Ex-F1 Head Bernie Ecclestone Says He'd 'Take Bullet' for Putin, Who Is Doing Right by Russia
Ecclestone reportedly built up a relationship with Putin when they were establishing the Russian Grand Prix, which made its debut in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in 2014. In 2016, Ecclestone was criticised by his fellow Brits for saying Putin was "the guy who should run Europe," and he has become notorious for making such provocative statements.
Former Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone called Russian President Vladimir Putin "a first-class person" and declared he would "take a bullet" for him.
In an interview with ITV's Good Morning Britain on Thursday, the 91-year-old claimed the conflict in Ukraine was not "intentional" and could have been stopped by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Further, the sports executive suggested that Zelensky speak with Putin, describing the latter as a "sensible" individual.
"I'd still take a bullet for him. I'd rather it didn't hurt, but if it does I'd still take a bullet, because he's a first-class person," Ecclestone said when asked if he still thinks of Putin as a friend. "What he's doing is something that he believed was the right thing he was doing for Russia. Unfortunately, he's like a lot of business people, certainly like me, we make mistakes from time to time. When you've made the mistake, you have to do the best you can to get out of it."
Then, he stressed that Zelensky, a former comedian, whom he referred to as "the other person in Ukraine," seemed like he wanted "to continue that profession, because I think if he'd have thought about things, he would have definitely made a big enough effort to speak to Putin, who is a sensible person and would have listened to him and could have probably done something about it."
And when the show's host asked Ecclestone to clarify if he really believes Zelensky bears the burden of responsibility for the events unfolding in Ukraine, and that he could have acted differently to negotiate more with Russia, the former F1 head said: "Absolutely."
"I'm quite sure Ukraine, if they'd wanted to get out of it properly, could have done," he said, adding that the current situation was not "intentional" in his opinion.
When asked whether he had the opportunity to speak with Putin about "what a mess" the situation is or if he had pushed him to reconsider the course of action, Ecclestone told the host that he did not think that at all.
"No. He's probably thought about that himself. He probably doesn't need reminding," he replied. "I'm absolutely sure he now wishes he hadn't started this whole business, but didn't start as a war."
He also offered his opinion on the elimination of the Russian Grand Prix and the ban on Russian drivers from the Formula One schedule.
"I'm not in the position now to have done anything about that. I'm not sure I would have stopped that, and I certainly now wouldn't, and I think it's wrong, to stop Russian athletes, including, obviously, drivers, in taking part in their sport," Ecclestone said, stressing: "They didn't get involved in this in the first place. They shouldn't be punished."
While many of the show's viewers on social media chastised Ecclestone for his opinion, which they deemed totally incorrect, with some even proposing sending the former official to a nursing home, not uncommon for online commentary, some GMB followers wondered what was wrong with the man simply expressing his point of view, which they found to be worthy of attention.
"How dare someone support the other side and suggest that Zelensky is a comedian and that the US love wars because they sell billions $$ in arms. No one wants to hear this, it’s too close to the truth. We must only hear one side. Time to wave the flags again [Ukrainian flag emojis]" wrote one user.
"What has he's exactly got wrong though? I don’t see it. I’m sure both could have done more to avoid war," another user asked,
prompting opinion wars in the comment section.
Ukraine Crisis is Like 'Boxing Match' as 'Everybody's Loving Each Other' Afterwards
Also on Thursday, Ecclestone gave an interview to Piers Morgan for TalkTV in which he seemed to refer to the people of Ukraine as "Russians."
“How many Russians were there in Ukraine when he (Putin) invaded? … They were all Russian people," he said.
He also compared the ongoing special military operation in Ukraine and the global political environment surrounding it to a boxing match.
"These things happen in war, after the war everyone is good friends," he said. "It's like a boxing match, after a boxing match everyone is loving each other."
Ecclestone oversaw Formula One for four decades before stepping down in 2017. With his wife Fabiana Flosi, 45, he announced the birth of their fourth child in 2020.
The former top executive is no stranger to making divisive statements, and Formula One has already reportedly distanced itself from his remarks, saying that it was his personal opinion and not the opinion of management.
"The comments made by Bernie Ecclestone are his personal views and are in very stark contrast to the position of the modern values of our sport," the statement said.