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Ecclestone laments lack of characters in F1

NEWS STORY
07/12/2012

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone is disappointed at the lack of characters in the sport today, citing the recent furore over swearing on the podium as a lot of fuss over nothing.

Having ruled the sport for five decades, Ecclestone has seen it all, the Garagistes, the Turbo era, the playboy racers and the corporate clones. In the wake of one of the best all-round seasons of recent times, the Englishman, who had Nelson Piquet racing for him when he owned Brabham, laments the lack of characters on today's grid.

"Times are simply different today and that doesn't only go for drivers," he told the official F1 website, which he owns. "The whole environment is different. We have many more do's and don'ts than back in the old days.

"Remember when Sebastian swore on the podium?" he continued. "He immediately got into trouble. If that had been James Hunt or Graham Hill, they wouldn't have cared - and nobody else would have cared.

"Look at the television culture today - the f-word has become part of normal conversation. I don't think that Sebastian's spontaneous expression was a big deal for a lot of people, just for a few people. Complete nonsense! So if you ask what the real difference is between past drivers and today's drivers, it's that they were characters before and they're not allowed to be characters now."

Asked, in particular, about Vettel, and whether he has the 'star quality' of a Senna or Clark, Ecclestone is confident: "He will be alright. He will grow into this. He is now super confident, because a large part of charisma is self-esteem and not ego as some might think."

As we enter the Vettel-era, Ecclestone reveals that he wishes Michael Schumacher hadn't returned to the sport, even though, in the eyes of many, the German remains one of the biggest draws.

"I would rather he had stopped as a seven-time world champion than stopping now," said Ecclestone. "People new to the sport, people who have joined the F1 fan fraternity just recently, will remember Michael now, not as he was. They don't see the hero that he was but the human that can fail.

"I think the important thing is, and this is probably difficult, to know when you can't do what you used to do anymore and then hand it over to somebody else. I hope that's what I can do: when I feel I can't deliver, I will certainly say goodbye.

"To be honest I don't think that Formula One needed to be good for Schuey," he continued. "He enjoyed racing and was there helping to do good things for Formula One. We will miss Michael, because even though he wasn't winning races in those three years, he is still very popular."

Asked, considering his iconic status within the sport, whether there might be a role for the seven-time champion, Ecclestone was dismissive of the idea, but not for the reason one might think.

"Well, we wouldn't and we couldn't keep him in another role because he is too close to Mercedes," he said. "It would have been easier when he was still close to Ferrari, I guess. He doesn't have to work, he doesn't have to worry and he can do what he wants to do. Doesn't that sound good?"

Reflecting on the season, he said: "I was a bit surprised that Ferrari weren't a bit more competitive, and I was surprised that McLaren had so many failures. On the positive side it was a good year in terms of TV audiences, the public perception was phenomenal. We also went to a new place (Austin), and it was perfectly prepared. So at the moment everything with Formula One is super positive.

"The next big thing will be Russia," he continued. "Then we have to get this New York thing picking up again."

Asked about when he might follow Schumacher's example, the answer comes as no surprise: "There's lots of unfinished business," he says, "no time to waste one thought on retirement! Look at the Austin race: it was phenomenal. Everybody agreed that it is great that Formula One is back in the States. Maybe we'll get the Europeans to wake up instead of thinking that it (a race) is a God-given thing. When Europeans perform and do their job we are happy to stay.

"I am still a fan of Formula One," he adds. "Probably the bad thing with me is that I put in lots of effort to build Formula One the way it is now, so this is my baby and I want to look after it. Sooner or later we're going to have to get a babysitter. When that will be, who knows? I am in very good shape."

And are there any changes he would like to make to the sport before he hangs up his wallet? "Nothing really,” he replies. “We have to understand that we are in the entertainment business and this year we have entertained. All sports today are show business and it gets dangerous for a sport if people start to forget that."

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