They have known one another a long time and even if they are from different age groups, they both have Formula 1 running through their veins, as their lives are irrevocably linked to this sport. Bernie Ecclestone and Stefano Domenicali agreed to have a frank exchange, maybe not too frank, all witnessed by the notebook and voice recorder of a couple of journalists who work very closely together in the Circus, Bianca Garloff and Ralf Bach, also from two different generations, but both deeply immersed in the world of Formula 1 as it is today.
The interview took place a few weeks ago in Canada and is published at the same time in the current issue of Sport Bild and Auto Bild. www.ferrari.com brings you the key extracts from the dialogue.
It starts with a rather provocative photo-montage, with Vettel made to look as though he’s wearing a Ferrari red race suit: “No idea who this lad is,” jokes Ecclestone. “Seriously, all drivers want to drive for Ferrari at least once in their career, don’t they?”
To which Domenicali replies with a smile: “In life one should never say never!”
Would you be in favour of Vettel going to Ferrari?
BE: “I wouldn’t advise him to, as he’s still too young! Usually, a driver ends his career at Ferrari, therefore it could happen one day.”
Or maybe, only when Fernando Alonso no longer drives for Ferrari? Because two cocks cannot live in the same hen house…
BE: “That wouldn’t be a problem: both are drivers who are always looking for a new challenge and to be in the same team would be a new and big challenge. They would both think they can bear the other one, as they are sure of themselves and Stefano would do what was required to so that they were treated equally. It would be a case of doing what I did at Brabham in 1979 with Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet. I told them, “guys it’s simple: whichever one of you is quickest is the team number 1.””
SD: “I think they are both intelligent guys and they could easily coexist together.”
When did you first meet?
BE: “A long time ago, an eternity. I think Stefano must have been five years old…”
SD: “More or less. Maybe Bernie doesn’t remember, but I do. I was fourteen and lived in Imola. I was allowed to lend a hand in the paddock and for me it was an honour to work at my home Grand Prix.”
Did you ever dream as a boy of working for the boss of the Scuderia and one day taking his job?
SD: “Absolutely not. After I graduated, I sent my cv to Maraenllo and then I immediately started working for Ferrari. Then step by step I moved forward. Sure, there’s incredible pressure but it’s just fantastic being where I am!”
Does being Ferrari Team Principal mean being under more pressure than with any of the other teams?
BE: “Yes, because you are part of the magic of the Ferrari brand, of the team that has been in Formula 1 the longest. People respect Ferrari and look at it in a special way.”
Did you believe that Domenicali would be able to withstand the heavy burden of taking over from Jean Todt?
BE: “Absolutely. It was the logical step to take, after he had worked as team manager for years.”
Could you do Domenicali’s job?
BE: Of course: I think I’d be brilliant at it…”
What would you want to change at Maranello?
BE: “I’d try to make the car much faster.”
Would you also try and employ Adrian Newey?
BE: “Everyone wants to have Newey, but he would also need to adapt to the team.”
SD: “Newey is definitely one of the best engineers in Formula 1, but Bernie is right: in this sport teamwork is the most important thing and in Ferrari, we have a great team, made up of people who are progressing together and who can now show what they are capable of.”
BE: “I would try to exploit the loopholes in the regulations as well as possible.”
Domenicali, why don’t you do it?
BE: “Ah, I was forgetting, it’s not allowed J!”
Other teams push things to the limit: is Ferrari too honest?
SD: “No, but we try and stay within the limits of what is allowed.”
So do you understand the very recent FIA decision regarding some aspects of the Red Bull?
BE: “The truth is I understand little of the FIA decisions. I think the technical regulations should be written in a way that even someone like me can understand them.”
SD: “The fans don’t understand why a car can be legal today and illegal tomorrow. This reduces the sport’s credibility. The rules should be simpler.”
Even if Ferrari has not exploited the grey areas in the rules, Fernando Alonso is currently second in the classification: is that down to him or the car?
BE: “Both: success is always a mix of these factors.”
SD: “Alonso is the fastest driver of all, I’m sure of that and it’s been like that since testing at the start of the year, despite the fact our car was definitely not very quick. Now we have improved it, even if we are not yet at the level we want to be. The cars are very close and we are witnessing a really incredible championship which for the fans is a real spectacle.”
How important is it for Formula 1 for a Ferrari driver to take the title again?
BE: “It’s very important. Go round a city on a Grand Prix weekend, it doesn’t matter in which country. Which products are on sale the most in the shops? Ferrari ones. I have never seen shops that only stock McLaren, Mercedes or Red Bull merchandise. There’s your answer already.”
If you were Domenicali, how would you have managed the Massa situation? Especially in Italy, there has been a lot of criticism, while Ferrari stood by the Brazilian.
BE: “To me it’s obvious: Felipe is very talented and there’s not much to add…”
SD: “Correct, I agree completely. There is a lot of pressure, but I remember well in 2008, when Felipe had problems in the first two races and then fought right to the end for the title. This year, it’s not that different: after Felipe drove a great race in Monaco, the same journalists who had been criticising him, began to ask me why he did not yet have a contract for next year. One thing is certain: as Team Principal, I have always encouraged and protected him.”
BE: “The media exert pressue and try to influence decisions, not just in Italy. Some drivers worry a lot less about these things, others more so: Felipe is a sensible lad. It is not very correct of some of the media when you see how they want to destabilise him.”
Domenicali has also been criticised several times: if you were his boss, would you support him?
BE: “Of course! He is doing a good job, what’s he doing wrong? If I was his boss I would only want to criticise him if he made mistakes and he’s not made any.”
Ecclestone has said how important Ferrari is for Formula 1. How important is Formula 1 for Ferrari?
SD: “It’s fundamental, because Formula 1 is part of our DNA. We have raced from the very first season and I can’t begin to imagine Formula 1 without Ferrari. Therefore, we work together with Bernie for the future.”
BE: “I was also there at the start! Not with Ferrari, but back then Enzo Ferrari was one of my heroes: he and Colin Chapman were the people who made the biggest impression on me.”
SD: “Enzo Ferrari had a great vision, like Bernie has for Formula 1, which he has transformed into a global business.”
Which driver impressed you the most?
BE: Jochen Rindt, we were very close friends.”
SD: John Surtees, because he was the only man to have won world championships with two and four wheels. I also admired Gilles Villeneuve for the passion he brought and Michael Schumacher, for winning seven world titles.”
BE: “Villeneuve was a fighter and the people loved him.”
SD: “He was a racing animal, always on the limit, even in a slower car.”
BE: “There are two types of driver: those admired for their style and those who have enjoyed a lot of success. If you ask me who is the best driver in Formula 1, I will say Alain Prost. Was he a favourite with the general public? No, he was a bit like Fangio: both did what had to be done to win.”
Having listened to Ecclestone say he could do your job at Ferrari, do you think you could do his?
SD: “No, I am absolutely not cut out to do his job! However, I want to say how much I appreciate Bernie: if, despite the current difficult economic climate, we have managed to have an incredible championship with so many spectators, it means he has done a perfect job.”