Very few people involved in F1 talk as much to the press as Bernie Ecclestone. Barely a week goes by without his comments appearing in the media and it gives a useful marker as to what is really going on in the sport. This sometimes involves looking for the motive behind Ecclestone's comments and a psychologist would have a field day over his latest outburst.
"He's a good leader and he'd have been a bloody good prime minister," Ecclestone recently said about FIA president Max Mosley, adding that he would have made a better PM than Tony Blair. The gushing didn't stop there. "He thinks on his feet. He could hold his own against anybody who wanted to do battle against him. And he would be committed enough to do what he felt had to be done," Ecclestone said, admitting that he thinks this despite being "a big Blair supporter."
Quite a change of heart from the days after news broke about Ecclestone's £1m donation to Labour in 1997 when he said "Blair dropped me in it. It was very embarrassing. I was suddenly the bad guy. People thought I was trying to bribe the government, when it was a donation to the Labour Party before they were elected."
When Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt read Ecclestone's comments he almost spat out his cornflakes. Not because if Mosley had been the PM and continued his penchant for sex parties he would certainly have been booted out had it been revealed. No, Sylt was shocked because just a few months ago, during a taped interview he did with Ecclestone the F1 boss launched repeated tirades against Mosley. And then some.
Sylt's ears first pricked up in the interview when he asked Ecclestone how the FIA could make cost cutting regulations when it is not meant to have anything to do with the business of F1. "They can't really," was the blunt reply, "the teams and us should be writing the technical and sporting regulations." And Ecclestone didn't stop there.
"Without us there wouldn't be an FIA," Ecclestone told Sylt, and then it got personal. Following Mosley's involvement in last year's infamous sex scandal, Ecclestone called for him to resign and then just a few weeks later the FIA unexpectedly announced the launch of the new F2 feeder series to rival Ecclestone's own GP2. It is something that he clearly hadn't forgotten when he spoke to Sylt in December. Ecclestone said Mosley's decision to launch F2 "was all done for the wrong reasons. He did this when he had the problem with his private life." Ouch!
Ecclestone's words bit the FIA bang on the backside. Within hours of the article being published, Sylt received a call from the FIA asking for the tape of the interview with Ecclestone or a transcript. Sylt duly forwarded a verbatim transcript of the relevant parts of the exchange but the strangest development came from Ecclestone himself.
Before publishing any articles from the interview, Sylt emailed Ecclestone the transcript of the entire exchange. The F1 boss had clearly pored over it since he called Sylt to suggest some slight changes in his comments. However, his attacks on Mosley and the FIA were left unchanged. So Sylt was surprised, to say the least, when Ecclestone called him following publication of the piece containing these tirades to ask whether he really had said these things.
'You did indeed say some fiery things,' said Sylt as Ecclestone read through the article with him. Apparently an angry Mosley had called Ecclestone wondering what was behind the attack and it seems that Ecclestone couldn't remember what he had told Sylt. A baffled Sylt offered to send Ecclestone the tape and added that he would immediately send Ecclestone a cut-down version of the transcript highlighting his quotes about Mosley in context.
To cap it all, Ecclestone ended the conversation with Sylt by saying that even if he didn't say that F2 was set up for all the wrong reasons, it is true regardless. A slack-jawed Sylt called Pitpass soon after this surreal conversation had ended and Ecclestone's recent apparent change of heart sparked Sylt to sanction the telling of this tale. But it is far from warts and all. According to Sylt (and his verbatim transcript is testimony to this) Ecclestone asked for the dictaphone to be turned off several times during the interview while he gave him a few pointers which were, let's just say, too colourful to print in their raw form. The pointers were duly logged and Sylt is on the case...