Ecclestone’s downbeat view fails to match thrilling prospect of Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel winning three titles in a row
Bernie Ecclestone will be 82 this year and he must be the only octogenarian who pretends he’s older than he is. I met him again in Knightsbridge on Thursday, as he launched a new technology supplier for the sport, and he was at it again.
“I’m getting old,” he said, peering over his glasses to see if there was anyone daft enough to buy the line. He sounded almost as self-pitying as Mrs Gummidge in David Copperfield, who famously remarked: “I’m a lone, lorn creature, and everything goes contrary with me.”
The fact is that when it comes to negotiating a contract the old F1 supremo remains as sharp as a tack. But there was something he said on Thursday which made me doubt him. When asked if last year was a bad one for F1 he said: “It wasn’t good obviously.
“I often wonder whether people watch because of the championship or because of the particular race.”
Well, maybe it is me who’s out of kilter but I thought we had some fantastic racing last year. How was it for you? OK, so Seb Vettel sewed it up well before the end, with a stifled yawn, but his dominance disguised the fact that, as in 2010, we enjoyed some great battles, and Vettel versus Fernando Alonso at Monza comes quickly to mind.
It just would have been so much better had McLaren, who were playing catch-up with Red Bull all season and had virtually got there by the end, put their act together a little earlier to make it a better finish.
It would have been better, too, had Ferrari and Mercedes come to the party. But we did see the anointment of Vettel as one of the sport’s great drivers, ironing out those silly mistakes from the year before.
There is something exciting about seeing the arrival of a true great, and we couldn’t really call him that at the end of 2010. It is his intelligence that is the most impressive thing. I saw Martin Brundle at a Sky function in town this week and he said: “I’ve never seen a thick F1 driver.”
Then he paused, and said: “Correction, I’ve never seen a successful thick F1 driver. If you use up only 75% of your brain to drive your car, with all the complicated things you have to think about, and still have 25% left over to have a look round and take in what’s going on around you, then you’re in a good situation. I thought Sebastian was very impressive the way he won the title. And his intelligence shone through.”
We saw a big increase in overtaking last season, thanks mainly to Pirelli but also to DRS and Kers. We saw another great driver, Alonso, making a valiant effort with a dog of a car and we saw one of the greatest performances when Jenson Button came from the back of the field to win the Canadian Grand Prix.
I’m still not sure how to view this new season. The early signs from Jerez and Barcelona suggest that it could well be Red Bull and McLaren out front again. I hope to know a little more when I go to the final testing session in Barcelona next week but we really won’t know much until the Saturday afternoon in Melbourne, before the opening race on 18 March. Ferrari, remember, were great in testing a year ago and then look what happened.
The early signs are that, having been far too conservative in the past year or so they may now have done something a little too radical.
It will still be Red Bull and McLaren again, I think.
And if Red Bull can pull off the hat-trick they will have proved to be the dominant team of the epoch. One win is great, two is bloody fantastic but three in a row is the stuff of legends. And that’s what Red Bull and Vettel aim to be at the end of the season.