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In conversation - Bernie Ecclestone & Maurizio Arrivabene

04 Sep 2015

When two of F1 racing’s most influential and forthright characters sit down for an informal chat, nothing is off the table: F1 heroes, favourite actors, guiding Vettel, reflecting on Raikkonen, what they taught - and have learned from - their children, and what wish each would like the other to grant them. We were there to listen in as the Formula One group CEO and Ferrari team principal got together to shoot the breeze...

Q: Maurizio, is there anything that you have always wanted to ask Mr Ecclestone?

Bernie Ecclestone:
Hold on one moment. This is Bernie and not ‘Mr Ecclestone’! My dad was Mr Ecclestone and my dad is dead.

Maurizio Arrivabene: So I am allowed to ask anything? No limits?

BE: Anything. The stage is open. What do you want to know about me?

MA: Bernie, if you did not do the job that you do, what else would you do? What would be your dream?

BE: Well, I am doing what I do because I have always been in [car] racing. Before, I used to race motorbikes. I have always been in that type of world. And later - if I hadn’t bought Brabham and gone from there - I probably would still be a used car dealer. (laughs)

MA: A car dealer?

BE: A used car dealer.

Q: How far would you have taken that used car dealership? Would you have conquered the world of used cars?

BE: Ha, I had quite a good business. I would probably have also asked for a Ferrari car dealership - which they probably would not have given me.

MA: You just mentioned your crush on motorbikes. What was your favourite machine?

BE: I used to race Norton and AJS.

MA: Which was your favourite?

BE: I used to race at the same time as John Surtees. He became world champion - not me! So no real favourite…

MA: Who was your all-time favourite motorbike racer?

BE: I think Barry Sheene - I think he was quite a character. All the bike riders are characters - like the drivers we used to have in Formula One.

Q: Bernie, do you know when you last sat on a motorbike?
BE:
Ha, no. A pretty long time ago.

Q: If the two of you could swap jobs for a while - the most powerful man in F1 racing and the most powerful F1 team principal - how would that look?

BE: He shouldn’t swap jobs with me - he should join me!

MA: Stop, stop. I am asking the questions here - it’s my life’s dream to ask him questions! (laughs) You have daughters: in your opinion what is the most important advice you gave your daughters? And did they listen?

BE: Well, their mum was strict with them and I was strict with them, and I think yes, they listened - and still do. What advice did you give your daughter - am I right she is 24 years old?

MA: Yes, 24 and living in London. The advice that I gave her? Don’t trust anyone completely - starting with yourself. There is one thing that I really regret: I promised her many times when she was younger that I would pick her up from school, just once - and I never did. She probably forgot about that, but I never could. It still makes me a bit sad.

Q: Bernie, how often are you in contact with your daughters?
BE:
Very often.

Q: Bernie, you have frequently said that Enzo Ferrari was a kind of inspiration for you. In what way?

BE: In many ways. He was a good used car dealer! (laughs) Apart from being very engineering orientated, he was a good entrepreneur. I never very much cared for the technical side, but seeing how he was doing things, that was pretty educational. The only trouble was that he couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Italian, so we always had somebody in between. Has he given me any advice? Instead of saying, ‘If I were you I would do this or that,’ he let me watch - and that showed me that he was an extremely clever guy in how he handled things. If I think back I could probably say that I looked up to Enzo Ferrari and to Colin Chapman. Colin was the same kind of guy. And I always had the impression that Mr Ferrari also thought that about Colin.

MA: We hear so many things about these new kinds of entrepreneurs - starting huge businesses in a garage like, for example, Steve Jobs. When I think about the Ferrari history there are many parallels: Enzo Ferrari also started in a garage in Modena - and he built a brand from there that is a myth today. For me the ‘real’ Steve Jobs was Enzo Ferrari - the story of Apple is a ‘copy and paste’ of the Ferrari story.

BE: Mr Ferrari was the new generation back then.

MA: Enzo Ferrari also created a modern way of marketing based on desire. In Maranello there are stories of people who had to wait for days to pick up their own car. The car was ready, but intentionally Enzo was not giving them the car, just to raise their desire - that’s what I mean by marketing based on desire. It was a completely new way of marketing a product.

Q: Speaking of the new generation, Ferrari have moved on a generation since you took over and Sebastian (Vettel) joined. Some say Ferrari have never had a more plain-talking team principal...

MA: Thank you so much for the flowers! Well, I remember very well the first time I met Bernie. My ex-boss John Hogan took me to him saying, ‘You will spend your career in F1 so it is better that you get to know him right away,’ and he gave me one piece of advice: always be honest and straight with him, and don’t try to lie or sneak around because then you are ‘dead’! Bernie has a great sense of humour, and he is very straight. And that’s how we’ve communicated ever since - straight, with a pinch of humour and with our feet on the ground. I don’t know how long I will be here, but what I learned back then has always served me well. And one thing I have learned from my daughter: always only do the things that you can do. Take for example the iPhone: she says, ‘You keep the phone only for your emails’ - but that’s because I can use that part...

BE: So you want to make people believe that you can use it, but you can’t - like me! (laughs)

Q: Bernie you’ve sat in the hot seat for decades now, with dramas coming your way on almost a daily basis, while for you Maurizio it’s far newer territory. How do you both cope with that?

BE: Ha, and if there aren’t any dramas I make them! (laughs)

MA: I agree with Bernie. Part of the show is to create drama - and yes, Bernie is a magician in doing so. (laughs) You see if everything is flat, people will lose interest. This is entertainment - and a good part of entertainment is drama.

Q: Maurizio, did you know that Sebastian called Bernie for advice before he signed his contract with Ferrari?

MA: Yes, I knew. Sebastian told me.

Q: Bernie, can you reveal what Sebastian’s biggest concerns were when he consulted you?

BE: For sure one concern was leaving a team he had won four world championships with. You have won so much - and now you want to move? Not easy. But I tried to explain to him that here you have one team that is struggling to maintain its level, and there you have another team that is going to improve. It can only be an upside.

MA: Now it’s my turn again to ask Bernie a question! Bernie, you have met so many actors, singers, politicians. In these three categories can you tell me who impressed you most? Let start with a singer...

BE: Leo Sayer.

MA: Why?

BE: I know him quite well. In his heyday he was sensational.

MA: Actor or movie star?

BE: Let me think… Al Pacino. We did a film with him in the late ‘70s - Bobby Deerfield.

MA: Politician?

BE: Mrs Thatcher. A dictator.

Q: Bernie, what’s your guess: will Vettel win another title? If so, when?

BE: I think he will struggle this year but, sure, he will win a world championship with Ferrari. No doubt about that.

Q: Not so long ago you said that Lewis Hamilton is the best champion for F1 racing. Do you think Sebastian will win back the love of the fans now that he drives for Ferrari?

BE: Yes, because there is a lot going for him. People love Ferrari. And because of that they love anyone who drives for them. I think now he is growing into another phase of his life - more open in many ways.

MA: I also witness this in his communication with the team. It is fantastic to race for Ferrari, but it also means so much more attention. It can also be a pain when you realise that you cannot always put a smile on the faces of our fans. I don’t know how Bernie sees this, but somehow Ferrari is Formula One. We celebrated our 900th Grand Prix in Belgium...

BE: …and that’s incredible. And I was also there at the first one!

MA: Bernie, I want to get your opinion on another thing: there was a survey on the most popular driver, and guess what, it was Kimi Raikkonen. Not someone who is overly charming or talkative...

BE: ...maybe because Lewis (Hamilton) is going a bit over the top now. And maybe Kimi is so popular because he is controversial in his own way.

MA: I have my own ideas about Kimi’s popularity: it is a bit like the man who falls in love with the girl who’s ignoring him. (laughs)

BE: I would love to see Kimi win races. He is a proper racer.

Q: Was it a good decision from Ferrari to keep him for 2016?

BE: Yes. And it was a clever move from Ferrari to announce it when they did. Others would have announced it on the race weekend - and it wouldn’t have given them half the attention that they got. So he (pointing towards Arrivabene) understands the business.

Q: Maurizio, imagine Bernie is your fairy godmother and grants you one free wish: what would it be?

MA: Make sure that we win the championship as soon as possible! (laughs)

BE: I have the same wish as ‘fairy’ Maurizio. (laughs)

Q: Might Toto Wolff and Christian Horner object?

MA: It’s a wish, not a contract. (laughs)