Lewis Hamilton is 'simply faster' than his title-winning successor, compatriot and team-mate Jenson Button, Ron Dennis 'belongs in F1' and the 2010 newcomers will not 'raise their performance significantly over the season' - those are the thoughts of Bernie Ecclestone one race into the current campaign.

Famously outspoken - and just as famously given to contradicting his previous statements only a handful of days later - Ecclestone is never short of a tasty soundbite or two, and when asked by German publication Sport Bild whether he was surprised to see Hamilton so far in front of Button in the F1 2010 curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir earlier this month, the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive's response was succinct and left little doubt.

"I would have been very surprised if he (Hamilton) was not [ahead]," the 79-year-old opined, "because he is quite simply faster."

Not music to Button's ears, assuredly, but Ecclestone's remarks do re-iterate the conviction of many within the sport that having entered the lion's den this year in joining a team that to all intents and purposes Hamilton has made his own, Button will find himself unable to live with his fellow Brit's scintillating raw pace - enough to send even double world champion Fernando Alonso scuttling for the exit door at Woking two years before his contract was up at the end of 2007.

In an entertaining joint interview with Hamilton published on the official F1 website, meanwhile, the pair discussed the departure from the paddock of former long-time McLaren team principal and the 2008 world champion's mentor Ron Dennis - with the Englishman returning for the first time in twelve months in Bahrain, somewhat pointedly the first grand prix since his arch-nemesis Max Mosley stepped down as FIA President - as well as the Stevenage-born ace's quest to find a new manager now he has parted company with his father Anthony.

"In terms of the racing it doesn't make any difference, but I am always happy when he's present, because I have a very close relationship with him," Hamilton admitted when asked about Dennis. "I admire what he has achieved in his career and what he has done for the team. Without him I wouldn't be here."

"I think he should attend more races too," concurred Ecclestone of one of the sport's most recognisable characters. "He belongs in Formula 1."

"Honestly, I have received a lot of applications but I'm not in a hurry to decide," Hamilton added of his current management situation. "I am with a fantastic team, with many competent people, so at the moment I have no need for a manager."

"A driver doesn't need a manager," agreed the top flight's influential commercial rights-holder. "Gerhard Berger is the prime example of that. He managed himself and was making more money than anybody else at the time he was racing. I am sure he made better deals for himself than he would have done with a manager at his side."

Affirming, finally, that 'after one race you cannot say who will win' when questioned about his pre-season prediction that Hamilton and Red Bull Racing rival Sebastian Vettel are the title favourites this year, Ecclestone went on to once again unfathomably denigrate the efforts of the new teams that have joined the fray in 2010, taking a particular dig at Richard Branson's brigade in stating that 'it probably will not be Virgin [to triumph]'.

When warned never to say never by Hamilton, the British billionaire fired back: "In this case I can. I don't think that the new teams will raise their performance significantly over the season."

"I also have to admit that the gap between the new teams and the established ones is quite significant," chimed in his co-interviewee, "but on the other hand, it's good to see new teams enter Formula 1. It's good for our sport."

Ecclestone, apparently, is not quite so sure - hardly a ringing endorsement or words of encouragement for those contemplating offering themselves forward to occupy the available 13th slot on the grand prix starting grid in 2011...


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