Thursday 17 March 2016 8:11 pm

Formula One: Bernie Ecclestone backtracks on claims F1 has never been worse and predicts Ferrari will rivals Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton

Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone has performed a U-turn on the eve of the new season, insisting he was wrong to complain that the sport was “the worst it has ever been”.

F1’s long-standing commercial rights holder spoke out last month, saying that he would not pay to take his family to watch grands prix because they had become boring and predictable.

But the 85-year-old has backtracked ahead of Sunday’s curtain-raising race in Australia, arguing that pre-season testing has eased his fears of another procession for Britain’s Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes.

“I said that before we had all the results from the test and that’s what I thought,” said Ecclestone. “It was what I believed was going to be the position this year but I can see I was wrong from the results of testing and some other information I’ve been happy to receive concerning Ferrari. I’m confident that we are going to see some good racing this year.”

Ecclestone’s criticism was echoed by Hamilton, who called F1 “broken” and his Ferrari rival Fernando Alonso, who said he was “sad” because “the complexity of the rules, also for the spectators, is quite high”.

Silverstone boss Patrick Allen said last year that “fans don’t want to see a procession”, adding: “I can’t sell tickets for a shit product.”

Ecclestone said the results of testing in Barcelona, where Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were fastest on the final day, indicated that races would be more exciting this season.

But he said the remaining “problem is the control that Ferrari and Mercedes have”. The two teams sit at the top of the standings and declined to supply rival Red Bull Racing with engines last year, putting the team in jeopardy until Renault stepped in.

Ferrari and Mercedes also sit on the two F1 decision-making bodies which blocked Ecclestone’s decision to change the grids in qualifying. “I wanted to try and shake these people up,” he added. F1 ultimately decided to introduce an elimination system which will see cars drop out, leaving the fastest two in a shoot-out for pole.

F1’s technical department overcame a last-minute hitch to ready the system for this weekend’s season-opener but Ecclestone remains cautious about whether it will give the spectacle a boost. He said: “So many people know what’s wrong but they don’t know how to make it right.”