By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Formula One’s former commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone is moving further away from the sport he ruled for decades by relocating to Switzerland.
The Briton, who will be 87 this month, was ousted in January after U.S.-based Liberty Media (NASDAQ:FWONA) took control and gave him an undefined role as emeritus chairman.
“It’s something I had agreed to do 20 years ago, or more: To take Formula One (Management) to Switzerland,” Ecclestone, who has lived in London for most of his life, told Reuters on Monday.
“Trouble is I couldn’t get all the guys to come and live there. I don’t blame them, they had kids and were settled very well in England.
“I don’t have to do anything particular with the company now so I can more or less do what I want,” he said, denying the move was for tax reasons.
Ecclestone owns a hotel in the Swiss ski resort of Gstaad, among other business interests, and has had residence for nearly 30 years.
In London he had an apartment above the shop – Formula One’s offices in well-heeled Knightsbridge.
“Instead of just popping over (to Switzerland) for a few days and keeping my eye on things it will be nice, I think, if I lived there and I can pop back to England when I want to,” he said.
The sport remains headquartered in Britain, the staff now in new premises in central London and Ecclestone, while remaining a paid employee, has little involvement.
“I’m so high up in the company now, I can’t see anything,” he commented wryly.
Ecclestone said Liberty was not keen for him to attend races and he could understand that.
“I think this year for them it’s all new and I think it’s better that I’m not around because people know me,” he said.
“It’d be difficult for them to get known properly and accepted if there’s somebody else there all the time that they think is stealing their glory.”
A Formula One spokesman said that was not the case.
“Bernie is always welcome at any grand prix he’d like to attend,” he said, although limited office space at some tracks meant prior notice was preferred.
Ecclestone was in Bahrain, Russia, Azerbaijan and Austria this season and will be back for the penultimate round in Brazil next month. His wife Fabiana is Brazilian and they own a farm there.
He said champions Mercedes, whose non-executive team chairman is Ecclestone’s old friend Niki Lauda, and Red Bull had also made him welcome.
Mercedes are set to win the constructors’ title for the fourth season in a row in Austin, Texas, this weekend while Lewis Hamilton also has a first chance to clinch his fourth championship with three races remaining.
Ecclestone said Hamilton had taken the sport to new audiences and was always good for a headline.
“If he suddenly decided to stop racing, I wouldn’t be surprised. He is unpredictable. That’s why he’s been fantastic for us,” he observed.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, 59 points behind the Briton in the standings, has also done his bit by taking the fight to Mercedes and winning four races.
The last three in Asia have seen Ferrari (NYSE:RACE) implode, however, with Vettel failing to score in two of them and having to fight back from last place to fourth in the other.
“I’m a very close friend of Seb’s. But he’s more predictable in what he’s going to do and say,” Ecclestone said.
“He’s come out a lot different this year. This year hasn’t been Seb. Unfortunately he’s been unpredictable in the wrong way.”