Like him or not, former Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone knows more about racing drivers than most people on the planet, for him Max Verstappen is the best he has ever seen while Oscar Piastri should be on F1 team boss’s radar.
Now that’s a huge hot potato subject in F1. Who is the real Greatest Of All Time? So many generations have passed since Juan Manuel Fangio owned that accolade early in the FIA-owned championship’s history, since 1950. The consensus among the sensible is that it’s hard to compare such different eras of such a dynamic sport.
Since the sixties we’ve had Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and now Verstappen, all hailed as among the greatest ever in F1. Ecclestone of course was involved in the sport at the highest level throughout those generations of great drivers.
It’s well told how Ecclestone attempted to qualify a Connaught at the 1958 British Grand Prix. At the time he was managing drivers while wheeling and dealing in team ownership, over a decade before he took over the commercial rights of F1.
Along the way, he owned the Brabham F1 team which took Nelson Piquet to the 1981 and 1983 F1 WDC titles. As F1 supremo he was probably involved or privy to most driver deals going down in the paddock during his lengthy reign at the pinnacle of the sport. Including brokering a deal that wrenched Schumacher away from Eddie Jordan into the hands of Flavio Briatore and Benetton, triggering the birth of a legend.
Now two decades later, at 25 years of age, Verstappen is rewriting the record books from the day he stepped into an F1 car. Now on the verge of becoming a triple F1 World Champion, two away from half a century of GP victories amid a season of dominance by a driver unseen before. And, realistically he has at least a decade ahead of him in the sport at the highest level.
Bernie: I used to say Alain Prost. Now I would say Max, he’s the greatest
Speaking to Daily Mail after the Japanese GP, Ecclestone said: “If I were a team owner, I think I’d get hold of the Australian kid [Piastri]. He’s very good. But Max is the best I have ever seen.
“Max is the best driver ever,” repeated the 94-year-old. “No doubts. I used to say Alain Prost. Now I would say Max. He’s the greatest. He is the brightest with regard to getting the best out of the car. He doesn’t muck around. He gets right on the programme. In my list, he is above Lewis Hamilton.
“Lewis is obviously super-super bright, super-super talented. Lewis understands people and gets the best out of them, whereas Max gets the best out of the car. He’s very different from Max. When Lewis stops racing, he can get into a different world — entertainment or whatever — but that won’t be the way Max could go.
“I’ll tell you Max is one of us. In our sphere of Formula 1 nobody is like Lewis, nobody is. I think in the early days he was a bit different from other people. At school, I was a bit under-sized, so it is a bit different, too. As it was with Lewis. He had his dad’s support.”
Diminutive Ecclestone at 5ft2 (1.59m) had the biggest character in the paddock while he ruled the F1 roost, elaborated: “When you are a little undersized, or whatever, you have to have a bit to look after yourself. You have to be a fighter, perhaps. You see that a lot in business generally.”
Regarding Hamilton’s younger teammate George Russell, Ecclestone admitted: “I can’t make up my mind about him. I like him. He is super-talented. It is a matter of what he is prepared to do to win. He was hoping Carlos [Sainz] would run out of road at the last race. He was pushing very, very hard. I don’t think he thinks his race through, something Lewis does do.”
Daily Mail reports that Bernie Ecclestone packing for his next trip. He was en route from Ibiza to the place he now calls home, Gstaad, Switzerland. He also has a ranch in Brazil where reportedly he spends a large chunk of time.