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In conversation - Bernie Ecclestone & Niki Lauda 20 May 2013

In conversation - Niki Lauda (non-executive chairman, Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd) and Bernie Ecclestone (Formula One group CEO), Barcelona, Spain, May 2013 In conversation - Niki Lauda (non-executive chairman, Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd) and Bernie Ecclestone (Formula One group CEO), Barcelona, Spain, May 2013 Niki Lauda (AUT) Brabham BT46, who crashed out of his home race on lap 29, talks with Bernie Ecclestone (GBR) Brabham Team Owner, in the pits. Austrian Grand Prix, Rd 12, Osterreichring, Austria, 13 August 1978. In conversation - Niki Lauda (non-executive chairman, Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd) and Bernie Ecclestone (Formula One group CEO), Barcelona, Spain, May 2013 (L to R): Bernie Ecclestone (GBR) Brabham Team Owner and Chief Executive FOCA discusses paddock passes with Niki Lauda (AUT) McLaren, who crashed out of the race on lap 41. United States Grand Prix, Rd 7 Detroit, USA, 6 June 1982. In conversation - Niki Lauda (non-executive chairman, Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd) and Bernie Ecclestone (Formula One group CEO), Barcelona, Spain, May 2013 Bernie Ecclestone(GBR) left, and Niki Lauda(AUT) Argentine GP, Buenos Aires 1979 In conversation - Niki Lauda (non-executive chairman, Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd) and Bernie Ecclestone (Formula One group CEO), Barcelona, Spain, May 2013 (L to R): Bernie Ecclestone (GBR) Brabham Team Owner watches the action from the pit wall with Niki Lauda (AUT). Behind Lauda is Ricardo Zunino (ARG), who was replaced as a driver by Hector Rebaque (MEX). 1980 British Grand Prix In conversation - Niki Lauda (non-executive chairman, Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd) and Bernie Ecclestone (Formula One group CEO), Barcelona, Spain, May 2013

In the late ‘70s Bernie Ecclestone and Niki Lauda were team boss and driver at Brabham. Thirty five years on their roles are very different - Formula One group CEO and non-executive chairman at the Mercedes team respectively - but their friendship remains the same. They recently got together to chat about Lauda’s return to team management, Mercedes’ improved form, the great 2013 tyre debate and more - and we were there to listen in…

Q: Bernie, would you have ever guessed that at his age Niki would take another shot at a Formula One career?
Niki Lauda:
Wait a minute. What is this talk about my age?
Bernie Ecclestone: Can we come to an understanding? Age is a non-topic in this conversation! (laughs) I mean there is no reason why he shouldn’t do what he is doing. Niki is a very good business guy, he knows a little bit about Formula One, so he’s the right man.

Q: When did you hear about Niki’s new role?
BE:
About a year ago.
NL: Let me make something clear. I have been in constant contact with Bernie most of my life - I drove for him, which was always intense - even when I was just doing my RTL television job. But sure, it intensified when I came in and helped Mercedes to get back on track. Basically this was the beginning of talks over whether I would like to be the chairman. It developed - and here I am!

Q: Can you still learn from each other?
BE:
Ah, you learn something every day. I speak with Niki about something and you get new ideas - and I think that also goes for Niki.
NL: Let me say this: I have a clear relationship with my ex-boss Bernie Ecclestone. There are so many things going on in Formula One, but one thing has never changed: I come and look in his eyes, he looks in mine, and within five seconds we know which route to take. He is the master who knows what his concerns are, I can say what other people’s concerns are, and we had never an issue in finding a viable solution. I am straightforward and he was born like this. Therefore it is easy for me to deal with him.

Q: Bernie, how important is it for you to know you have someone like Niki with a partner as major as Mercedes?
BE:
I fully supported Niki’s new role at Mercedes because he is the right person for this position. He has proved that.

Q: Bernie, the heated discussions about tyres seem to have occupied a huge part of the season so far - culminating in four pit stops for most drivers in Barcelona. Now, from Canada onwards, it seems the goal is to make tyres last longer. How could it come so far?
BE:
I asked Pirelli to make tyres that would not complete 50 percent of a race - meaning we need pit stops. And that’s what they did. It is very, very difficult to predict and say these tyres will last 15 or 20 percent of the race because each circuit is different, we are facing very different temperatures, the cars are different, and last but not least each driver has a different driving style. In the times when Niki was racing his biggest concern was looking after the gearbox and the brakes - not the tyres. Then we got away from that and the drivers didn’t have to think about anything. Now they have to use their brains and start thinking about how to win races.
NL: As an ex-driver I can say that Pirelli’s goal was to have the first pit stop after 12 to 15 laps, but with the different factors that Bernie has just explained they sometimes last only four laps. Three pit stops maximum works. That’s it. If you have four stops - and some tyres only lasting four laps - that’s the wrong direction. Now we will have a change from Canada onwards.
BE: The easiest thing for Pirelli would be to produce tyres that you put on at the first race of the season and take off at the last. That would be easy, easy.

Q: Bernie, for the last three years Mercedes seemed to be the ‘sick patient’ among the big teams. Now after five races they have had three pole positions and two podium finishes, so the upward trend is obvious. Is this because of the new people?
BE:
I would say so. The tyres are the same for everybody, the materials Mercedes uses are still the same. The only difference is the people who run the company - and that makes the difference.

Q: Did they wait too long to make that change?
BE:
I think people always hope that it is going to be better the next year. Last year they made the decision because they’d waited long enough. Enough is enough!

Q: How about the economic climate for Formula One racing?
BE:
If you look at the ticket sales at all major sports, they are all down. Today one could think of a million things to spend the money on…
NL: Bernie reacts very clearly. He looks for the markets. He helps tracks like Nurburgring. And he is looking for new venues.
BE: Many years ago when I was looking at a race in China everybody thought I was mad. Now China is the darling of every globally-acting company.

Q: Niki, coming back to the smaller world of the paddock, how important is it in your new role to have worked so closely in the past with such esteemed team managers as Luca di Montezemolo and Ron Dennis?
NL:
The real advantage is that I can open doors myself and that I can come to decisions quicker. A simple yes or no. In that respect it helps to know them. I was trained as a racing driver, so it is black and white. Decisions are what I am trying to help Mercedes with - to take decisions, even if they are wrong. It is better to make a decision and if it is wrong to then correct it, than it is to stand still. This is my strength and I use it as much as I can.
BE: People who are dealing with Niki know that they’re dealing with Niki. It is not a ‘maybe’ or a ‘possible’ with him. It is yes or no.
NL: If you want to be at the top this is the only way to survive. Not everybody understands this here…
BE: …and not everybody likes it!
NL: Correct.

Q: Niki, Bernie, you both have young wives. How does that work when you’re still so deeply involved in your work?
NL:
My wife Birgit’s star sign is Scorpio, so I have to be careful what I say.

Q: But if Scorpios are your nemesis, what about Bernie? He too is a Scorpio?
NL:
Ha, I’ve been trained so well at home about how these people think and act - I can handle them all, but it’s tough! The good news is my star sign is Pisces - and I am slippery like a fish!
BE: Ha, the scorpions will always catch the fish.
NL: That’s what they think…

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