Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has admitted he, the FIA and rival teams would often "help" Ferrari to be more successful in Formula 1: "F1 is Ferrari, and Ferrari is F1," the Briton, who turns 87 on Saturday, told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
After the Austin stewards controversy, Max Verstappen's father Jos furiously suggested on Twitter that the FIA should stand for 'Ferrari International Assistance'. When asked about that charge, Ecclestone admitted: "Helping Ferrari has always been the smartest thing to do. It was always done through the technical regulations.
"The teams are important to F1, but Ferrari is more than that. So many things have been done over the years that have helped Ferrari to win," he added. Asked if current F1 race director Charlie Whiting may still be biased, Ecclestone said: "No, Charlie has always done what he has to do.
"But Max (Mosley) has often helped Ferrari, and I too wanted them to win. There can be a season won by others, but even the other teams have an interest in challenging a competitive Ferrari. It's one thing to win against Sauber and quite another to win against a red car."
Asked if Ferrari has had help to suddenly be so competitive in 2017, Ecclestone said that because he is no longer in charge, he cannot be sure: "But certainly at one point they had help with this engine," Ecclestone charged. "It's the same for Mercedes as it is for the others - a world championship win against Ferrari is always worth more.
"If Mercedes decided to transfer technology to Maranello, I say it was a good move," he said. "What is certain is that this friendly situation between the two teams is the best thing for Mercedes. It means Red Bull did not have the most powerful engines and Ferrari was competitive enough to be a credible rival to beat," Ecclestone added.
Mercedes has dominated F1 throughout the 'power unit' era, and Ecclestone said that's because the German team got a head-start with its turbo V6 design: "At the key time, Ross Brawn was in the engine group deciding the rules and he knew exactly what was going on," Ecclestone. "Not because he was a good engineer, but because he was with Ferrari. Then he went to Mercedes and took that information with him."
Meanwhile, Ecclestone said he did not enjoy the Indy 500-style driver introductions organised a week ago by F1's new owners Liberty Media for Austin: "Maybe it was great for the Americans, but not for F1," he said. "I built a five star restaurant and they are turning it into McDonald's. At one point I saw drivers dressed in pink. If I had anything to do with it, I would have told them to go back and dress appropriately," he said.
Bahrain International Circuit - Winter testing