Bernie: Build walls for good F1 races

Sport's owner says motor racing is becoming too safe for its fans' fancies

MEXICO CITY • Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, no stranger to controversial comments, has suggested building walls on racetrack corners to add a greater sense of danger.

"In those (the old) days, and it can't happen again, people would come to a race and think somebody could get killed," Ecclestone, who turns 86 today, told The Times of London in Mexico City, before this weekend's Mexican Grand Prix.

"Today, they know they come to a race and nobody is going to get killed. Which is good.

"But if somebody is running a circus and they have a high-wire act that is 15 metres up, people go there and say, 'Crikey'. If it was a metre off the ground, they'd say, 'I can do that'.

"You know why people like Max Verstappen? Because he is a racer. And when he races, people complain that he puts one finger up to his rivals, which is good."

Ecclestone is also infuriated by vast safety run-off areas, which allow drivers to make mistakes and rejoin the race unhindered.

Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo (on bike), in full Day of the Dead face paint and regalia, performing at a festival celebrating Mexico's version of Halloween ahead of this weekend's race in Mexico City.
Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo (on bike), in full Day of the Dead face paint and regalia, performing at a festival celebrating Mexico’s version of Halloween ahead of this weekend’s race in Mexico City. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MAX THE MODEL RACER

You know why people like Max Verstappen? Because he is a racer. And when he races, people complain that he puts one finger up to his rivals, which is good.

BERNIE ECCLESTONE, Formula One commercial boss, extolling the virtues of Red Bull's Dutch driver.

He wants mistakes to be punished, just as they would at street circuits where walls and barriers lurk at every corner.

"I wanted to build 40cm walls around the corners," he said. "They keep saying drivers mustn't go off the road. I promise they won't. They didn't go off the road in Baku this year and I rarely see them go off in Monaco or Singapore. And if you think about it, they are probably some of the good races."

Crashes and daring overtaking moves are the lifeblood of F1, Ecclestone believes, but he said that the International Automobile Federation (FIA), the sport's governing body, seems to introduce a new rule at every grand prix that curbs the racing instincts of many drivers - often in collusion with the stars on the grid.

Last weekend in Austin, the authorities, with the approval of drivers including defending world champion Lewis Hamilton, clipped the wings of rising star Verstappen by introducing a rule. The new law prevents drivers from blocking rivals by changing direction inside the braking zone.

F1's drivers - paid millions to drive the fastest racing cars on the planet - may dismiss Ecclestone's comments as the ravings of a man who is 86 and out of touch with the modern world of motor racing.

But the Briton is torn between the need for show business in a world in which fans crave both constant excitement and the wellbeing of drivers.

It is the contradictory nature of F1: Fans want gladiators prepared to risk life and limb for victory, yet fear the worst.

THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS

F1 MEXICAN GRAND PRIX

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2016, with the headline 'Bernie: Build walls for good F1 races'. Print Edition | Subscribe