Exclusive - Ecclestone welcomes F1 changes after 'wake-up' call

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone says the sport faces a brighter future after teams agreed a new qualifying format from this season, even if he had sought a more radical approach to liven up racing.

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone speaks to the media at the paddock area ahead of the Russian F1 Grand Prix in Sochi, Russia, October 9, 2015. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/Files

Speaking to Reuters two days after he said current F1 was the worst it had ever been and he would not buy tickets for his family to watch races, the 85-year-old sounded a much more positive note.

“I think now I’d be a bit more confident that we are going to see some good racing,” he said in a telephone interview. “Then I’ll be happy.”

Ecclestone said teams, who agreed the new qualifying format on Tuesday, had finally woken up and taken a step in the right direction with more change to come.

“I think there’s lots of things we can do and will be doing,” he said.

“What people needed was a bit of a shake up. I seem to be the only person that has thought we should do something in Formula One, to wake everybody up a little bit. And maybe that’s what’s happened.

“I wasn’t talking down the sport at all, quite the opposite. I was trying to sort of explain that unless we did something that’s the way we’d be going.”

Formula One’s core strategy group, which includes Ecclestone and the top six teams as well as governing body, approved a range of measures -- yet to be formally ratified by the International Automobile Federation -- in Geneva on Tuesday.

The changes are aimed at making cars faster, louder, harder to handle and more aggressive for the 2017 season.

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The new qualifying format was passed unanimously, meaning it can be introduced at this season’s opening race in Australia on March 20 instead of waiting a year.

Under the new procedure, the slowest drivers will be eliminated as the session progresses rather than at the end of each phase. The final shootout for pole will be between two drivers rather than 10.

“The idea really is that it will be the same as qualifying in wet conditions. Maybe one or two of the hotshoes aren’t going to make it. So we won’t see the obvious on the front of the grid,” Ecclestone said.

His own “dollar’s worth of input”, he said, was something more extreme.

“My idea was to leave qualifying just as it is, don’t touch it. And then penalize people if you want from pole position downwards depending on their result in the previous race,” Ecclestone explained.

He explained that would have allowed a driver’s pole to be entered in the record books for posterity, even if he did not start from the front of the grid because of the ensuing demotion.

“I think if we had a different grid we would certainly have different racing,” he said.

Looking further ahead, Ecclestone said the sport needed to do more to reduce the dominance of champions Mercedes and rivals Ferrari, who between them provide eight of the 11 teams with engines, both on and off the track.

“It’s no good just seeing Mercedes in the front, without any competition. That’s what I complained about,” he said.

“I want the public to enjoy Formula One. I want them to go to a race and not be able to say before they go ‘I’m sure (triple world champion Lewis) Hamilton is going to win’. I don’t want that.”

In his previous interview with Britain’s Daily Mail, Ecclestone compared the influence wielded by Mercedes and Ferrari to that of an “illegal cartel”.

Teams they supply usually vote in accordance with their wishes, while Ferrari can also exercise a veto over matters deemed to be against their sporting and commercial interests.

Ecclestone also said then that FIA president Jean Todt was too much of a diplomat and should hand over the running of Formula One to someone else.

He clarified those remarks on Wednesday.

“What was quoted by me about Mr Todt was very simple,” he said.

“What was intended is that he is very busy doing the road safety and things like that and for him, or me, to spend a whole day at these meetings knowing full well we are going to achieve nothing before the meeting starts is just not on.

“The moment the way we are structured... where Ferrari and Mercedes can get together and their teams will have to follow them when they vote… is not good. We don’t need two Formula One teams running Formula One. They are competitors.”

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Angus MacSwan