Bernie Ecclestone thinks Flavio Briatore's lifetime motorsport ban for race fixing was too harsh – but added that he believes the former Renault team principal could have avoided it by owning up to what happened.
Just days after the FIA announced that Briatore would be banned for an indefinite period from any involvement in FIA-sanctioned series for his part in the Singapore Grand Prix race fix, Ecclestone spoke out against the severity of the punishment.
Speaking during a media event in Singapore, Ecclestone said he believed it correct that Renault were given a two-year suspended ban, but that the punishment for Briatore went too far.
"If you look at it sensibly, the people at the top had not the slightest idea," said Ecclestone. "The people in the Renault F1 team had not the slightest idea.
"There were three people who knew what was going on and that is it. No one else was involved. Those people have been dealt with – in my view quite harshly in [regards to] Flavio. I don't think it was necessary, but I was on the commission so I am probably just as guilty as anyone else. On reflection, it wasn't necessary."
He added: "It was too much. Definitely too much."
However, Ecclestone suggests that Briatore could have avoided such a draconian penalty if he had owned up to his involvement in the plot – as Renault's former director of engineering Pat Symonds did prior to being handed a five-year motorsport ban.
"Firstly he [Flavio] was invited to appear [in front of the World Motor Sport Council] and his lawyers wrote and said the FIA have no jurisdiction as far as he is concerned, which was probably right.
"But it was not the right thing to say. It would have been just as easy to go – to say: 'I was caught with my hand in the till, it seemed a good idea at the time, and I am sorry.' There is an organization that works very, very well on that idea, where the people go to a box and confess..."
He added: "Honestly, I am a friend of Flavio's. He has just handled the whole thing badly. He could have handled it in a completely different way, and they would have said, 'You were a naughty boy,' and that would have been the end of it."
Ecclestone also suggests that Briatore would be wise to avoid taking the matter to civil court if he is unhappy with the punishment.
"It would be stupid of Flavio to do that. He should ask to be heard by the court of appeal," he said. "He should appeal to the FIA. If he goes to a civil court I don't think he would win. Because the FIA would have to defend and somebody will say that he sent a young guy out to what could have been his death. So it wouldn't go down too well."
Ecclestone also revealed that his friendship with Briatore had been strained by the events of recent days.
When asked for his opinion on how Briatore was handling what had happened, Ecclestone said: "He's not talking to me, I don't know. He thinks I should have defended him, which I couldn't."