I am told that Bernie Ecclestone is the most unassuming billionaire you can meet but even his comments about President Putin being a “first class person” raised a few eyebrows and furrowed a good many brows.
Ecclestone uttered the words during an interview with the Russian newspaper Vedomosti “He’s [Putin’s] a first class person. I always supported him.
“He 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.”
Putin is alleged to have been heavily involved in trying to suppress the recent uprising in Ukraine, a deadly conflict between Ukrainian nationalists and pro Russian rebels which has claimed 3,600 lives.
And then there was the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 over eastern Ukraine by pro Russian rebels using ground to air missiles, loaned by Russia, which claimed over 200 innocents.
Russia believes that Western backed Ukrainian nationalists have been involved in the instigation of the uprising through funding and diplomatic means.
Putin moved to annex parts of eastern Ukraine to salvage a buffer zone to counter what he believes to be Western Imperialism breaching its way into Russia.
The United States government has long wanted to setup a missile defense “sheild” to counter what it privately refers to as a Russian threat.
And along comes Bernie Ecclestone to say what a thoroughly decent chap Putin is, the Russian President is said to have amassed a £60bn dollar fortune. He may go down as being the richest President ever to hold office.
So what is Bernie playing at? It may well be the age old practice of networking, making sure to praise the backers of the Russian Grand Prix by publicly thanking them for paying Formula One £31 million to stage the race every year.
Russia sees the Grand Prix as a valuable PR tool, chiefly for Putin’s benefit. And who says sports and politics shouldn’t mix? they always do.
Ecclestone is playing his cards by showing his hand, we really don’t know what his private views are about Putin or the conflict simmering in Eastern Ukraine.
One thing is for sure, Ecclestone knows that his views on Putin will cause uproar and draw attention, but for the 83 year old F1 comes first and the monetary deals, the business aspect, is almost secondary.