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GP Week : Issue 219
Watching the BBC's television coverage of the Bahrain GP from my sofa, as I have always done, it was exciting this year to be informed after qualifying that Bernie ecclestone had been grilled by eddie Jordan and that their interview would be broadcast before the 'off' on sunday. As many readers here will have seen for themselves, it turned out to be an interesting but not particularly intense confrontation. I musn't be too hard on EJ here, partly because he's not a journalist but mainly because I know from my own experience that Bernie, like any politician, can be a slippery customer when faced with a tough question. On this occasion, though, he coped surprisingly well when quizzed about the complexities of the German GP and its disappearance from the calendar: "We made a contribution to help the race in Germany by accepting 50 percent of the price of the contract," insisted Bernie. "This was a one-year deal. 'Let's do that. Get yourself sorted out for next year,' we told them. It still left them in trouble." EJ, who isn't much good when it comes to follow-up questions, then raised the thorny subject of Manor/ Marussia and the supposed $2m 'fine' that was inflicted after the tail-end outfit rose from the dead in time to go to Melbourne, even though the cars didn't make it to the grid. "We didn't fine them anything," insisted Mr E. "That company had an amount of money which is attributed to them for this year, under certain conditions, and they unfortunately couldn't, or didn't, comply with all those conditions." In a later interview with EJ, Manor boss Graeme Lowdon declined even to discuss the 'fine.' "Have you been paid the money?" thundered Eddie. The unfortunate Lowdon, who clearly did not believe that national television is the right forum for continuing what he still regards as a live issue involving a couple of months' salaries, laughed slightly hysterically and insisted, "we fully expect to be paid what's due under the contract." One encouraging aspect of the Manor/Marussia imbroglio is that while Bernie is deeply (and publicly) unhappy that the lads from Yorkshire are still cluttering up the back of the grid, Lowdon and team boss John Booth are even more determined to prove that they've got the moxie to succeed in F1. Well, there was a time when a chap called Frank Williams was a bit of an embarrassment on the F1 grids. And look what happened to him. It goes without saying that what the journalist in Eddie Jordan really wanted to winkle out of Bernie was the magic solution to the woes of F1: "You've always promised that you'll leave F1 in a better condition than it is in at the moment," he reminded the little Big Man. "Where do you think we'll be in five and a half years' time?" Bernie responded instantly. "Better than we are now," he snapped. "I just think we're going through a little bit of a dip at the moment, for two reasons. The most important is these engines, which cost a fortune, so a lot of these teams can't keep up with it. They're paying maybe five or six times more for an engine than they should." Well, we all knew that, didn't we? So EJ jumped in with both feet. "You used to fix that," he pointed out. "You would just tell the people what's going on. You know, you and Max [Mosley] would come in – and that would be the decision. Why can't you do that now?" "Max isn't there [anymore]," responded Bernie. EJ: "Are you saying [FIA President Jean] Todt can't do that?" Ecclestone: "He doesn't act like Max. Max speaks a lot of languages, [he's] super-intelligent ..." His voice tailed off, leaving us avid BBC listeners to draw our own conclusions about M Todt's willingness to sort out the sport's problems (and possibly even about the President's intelligence or lack thereof). And, since the interview was now straying into distinctly personal territory, EJ bravely ventured to bring up the subject of Bernie's own image, somewhat battered in last year's courtroom hearings, as viewed by some of Europe's major car manufacturers. "Let us suppose that Renault bought Toro Rosso and Audi bought ... Red Bull. Um. Is that OK?" Adopting a high voice, and clearly way ahead of EJ about the question that was coming, Bernie responded, "Yeah, sure!" EJ (v serious): "What do they say to the stories that they won't come in if you're [still] there? What's the story behind all that? "I've no idea, nobody's told me that," said Bernie, most unconvincingly. "But if that is the case, I'll leave. I'd be happy to step down immediately, to bring those two people in. For sure." Alas, Eddie lacks the killer instinct which marks a true professional inquisitor. Instead of taking Bernie at his word and buttoning up the details of exactly how and when his interlocutor would be quitting if Renault and Audi were to put their putative F1 schemes into effect, he moved on to another subject. It would have been so much more interesting if he had asked Bernie to nominate the candidates he favours to step into his shoes when the time comes for him to depart. The trouble is, as we all know, that Mr E doesn't have anyone in mind. And as long as we pressmen fail to ask him that question, he is justified in believing that his reign will go on forever. billionaire bernie offers to step down ... sort of OPINION OPINION miKE DooDson 13 GPWEEK.com // 13 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: