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Exclusive: Bernie Ecclestone on Vettel domination of F1, NewsCorp and succession
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Photo: Darren Heath
Posted By: James Allen  |  09 Jul 2011   |  7:21 am GMT  |  32 comments

On Wednesday I went to the headquarters of Formula One Management at Princes Gate to interview Bernie Ecclestone for Australian Network 10 Television.

We spoke of many things and I put to him some of the questions I’ve heard from fans – not least at the recent FOTA Fans Forum events we organsised – to do with F1′s reluctance to expand into social media and where the balance lies between entertainment and sport.

* Sebastian Vettel’s current domination of F1
* The balance between entertainment and sport
* His sparring match with Jean Todt
* His attitude to F1 content on the internet and mobiles
* The NewsCorp bid for F1
* The succession plan
* Why he thinks F1 doesn’t need a new Concorde Agreement

You can listen to the full interview at the bottom of this post on Soundcloud, with a very interesting exchange about the Senna movie and what it has done for F1. But here are some of the highlights.

Looking ten, fifteen years down the line, Bernie, who do you see running F1? Who would be the right custodians of this sport?”
“It’s something that has to develop on its own. I used to control a lot more than I do at the moment because we’ve let things go a little a bit to other people, we’ve become too democratic. I still think that if I wasn’t around you’d need someone who was going to run things a little bit like I run things.

You mean a ‘Benevolent dictatorship?’
“Yes. That’s what happens with the winning teams. If you run a team like a democracy you’d be in trouble. When Todt was with Ferrari with Michael and Ross, it was like that. Now it’s more Italian and very democratic.”

Do you see your stewardship of F1 as just a chapter in the story of the sport or the whole book?
“It’s one of those things, we’ve grown together.”

In a fragmenting media landscape, can you get more revenue from Social media, internet, mobiles?
“You hear a lot about these things. When we do a deal with a broadcaster we give them the rights to broadcast by whatever method they wish in their country. So if they want to broadcast through a mobile phone – which in effect is a small television, even more so with these pads and what have you – but they don’t seem to want to do it. People still want to turn the TV on.”

Could a new owner of F1 take the content and create more revenue streams on new media?
“I’ve no idea what they would do. Anything that could be done, we’re doing it. We’ve looked into it. All these different methods of broadcasting. The minute we allow other people to broadcast by other means it would upset the people we’ve got (TV) contracts with.”

NewsCorp/Exor came out recently and said they’re interested in buying F1’s commercial rights. Have they been in touch with you about their plans?
“I don’t think they have any plans.”

Are they appropriate people to run F1?
“Most of the people that are involved in F1 think that it would be wrong to have something as strong as the Murdoch group which is very strong, obviously involved, because we built the business up through free to air TV and I think the minute we moved away from that we might find ourselves in trouble. We’d have to wait and see. Also it would be wrong to have Exor, who own Ferrari basically, in there. Because they’d have a big influence over the rules.”

Would NewsCorp’s involvement in the phone hacking scandal in the UK be a problem here?
“Its’ nothing to do with us. They are not hacking our phones! We have nothing they’d want to hack for!”

At the moment we have FOTA but also this new group of four bosses of Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren, who are having higher level conversations. What’s your read on that?
“I don’t know why they have these meetings. They have a lot of meetings and don’t seem to achieve anything. Those people you mentioned, the bosses, they only got together to see if they don’t want Exor and Murdoch to be involved. They said, “If they are going to get involved, maybe it’s better that we are.” They should approach CVC and see if they can buy the company if they want to.”

What about succession, Bernie? What’s the plan?
“If I’m gone, or rather when I’m gone, somebody will emerge. We’ve got a good enough group around us that would run things without any problems.”

Would I be right in thinking that your chosen successor works in this building? (I have in mind Sasha Woodward Hill, his in house lawyer)
“I wouldn’t choose the successor. (That would be CVC) Yes, or if Murdoch’s bought the company by then they would choose the person who took over from me.”

The Concorde Negotiations are on now, will it be resolved by the deadline, the end of 2012 or is there a danger it might not be?
“The Concorde Agreement is a magic sort of thing. It came about as a sort of peace treaty with the FIA (in the early 1980s). It’s sort of grown and people think it’s a magic document. It isn’t. The important thing in that document is what the teams get paid. All the other things are dealt with by the rules and regulations. So really there is no need to have a Concorde Agreement.”

What about this season? With DRS wings and Pirelli tyres it’s been a season full over overtaking and action, how do you feel about it, can you have too much of a good thing?
“Apart from Sebastian winning everything it’s an incredible season. Having said that people want to know who’s going to beat him. We just had a tennis match and it was magic for people to see Nadal get beaten.

“We’ve got to thank the tyre company for this. When I did the deal with Pirelli I said to them ‘I want you to make a tyre that won’t go the whole distance of the race, I’d like to see one that goes a third of the race. They’ve done a fantastic job, because it’s just as hard for them to do that as it is to make a tyre that will go for ever.”

All sports face the dilemma of where the dividing line is between sport and entertainment. What are your guiding principles when you think about your sport.
“It’s the same for everybody. We need people to not go to an event and known what’s going to happen. When they go to a race they’re talking about all sorts of things, not mechanical things, but about the drivers; who’s going to win and who’s not going to win. That’s why all races that are held in we conditions are that much better.”

The Pirellis are making the racing more exciting, but it’s hurting the qualifying spectacle because the drivers prefer to save a set of tyres rather than go out for another run. Is that a price worth paying?
“Easy to overcome that; another set of tyres.There’s ways we can get around it. I don’t think it’s that big a problem. It puts more pressure on people to deliver if they’ve only got one lap to deliver in.”

All Photos: Darren Heath


Vettel may be dominating but you really like him don’t you? What is it about him you find so attractive?
“He’s a nice guy, feet on the ground, he’s not flying, he’s not dreaming about anything, he’s there to do a job and he’s doing the best he can. He’s confident in himself and that’s important. Who would I say he reminds me of? Probably a bit like Piquet.”

You’ve been quite vocal lately about the new generation engines for 2014. Particularly the sound. Why is that such a big thing for you?

“Different engine, we were talking about a straight four, now we are talking about a V6 single turbo. Nobody knows if we are going to get a similar sound that we get from the V8s. I hope that we do.

People love it (the sound) they come to an F1 race and it’s magic. (The high pitched sound?) Yeah. We had the 12 cylinders that sounded fantastic. As long as it’s got a lot of noise. People love to go for the noise.”

You were a keen supporter of Jean Todt for the Ferrari job and for his FIA presidency campaign. But now you seem to be sparring with him, over things like this engine.
“The only argument I have with Jean is what I’ve said. He was right in his thoughts about promoting F1 as a being message about the green environment, which is complete nonsense in my opinion. Because it’s so easy in so many ways. I told him ‘All we need to tell the teams not to have such big motorhomes and then there’d be less trucks bringing all the equipment there and there’d be less fuel used.’ But it’s not the message people want to see. So then I said, ‘Why don’t we reduce the races by 10% if you want to use less fuel?’

“It’s like KERS which was brought in to give a message to people. Problem is we keep it a secret; the only time anyone talks about the KERS system is when it doesn’t work. Nobody ever talks about why it’s there in the first place. So we have to be careful. We don’t want to reduce the appeal to people going to see Formula 1.

“There are so many ways, that we could give a message; there’s the world touring car championship for cars that you see on the road. You can buy them and it is 1.6 litre turbocharged. With Jean at the moment, that’s the only problem I’ve got. We have no problems other than that.”

Viewers in Australia can see some of this interview on Sunday and more on the RPM show next Wednesday.

Bernie Ecclestone interview, July 2011 by James Allen on F1

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32 Comments
  1. cobbs says:

    great interview

    1. Wayne says:

      Right on Bernie! Is Bernie getting saner the older he gets? I too hate the hypocrasy over ‘green’ F1. F1 engines are already incredibly efficient. If we want to save the environment F1 MUST look to its logistical operation to have any meaningful impact. Does F1 want to make a difference or does it just want a pointless soundbite for the media? Having said that, Bernie could cut one poorly attended desert track that pays CVC 10′s of millions and save more logistical fuel than the F1 cars use in a year!

      As for Ross Brawn (who I admire immensely) saying they will make ‘efficiency cool’ – why? That is not F1′s job! F1 is there to provide sporting entertainment.

      1. Wayne says:

        The difference for me under Todt is this: F1 is becomming a by-product of the mission to evolve the road car and save the environment. Before the evolution of the road car was always a by-product of the sport’s natural innovation – whihc was fine by me. Under Todt, factors other than racing and sport are polluting the purity of the sport and dictating the future.

        By the way where are all these people who are crying out about F1 being inefficient? Apart from the odd newspaper editor with nspare column inches to fill every now and again with a half-hearted rant – I never hear anything about it!

  2. unoc12 says:

    Great Interview.

    The last question was the best answer from Bernie Eccelstone on the KERS.

    If you get the chance to ask him, could you ask whether or not he would like to see KERS or similiar being something DEVELOPABLE over the season like the aero?

    Good stuff. Hopefully will get it on in time to see it tomorrow

    1. KERS Boy says:

      I take your point and although the overriding rules limit development changes to KERS output, it should be noted that almost all teams/engine manufacturers (depending on who develops their KERS systems) carry out a range of modifications/upgrades to their KERS system, over the course of the racing season.

      Obviously, most mods are pretty insignificant (as far as the public/press image is concerned) as the size, technical and regulation limitations restrict major changes. However, all changes are done with the intent of improving reliability, performance and operability of the system – but the total output is governed by the rules and therefore cannot be altered…..so of no interest to the public domain.

      KERS (or ERS as it will be known) for 2014 will be a significant step forward, with approx double the horsepower output. This is something that should be heightened to the public domain, in terms of media coverage and technology cross-over. I agree that if F1 is to pro-actively promote the Green image, then KERS should be at the forefront of that marketing campaign…..rather than a pre-season F1 TV covergae insert.

  3. Nico says:

    Nice job getting Bernie to open up a bit James!

  4. Lez Martin says:

    Bernie at times, tends to give answers, without actually giving answers, its like he knows exactly whats going on, but always pleads dumb, judging by the interview, we cant rule out news corp….Ive always had mixed feelings about Bernie, he seems a bit of a sly business man, who tends to get things his way, but, I don’t think F1 would be where it is today, without him. So the man has to be applauded.

  5. rpaco (other rpaco) says:

    “Would NewsCorp’s involvement in the phone hacking scandal in the UK be a problem here?
    “Its’ nothing to do with us. They are not hacking our phones! We have nothing they’d want to hack for!”
    Oh come on Bernie there are any number of reasons to hack your phone and indeed those of many of the major characters in F1.

    Bernie was still just as evasive as ever on most of the questions, he is a master of the comfortable answer.

    “No need for a Concorde agreement”!!!! To say that the only important thing in it is what the teams get paid does not square with the many times in the season when we have had to accept that “we cannot know why, its hidden in the Concorde agreement” Ok then let him publish it omitting the team payments, it may be embarrassing for Ferrari though

  6. PeteM says:

    If the Murdoch group took over I cant imagine F1 on free to air where it truley belongs. I have no problem with an additional subscription channel dedicated to F1 but leave F1 to view for free or they will kill it. I cant imagine they will allow the best of both worlds if they controled the sport after all its about money.

  7. EM says:

    You sure you spoke to Bernie? Most of the answers make sense and there’s no suggestion of medals, sprinklers or shortcuts etc!

  8. Charalampos says:

    I just think that f1 going green is just a hypocrisy. And i guess that whoever knows how commercial things work can see through it. Bernie said here it is a message that they want to give to people. What for? To make the image of f1 better of course. Not because they feel the urge to burn less fuel in order to have a better world. It is all done for the commercial image. I just do not get why they have to talk about it over and over again like noone gets their true motives.

    1. Tom says:

      Almost everything on the planet has to be concerned about its commercial image. That’s just reality.

    2. j says:

      Agreed. The “green” issue comes up in every interview and article and it’s all so obviously fake and false. Leave the cars out of it and tell us one way that any of the teams are making any real difference in how they power their factories or their wind tunnels or how they travel.

      Between this greenwashing and all the other comments we hear about how F1 fans don’t understand the technical side it’s getting insulting. The teams and media seem to think we’re all a bit thick.

  9. KK says:

    Great interview Jean and yes Bernie likes Seb a lot bcos as a world champion, he has paid back more to the sport than Fernando, Kimi, Lewis and Jenson did primarily because he isn’t a sponsor tamed driver rather someone who possesses individuality and charm. Lewis Hamilton came to India and people went to see the show because they wanted to see a real McLaren F1 car, not to see Lewis Hamilton. I think Seb in that sense, carries a certain persona of himself which is really easy on our eyes.

    Nice one Seb!

  10. jay says:

    Love your work with rpm James! Adds quality to the show!

  11. AJ Senior says:

    I wonder what Bernie thinks about the whole blown diffuser thing. it’s making the whole sport look disorganized and childish.

    How anyone could think that bringing in a blanket change/clarification mid-season, followed by two different concessions, and then canceling one of the concessions, but leaving the other, is beyond me. And I’m a huge fan. Imagine if I was just new to the sport. I’d be tempted to walk away as all too hard.

    Either open it all up again or ban it all. ‘One rule for one’ is embarrassing the sport.

    Merc would need to fix their crank case pressure reliability issues, whatever the hell that means…

  12. doug says:

    @9 So you know exactly why each and every person who attends a show in India is present for then hey? Or maybe you intervewed them all, or you are are an all knowing god? All you know is why YOU attended otherwise please keep your prejudices to yourself. I was there, and had gone to SEE LEWIS!

  13. bones says:

    He is the man,I have always said it:F1 is what is mainly because of him.
    I am really concern about who will take his job,you can say whatever you want about him but he likes racing cars,it runs in his blood.

  14. Rich Hawley says:

    I see Bernie say that NOTW isn’t hacking their phones! Right! Whats the chances that they hacked Max Mosleys phone then?? I would put good money on that one. Watch this space.

  15. Dino says:

    Without a doubt, this is the best interview I’ve ever read with Bernie. He usually spouts inflammatory nonsense, but he actually sounds like a real human being above.

    Are you sure you were interviewing the right guy, James?

    Seriously excellent work if so, this is a damn fine interview!

  16. marian says:

    In South Spain or Mallorca we can make room for another British pensioner, why don´t you sent us Bernie and look for a good replacement?

  17. Ross in Bali says:

    This is why I think efficiency is relevant.

    It’s not about making the races shorter or having smaller motor homes. It’s that the world can only continue to exist is something like it’s current form by using all resources – and most of all energy – more efficiently.

    F1 can ignore this and become – or maybe stay – irrelevant to the problem. Or it can embrace the challenge and allow it’s creative technology to find ways to do more – go faster – with less.

    Is this the role of F1? Well maybe not, but we are all on this planet together and we will all benefit if we can use energy more efficiently…so why shouldn’t F1 step up to the plate and have a stab at a cleaner, greener world.

    1. Rich C says:

      F1 can do all that in one fell swoop: simply dissolve and quit using up all that energy. Problem solved.

      1. Ross in Bali says:

        Rich – of course closing down F1 would save a little bit of energy. But an energised F1, embracing energy efficient technology, could save much more energy globally by showing that efficiency doesn’t make driving boring…

  18. Jose - Perth says:

    It is a great feature in this blog if you are able to include interviews with people who are/were proeminent in the sport. Any chances you could interview Mario Theissen? I would be very interested to know his views on the sport, BMW and, of course, Sebastian.
    And I suspect Dr. Theissen is a man who is missed in today’s pitlane.

  19. Ruppert says:

    I think this has been the most boring season to date – DRS is making it completely pointless to watch.

    Modern F1 does not celebrate or display raw driving talent – instead it entirely supresses it behind gimmicks like DRS…

    You should have asked Bernie, why he things DRS is so great – when it is hated by a large section of the race enthusiasts, that are now leaving F1, as a result of the fakeness factor…

  20. Jaw Jaw says:

    “We have nothing they’d want to hack for!”. Did you hear that Max? NOWers were double agent naturals so keep bringing the hammer down old son and someone will have something.

    Did anyone else notice Fernandes on Bernie, a demise eh?

  21. Luke Dalton says:

    great piece james! any chance on a piece on how FOM TV go about their business? onboard camera placement and usage, graphics, tv director, HD, 3D developments etc?
    seems to be an off limits area to the fans.

  22. Henry R.B.Duke says:

    Hi James, whats the current ‘insider’ feeling on the latest in the current News of the World/News Corp fiasco? With the BSkyB sale being passed to the Competition Commission, effectively blocking the sale for at least a year (apparently…I’m no expert) and the current public upset, do you think it will put a damper on the possible purchase of the F1 media rights as well?

    1. James Allen says:

      Less of an issue than BSKYB takeover, but clearly they are very distracted by these events

  23. andrew says:

    Another point to remember on the desireable engine sound issue for the new 2014 formula: Does anybody remember that Formula 1 once tested the continuously variable transmission technology? It offered performance and reliability beyond our current state-of-the-art gear boxes, but there was no engine wind-up sound; so it was ultimately nixed by Bernie solely on the basis of showmanship. As such, the question of Formula 1 being a sport or show of technological prowess is further muddled, I suppose?

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