Former Formula 1 boss and billionaire Bernie Ecclestone says he would ‘take a bullet’ for ‘first-class person’ Vladimir Putin
Since it began in February, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has resulted in at least 10,000 civilian casualties, the displacement of millions of people, the destruction of essential infrastructure, and a global food and energy crisis.
But Bernie Ecclestone, the 91-year-old billionaire and former CEO of the Formula 1 Group, is standing by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I’d still take a bullet for him,” Ecclestone said Thursday morning on British news program Good Morning Britain. “I’d rather it didn’t hurt, but if it does I’d still take a bullet, because he’s a first-class person.”
Ecclestone became involved with Formula 1’s business side as the owner of the Brabham racing team in 1974, becoming CEO of the Formula 1 Constructors’ Association (FOCA) in 1978. His net worth is estimated to be over $3 billion, and he forged an apparent friendship with Putin with the introduction of the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix in 2014, when he was still leading the company. The two have been seen talking at other events.
Throughout the interview, Ecclestone continued to defend Putin’s actions in Ukraine.
“What he’s doing is something that he believed was the right thing he was doing for Russia,” he said. “Unfortunately, he’s like a lot of businesspeople, certainly like me, we make mistakes from time to time,” he said. “When you’ve made the mistake, you have to do the best you can to get out of it.”
Ecclestone then went on to say that Ukraine could have avoided Russia’s invasion, and criticized Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“I think he seems as if he wants to continue that profession,” he said, referring to Zelensky’s background as a comedian. “Because I think if he’d have thought about things, he would have definitely made a big enough effort to speak to Mr. Putin, who is a sensible person and would have listened to him and could have probably done something about it.”
The industry response to Ecclestone’s comments has been swift. “I cannot believe I heard that,” said seven-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, the Guardian reported. “This is going to put us back decades, and we have yet to see the real brunt of the pain.”
Formula 1 also issued its own statement, which it shared with Fortune: “The comments made by Bernie Ecclestone are his personal views and are in very stark contrast to the position of the modern values of our sport,” wrote a spokesperson for the company.