Reams have been written about both Formula One Group CEO Bernie Ecclestone and 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton, usually separately. Interviewed together for the first time at the recent Bahrain Grand Prix, the duo set out to make joint headlines, as they discussed the return of Michael Schumacher, the three new teams joining the grid this year, and each other…
Q: For a 41 year-old the performance of Michael Schumacher wasn’t too bad…
Bernie Ecclestone: It has nothing to do with age. I’m already 79, so be careful what you’re saying!
Lewis Hamilton: Obviously some people don’t age. Like Bernie and Michael. Don’t forget, he’s still a seven-time world champion, even if he wasn’t at the very top in Bahrain. Though I’m sure that it did not go unnoticed that Nico (Rosberg) was faster than him all weekend.
Q: And what do you draw from that?
LH: That Nico was the faster one. You could see that most clearly in qualifying, where there are no differences in fuel load and it is all about pure speed. Nico was clearly faster.
Q: Did you expect that would be the case?
LH: You can never bank on anything, but Nico is a very fast guy. I already knew that from the days when we were racing karts. We really fought it out on the track.
BE: How much was Michael slower than Nico? Three-tenths?
LH: That’s nothing.
BE: That’s what I’m saying, because a lap in Bahrain is pretty long.
Q: How big was the gap between you and your new team mate Jenson Button?
Q: Lewis, how important is it for you to be faster than Jenson?
LH: It doesn’t make a difference for me. I want to win and that means that I have to beat my team mate. But I knew that Jenson would be fast. He’s a great driver.
Q: How many phone calls from prospective managers did you get after you announced that your father is to concentrate on his own business affairs?
LH: Bernie, may I tell them about your call?
BE: Sure. I tried to call him saying that I was in search of a job, but he didn’t pick up the phone.
LH: When I checked my voicemail, there he was - Bernie telling me that he was looking for a job!
Q: And what was your reply?
LH: That I will eventually call back…
BE: So obviously I wasn’t good enough!
LH: Honestly, I have received a lot of applications but I’m not in a hurry to decide. I am with a fantastic team, with many competent people, so at the moment I have no need for a manager.
BE: A driver doesn’t need a manager. Gerhard Berger is the prime example of that. He managed himself and was making more money than anybody else at the time he was racing. I am sure he made better deals for himself than he would have done with a manager at his side.
LH: Well, it’s good to know that at the moment I’m not in any contractual negotiations.
Q: Bernie, if you compare Lewis and Michael, what’s your conclusion?
BE: Michael’s comeback is fantastic for Formula One. But Lewis’s first season in Formula One - the year after Michael retired - was equally fantastic. What he delivered in his rookie year and the spectacular battles with Fernando Alonso made fans forget about the void left by Schumacher.
LH: Thanks for the compliment.
Q: Lewis, how satisfied are you with the first race weekend of the season?
LH: Well, after the February tests I hadn’t expected to be that far behind the Red Bulls and Ferraris, but we will fight to bridge the gap.
Q: Your former team boss Ron Dennis was in Bahrain. Is his presence a support?
LH: In terms of the racing it doesn’t make any difference, but I am always happy when he’s present, because I have a very close relationship with him. I admire what he has achieved in his career and what he has done for the team. Without him I wouldn’t be here.
BE: I think that he should attend more races too. He belongs in Formula One.
Q: Bernie, have you ever seen a better driver line-up than this season’s?
BE: Do you mean at McLaren or Mercedes? Honestly, I cannot remember having ever seen a better line-up than this year’s. Eight drivers eligible to win the championship. It definitely won’t boil down to a two-horse race.
Q: If you were still a team principal, which drivers would you sign?
BE: Probably the cheapest.
Q: So you wouldn’t sign Lewis?
LH: I don’t believe Bernie.
BE: Well, Lewis and Sebastian (Vettel) wouldn’t be too bad, if I negotiated cleverly enough.
Q: Before the season started you said that Hamilton and Vettel would fight it out for the title. Do you still stand by that prediction?
BE: After one race you cannot say who will win - except that it probably will not be Virgin.
LH: Never say never!
BE: In this case I can. I don’t think that the new teams will raise their performance significantly over the season.
LH: Well, I also have to admit that the gap between the new teams and the established ones is quite significant. But on the other hand, it’s good to see new teams enter Formula One. It’s good for our sport.
Q: Lewis, is here anything you have always wanted to know from Bernie but were too afraid to ask?
LH: No. I can always turn to Bernie if I need advice. He has always made compliments and has always supported me, so why should I be afraid? I admire what he has achieved. Formula One is the best sport in the world.