Feb.23 (GMM/Inautonews.com) While the Barcelona pitlane was full of brand new F1 cars, the bulk of the paddock banter on Monday was actually about politics.
It had been triggered by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who told a British newspaper just hours before the first pre-season test began that he would not waste money on a ticket to a grand prix.
“It’s a bit surprising when someone says something like that about his own product,” Nico Hulkenberg told Bild newspaper.
Ecclestone’s barbs had been fired in all directions, including at Toto Wolff who is one of the main obstacles to radical rules change for 2017 and beyond.
“If that’s the way he wants to tread as a promoter,” Wolff said, “then that’s his decision.”
Others were less forgiving.
“Everything is just starting to get going, everyone is very positive and he (Ecclestone) has to do this and destroy everything,” F1 legend and Mercedes team chairman Niki Lauda blasted.
“I just don’t understand why he does it — the master of the sport being so critical.
“We are having a big meeting with Bernie and I hope someone asks him his reasons for saying those things,” Lauda added.
The meeting Lauda is referring to will happen in Geneva on Tuesday, and it is billed as F1’s last chance to pass radical reform for 2017 with a majority vote.
“I think Bernie is frustrated with where formula one is,” said Red Bull’s Christian Horner, who like Ecclestone would like significant rule changes to pass.
“In the old days it would have been easier to fix it. Now we have this democracy it’s very hard to get everyone to agree.
“But we need to do it now because if we need unanimous agreement then you might as well forget it,” Horner added.
That is because Mercedes, the back-to-back world champions in the controversial ‘power unit’ era, will not agree to changes that are too radical.
“We believe that an excessive increase in aerodynamic downforce could hurt formula one and be difficult for the tyre manufacturer to cope with,” Wolff insisted.
“It’s like asking the engine guys to build a 2000hp engine. They will say it’s impossible. Yet we are going to ask Pirelli to do something impossible?
“We are not against change, but there are diverse opinions from staying where we are to making the cars into aeroplanes. There has to be balance. The outcome is unknown,” said Wolff.
As for Ecclestone’s criticisms, Wolff answered: “When I came into the sport, I was upset with criticism but now I understand that Bernie and the headlines is part of formula one.
“Ecclestone always says directly what he does not like, and this causes a reaction. It has always been like that. He is the promoter and these are his tactics.”
Indeed, Ecclestone is believed to be preparing to table a proposal in Geneva to give out points to the top-ten qualifiers but then reverse the grid.
“Let’s see what happens,” said Horner. “He wants to shake things up a bit — he’s the promoter, he’s got to sell formula one around the world and he wants it to be the most exciting and spectacular that it can possibly be.”
Ecclestone also has some other allies who are alarmed that the trend for television ratings in the past few years is sharply downwards.
“He (Ecclestone) is the commercial leader of the sport so if you see your TV figures going down it is concerning,” said McLaren-Honda’s Eric Boullier.
“We are in favour of making the sport more exciting, faster. We have been talking about this for a long time, so if we can’t agree (on Tuesday) that is a failure in my opinion,” the McLaren team boss added.