Bernie Ecclestone was in a jocular mood this morning when a few of us caught up with him after the Tata Communications announcement for a chat on the issues of the moment.
With most of the “Fleet Street” UK national newspaper representatives present, Ecclestone knew that they would need some eye catching news lines to get space in the papers for the story of the day and he didn’t disappoint.
The highlight for me was after he had made numerous reassurances that Bahrain’s GP would go ahead in April, that there would be no protests, that the teams were all behind it, and the sponsors and that we would have no problems in the country, everything would be fine, he then said, “It’s just a shame I can’t be there with you!”
This met with predicable horror struck faces. He waited a beat then said, “Only kidding, I’ll be there.”
Time will tell whether he or any of us will actually be there on April 22. The Financial Times is reporting today that a number of international banks are pulling out of the country, citing the instability of the situation and only last week there were more clashes between protesters and riot police in Manama.
Ecclestone also had some throwaway lines about Michael Schumacher and particularly Lewis Hamilton, “I spoke to him the other day. I think he’s got a bit more focused,” said the 81 year old.
The most pointed assessment on Hamilton was that “If he doesn’t perform this year he’d be looking maybe to move on and the team may be also looking for him to move on.”
This has been interpreted by some as Bernie tipping Hamilton to move on. I’m not sure that’s what he was really saying. There really is only one place he could go and that’s Mercedes. The doors to Red Bull seem to have closed last year.
Ecclestone has made no secret of his dislike of the 19 Management team which took over Hamilton’s affairs after he split with his father. He welcomed the recent signing of the highly experienced F1 manager Didier Coton to Hamilton’s team.
Ecclestone also made some quips about how good it would be to see Michael Schumacher in a Red Bull alongside Sebastian Vettel. Because then at least we would know for sure whether the reason he wasn’t winning was because he is past it or whether it’s the car.
“It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if he did. I’d like to see him in a good car. I’d like to see him in the second Red Bull. I don’t think Sebastian would mind.
“It would be nice to see him in the car, where you know that if he doesn’t win, it’s his fault and not the car’s.”
He added that his own view is that Schumacher still has it in him to win races. Mercedes boss Ross Brawn said this week that one of his few remaining ambitions in the sport is to see Schumacher win another Grand Prix.