The Last Word: If you can't steer clear of trouble, just say sorry

Briatore's old Formula One friend Ecclestone should give him a crash course in performing rapid U-turns
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The Independent Online

Bernie Ecclestone is rather adept at doing what we in the trade call a "reverse ferret". He is able to perform his U-turns without the barest glance in the wing mirror. If only he had the same skill with a steering wheel, Bernie's own attempts to become a racing driver would surely have been successful. Alas, it seems Bernie never did require anyone to order him to crash into a wall.

But then we should praise Ecclestone for recognising his driving faults and privately bowing to his own failings. In a world where immovable leaders are all too disinclined to say: "I was wrong", here is the refreshing exception. Nobody is prepared to self-flagellate with the enthusiasm of our Bernie. And that includes Max Mosley.

Never mind "I was wrong", the lovable little figure who is destined forever to be known as "the F1 supremo" is even prepared to say: "I was an idiot". No, he didn't quite go so far in 2005 when fessing up to the ethical flaws in his theory that all women should dress in white, "like all the other domestic appliances". But he certainly did a few months ago in the wake of some comments he made about Adolf Hitler.

Old Bernie credited the Third Reich supremo with "getting things done" and wondered if it was Hitler's idea to exterminate six million Jews at all and whether he hadn't, in fact, been persuaded into it. In the ensuing outcry, it would have been all too easy for him to disappear into his personal bunker and ride out the storm. But brave Bernie saw his error and declared: "I sincerely, genuinely apologise" (so much better than an insincere, fake apology). So it was all forgotten.

Well, the petty World Jewish Congress were still annoyed and called for his resignation, but how diplomatically Bernie snuffed out their ire. "It's a pity they didn't sort the banks out," he said. "They have a lot of influence everywhere." He'd said sorry, what more did they want? How long did they want him to wear that sackcloth and ashes? Don't they realise how painful it is for a person of his standing to confront his own fallibility?

Saying sorry plainly suffices for Bernie. It is good enough to excuse most sins. If only Flavio Briatore had done so in all that Renault furore last week when he received a lifetime ban for his part in Nelson Piquet Jnr's deliberate crash in Singapore last year.

"He has just handled the whole thing badly," said Bernie. "He should have stood up and said, 'I was caught with my hand in the till, it seemed like a good idea at the time and I am sorry'. He would have got a slap across the wrist. They would have said, 'You naughty boy' and that would have been the end of it."

So simple, so clean, so utterly incontrovertible. Instead, Formula One will line up in Singapore once again today in something of a mess. All because stubborn old Flav couldn't say sorry.

Bernie should wash his hands of him. But he won't. That's not in his forgiving nature. As ever, Bernie has been big enough himself to apologise. "[The ban] was too harsh. I was on the commission so I am probably as guilty as anyone else." Will this be enough to persuade his pal, his fellow QPR co-owner, to return his calls, even if it is only to have a natter about the resurgence of Wayne Routledge? We can only hope so. Otherwise, what will Bernie do, where will he go?

Imagine if "sorry" didn't suffice. Imagine if you really had to pay for your actions, for what you say, for those you offend. Imagine if they did not forgive in the blink of a carefully worded statement. What sort of world would it be then? And what sort of sport would it be then?

Not a sport Ecclestone would want to be the figurehead of, that's for sure. He wants Briatore to appeal and to do what's plainly required to get his ban reduced. Say sorry. For God's sake, man, say sorry. Do not, Bernie repeats, do not dare to mount a proper defence, in a proper court. "Because somebody will say he sent a young guy out to what could have been his death. It wouldn't go down too well." Just keep saying sorry. Over and over. They'll soon forget what they're supposed to be forgiving you for. It always works.

Gonzo puts his drive behind reds not greens

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano now accepts he was wrong to accuse the Spanish prime minister, live on TV, of "stripping us all naked". "It wasn't the right time or the right place," said the golfer. It was the first round of the Seve Trophy, and the Spaniard had just birdied the eighth.

We can only shiver at the prospect of other sportsmen taking his lead. Of Emmanuel Adebayor running 100 yards to the opposing fans to advise them to vote for Nick Clegg. Of Craig Bellamy shrugging off three security men to remind a pitch invader of his human rights. Of Serena Williams urging a line judge to alter her views on the war against terror or face up to the moral – and yes, colonic – consequences...

Keep politics out of sport, we say. And thank goodness our self-obsessed superstars wholeheartedly agree. No subject could possibly be more important than the parameters of their existence. Could it?

Gonzo, as he is known on Tour, is not so sure. Not only does he have passionate opinions about Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's leadership, but it's the nature of these beliefs which is so shocking.

Zapatero, as we politicos all know, is head of the Socialist Workers' Party. So what is this millionaire golfer's gripe? Extortionate taxation, perchance, of the achievers being punished for their industry? I ask you, where is the incentive to make eagles nowadays?

Erm, no. "We have five million unemployed," screams Citizen Gonzo. "What is this man doing to help these poor people return to work?" Zapatero is probably just doing what our man is doing. Fronting up World Cup bids and having Fernando Torres over for tea.