Ex-Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has sparkled worldwide condemnation after a shocking live TV interview in which he described Vladimir Putin as a "first-class person" and said he would "take a bullet" for the Russian President.
The 91-year-old - who has made no secret of his disdain for bans on Russia around the world - was speaking about a range of topics on ITV's Good Morning Britain.
Ecclestone said he had not spoken to his "friend" Putin since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in February, but described the Russian leader as a "sensible" person who has made "mistakes" like "a lot of business people."
"I'd still take a bullet for him [Putin]. He's a first-class person." Ecclestone said.
"Unfortunately he is like a lot of business people, certainly like me, we make mistakes from time to time."
Former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said he is still ready to die for Russian President Vladimir Putin. News that should not be published!! pic.twitter.com/MoDcqPakSS
— Geo_monitor (@colonelhomsi) June 30, 2022
When it was put to Ecclestone that Russia's invasion of Ukraine had resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people, he simply replied that "it wasn't intentional".
"Look at the times America has moved into different countries which has nothing to do with America. Actually in America it's their business, they like wars because they sell a lot of armour so it's good for them."
The ex-F1 supremo also shifted blame onto Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky for not making more of an effort to engage with Putin in the first place.
Ecclestone - who transformed the sport into a global multi-billion-dollar commercial giant - also went on to defend three-time world champion Nelson Piquet, over a racial slur he directed at Mercedes driver, Lewis Hamilton.
Brazilian great Piquet described Hamilton as an N-word on a podcast in his homeland, with Ecclestone encouraging the British driver to brush the controversy aside.
Formula One responded in a statement that Ecclestone's "personal views are in very stark contrast to the position of the modern values of our sport."
Hamilton also hit back by insisting that "these old voices" - Piquet is 69 - should not be given a platform.
It was a sentiment shared by viewers across the world, many of whom were left gobsmacked by Ecclestone's comments during the interview.
OMG Bernie Ecclestone "I'd take a bullet for Putin" he then tells Lewis Hamilton to "get over" racist comments by Nelson Piquet, i always knew he held unsavoury views but condoning racism and Putin is beyond prehistoric, i don't know what else to say #GMB
— Loz Argyle ⚓ (@ArgyleLoz) June 30, 2022
Why is Bernie Ecclestone still getting TV coverage in 2022 🤦🏻♂️
Just ship him off to a retirement home and be done with it
— Matt Gallagher (@MattyWTF1) June 30, 2022
Bernie Ecclestone has just compared racial slurs directed towards Lewis Hamilton to himself being called short and that he should just brush it off... He's then gone on and said how he'd take a bullet for Putin 🤦🏻♂️🤦🏻♂️🤦🏻♂️
— Pete Dixon (@PeteDixon91) June 30, 2022
Has Bernie Ecclestone just said he would take a bullet for Putin ??? He’s a good person ???? It’s not intentional what he’s done ??? Is he drugged up ??? Wow !!!! Disgusting stuff #GMB
— Tony (@basher5000) June 30, 2022
— Chris Medland (@ChrisMedlandF1) June 30, 2022
Bernie Ecclestone defends controversial remarks
Despite the avalanche of backlash against him, Ecclestone remained unapologetic.
"It is good publicity for Silverstone," he told AFP by phone from Ibiza, adding that his style has always been to respond to interviewers.
"It is rude to ignore them. It is bloody rude," he added.
"They have to think carefully what questions they ask."
Piquet has apologised - claiming the term he used is a synonym for 'guy' or 'person' and not as it was translated - but nevertheless has been suspended by Silverstone's owners as Formula One said he will no longer be welcome in the paddock.
Piquet's remark stemmed from an incident between Hamilton and Red Bull's Max Verstappen on the first lap of last year's British Grand Prix.
Piquet's daughter, Kelly, is world champion Verstappen's girlfriend.
"What he said is like if someone said 'that little bastard' or that 'fat bastard'," said Ecclestone.
"I have known Nelson for many years and he is not the type of guy to make racist comments."
Ecclestone said 37-year-old Hamilton did not need protecting.
"Lewis is old enough to look after himself," he said.
"After all, at 91 I do not need protection. The only protection I am going to need is when I stand in front of Putin and take the bullet intended for him.
"If Putin comes to England, or wherever I am, I expect I will have to take a bullet."
Ecclestone built a warm working relationship with Putin while negotiating to bring the Formula One caravan to Russia in 2014 at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
After the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, this year's race was cancelled by Formula One which Ecclestone said at the time did not "make sense."
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