AUSTIN (Texas) • Formula One's great showman cast a seasoned eye over the man most likely to win the world championship this year... and rated him as a bit boring.
Bernie Ecclestone is never afraid to speak his mind and the chief executive who puts the show on the road thinks Nico Rosberg will be a worthy champion if he beats Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton to the title this year - but not half as much fun or as good a salesman for a sport that depends on engaging tens of millions of viewers around the world.
At the United States Grand Prix on Friday, Ecclestone, a week short of his 86th birthday, cast his memory through the years.
For the Briton, the drinking and smoking James Hunt, who liked a member of the opposite sex to perk him up before a race, was the ultimate maverick. And Ecclestone believes that only Hamilton comes anywhere near matching him.
Rosberg, the family man who toes the line for his Mercedes paymasters, is so lacking in charisma that he is not even box office in his German homeland, according to Ecclestone.
Hamilton's antics in Japan, where he played on social media on his phone and then threw a strop over critical media coverage, is fine by Ecclestone.
"I would let Lewis do what he wants. Absolutely," Ecclestone said. "Let him get on with it. Winning the championship would be good for Nico but it wouldn't necessarily help the sport because there is nothing to write about him. You need someone like Lewis.
"Drivers earn a lot of money, but they don't live in fear. They are cruising. Maybe the financial structure should be changed and they should get a cheque after each race. James was a special guy but he wasn't alone in those days. They have an easy life today."
For the third consecutive season, the drivers' championship is between the two Mercedes drivers, although this time Rosberg leads by 33 points with only four grands prix remaining.
Winning in Austin, Texas, is an imperative for Hamilton but he finished third, behind Rosberg and Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, after Friday's practice sessions.
The statistics are also against Hamilton - even if he wins all four remaining races, Rosberg can afford three second places and a third and still be champion.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff believes both drivers will still be under huge pressure as they enter the final straight.
"I think that generally all of us underestimate the pressure that is on these guys," Wolff said. "It's a couple of races towards the end of the season, there is all to win and all to lose."
THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS
F1 UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX
Main race: Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208, tomorrow, 2.55am