Bernie Ecclestone, former Formula 1 boss sparked worldwide condemnation after a shocking live TV interview in which he described Vladimir Putin as a “first-class person” and said he would “take a bullet” for the Russian president.
The 91-year-old – who has made no secret of his disdain for Russia’s bans around the world – spoke on a series of topics on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
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Ecclestone said he hadn’t spoken to his ‘friend’ Putin since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in February, but described the Russian leader as a ‘reasonable’ person who has made ‘mistakes like “many businessmen”.
“I’d still take a bullet for him [Putin]. He’s a first-class person,” Ecclestone said.
“Unfortunately he’s like a lot of business people, certainly like me, we make mistakes from time to time.”
When Ecclestone was told that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people, he simply replied that “it was not intentional”.
“Look at the times America has moved into different countries, which has nothing to do with America. In fact, in America, it’s their business, they like wars because they sell a lot of armor, so it’s good for them.”
The former F1 boss also blamed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for not trying harder to engage with Putin in the first place.
Ecclestone – who turned the sport into a multibillion-dollar global business giant – also defended three-time world champion Nelson Piquet, over a racial slur he directed at Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton.
Brazilian great Piquet described Hamilton as an N-word on a podcast in his homeland, with Ecclestone encouraging the British driver to brush off the controversy.
Formula 1 responded in a statement that “Ecclestone’s personal views stand in stark contrast to the modern values position of our sport”.
Hamilton also hit back by insisting that “those old voices” – Piquet is 69 – shouldn’t be given a platform.
It was a sentiment shared by viewers around the world, many of whom were stunned by Ecclestone’s comments during the interview.
Bernie Ecclestone defends controversial remarks
Despite the avalanche of backlash against him, Ecclestone remained unapologetic.
“It’s good publicity for Silverstone,” he told AFP by telephone from Ibiza, adding that his style has always been to respond to interviewers.
“It’s rude to ignore them. It’s damn rude,” he added.
“They need to think carefully about the questions they ask.”
Piquet apologized – saying the term he used is synonymous with “guy” or “person” and not as translated – but was nonetheless suspended by the owners of Silverstone because Formula 1 said he would no longer be welcome in the paddock.
Piquet’s remark stems from an incident between Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on the first lap of last year’s British Grand Prix.
Piquet’s daughter, Kelly, is the girlfriend of world champion Verstappen.
“What he said was like someone saying ‘that little bastard’ or that ‘big bastard,'” Ecclestone said.
“I’ve known Nelson for many years and he’s not the type of guy to make racist comments.”
Ecclestone said Hamilton, 37, did not need protection.
“Lewis is old enough to take care of himself,” he said.
“After all, at 91, I don’t need protection. The only protection I will need is when I stand in front of Putin and take the bullet that is meant for him.
“If Putin comes to England, or wherever I am, I expect to have to take a bullet.”
Ecclestone established a warm working relationship with Putin while negotiating to bring the Formula 1 caravan to Russia in 2014 to the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
After the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, that year’s race was canceled by Formula 1, which Ecclestone said at the time made “no sense”.
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