My Conversation with Bernie Ecclestone

Tim ParentSenior Writer INovember 20, 2008

I didn't even look up when the phone rang shortly before noon this past Tuesday.

I was on a tight deadline, having only just returned from a news conference earlier that morning and was busy cutting audio.

If you're unaware, I'm a news reporter for CJAD radio in Montreal. I cover about two to three stories a day of varying degrees of importance.  As it turns out, the phone call was the most important call of the day.

My colleague picked up the receiver and handed it over to me.

A woman with a distinct British accent was at the other of the line.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Parent.  Please hold for Bernie Ecclestone."

I'd been trying to get a hold of the F1 boss for almost two months, since it was first learned Montreal would be left off of the 2009 Grand Prix schedule.  It took me a better part of a week just to track down a number for the F1 head offices in London.

Once I had the number, so began an almost daily ritual of calling Bernie Ecclestone. I passed through two secretaries who diligently took my name and number each and every time, even though the annoyance was clearly evident in their voices.

But finally, Ecclestone called back.

Before I could even register my shock, he was on the phone.

The interview went extremely well in that he was very candid and honest with his answers as to why Montreal lost the race.  He struck me as being very laid back, like a Jamaican beach bum relaxing in the Caribbean sun.

Not to say there weren't flashes of anger and frustration, particularly when I asked him about claims made by Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay, Quebec's economic minister Raymond Bachand, and former federal industry minister Michel Fortier that Ecclestone's demands were "unreasonable."

"Unreasonable compared to what?  We do business worldwide and nobody else thinks we're unreasonable."

"I told them, I said you can come to my office, pull any contract out of our drawer for all the overseas races and take any one of them, cross out the name and put your name and that's what we'll do because what we offered them was less than what we get anywhere else in the world."

In his words, the Canadian Grand Prix was yanked because the race promoter, Normand Legault, defaulted on his contract payment obligations for the last three years, to the tune of $24 million.

"Normand forgot to pay us what he should have paid...had he paid us, we would have continued racing."

He was willing to write off the debt, even though he said that's something the F1 doesn't normally do, provided the city and government signed off on the new deal and guaranteed the money would be paid by them or a reliable promoter.

When I asked Ecclestone what he was asking, he refused to give me the numbers.

"Well, they have the contract, and unlike them, I don't discuss these things."

It was clear he was disappointed the Montreal delegation made public the contract details at a news conference this past weekend, which showed F1 wanted $175 million  over the next five years. 

The city of Montreal, along with the provincial and federal governments, would only guarantee $110 million plus a percentage of the net profits.

So, what needs to be done to save the Grand Prix in Montreal?  The simple answer is: Agree to his terms. 

Ecclestone told me, however, that had Legault paid what was owed, the contract would've been honored and the city wouldn't find itself in this position. 

He did say he loves Montreal, all of F1 loves Montreal, and he'd like to see it back some day but after my near seven-minute interview, it was clear the race was done for 2009.

The merchants of Montreal aren't giving up so easily.  A last-ditch pitch is being made by business leaders to the F1 car manufacturers such as Honda, Toyota, BMW, Mercedes and Ferrari to help bail them out, either with financial backing or working as mediators between the city and the F1 to secure a new deal.

Time is running out, though, and while Ecclestone is sorry merchants stand to lose out, he says what was being offered was more than fair. 

The conversation ended not long after that, and my surprise still lingers that I got the call back. Persistence pays, and you can't spell persistence without pest. 

I'll remember that if I have to get Ecclestone back on the phone, should the race ever return to Montreal.

To hear my interview with Bernie Ecclestone you can click here.

Related

    Vettel should be Leclerc’s number 2 – Baldisserri

    Ferrari logo
    Ferrari

    Vettel should be Leclerc’s number 2 – Baldisserri

    Staff Reporter
    via F1 2019: 2019 F1 Cars Launch, Latest F1 News, 2019 F1 Standings

    Vettel wants 2021 rules to deliver more excitement and less pace management | RaceFans Round-up

    Ferrari logo
    Ferrari

    Vettel wants 2021 rules to deliver more excitement and less pace management | RaceFans Round-up

    Keith Collantine
    via RaceFans

    Ferrari favour softer tyres in German Grand Prix selection | 2019 German Grand Prix

    Ferrari logo
    Ferrari

    Ferrari favour softer tyres in German Grand Prix selection | 2019 German Grand Prix

    Keith Collantine
    via RaceFans

    Verstappen: 'Sore' Leclerc raced harder at Silverstone

    Ferrari logo
    Ferrari

    Verstappen: 'Sore' Leclerc raced harder at Silverstone

    Matthew Scott
    via GPfans