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Ecclestone has a limited input as adviser to F1’s new owners

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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.”

F1: Valtteri Bottas urges Lewis Hamilton to clear up Mercedes future and sign

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MONACO (AP) — Valtteri Bottas is urging Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to sign a new contract, even though his own future is uncertain.

Bottas needs to convince Mercedes to give him a new deal for next year. Hamilton, meanwhile, is stalling on signing a new one even though an offer is in place. Hamilton was again asked about his contract situation on Wednesday, and maintains he’s in no hurry.

“There isn’t any sticking point. There just hasn’t been any rush,” Hamilton said. “There’s no discussion with anybody else, there’s no consideration for anybody else, it’s just (me) taking my time.”

But Bottas would like Hamilton’s future cleared up.

“For sure I would. First of all, I would like to stay here. That is my goal for the long term. It would be nice if Lewis wants to stay and finds an agreement,” Bottas said at the Mercedes motorhome. “I enjoy working with him, I enjoy the challenge he gives me. I enjoy the fact he’s four-time world champion and at the moment I’m none. It makes me try harder to be better.

“It wouldn’t change my mind that I want to stay here, but I think we work well together,” he added.

Last season was their first together. Bottas was drafted in from Williams as an emergency replacement after Nico Rosberg retired. He won three races but he stood out more as the ideal support driver as Hamilton reclaimed the F1 title.

Bottas understands Mercedes expects improvement.

“We had a chat before the season and naturally we expect performance gains compared to last year, being closer to Lewis,” Bottas said. “That’s what you need to do in the second season.”

However, Bottas says he has not been set a specific target in terms of points or where he finishes overall.

“There’s no magic number,” he said. “There’s no clause or anything, so it’s how the team feels I’m performing.”

Bottas finished third overall last year behind Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton.

He is in the same overall position – 20 points behind Vettel and 37 adrift of Hamilton – heading into this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

The Finnish driver would be closer if not for a dramatic finish at the Azerbaijan GP last month. With victory seemingly guaranteed, he sustained a tire puncture and ended up with no points. He bounced back with a fine drive for second place in Spain two weeks ago.

“I feel like I’ve met my performance targets. Pace-wise I’m on the level I need, but result-wise I’m not happy,” Bottas said. “It’s been strange. But I know if I keep improving very good things will come.”

He has faced a considerable amount of criticism with observers questioning whether he can compete at the top level. Yet driving under the constant pressure of having a point to prove has also made him more resilient.

“For sure it makes you tougher and better,” he said. “From each difficult weekend, I feel I’ve been able to turn it (around).”