FEATURE BY CHRIS BALFE
Over the years we have grown used to his glib one-liners, one of our personal favourites being in reaction the pandemonium surrounding the 2000 British Grand Prix.
Moving the event from its traditional July slot to April, Bernie Ecclestone was fully aware that the weather in England at that time of year was predictably cold, wet and thoroughly miserable.
As footage of queues still trying to enter the circuit once the action had already kicked off, of 'car parks' turned to quagmires and, fans being turned away from the event, were beamed around the world; Ecclestone was asked if he could guarantee the race would never be held in April again. Having agreed, he was then asked when the event might be held the following year. "I don't know," he replied, "but I'd keep Christmas free."
Even those still soaked to the bone must have allowed themselves a wry smile at that one.
Along with the wit however, there have been the gaffes; his endorsement of Hitler as someone "able to get things done", his comparison of women to "other domestic appliances" and his reminder, in the wake of Alain Prost's (second) retirement from the sport, just months before the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna, that in the old days there was a "natural form of culling".
At the time of the Russian Grand Prix Ecclestone allowed himself to be interviewed by Sophie Shevardnadze for the Russian news network RT. Shevardnadze, granddaughter of former Georgian President and Soviet minister of foreign affairs Eduard Shevardnadze, socialite and dancer - having contested the Russian version of Dancing with the Stars in 2010 - struck gold.
Whilst his apologists, including those at Enstone, who insist that Ecclestone's continued criticism of the new (for 2014) formula was down to the media - "He reacts to what is written in the press," insisted Matthew Carter in July - courtesy of RT we have the transcript and video of the latest PR own goal by the sport's supremo.
In addition to defending FIFA president Sepp Blatter, Ecclestone declares himself Vladimir Putin's "best supporter", admits to not being "very enthusiastic about America", does not believe there's "any place for democracy… anywhere" and believes "Europe is a thing of a past".
He stops short of suggesting that we should embrace ISIS and that Kim Jong Un is misunderstood, but one is left with the impression that Hermann Tilke might already be considering the newly developed Palmyra as a good spot for the Syrian Grand Prix in a couple of years.
As for F1 itself, Ecclestone admits "a lot of that technical regulations are too stringent" and as a result "we ought to tear it (the rule book) up and have another book".
"We are in show business," he says. "The minute we stop entertaining, we’re in trouble. I think, what our biggest problem is that you and I know pretty well who’s going to be the World Champion this year. It can’t be right. People come to watch racing, to watch anything, and they don’t want to know the result before it starts. That’s the rulebook that I want to tear up."
This isn't the infamous 'little Johnny' of the numerous jokes making such comments however, it is the figurehead of a global sport/business worth billions.
If Max Mosley was accused of bringing the sport into disrepute, what on earth is Ecclestone doing?
If Europe is a thing of the past, much of it is due to politicians and leaders who, like Mr Blatter, have allowed power to go to their heads, putting self-interest ahead of the roles they were elected to. Surely, the only people who would jump to Blatter’s defence are those who have adopted similar tactics.
The sport has fought hard, motivated it must be said by the car manufacturers, to get F1 back into America - especially after the way it has treated the United States in the past - yet days before an American driver lines up on the grid for the United States Grand Prix for the first time since 2007, months before the first American F1 team takes to the track since 1986 - the sport's leader admits to not being "very enthusiastic about America".
Way to go Bernie.
At a time the sport is shedding fans, and possibly shedding teams, do we really need its so-called supremo going public with such nonsense?
In our latest podcast, Max Noble, increasingly the source of our wilder conspiracy theories, suggests that perhaps Ecclestone is seeking to devalue the sport, thereby eventually allowing someone to step in and buy it at a bargain basement price.
As we look at a sport, which he is continuously criticising, which is haemorrhaging fans, is in danger of losing two (maybe three) teams, where seemingly everything is manipulated in order to produce a 'show' aimed merely at making money, that has almost completely lost its soul, if Ecclestone genuinely stands by all that he said in that interview then it is time to go.
Whether he likes it or not, we do live in a democracy, and we witness the alternatives on a daily basis on our TV screens, on the web and in our newspapers.
Sadly, many of those within the sport will not speak out, be it fear or the fact that Ecclestone has made them wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.
But in an age where the baying mob stand by, Twitchforks at the ready, can our sport really afford to be associated with a 'leader' with such views?
There is a saying that a politician thinks in terms of the next election, whilst a statesman thinks in terms of the next generation.
Formula One, those that participate, those that support it through sponsorship and its millions of fans, deserve a fit and proper leadership.