Former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has defended Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, insisting he would “take a bullet” for the Russian leader.
Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Thursday morning, Mr Ecclestone described Mr Putin as “sensible” and “a first class person” who “believed he was doing the right thing for Russia”.
“Unfortunately he’s like a lot of business people, certainly like me, that we make mistakes from time to time and when you make the mistake, you have to do the best you can to get out of it,” the 91-year-old said.
And the billionaire businessman criticised Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy for not making enough effort to reach out to his Russian rival.
Ecclestone said: “The other person in Ukraine, his profession I understand, used to be a comedian – and I think it seems that he wants to continue that profession.
“I think if he’d thought about things, he would definitely have made a big enough effort to speak to Putin, who is a sensible person, and would have listened to him and could have probably done something about it.”
When it was pointed out that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had claimed the lives of thousands of innocent people, Mr Ecclestone simply replied: “It wasn’t intentional”.
And when asked if he was suggesting Mr Zelenskyy should “have done more to avert the war – and that it could have been avoided by Zelenskyy’s actions, not by a change in Putin’s actions”, the motoring magnate said: “Absolutely.”
“I’m quite sure Ukraine, if they’d wanted to get out of it properly, could have done,” he added.
Mr Ecclestone said he had not spoken to his “friend” since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
But he said: “I’m absolutely sure he now wishes he hadn’t started this whole business – but it didn’t start as a war.”
He also criticised the ban on Russian athletes in response to Moscow’s military intervention.
Quizzed about whether the Russian Grand Prix should be removed from the F1 calendar and the ban on Russian drivers, Mr Ecclestone said: “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.”
Mr Ecclestone’s long-running control of Formula One ended in 2017, when he stepped down as chief executive.