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In conversation - Bernie Ecclestone and Max Verstappen

29 Jun 2015

In terms of ages, it could be the unlikeliest double act in Formula One racing. But Bernie Ecclestone, 84, and Max Verstappen, 17, share a lot of common ground - not least the fact neither is planning on slowing down any time soon. The Formula One group CEO and the record-breaking youngster sat down in Austria to share their thoughts on all manner of topics, with surprising results...

Q: Bernie, would you want to be 17 again?

Bernie Ecclestone: Oh no! It wasn’t the easiest time when I grew up but it was more human, more realistic. Today everything goes too fast, is too superficial. Technical innovations play too big a part in our daily life. Before, a word was a word – today you have contracts with hundreds of pages. Overregulation is the name of the game – in life as well as in Formula One. Probably the best thing I could do if I was 17 again would be to find an 18-year-old girlfriend! (laughs)

Q: Can you describe life at 17?

BE: I can’t remember! It’s a pretty long time ago… No I raced motorbikes. I always raced something: bicycles, motorbikes, cars – whatever I could lay my hands on.

Max Verstappen: I am living my dream! I am only 17 and can already practice my dream job: I am racing in Formula One! Unbelievable!

BE: You deserve it. You are a racer!

(Ecclestone pats the youngster on the back. Verstappen blushes.)

Q: Bernie, there is a lot of talk about past eras when drivers were ‘real men’ – now we have boys in the cars. Would a 17-year-old F1 driver have been thinkable a few decades ago?

BE: I was racing in my teens. I think there is no such thing as an age factor – it’s much more about being competitive or not. It is probably also about how long you are in the sport. I think there is something they call the 'fatigue strength reduction factor'. If you start at 20, it might hit you when you are 30 that you develop a strong wish for a change. The later you start, the later it hits you.

Q: Taking that into account, you stopped your racing career very early. Was there a dramatic event behind that?

BE: I had some accidents when I was around 20 - and I had a real good business running at the same. So instead of risking fatality I decided to make it big in business. Probably deep down inside I knew that I was not good enough…

MV: I have great respect for somebody who calls it quits. For all who are racing it is a dream job - or actually more than a dream job: it is what makes you feel alive. And to walk away because you think you’re not good enough - that is probably a triumph of brain over passion. Then you have the chance to be successful somewhere else. There are so many who hang on too long - and have nothing in the end.

BE: Racing is a dream job if you’re winning. What’s the point in hanging on in losing? 

Q: Max, to what do you attribute the fact that at such a young age you’ve already made it into Formula One racing?

MV: I simply didn’t have the chance not to! At home everything was evolving around racing. Mum and dad raced, so I am a chip off the old block, I guess!

Q: Being successful and competitive at a young age are traits that don’t fall from the sky. What have you both learned from your fathers?

BE: Nothing.

MV: I grew up in a race-crazy family. My dad showed me everything. The dos - but more importantly the don’ts! An F1 career is a very fragile thing…

BE: …and you can start as young as possible and can be faster than anybody else - but you also need luck on your side to become a world champion!

MV: True! Look what's happened to Fernando Alonso. He is still one of the best drivers around but didn’t manage to win a title in five years with Ferrari and now with McLaren a title seems more elusive than ever right now. Being the best driver around is not enough: you also have to sit in the best car - otherwise misfortune sticks with you.

BE: It’s all about timing: being in the right place at the right time!

MV: Maybe you can help me with that, Bernie? Though I must say that I am really happy with my team Toro Rosso!

Q: Bernie, what advice can you give a boy of 17?

BE: Don’t listen to too many people. Set your own marks. Do only what you think is right for you. I did it exactly that way. One other bit of advice: save your money and don’t speculate with it…

MV: I am doing that already! I don’t need all these jet-set gadgets. I am fully concentrated on my career.

Q: So you would probably rather go for dinner with Bernie than a gorgeous woman?

MV: One hundred percent. You cannot learn much from the latter that has value in F1 - but you can learn a lot from Bernie. He has built this sport and is one of the most successful businessmen in the world. My career is more important than girls. You have only one chance here - and I am going to take it!

BE: A very rational young man!

Q: Max, is there any advice you would have for Bernie?

(Verstappen hums and haws and turns to Bernie: 'Can’t you do anything to make these cars louder and faster again?')

BE: I am surprised to hear this from such a young person! To be honest: the most stupid thing that could have happened to F1 is these engines. These are no longer engines in fact. The batteries and hybrids and all that - that’s no longer an F1 engine. All this chatter with the pit wall and the instructions from the engineers for the drivers – all that has to stop! The drivers have to be in the centre again - they have to do their race and show their true colours. I promise you Max that it will come!

MV: That would be great! Even for us young drivers the amount of technical stuff is too much. I would say that right now only 20 percent is occupied with racing, and the vast majority of the remaining 80 percent with watching over the technical stuff. Do you know what I do to escape that?

BE: What?

MV: I tell my engineers that they should not overload me with information. We are getting way too much info in the cockpit. Sometimes I switch off the display in my car! I want to rely on my gut feeling. Isn’t that what made great race drivers in the end?

BE: Super! I hope that the new 2017 regulations will get us there!

Q: Bernie would you join Max in a road car for a fast lap in Spa?

BE: Absolutely!