London – Bernie Ecclestone has insisted that he does not care if someone is "yellow, green, brown or pink" after being cold-shouldered by his successor as Formula One boss, Chase Carey, for saying that "a lot of black people are more racist than white people".
The controversial remarks, made in a TV interview aired on Friday, also ignited a row with six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who criticised the man who built the modern sport he dominates.
"So sad and disappointing to read these comments," said the Mercedes driver, who is preparing for the opening race in Austria next Sunday. "Bernie is out of the sport and of a different generation.
"But this is exactly what is wrong – ignorant and uneducated comments which show how far we as a society need to go before real equality can happen.
"It makes complete sense to me now that nothing was said or done to make our sport more diverse or to address the racial abuse I received throughout my career. Now the time for change has come."
Hamilton has stepped up his fight for parity since African-American George Floyd died under the knee of a white policeman in Minneapolis last month – a campaign Ecclestone, 89, called "wonderful" before making his divisive observation.
That caused F1 chief executive Carey to sign off a statement on Friday that unusually censured his predecessor’s sentiments as having "no place in F1 or society".
It added: "We completely disagree with him. Mr Ecclestone has played no role in F1 since he left our organisation in 2017. His title of chairman emeritus, which was honorific, expired in June 2020."
Angry rebuke from old boss to new
That last sentence came as news to Ecclestone at his home in Switzerland, where his Brazilian wife Fabiana, 44, is heavily pregnant with their first son, and sparked an angry rebuke from the old boss to the new.
In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, Ecclestone vowed not to be sidelined from F1 or prevented from going to Grands Prix – an idea discussed among F1 officials over the last 36 hours – whenever he wanted. "Ban me from races?" said Ecclestone, who remains in close contact with a number of race promoters and teams. "I wouldn’t advise them to do that. They might want to try it in Russia [a reference to his close friendship with President Putin]. I think I could probably find a pass.
"When Chase asked me to step down, he made a big thing about how important the title he was giving me was. People in America would kill for it, he told me.
"It didn’t matter to me. I’m not bothered about titles. I turned down something bigger in Britain. I was made a doctor by an English university (Imperial College London) 20 years ago. I don’t go around calling myself Dr Ecclestone.
"I’m glad he said I have no involvement in Formula One, so I can’t be credited with all the things they’ve not done. They have jumped on this racism thing suddenly because of events in America. Now Chase has put in all of $1 million – enough to get a mechanic into go-karting. Maybe he should concentrate on doing what the shareholders want. Covid was good for him. He could blame everything he hasn’t achieved on that."
‘I’m not anti black people,’ Ecclestone insists
Concentrating on the racism issue, Ecclestone said: "I am not anti black people. Quite the opposite. I have always been very much in favour. In fact, Lewis’s dad wanted to go into business with me. He made some nice rowing machines. I would never even have considered it if I had been anti-black. If the project had been right, I would have done it.
"Over the years, I have met a lot of white people I didn’t like, but never a black person I didn’t like.
"I’ve been mugged a couple of times, once by three black guys. I ended up in hospital, but even after that I was never against anyone who was black. I don’t think of Lewis as black or anything else. He’s just Lewis to me.
"If a black person or a white person gets turned down for a job you have to ask why. Was it because of their skin colour, or was it because they weren’t up to the job? That is what I was saying.
"And then people go on these marches, organised by quasi-Marxists who want to bring down the police, which would be a disaster for the country. If you asked most of them what exactly they were protesting about they probably wouldn’t know.
"It’s not my fault I am white, or that I am a little shorter than the next man. I was called Titch at school. I realised I had to do something about it. Black people should look after themselves.
"[Former McLaren boss] Ron Dennis didn’t stand in Lewis’ way when he was a boy. He looked after him. Willy T [Ribbs] was the first black man to drive an F1 car, for me, in the Seventies.
"When I lost my driving licence, I had a black driver, not because he was black, but because I didn’t care whether he was black or white. Now it’s suddenly fashionable to talk about diversity."
Ecclestone is accustomed to controversy. He has previously voiced support for Adolf Hitler on the grounds that he got things done. Putin, with whom he is on hugging terms, is his favourite current world leader.
Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz invited Ecclestone to Austria for next week’s opener, but he will stay at home. "I’ve been to a lot of races, but I’ve never had a son," he reasoned. "But I’ll be along in Hungary or Monza, for sure."
Mail On Sunday