By Alan Baldwin
SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) - Collisions between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have made champions Mercedes more popular than their wins, Formula One's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone said on Sunday.
"Right now people think: they will win anyway. That’s it. There are no emotions about something that is so obvious," the 85-year-old told the official formula1.com website.
"The two Mercedes guys crashing gives them more popularity than winning. Just look at what is going on since Austria; more positive publicity in my opinion. It’s shown that they let their guys race."
Triple world champion Hamilton and Rosberg, who leads the championship, collided on the last lap in Austria a week ago while fighting for victory.
The incident, the third in five races between the two, has been the talk of the paddock with Mercedes announcing on Thursday that both would remain free to race but with stricter rules of engagement.
Team boss Toto Wolff has warned of stiff penalties for whoever is to blame for further collisions.
Hamilton won in Austria, with Rosberg fourth after leading into the last lap. The collision was the most serious since the one in Spain in May where they came together on the first lap and retired.
Ecclestone expected Hamilton to win the title for a fourth time this year.
Asked about Mercedes' rivals, the 85-year-old hoped Ferrari and Red Bull could mount a serious challenge next season but said Ferrari "has become very Italian again".
"(Ferrari president Sergio) Marchionne is doing a super job trying to pull it all together. But he has an awful lot of things to do and to be in charge of that operation you need to be him seven days a week, 24 hours a day," he said.
"It is not a part-time job.
"I’d love to see Sergio there morning to night, all through the week and the weekend. Then he could put it together for sure. He knows what he wants and he knows how to get it."
Ecclestone also said he had yet to find anyone suitable as a successor.
"They didn’t want a job - they wanted to travel, look at the bank account and be in the press. I have said it so many times before: we need another used-car dealer," he said.
"And the used-car dealers that I have found make a lot more money than I do, so why should they change their business?"
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)