In an interview with German Sport1, Bernie Ecclestone spoke about the past and present of Formula 1 …
Question: Happy birthday! How do you feel at ninety?
Bernie Ecclestone: Thanks. Things are good. I do not feel age, and my little son takes all my time.
Q: Formula 1 is your life’s work. How much are you involved in the championship now?
Bernie Ecclestone: I still get calls often, asking for advice, but not the new leadership of Formula 1. Of course, I watch every race.
In Portugal, everything looked artificial, without atmosphere. It is not very pleasant to speak in front of almost empty stands. Everyone who should be in front was there this time.
As long as there are hybrid turbo engines, Mercedes will not win. At one time, I supported this idea, but quickly realized that I had made a mistake. Then I called to take a step back, but I was not heard.
Question: How do you assess the new records of Lewis Hamilton?
Bernie Ecclestone: Lewis deserves them. He has always been stronger than his teammates, except in 2016, and almost never makes mistakes. I can compare him to a poker player who knows he has four aces in his hand. It would be interesting to collect them in one team with Max Verstappen – and see if he will have the same few mistakes.
Q: Lewis broke Michael Schumacher’s record for the number of victories, and will soon catch up with the number of titles. Is he the best now?
Bernie Ecclestone: Lewis is one of the best. Like Michael. It is impossible to determine the best. How do you compare Michael, Lewis and Senna? And before World War II, Bernd Rosemeier worked wonders.
In the 50s, Juan Manuel Fangio won five league titles. We don’t know what Jim Clark or Ayrton Senna could have achieved if they hadn’t been in an accident. Or if Jochen Rindt, whom I personally consider to be the fastest, had competitive cars at the start of his career?
Alain Prost also ranks very high in my ranking. And Sebastian Vettel. Unfortunately, nowadays they rarely speak positively about him. In Formula 1, the driver is still dependent on his car. And his Ferrari doesn’t seem to suit him very well right now.
Q: But his partner Charles Leclair performs better …
Bernie Ecclestone: Leclair is a very talented guy. But Vettel’s talent has not gone anywhere – and he has more experience. Vettel should be ahead, but since this is not so, then there are other reasons.
At Ferrari, politics has always played a huge role. Only in the time of Michael Schumacher did everyone rally. Fortunately, next year Sebastian will be tackling new challenges at Aston Martin – and will be able to answer those who no longer believe in his ability.
Question: Do you often communicate with Vettel now?
Bernie Ecclestone: Yes, we talk a lot on the phone. I listen to him, and then I say what I think about it. I helped him sign the correct contract with Aston Martin.
I pushed the owner of the team, Lawrence Stroll, to take Sebastian. I told him how good Sebastian is and that if the deal goes through, everyone will benefit from it. I think my arguments convinced him.
Q: How did it happen that you took the lead in Formula 1?
Bernie Ecclestone: I was fascinated by motorsport. I was present at the first stage of Formula 1, in 1950 at Silverstone. Then I wanted to get behind the wheel myself, but in 1958 in Monaco I was too slow and decided that Stirling Moss should get behind the wheel of my car. Somehow the stewards noticed this.
Then I realized that I am closer to working in the pit wall than piloting. I started working with Jochen Rindt and ended up buying the team. Then others felt that I could represent their interests. And so it happened.
It was obvious to me that we would get most of the money from the sale of television rights.
Question: Do you remember the first trade?
Bernie Ecclestone: The 1976 season finale in Fuji was the first race to be broadcast worldwide and made real money.
Because of the rain, everything was almost canceled. Fortunately, they were still able to go and James Hunt became world champion. For many years later Niki Lauda accused me of being ready to race in any conditions because of television contracts. Then it cost him the title. But in any case, the 1976 Fuji race was the first spark of our success.
Q: How did the then Formula 1 differ from today’s?
Bernie Ecclestone: Back then, the riders were out of pure enthusiasm, risking their lives every time, but not paying attention to it. They understood that the next race could be the last – and this brought them closer together. They were like soldiers going into battle together.
Question: What are your worst memories during this time?
Bernie Ecclestone: A lot of them. Every time a driver died, it was a real grief. A very bad weekend in Imola in 1994 was when Ratzenberger and Senna were killed. For me personally, Monza in 1970 was very difficult when my friend Jochen Rindt died.
I remember like it was yesterday. I ran to the scene of the accident. Jochen was already being carried on a stretcher, but I knew immediately that it was over. I grabbed his bloody helmet and with tears returned to the pits. I had to talk to Nina, his wife – it distracted me from my own grief. But I was completely desperate. Jochen was not only a friend, but also a business partner, we had a lot to do. I am sure, if it were not for this accident, later we would have driven Formula 1 together.
Question: How can you characterize Michael Schumacher?
Bernie Ecclestone: He could be trusted. If you entrusted him with the work, then you can be sure that he will do it. He raised the bar a lot for other riders. In every way.
Question: Did he do the right thing to return by signing a contract with Mercedes?
Bernie Ecclestone: It was not as good for him as it was for Formula 1. And now this team, for which he has done a lot, wins race after race.
This is Lewis Hamilton, and Toto Wolff, and everyone else. I don’t mean to belittle their talent, but in 2014 they just fit into the story that Michael and Ross Brown created for them. Niki Lauda also contributed a lot. Well, the Mercedes engine has become more than half the success.
Question: What do you think of Mika Schumacher?
Bernie EcclestoneMick is a great guy, he does his job well. Next year he will compete in Formula 1, but don’t expect too much from him. His father’s story cannot be repeated.
Question: Can you compare them?
Bernie Ecclestone: I don’t know Mika well enough to compare them. It is only noticeable that Mick always adds up in the second season. But with his father it was different. He was always quick at once.
I still remember his first workout at the Spa, when he burst out of nowhere into the world’s elite with Jordan. He was not only extremely fast, but after the first training he went to the stewards. Michael believed that Alain Prost blocked him, and then deliberately slowed down to get revenge. Good Alain could not believe it! Then I rubbed my hands – this is exactly the kind of German I needed – fast, cold-blooded, not recognizing authorities – and knowing exactly what he wants.
Q: Perhaps in 2021, the third German will compete in Formula 1 – Niko Hulkenberg will return. How do you rate it?
Bernie Ecclestone: He is quick and always says what he thinks, unlike most pilots who just repeat what the commands tell them. Red Bull should take him – this type suits them. The main thing is that he is able to bring results, because he is very smart. Obviously, they are actively supporting Max Verstappen – this guy has real talent.
Q: Thank you for the interview. May I ask you to meet with us in another ten years, but the 100th anniversary?
Bernie Ecclestone: So let’s do it.