Bernie Ecclestone interview at Australian GP launch

Following is the transcript of an interview with Formula One Management Chief Bernie Ecclestone regarding Formula One rules changes for the 2003 season, which starts at the Foster's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 6-9. Excerpts of the...

Following is the transcript of an interview with Formula One Management Chief Bernie Ecclestone regarding Formula One rules changes for the 2003 season, which starts at the Foster's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 6-9. Excerpts of the interviews were shown in Melbourne today at the launch of the 2003 Foster's Australian Grand Prix.

Q: Bernie, it (Formula One World Championship) is all going to start in Albert Park, Melbourne, in March 2003 with new rules and regulations. What are they going to mean to the race fan and the television viewer? Is it going to make for a better show?

A: I think what will happen - if people get a good grid position, they work for two days to see who is quickest, the quickest guy gets on pole and then everyone is surprised because he disappears; it's logic if you think about it. It would be nice to put the quickest guy on the back of the grid, let him come through the field, but that's not Formula One, that's not what it's all about. But with this new system that we have of qualifying, if a guy gets - they've got one lap to do it right. It looks like it's good for Michael, but even somebody like Michael can make mistakes and if they are on the limit it's possible they are going to fall off and start at the back of the grid. Weather conditions, things can change in the hour, as you well know: the track can get greasy, or anything can happen, so we might see a different grid. If we have a different grid, we would probably see certainly a different race.

Q: What about the restrictions on testings of smaller teams opting out of the major testing sessions and having this extra time, maybe even running additional drivers. That seems a very good idea.

A: If I was running the team, I think rather than test on a circuit where we are not racing immediately, I'd rather have the two extra hours. I would be coming to Melbourne with my team and I would have two extra hours over some of the others. So it's a big, big, big advantage.

Q: Are you happy with all the changes made by the F1 Commission? Are you largely happy with this?

A: Yes.

Q: You wouldn't need to do it if maybe Frank (Williams, head of the Williams team) or Ron (Dennis, head of the McLaren team) had got his act together.

A: Absolutely. As you say, got their act together ... we wouldn't have been having these discussions. Although, having said that, I'm not so sure. We've been around with these regulations for an awful long time and maybe we ought to have a look at some of these things and change them. Same as all the technical regulations, because people are pushing the envelope all the time, it's costing a lot more money for everybody. As soon as somebody does something, the others have to follow.

Q: There is no chances of people building special qualifying cars for this new system. Can you stop that?

A: Why don't they do it now? If they were going to do that then they should do it now. No, I don't think that. At the moment, they are building their cars 60 kilos under the weight limit to add 60 kilos of ballast where they want to put it, which is a big advantage to balance the car. It costs a fortune to do that. It's completely mad. It's the same for everyone. It's not like you are giving someone an advantage or disadvantage over somebody else. So we have to have a re-think about all these things.

Q: Team orders is another thing. That's always difficult to police - and it's been going on since the days of the Vanwalls, hasn't it?

A: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think what obviously brought that about, we all know, was Austria (2002 Austrian Grand Prix). The trouble is they've become a little bit arrogant Ferrari, and quite rightly so too, they should be arrogant with what they've done. They really haven't cared too much about who they upset. They've said, 'There is no rule to stop us doing it, so that's what we've done'. They could have obviously, if they needed to, done these things a little bit more - and maybe Rubens (Barrichello) would have won the race on merit, so why not let him win? Everyone knew Michael was going to win the championship anyway, so why did you need to do that?

Q: All these different changes, do you think this will restore the TV audience? You haven't any problems with people going to the races - everyone wants races, China wants a race, Bahrain's getting a race, there's no problems with countries wanting races, but the TV ratings have gone down.

A: This year the ratings were down in France for a start, but that was because of the election and instead of the race being shown live at 2 o'clock it was shown late at night. England, we had tennis on at the same time, which obviously caused a bit of trouble in the rest of Europe with people who took the tennis. If you look at the figures, a lot of our figures were up on the year before, and if you look at Formula One compared to other sports, we held up very, very, very well. I'm not looking to maintain, I'm looking to increase.

Q: Of course. Digital television has been a big disappointment. You are quoted this week as saying you are really flabbergasted that more people aren't watching it around the world.

A: Yes. Around the world ? is not around the world because it's not available. France, Italy and England. What we've produced is very, very good. For what people expected to pay, I was shattered to find that they didn't, and haven't and wouldn't. But this is something worldwide. Pay per view does not work. And nobody knows why.

Q: Let's move now, Bernie, if we may to the drivers next year.

A: I would like to say on that subject is the fact that with all of our experience now and the equipment we have, we can now feed that into the free-to-air television so everyone will be getting a much, much, much better show - if that's the right word. There will be a lot more to see.

Q: Indeed, you did that in the USA and it worked very well and I think everybody congratulated you on that.

A: And that wasn't what we could do. That was still a little bit watered-down.

Q: Next season we are going to see (Australian) Mark Webber in a bigger and better team, Jaguar. You no doubt applaud that and also some other new faces like Pizzonia. Is this a good thing?

A: Yep, and (Fernando) Alonso, with Renault. It's good to see some new faces, because - like our regulations - maybe some of the old timers have been around, maybe I have, too long, and maybe we should be thinking of doing something else, so yeah, I think it's always good to keep some new faces around.

Q: The newest team owner is (Australian) Paul Stoddart. Do you feel any kindred spirit with him? He's worked really hard to keep that little team (Minardi) going.

A: He has taken some financial risk himself personally to make sure it keeps going, so I would hate him to see go under because he looks like he's just getting to grips with everything now. I'm sure he's learnt all the things not to do, and next year I think you will see a different Minardi team.

Q: And is there room for independent teams that are not aligned to a manufacturer? It's tough, I know, but is there room for them?

A: There's room for them, but I think the sponsors, when they sponsor those teams, need to look at it in a different way to maybe the Vodafones and the Marlboro, looking at it with Ferrari. They think, 'We are not going to win but, you know, we can get an awful lot out of it', and now with this new qualifying system, for sure, they will get the same coverage in qualifying as Ferrari, exactly the same. In the race, the way we are going to set that up, we will also be going down the field a bit more than hanging on to the leaders, whoever they may be.

Q: We've had a history of Australian Grand Prix drivers, of course, Sir Jack Brabham, and old friend of yours, and obviously subsequently Alan Jones and now we've got a guy, Mark Webber, who looks as if he is real winning potential.

A: Everybody is really behind him. Everybody is hoping, hoping, hoping he is going to get the job done.

Q: Can I talk to you about the longer term future of Formula One? You've made some changes, now I believe there are going to be some more changes from the technical standpoint in about a month's time, hopefully they will go through, but in two or three years times where do you see Grand Prix racing?

A: If we act sensibly it's got enormous growth still, but we've got to get this nonsense with these manufacturers and their silly ideas about alternate championships and things like that. Get together, lengthen the Concorde Agreement so there really is long-term stability, and then there is enormous growth.

Q: You are talking to those manufactures, aren't you?

A: Yep.

Q: And that's the sort of thing that everyone would expect B. Ecclestone to sort.

A: Well, we're doing our best.

Q: We've got less teams, Bernie, than we have in the past. Obviously Prost went and, for whatever reason, now we're not sure if Arrows is going or not. Do you have an update on Arrows and is 20 cars enough on the grid?

A: Actually you should know better than saying what you said. We've got more teams than we've had in the past. You can remember when we had less teams.

Q: I can remember being at Clermont-Ferrand (in France) and seeing 16 cars on the grid.

A: Exactly. So it's nothing new. In the end, when we had pre-qualifying that was bad. That wasn't any good anyway. I think 20 cars - all the finances for the last 25 years have been around 20 cars, so we have always anticipated 20 cars.

Q: We have already talked a little bit about Mark Webber, but he moves to Jaguar now. Moving one row up the grid. Jaguar has been a disappointing team. Do you think Niki (Lauda) can really knock them into shape and that, of course, in turn will help Mark?

A: Well, Niki doesn't like being in the position they are, so they are doing their best. They've got a new engine next year, which hopefully will be reliable and hopefully will have a lot more power, although this year's engine has not been that bad. The chassis they've obviously been working on like everybody else. (Eddie) Irvine put up one or two good performances this year when they got things right, so there is no reason why they shouldn't. If anyone thinks that Webber is going to be a superstar and be on the podium three times or four times, that's not going to happen, in my opinion, although I hope it does. But he will do a good job, I'm sure. And we haven't seen the best of him with the car he's been in - and we are still not going to see the best of him, perhaps. It would be nice to see all the drivers running in a Ferrari. If Ferrari would take their cars for a week somewhere and let everyone drive the cars, you would soon sort out the guys that are good and those that aren't, because the good guys, as you know, they can more or less get into a car and, not get the best out of it by any means, but as good as all the others will, so you will soon see the right people.

Q: With all the gadgets, Bernie, is it easier to drive a Formula One car these days? It's certainly easier to change gear.

A: I haven't driven one lately.

Q: Go back about 40 years.

A: It's difficult for me to use a computer, so I don't think I could drive a Formula One car anymore. Is it easier? I think it's a different type of driver today. The driver that wins today is a guy that thinks through their racing rather than sort of closes their eyes and leaves the braking to the last minute. Different type of driver. It's really like the guys that would be flying the Spitfires and the guys that are flying the current fighters; they're different people.

Q: Just one last question about the actual practice days, the Friday and Saturday. What will the fans see? Obviously going to see this one-by-one qualifying sounds very exciting, but will they see all the cars running all together earlier on?

A: Yes, absolutely. Friday will be a busy, busy day. The intention is to bring in people that aren't actually running in the race, so you have the opportunity to see new guys.

Q: What will happen Saturday, will there be a session where everybody runs and then the qualifying follows that?

A: Yes, absolutely. Saturday is the same for everybody.

Q: In fact, they get the best of both worlds?

A: If I had a team in Formula One, I would certainly want to run on Friday and not waste my money testing all the year.

Q: So generally a bright new future for Formula One?

A: Yes. If you think about it, and think if Michael ever had the same reliability as Rubens has had, and they didn't fix Rubens' car to be slow, because if they wanted him to be second they would just tell him to be second, which probably they have. He would have probably stopped in four or five races and you would have seen a whole different championship. And the races that Rubens stopped in, he would have probably won, and the championship would have been completely different. You can't remember when 17 races, the guy not only didn't stop but finished on the podium in 17 races.

Q: It's been quite extraordinary.

A: It's just one of those years.

Q: The best car, the best mechanics, the best driver all come together.

A: And quite a bit of luck.

Q: Bernie, thanks very much for your time and look forward to seeing you down in Melbourne; I know you always enjoy it down there.

A: I certainly will.

Q: Lovely. Thank you very much indeed.

-agpc-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Mark Webber , Paul Stoddart , Jack Brabham , Bernie Ecclestone
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams , Minardi