SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) Returning to the Formula One paddock for the first time since he stopped running the series, Bernie Ecclestone spoke of his limited input as an adviser to the new owners.
The autocratic Ecclestone moved aside in January after nearly 40 years in charge, when U.S. sports and entertainment firm Liberty Media took over.
Chase Carey replaced him as chief executive; Sean Bratches was hired as the managing director of commercial operations; and former Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn came in as managing director of motorsports.
The 86-year-old Ecclestone was asked to carry on as an honorary chairman, but he says it has not taken up much time.
“This morning I spoke to Chase on one or two issues,” Ecclestone said at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Friday. “Never met Sean. I met Ross for 10 minutes this year. I knew Ross from the past obviously and I feel sorry for Chase being thrown in the deep end.”
The new owners are tasked with rebuilding F1’s popularity after years of predictable races. Red Bull dominated from 2010-13 and Mercedes has crushing the competition from 2013-16.
“Nothing disrespectful, but there is very little I could have done, or you could do: It’s the racing that’s been bad,” Ecclestone said. “If we have Ferrari going well and Red Bull going well, it would come back again and the public will be interested.”
This year’s championship promises so far to be much more exciting after title fights largely between drivers on the same team. Sebastian Vettel won four straight titles for Red Bull and then Lewis Hamilton won two for Mercedes before losing to his now-retired teammate Nico Rosberg last year.
After two races, Vettel is level on points with Hamilton, but more importantly, Ferrari is challenging Mercedes.
“The racing is better up to now than it was last year,” Ecclestone said.
New rule changes, such as wider tires and improved aerodynamics, have helped bring a buzz back. But Ecclestone cautioned against reading too much into them.
“The tire size was the same five years ago. They say the wider tires are going to be something special. They are the same as they were,” Ecclestone said. “Every year they play around with bits and pieces, stick bits on and take bits off. So we haven’t done a lot to the cars.”
Ecclestone transformed F1 into a multi-billion business. He started in the 1970s primarily negotiating with circuits before taking up a position of power as the commercial rights holder in the 1990s, massively increasing the series’ TV exposure.
“I was running the company to try and make money for the shareholders. It doesn’t seem that’s the thing that’s driving them. He (Carey) wants to get more happy spectators I think.”
But Ecclestone does not envy him.
“I wouldn’t want to be having to deliver to a public company today. I feel sorry for Chase having to do that.”
Ecclestone overlooked social media. The new owners are looking to heavily increase digital coverage.
“It’s interesting, because I didn’t believe in doing that,” he said.
In recent years, issues were regularly raised about the top-heavy distribution of wealth in the series and fears raised about the future of famed races such as the Italian Grand Prix and the German GP – which has struggled to host races – in the face of rising track fees.
With hindsight, Ecclestone accepts he could have done things better.
“I charged them too much for what we provided so I feel a bit responsible,” he said. “Nothing to do with Liberty, and it went on my watch. We didn’t deliver the show that we charged them for.”