On October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrated his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’re spending a few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: the grand poobah of auto racing.
He’s 83, he’s worth over $8 billion, and he’s the head of the Formula One Group, which manages Formula One racing. He’s also a fan – and buddy – of Vladimir Putin.
Speaking last fall to a reporter for a Russian newspaper, British tycoon Bernie Ecclestone called the Kremlin leader “a first-class person,” saying “I always supported him.” In the same interview, Ecclestone also made the bemusing statement that Putin “could control Europe or America; he is able to deal with it. But I think he is very busy. Let him finish what he’s doing and then we’ll see.”
That wasn’t the first time Ecclestone had praised Putin. “I’ve great admiration for him and his courage to say what he says,” Ecclestone said in a CNN interview in February of last year. He singled out for special approbation Putin’s hostility to gay people, his view that children should not be exposed to gays (or to any non-condemnatory mention of them), and his public warning to gay athletes at the Sochi Winter Olympics last year that they should stay away from children while on Russian soil. “I completely agree with those sentiments,” Ecclestone told CNN, “and if you took a world census you’d find 90 per cent of the world agree with it as well.” Such views, he added, “may upset a few people but that’s how the world is. It’s how he sees [the world] and I think he’s completely right.”
As a member of Bernie Ecclestone’s pantheon of heroes, Putin is in interesting company. Among Ecclestone’s other idols (and chums) is Max Mosley, son of the notorious Oswald Mosley (1896-1980), founder of the British Union of Fascists and himself a close pal of Joseph Goebbels, at whose home in Berlin Mosley married his second wife, Diana Guinness, in 1936. (Among the wedding guests was Adolf Hitler himself.) Years ago, Ecclestone suggested that the younger Mosley – who started his career as a political associate of his dad’s and who for 16 years ran Formula One’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile – would make a great prime minister for Britain; auto exec Alan Curtis told the Conservatives in 2005 that if they could find a safe parliamentary seat for Mosley, Ecclestone would pour cash into the party. (Asked about this seven years later, Curtis affirmed: “Bernie would always support whatever Max did.”)
But Ecclestone’s enthusiasm for Mosley is small potatoes compared to his 2009 comments about Hitler. In an interview with the London Times, Ecclestone expressed admiration for the Führer’s leadership skills – his ability to “get things done,” which, in Ecclestone’s opinion, made him a considerably more effective politician than, say, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. “I prefer strong leaders,” he explained. Among those who called for Ecclestone’s resignation was World Jewish Congress (WJC) president Ronald Lauder – in response to which Ecclestone suggested that the WJC, rather than criticizing him, should have “sort[ed] the banks out” (his point, he explained, being that Jews “have a lot of influence” in that sector).
But back to Putin. Ecclestone first met him in February 2013 in Sochi, when Russia was preparing to host its first Grand Prix there. (The Kremlin now pays Formula One a $47 million yearly fee to hold a Grand Prix within its borders.) The two men forged a friendship, and Putin invited Ecclestone to attend the February 2014 Sochi Olympics as his personal guest. After Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine in July 2014, apparently by Russian or pro-Russian troops, Ecclestone came under intense pressure to cancel the Sochi Grand Prix, which was scheduled for the following October. But he stood firm, saying: “I don’t see any problem with going. We are not involved in politics.”
In the end, Ecclestone professed to be so thrilled with the way the Sochi race turned out that in December he presented his Russian colleagues with the Race Promoters Trophy, which is given annually to the organizers of the year’s best Formula One Grand Prix. At the awards ceremony, Ecclestone showered Putin with even more accolades. “Ignore all this nonsense from America and Europe,” he advised Russia Today. “It would be very nice to have him running Europe. He knows what he’s doing. He is positive and in the end he will succeed because I think all these silly things like these sanctions are completely[,] utterly wrong.”