Q: Bernie, Formula One fans all around the world are asking where F1 is heading to. Almost weekly a new name pops up in the press as to who will supposedly be in charge in the future. What can you tell them?
Bernie Ecclestone: Well, I can assure them that as far as the company is concerned it stays as it is - there will be no change. There can be different shareholders - and the shareholders that are now coming on board are probably going to be more commercial than CVC were. That is about it.
Q: Speaking of the commercial side of F1, Liberty Media has sent out all kinds of signals regarding intensifying that, including gambling…
BE: …I have looked into gambling three or four years ago. CVC own a company called Sky Bet, which is very important in England. But in the end the gambling concept was not found suitable.
Q: Given these new shareholders, will we then see any changes in the next year?
Q: So until the Concorde Agreement runs out, it will all stay the same?
BE: Yes. We have an agreement with the teams - and that will stay as it is. And there will be the usual discussions for the renewal of the agreement with the teams. It is a commercial agreement. Let’s see what happens.
Q: Right now the teams have quite a voice. Should that be reduced?
BE: That has nothing to do with the Concorde Agreement, but with the Strategy Group which I put together to make sure that they were represented. But the trouble now is that it is probably loading a little bit too much. People that supply the engines have customers that don’t want to argue with the supplier, so it’s not too democratic. It’s a bit loaded the wrong way.
Q: According to reports, there is uncertainty over Germany’s place on the 2017 race calendar. A German team has won the last three constructors’ titles, there are four German drivers on the grid and one of them could end up as the new champion - and yet still it is a nail-biter as to whether there will be a race?
BE: Yes, there is nothing sure yet. We are trying to make it happen. It seems that the promoter can’t make it financially viable. They cannot pay a fee, which is a very reduced fee that we’ve done for them…
Q: …compared to others?
BE: Exactly. It is not fair that they should pay a fee which is a lot less than the other European venues pay. We are trying to keep all the Europeans at the same amount.
Q: Aren’t you a bit surprised that Germany, with such a deep F1 involvement and being such a successful industrial nation, isn’t able to come up with a sound commercial concept for a race?
BE: Maybe they don’t want Formula One. Yes, it is very strange if you see their F1 history - with several world champions and a very successful team. I don’t know what more they could have.
Q: Speaking of German world champions, Sebastian Vettel seems to be on a bit of a dead-end street right now. How do you see that?
BE: All I hope is that Ferrari get their act together and start winning races.
Q: What about their structure? Do they need help?
BE: Well, probably what Maurizio (Arrivabene) desperately needs is a good back-up support like Mercedes have got, for example. If he had the support that Mercedes has, they would win races - for sure. I am also sure that you will see a different Ferrari next year.
Q: So for 2017 do you see Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari all being contenders?
BE: Yes. And that is what we want. We don’t want to go to a race and know who is going to win.
Q: Are you in the loop regarding how far along the teams are with their 2017 cars? Are you calling them?
BE: Yes, but they won’t tell you the truth! (Laughs)
Q: Coming back to Sebastian, do you think he has the same power that Michael Schumacher had in terms of pulling a team together?
BE: No. When I got Jean Todt to take his position and go to Maranello - which was a bit of a risk for Jean to do - it was an all-Italian team and they were a bit concerned about taking a foreigner. But I told them: when you win the championship you sure will find ancestry in Jean’s family that comes from Sicily. (Laughs) Now it has gone back to being a very Italian team again. And it is run like an Italian team. So I don’t envy Maurizio’s job. I wouldn’t want to do it.
Q: Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen seem to be your ‘darlings’ among the current drivers. What do you like in them?
BE: Lewis is a little bit special - as a person and as a driver. He is doing a super job. We would need half a dozen Lewis’s. Max’s position is he’s wanting to get there, he wants to win. And he has got the quality and the talent to do it. He is racing - and that is what he is supposed to do! The drivers in F1 are supposed to race each other.
Q: Your recent suggestions that there should be walls erected at certain tracks instead of these huge run-off zones created quite a stir…
BE: …what I really said was that these walls should prevent the drivers from running off the track. Because now when they do, it is a case of somebody has to decide whether they ran off because they had a problem, or because they wanted to get an advantage or they make a mistake. That then means you have to rely on somebody’s opinion. If you have three stewards that means usually three opinions. One might call for disqualification, one might call for a penalty and the third one might say that there is nothing wrong with it at all.
The easiest thing to do for some corners - and I really mean only some, and corners that are not deemed dangerous, where somebody could get an advantage by running off - would be to erect small walls to remind them that this is the white line. It would mean we lift the white line up by 40 centimetres.
Q: So what you said was taken out of context and all the comments that ‘Bernie wants to make F1 dangerous again’ were wrong…
BE: I have done more for Formula One’s safety over the years than anybody else, including having a hospital at the circuits, so we don’t need these discussions. I have never made it dangerous in Monaco - and it’s been there for decades. Baku was no problem, Singapore no problem. And if you ask a driver what race he would love to win more than any other, the immediate answer would be Monaco! There you have it: no driver ever complained about Monaco.