Ecclestone Interview in Telegraph 97-12-22

Taken from Daily Telegraph this morning. Bernie Ecclestone is head of Formula One Promotions, the organisation who act as the commercial rights-holders for the sport. He is pioneering Fl's digital television crusade and plans to float his ...

Taken from Daily Telegraph this morning.

Bernie Ecclestone is head of Formula One Promotions, the organisation who act as the commercial rights-holders for the sport. He is pioneering Fl's digital television crusade and plans to float his business on the stock markets in London and New York next year. He talked to The Daily Telegraph's motor racing correspondent about the year past, his plans for the future and the image of the sport.

TIMOTHY COLLINGS: Are you proud of your achievements? BERNIE ECCLESTONE: No, the answer is probably not. I do work. I have the ability, I suppose, to see a situation and exploit it. I'm just like any business guy. You know, 90per cent of the thing that makes people successful in business is just luck. Being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of it. You've got to work hard and you've got to take chances, but you've also got to be lucky. And I have been lucky because in the past I've had a lot of support from people like Mr Ferrari, Colin Chapman and Teddy Meyer, who helped me a lot. COLLINGS: I see you received an orna- mental sculpture as a gift from British American Tobacco, over there by the telephone. Given the European position on anti-tobacco legislation, how is it that they have decided to come to Fl now? ECCLESTONE: I think they're like any company. They're looking for what is good for them at the time. And, at the moment, they think Formula One is good for them to be in. COLLINGS: You don't like publicity. You protect your private life. Is that a result of something that has happened to you, with the media, or have you always been that way? ECCLESTONE: I've not changed. I always try to skin round things if I can. I escape if I can. But I have never changed in that. COLLINGS: Looking back on 1997, an extraordinary year? ECCLESTONE: Yes. I think it has been a super year and I hope next year is as good as this year has been. It really has been a good year. We've done a lot of things, too, which most people will never see. On our digital television production side, for example, we've invested a lot. Some- one has just been to see me this morning and he told me how much we've spent this year to do things, to produce these things. We spent close on =A340 million, without capi- tal. That's the running cost, this year. It should go down a bit because we've been investing like crazy. But I'm happy with the result and next year people are going to see the results. COLLINGS: What will change in 1998? ECCLESTONE: What is going to be dif- ferent is the pay-per-view stuff. That's what we have been concentrating on and that's because if the public are going to be paying for something extra then we want to make sure that they are getting something a lot better. COLLINGS: Is it going to happen in this country? ECCLESTONE: I don't know. There isn't anyone here who is broadcasting on digital at the moment. So we'll have to wait and see when they catch on. Sky are talking to us a lot and they say they -will be equipped to do it next year. But there are other options, too.

COLLINGS: The float has moved around. When is it going to happen? ECCLESTONE: The float moved because Salomons put a date which was never really firmed up and I never said we had a date. COLLINGS: Well, when would you like , to float?

ECCLESTONE: When we get all the rubber stamps from the European Com- mission. We don't want them coming out with something in the middle of a float that we haven't even thought about. COLLINGS: Cigarettes, do they come into the float decision? ECCLESTONE: No, not at all. It's only business. Nothing else. COLLINGS: The sport has suffered a period of heavy image-bashing this autumn. What were your own feelings? Has Formula One been damaged? ECCLESTONE; No, not at all. I think that people, if they analyse it properly, will realise that the decision we made concerning Michael Schumacher was the right one. As I said at the time, he has punished himself. If we had pun- ished him heavily for next year, it would not have been right, and if we did something for last year, so what? In the end, if you punish someone very heavily, the guy ends up getting a lot of sympathy and, at the moment, it's quite the opposite. He has punished himself because he knows at the moment that it isn't quite the right thing to do. And, in Germany, his ratings have fallen. His popularity has gone down a lot. COLLINGS: People suggested, too, that Ferrari were being favoured to win the championship. ECCLESTONE: They were my favourites. COLLINGS: Did you help them? ECCLESTONE: No, you can't help them. How is it possible to help them? I would like to have seen them win the world championship. I think it would have been nice. Ferrari are still Ferrari. But the truth of the matter is that in the end the people who should win, do win. They get the job done and it's no use making excuses. It's no good talking about what Ferrari could have done. They didn't. It's that simple. But per- sonally, I feel that Ferrari is a magic name and I was always very close to Mr Ferrari. I had a very good relationship with him. Very good. But then I'm close to Frank [Williams], too, and Ron [Dennis]. But we haven't had a win from Ferrari for a long time. COLLINGS: Tobacco. What is your view of the future for Fl in Europe, eight years on? Is it a viable long-term business? ECCLESTONE: I think anyone who starts talking about eight years isn't very realistic. The way the world moves today, as fast as it does move, it's diffi- cult to predict just one year ahead about anything at all. Forget about For- mula One. It's the same with almost anything at all. You see people coming in here and there, they invest a lot of money, and then they move out. Like the Japanese. Things change so quickly now that I wouldn't even want to think about what's happening in eight years' time. Or five years' time, for that mat- ter. I was the one who wanted to go to Asia a long time ago when we took the race to Japan and everyone said I was a lunatic, which a lot of people have for- gotten, which was in the mid Seventies. And then we went to Australia. We need to service that part of the world. We're not a European championship, we're a world championship. And then you say, why not go to America? And the answgr is that it is America, and that's why we don't go there! You know, what's incredible to me is that, worldwide, people always manage to build facilities and invest in their facili- ties, but not in America. Their road courses are a disaster. They won't pass the safety standards so we couldn't go there even if we wanted to. American sport is so different anyway from the rest of the world and I'm fully convinced that every time we've been in America, wherever we've been, we played to capacity houses. It's difficult to get good television there because there's so much sport and the reason that soc- cer won't work there and the reason we're in trouble there is that the Americans, from the day they're born, are brought up not to concen- trate for too long. America is not a place with a culture for Formula One, in my opinion, but the rest of the world is. And that's why we need to concentrate on the rest of the world. COLLINGS: Were you con- scious at the time that your million-pound donation to Tony Blair would be a politi- cal bombshell? ECCLESTONE: No. At the time, they weren't elected. And my concern was that if they were supported by the unions with big amounts of money, which they had' been, as soon as they got in, they would have to listen to the unions and maybe the unions' thoughts and the thoughts of the business world were somewhat different. Not particularly well-bal- anced. I was led to believe that a num- ber of other large companies were sup- porting the Labour Party in their election campaign and I thought that if they were going to get in then it was better that they get in without literally having the unions keeping control. It's better they got in on their own, so they don't have to be paid back. I pay a lot of taxes. So, I invested a million quid. And they could have got in, changed all the tax structure. My tax bill could have gone up by five or six million, so it seemed like a good idea. I didn't want to see the Labour Party in a position where they were going to be influenced by the trade unions to the extent that the trade unions would be controlling the government. COLLINGS: The cheque has been sent back to you, but you haven't banked it. Why? ECCLESTONE: We're very busy at the moment. COLLINGS: There must be another reason. ECCLESTONE: No. I must speak to the accountants. I don't know when they sent it to me. Maybe we'll put it in the bank after Christmas. COLLINGS: You must have some kind of vision of the next few years in your mind, for the end of the tobacco era for Fl. What's it like? ECCLESTONE: No, I don't. I'd rather not think about it. When problems arise, I tend to cure them rather than go and look for them. So I'm not looking much further than next year. COLLINGS: At last, the Senna death trial is over. Are you satisfied at the outcome? ECCLESTONE: It should never have happened in the first place. The Senna trial is finished, but the problem in Italy isn't finished. We could go to

Imola and a mechanic's wheelnut jams or something silly happens and the wheel comes off and it goes in the crowd and it could happen all over again. COLLINGS: But Italy is a traditional Formula One country. You couldn't have a calendar without an Italian race, surely? ECCLESTONE: No. But you can't have half our guys locked up. COLLINGS: So, the heart of the Euro- pean calendar is endangered? France, Belgium and the two Italian races? ECCLESTONE: France is up to them. They'll have the same trouble at the World Cup. They'll have people wandering in there, doing what they want to do, filming anything they want, and how they like, because their laws allow it. As far as Italy is concerned, they'll have to give some serious thought to how these things are dealt with in future. COLLINGS: Ferrari and the tapes and the allegations of collusion - what's your view of all that? ECCLESTONE: Firstly, I never had the tapes. I had the transcripts. I can't recall all the circumstances, but I don't think the transcripts I had came to me from Ferrari. There were other teams with them. I think what happened is that someone said, "What do you think of this?'' and then you guys picked it up and used it like there was no tomorrow. Anything negative, you're there like a shot. In this case, was it right for this stuff to be sent to The Times? Well, I don't know who sent it - but it wasn't good for Ferrari. COLLINGS: What do you do for Christmas? ECCLESTONE: Turkey and Christmas pudding. COLLINGS: Here, in London? ECCLESTONE: No, not here. Switzerland. COLLINGS: As a child, did you dream of being as successful and rich as'you have become? ECCLESTONE: No. How can a kid have those dreams? Thht's impossible. Not at all.

-- Stephen M Baines

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Tiff Needell , Bernie Ecclestone , Colin Chapman
Teams Ferrari , Williams