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Exclusive Q&A with Bernie Ecclestone

28 Mar 2015

With the 2015 championship barely two rounds old, the new Formula One season is already generating plenty of topics for discussion. Ahead of this weekend’s 2015 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix, we tackled just a few of them with Formula One group CEO Bernie Ecclestone…

Q: Bernie, you’ve called Formula One racing ‘a patient’. How sick is this patient - and what diagnosis would you make?

Bernie Ecclestone: Sick for a start. We have lost audience and I want to know why. There are so many options people have these days for entertainment. Before you had a handful of channels - and on one you could watch Formula One. Now people can choose from too many options - that confuses.

Q: Could it also be that Formula One racing has become too complicated for many people’s tastes?

BE: Probably. And commentators add to the situation as they explain for an expert audience and not for people wanting to have an entertaining afternoon in front of their tellies! And many times these commentators hide behind technical terms because they themselves don’t fully understand what is going on. There you have it.

Q: You also have lately put some of the blame on the drivers; that too many believe that all they have to do is drive a car and they forget about the show - especially the world champions…

BE: Sebastian (Vettel) is no different to Fernando (Alonso). Lewis (Hamilton) is different in that respect. He is visible - he is living the life of a true champion. He is no stranger to the red carpet which makes him a good ambassador for the sport, as he is world famous. And look at what he is doing on the track! I would go so far as to say that he will win his third title this year. I am positive about that.

Q: If you call Lewis the ‘perfect’ champion, what about somebody like seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher?

BE: Without doubt Michael did an incredible job, but he also was a bit reclusive and not so outgoing as Lewis is.

Q. You have been quoted as saying that nowadays drivers are merely puppets, controlled by their teams and their sponsors…

BE: I never said that. But for sure teams and sponsors don’t breed characters. How could they?

Q: Is Ferrari making Sebastian happy again - after his frustrating 2014 season?
BE:
Yes, it seems that Ferrari is finally moving out of the doldrums. But I have not spoken to him recently.

Q: When he made the switch from Red Bull Racing to Ferrari, did he consult you on that matter?

BE: Yes, I spoke to him. He could have gone anywhere or stayed where he was, but it could not have been any worse at Ferrari. It only can be better.

Q: Ferrari has had the biggest change in management of all the teams over the winter. Do we now see a new Ferrari - and will it succeed?

BE: It looks to me that they are doing a better job than they did last year - or the last two years - so that is good.

Q: Formula One racing nowadays seems to be driven by meetings and everyone has their own agenda. If you could start from scratch, what would be number one on your agenda?
BE:
I think I would like to get back to a modus where somebody has got the responsibility to make decisions. You need somebody to set the direction. Now it takes too long to get things working.

Q: Have things turned sour since setting that direction has had to be decided by committee?
BE:
Somebody goes into hospital because they’re sick and a surgeon might say that they’ve got to have their arm cut off - and they do it, and that’s it. They don’t have a meeting about it. We have meetings.

Q: So don’t you ever get tired of discussing the same problems just from another viewpoint?
BE:
That is only recently. As I said, the level of selfishness has increased.

Q: But the teams veto many innovations that you want to establish. Isn’t that annoying?
BE:
The teams are egoistic. They do nothing for the sport, only for themselves. They only do what is good for them. It is frustrating to see that they just think about the present and have no visions for the future. I think there are people in the paddock who don’t think beyond the next race.

Q: The major arguments still seem to be about the power unit. Those who have the right one wear broad grins - and those who haven’t scream blue murder. Is there a way out of this?
BE:
That argument always comes up. They’ve all spent an awful lot of money on a power unit which was never designed to be what it is now. Mercedes in particular have done a super job. So we’ve got it. It’s hard to expect them to say, ‘We’ll scrap it’. And if we scrap it, what are we going to do? Build another one and spend a load of money? I think unfortunately, unless everybody agrees to scrap them, then we’ve got them.

Q: So do you believe you will get a majority for a change in 2017?
BE:
No.

Q: The next big change then will be 2020. Are you thinking that far ahead?
BE:
Yes, sure. You can’t wait until it jumps in your face. I leave that to others.

Q: You have been shaping Formula One racing now for four decades. Are you still taking Formula One problems home, or can you switch off when you leave the office?
BE:
It is on my mind all the time. That’s part of the job. Sometimes I wake up in the night and write notes - I have a note pad on the bedside table.

Q: Finally, have you put your house in order, should you suddenly be gone?
BE:
When I'm gone, whoever does what I'm doing will probably do it in a completely different way. As to how different, you’ll have to wait until I get fired or die - and then you'll see…