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‘I'd take a bullet for Putin’: Outrage after Bernie Ecclestone defends Russia’s invasion
30 June 2022, 09:25 | Updated: 30 June 2022, 10:03
Former Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has said he would "take a bullet" for Russian President Vladimir Putin and described him as "a first-class person".
Ecclestone, 91, was asked on ITV's Good Morning Britain if he still regards Mr Putin as a friend and he replied: "I'd still take a bullet for him. I'd rather it didn't hurt, but if it does I'd still take a bullet, because he's a first-class person.
"What he's doing is something that he believed was the right thing he was doing for Russia."
Ecclestone appeared to blame the war on President Volodymyr Zelensky, saying the Ukrainian leader could have avoided the conflict by taking different actions.
And he said the war in Ukraine was not "intentional", adding: "And I'm quite sure Ukraine, if they'd wanted to get out of it properly, could have done."
The controversial British businessman added that he "would have stopped" the Russian Grand Prix being removed from the Formula One calendar and the ban on Russian drivers because "it's wrong".
F1 said in a statement: “The comments made by Bernie Ecclestone are his personal views and are in very stark contrast to position of the modern values of our sport.”
Ecclestone went on to say the war in Ukraine was not "intentional", adding: "And I'm quite sure Ukraine, if they'd wanted to get out of it properly, could have done."
Asked if he has had a chance to speak to Putin about "what a mess" the situation is or urged him to rethink what he is doing, Ecclestone told Good Morning Britain: "No. He's probably thought about that himself. He probably doesn't need reminding.
"I'm absolutely sure he now wishes he hadn't started this whole business, but didn't start as a war."
Ecclestone added he believes that the war in Ukraine could have been avoided by actions taken by President Volodymyr Zelensky.
He said: "Unfortunately, he's like a lot of business people, certainly like me, we make mistakes from time to time. When you've made the mistake, you have to do the best you can to get out of it.
"I think if it had been conducted properly, I mean the other person in Ukraine, I mean, his profession, I understand, he used to be a comedian.
"I think he seems as if he wants to continue that profession, 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."
Presenter Kate Garraway said: "So just to understand you clearly, you think that President Zelensky should have done more to avert this war and it could have been avoided by Zelensky's actions, not by a change in Putin's actions?"
Mr Ecclestone replied: "Absolutely."
It was put to Mr Ecclestone that he surely could not justify the actions of Mr Putin and the deaths of thousands of people. "I don't. It wasn't intentional," he replied.
Ecclestone was also asked what he thinks of the Russian Grand Prix being removed from the Formula One calendar and the ban on Russian drivers.
He told Good Morning Britain: "I'm not in the position now to have done anything about that. I'm not sure I would have stopped that, and I certainly now wouldn't, and I think it's wrong, to stop Russian athletes, including obviously drivers, in taking part in their sport.
"They didn't get involved in this in the first place. They shouldn't be punished."
Ecclestone also waded into an ongoing racism row between Sir Lewis Hamilton and Nelson Piquet.
Former Formula One world champion Piquet, 69, was reported to have used a racial slur towards Hamilton following the 2021 British Grand Prix.
He has apologised after using an offensive expression when discussing the British driver in an interview last year, saying he would "never go out of his way to say anything bad".
Ecclestone told Good Morning Britain: "I think what probably happened, knowing Nelson as I know him, as his daughter is the girlfriend of Max Verstappen, probably after seeing what the accident... he probably exploded then and sort of carried that forward.
"I know his feelings because I was alone, I exploded, didn't say anything obviously because there wouldn't have been any point because there was nobody here to hear my reaction to that.
"So that's probably what his problem was. He was upset with the accident, thinking it was wrong, and probably thinking it was Lewis's fault - I did as well, as it happens - but anyway, that's probably what he thought and he probably exploded about that."
Brazilian Piquet, a three-time world champion, was reported to have been discussing a collision between Hamilton and rival Verstappen on the opening lap at Silverstone, which saw the Dutchman retire from the race.