Bernie Ecclestone has made no secret of the fact that he’d rather have Lewis Hamilton as world champion than Nico Rosberg, so we were intrigued to find out how the two men would get along when brought together for an informal chat and a spot of backgammon in Monte Carlo...
Q: First things first: Bernie, you are the father of three daughters. Nico is expecting a baby girl soon. What advice would you give him?
Bernie Ecclestone: (turns slowly towards Rosberg) Rather have sons.
Nico Rosberg: Is that it? Is that your advice?
BE: …and never give her your credit cards… No, let’s be serious. I have always been happy to have daughters rather than sons. You never really can be mad at girls for anything in life. But one serious bit of advice: try to get as much sleep as you can now. Sleep will be in short supply very soon.
NR: Have you ever changed nappies?
BE: Yep. Sure.
NR: That’s a surprise. I always thought that dads in the old days where rather macho types who wouldn’t get close to a baby, let alone change nappies…
BE: I have earned the money and changed the nappies!
NR: My dad always took to his heels when a nappy change was necessary. I am so much looking forward to our child. It is such a wonderfully exciting time right now.
Q: Nico, you grew up in the paddock so you have known Bernie since you were a child. How did you think of him back then?
NR: As I small child and hearing all the stories about him I, of course, looked up to him as some kind of miracle. Then I got to eight years old and suddenly I was taller than him… (laughs) I have so much respect for him for what he did with this sport. He did so much more than people in tennis or football.
BE: …I simply scraped together all my experience and put it into the sport.
Q: Your experience as a businessman?
BE: As a used car dealer!
Q: You have survived many difficult times. What’s your secret?
BE: You have to hope that your opponents are unlucky. Never only rely on your own luck.
NR: But sometimes you make your own luck by taking a risk and hope that it turns out well. And many times the dice fall in your favour.
BE: …and forget what others whisper in your ears. Most of that is pure rubbish that obstructs the view to what really is important. Always make your own decisions. That is what makes us human.
NR: Was there anybody you looked up to when you came into Formula One?
BE: To a wise man who was always helpful to me: Mr (Enzo) Ferrari. He always supported me.
Q: Nico has won the Monaco Grand Prix twice in a row. Bernie, you also had your Monaco moments as a driver, back in 1958…
BE: Yep, but not with Nico’s outcome! Actually I think I have forgotten how it was back then. Or probably not - I didn’t qualify. There were only 16 cars in the race.
Q: The battle for the drivers’ crown is again being fought between Lewis (Hamilton) and Nico. Everybody is watching every little move that these two guys make. How can Nico crack Lewis?
BE: Well, in the end, by being faster! Generally I still believe that Lewis is the best champion that we have had in a long, long time. He manages to get to all different walks of life: red carpet, fashion business, and music - you name it. That is not your [Nico’s] fault or his. You two are just very different characters.
(Rosberg takes from his pocket a Lewis Hamilton autograph card, signed with ‘Lewis’ and ‘To Bernie’, and hands it to Ecclestone)
NR: Look what I have for you - as you are such a huge Lewis fan. I am sure you don’t have one of these. (laughs)
BE: Oh, now I am touched. Thanks.
Q: Can you explain what you mean when you say Nico is a very different character to Lewis? Probably more low profile?
BE: Nico is not seeking the limelight as Lewis does. Lewis wants to be famous.
Q: Nico, do you understand what Bernie means?
NR: Of course I do. Bernie is the commercial rights holder so the more outgoing the champion is, the better. Of course. I also do think about our sport and want to make an effort - but in my own way. I am Nico and not Lewis!
BE: Let’s put it this way: I am happy that we have somebody like Lewis. I also couldn’t be like Lewis. I don’t like gold jewellery! (laughs)
Q: Coming back to the question: what has Nico got to do to beat Lewis?
BE: There is no recipe for that. Both are very likely equally talented in the car, so the fight between the two happens between the ears - in the head.
Q: Bernie, with who of the two would you rather get stuck in an elevator?
BE: I wouldn’t mind both. But I think I would find it easier to talk with Nico than Lewis, as Lewis is into things that are very distant to me. But when it comes to F1 I am a huge Lewis fan because he is a super promoter of the sport. From a pure business aspect - sorry Nico if I have to say this - you are not so good for my business.
NR: Wait a minute. That is a hard call.
BE: It sounds harder than it is meant. Unfortunately you don’t have the German fans on your side. As the cancellation of the German Grand Prix indicates, Germany is a terrible market for Formula One. On the contrary Lewis is a hero in the UK. The British love Formula One. Sebastian (Vettel) is also not doing much for F1. People hardly recognise him on the street.
Q: Is what you are saying that Formula One is lacking figureheads?
BE: Yes. True, I also would rather race than strut red carpets in Hollywood - and thank God this is not my job - but also the team principals should be more prominent. Take away Toto Wolff’s Mercedes shirt and send him down a street - nobody would recognise him.
Q: Isn’t Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene quite a character?
BE: But only for himself and not for Formula One.
Q: Nico, where do you see yourself at Bernie’s age?
NR: As a world champion, on a big farm with an Italian-style, big family with a whole bunch of grandchildren. And the foundations for that I have already laid!