddy Lowe who will reportedly join Mercedes as technical director in 2014. Is that the next important step on the technical side for Mercedes and the crucial 2014 season?
BE: Well, I hope so. Thats why theyve taken him, obviously.
Q: Right now there is the impression that McLaren are looking for fresh driver talent, but will the loss of skilled technical personnel weaken the teams competitiveness in the future?
BE: Maybe we will see that their second driver will not really be second driver - that he is as good as everybody believes. I think it will be good for Jenson (Button) too, as he will now feel that he is in charge, whereas before he might have thought that he was number two. Now he is number one and we will very likely see a different Jenson. That might be good for him. Perhaps.
Q: If you have something to discuss with Mercedes, who do you call: Ross (Brawn), Toto (Wolff), or Niki (Lauda)? Or do you go directly to Dieter Zetsche, the chairman of the board of Daimler AG?
BE: At the moment, Niki. I think that people at the top respect Niki, trust him and believe in him. He is not a mercenary. He, more than everybody else, would want to see Mercedes being successful.
Q: Not so long ago you argued that it would make more sense if you - known as the sports ultimate deal maker - went out and got sponsors and then shared out the money between the teams according to an allocation formula. Was that just said as a wake-up call to others, or was it a serious suggestion?
BE: Ha, that whole thing would be difficult. Its actually not a real business model that would work easily
Q: Wouldnt it mean a real budget cap at last?
BE: Why? If they were to get the money according to an allocation formula but still overspend, where would that money come from? What would change to what we have now? Teams will always spend what they can get - from wherever. And if there were a cap on it it wouldnt make any difference. They will still find ways to get money and spend it.
Q: One 2012 team did not make it to 2013. Was that an individual case of a poor business model, or do you fear for more teams getting into serious troubles?
BE: No, it wasnt a case of a poor business model. It just cost too much money and they couldnt find it - and the people werent prepared to put in any more money. Thats why they stopped.
Q: If you could create your ideal team, who would be team principal, who would be the technical chief and which two drivers would you sign?
BE: Lets start with the drivers. Obviously I would pick Sebastian (Vettel). I get on with him very well. And then Fernando (Alonso). And there is Lewis. Well, very likely I would look at who is the cheapest. (laughs) Technically I would look at people at Red Bull - which is what everybody wants to do, so I would not be any different - and Id be happy with Christian (Horner) as the team principal.
Q: Recently weve seen a lot of personnel movement between teams. What do you make of that battle for technical talent?
BE: Well, this has nothing to do with F1 - you find that in every sport. Look at soccer - they are the prime example. But take the winning teams and you hardly ever see it happen there, do you?
Q: Lewis Hamilton has become a dog owner and Roscoe was at the Barcelona tests. Has Lewis asked you for a pass for him?
BE: Yep, he has - and, yes, he will get it. I am a huge fan of bulldogs. I have told him that I would also be happy giving the dog a pass for the grid. (laughs) And I will be happy to look after the dog while he is racing.
Q: The F1 calendar has come under scrutiny of late as promoters feel the financial pinch of the current economic climate. Is the only answer to that to find new race venues?
BE: Which promoters?
Q: The Nurburgring, for example, was a shaky candidate
BE: Why was that?
Q: So where is Formula One racing heading next?
BE: The fact is that we are a world championship, not a European championship, so maybe we are going to lose a couple of European races because we are going to other parts of the world. There are lots of countries knocking at our door and it is a case of finding the right places for Formula One.
Q: What about Thailand?
BE: What about Thailand? Very good question.
Q: Mexico? It has a long-standing Formula One history and we now have two Mexican drivers
BE: Everything is possible.
Q: As the commercial rights holder of Formula One racing, would it be a bad thing if Sebastian wins a fourth title in a row?
BE: It wouldnt be bad - and it would just be as good if somebody else wins.
Q: You get along very well with Sebastian. Have you discovered any weaknesses in him?
BE: He cant stand losing. In backgammon hes losing quite frequently against me - he is good, but not good enough and I am always telling him so. And that doesnt make him happy. (laughs) Sebastian is a very competitive person.
Q: He still comes across as the boy next door, despite winning three titles in a row. It seems that stress hasnt taken its toll on him. Will that change one day?
BE: It will stay as it is until he knows that he cant deliver. And dont misjudge the way he is: it is not easy going by any means to have that sort of success. He works hard at winning. It doesnt come easy.
Q: Last year there were lots of rumours linking Sebastian with Ferrari. But he feels happy at Red Bull, so why should he leave? Do you think it is possible that a driver can spend his whole F1 career with one team?
BE: Why not? He is happy there; they deliver, so why should he leave? Its like with Adrian Newey - they are all happy there. Thats why the team works.
Q: Adrian Newey is probably the biggest asset at Red Bull that makes Sebastian stay
BE: Probably. People permanently knock at Neweys door, but I dont see a reason why he should leave.
Q: Isnt it the case that Niki Lauda would kill to sign Newey?
BE: Absolutely. Of course he would. (laughs)
Q: There is talk of a Formula One IPO in the autumn? How likely is it that it will be this year? What signals must the markets send?
BE: Last year I thought that the markets were not ready, but now it is getting more likely that there is an opportunity.
Q: When will a decision be made?
BE: In the next three months or so somebody will have to decide yes or no.
Q: Do you still do handshake deals?
BE: Yes, but it is more difficult today. It takes other people to honour their handshakes and that is not quite as easy as it was.
Q: So some people dont want to remember what they agreed with their handshake?
BE: No, no. We do make contracts, but then they look at the contract and wish they hadnt signed it and want another meeting to discuss the matter
Q: Bernard Charles Ecclestone - better known as Bernie Ecclestone. According to the saying, everything is in the name. Would a Charlie Ecclestone have been as big a success as Bernie is?
BE: I have no idea, but the person who started calling me Bernie was Jochen Rindt. Before that I was Bernard, so it is probably true that everything is in the name (laughs)
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