The publicity generated by the tragic death of Ayrton Senna 15 years ago 'was good for F1' – that is the extraordinary pronouncement of the sport's commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone, who earlier this year was widely pilloried for having admired Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein as model leaders who 'got things done'.
On the weekend of the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos – where home hero Senna twice triumphed, sending the partisan crowd into raptures – Ecclestone caused further controversy in suggesting that the accident that claimed the life of the legendary three-time F1 World Champion in the opening stages of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola actually benefitted the sport in some respects as well as taking away from it, both in terms of the exposure it guaranteed and the improved safety measures it precipitated.
“He was unfortunate,” the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive told Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo
, “but the publicity generated by his death was so much...It was good for F1.
“It was a shame that we had to lose Ayrton, but it happened. He was very popular, but the actual event interested so many people who did not know about the sport, and increased interest in F1 because of it.”
Ecclestone similarly used the interview as an opportunity to praise the way in which the top flight has responded to the ongoing global economic turmoil – “People talk about the crisis,” he mused, “but there is money out there – I just talked to a guy who wants to buy one of the teams” – and contended that 'Singapore-gate' protagonist Nelsinho Piquet deserves another chance in F1.
The 78-year-old also rubbished suggestions that Ferrari might be granted its wish of running three cars in 2010 – one for the recovering Felipe Massa, one for double world champion Fernando Alonso and a third for the record-breaking Michael Schumacher, who has again hinted that he may yet return to competition at the highest level after his summer test re-whetted his appetite for the fight.
“It's stupid,” the Englishman bluntly opined. “It will not happen – forget about it.”