Ecclestone: I was an idiot over Hitler

Bernie Ecclestone, the head of Formula One motor racing, has apologised to the JC for remarks in which he was seen to praise Hitler’s leadership.

They came during an interview with the Times on Saturday in which he criticised MPS for their lack of leadership and referred to the Nazi leader’s ability to “get things done”.

He later told a German newspaper it was “a big misunderstanding" and, during a 30-minute interview with the JC at his Knightsbridge office, said: “I’m just sorry that I was an idiot. I sincerely, genuinely apologise.”

The remarks brought calls for his resignation from the president of the World Jewish Congress Ronald Lauder. And a senior German Jewish official called for him to be boycotted by Formula One teams. Dieter Graumann, a vice-president of the Central Council of Jews, said: “No team should work with him any more."

But Ecclestone, 78, told the JC: “I never supported Hitler, I don’t think there’s anybody in this world who could support Hitler and the atrocities they carried out.

“In the end he got lost so he wasn’t a very good dictator. Either he knew what was going on and insisted or he just went along with it – either way he wasn’t a dictator.”

He said he had been horrified at what he saw at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. “It takes quite a lot to make me cry and I cried when I came out of that place.

“What I regret is people who have taken this the wrong way and have been offended, I’m really, really sad about because I have done an awful for Jewish community throughout, charities and whatever.

“Most of my mates are Jewish people, I spoke to two or three very prominent people today, Jewish people. One of them said to me, ‘Bernie, you’re more Jewish than all of my friends’.

Mr Ecclestone argued that his remarks had been taken the wrong way. After discussing the difficulties of getting democracy to work, the subject had got on to dictators and he had been asked what he thought of Hitler.

“I said I suppose he did, early days, a good job. He took Germany from a bankrupt country to a superpower in five years so he probably couldn’t have done that unless he made things happen…All sorts of people have done that in the past.

“The problem is we shouldn’t use the word dictators, we should use the word leaders. It’s a leader you want not a dictator, because most dictators get things done by terrorising people, whereas a leader like Mrs Thatcher gets things done because people think what she’s doing is leading them in the right direction and people support her."

Last updated: 3:10pm, July 7 2009