"I like the guy," Berger says, pointing at a photo of Juan Pablo Montoya. "He's very simple, he's a racer inside the car, outside the car, and he has a good style. He's one of my favourite drivers."
DC: He reminds me very much of you, actually
Berger: "People tell me this - it's difficult for me to say - but I like him, yeah."
DC: Now, what about Ralf Schumacher?
"Ralf, yes...." Berger pauses for a moment.
"You know, the interesting thing is with this one" - he points to Montoya - "is you always have the feeling he's a superstar, it's very special, but with this one" - now he points to Ralf Schumacher - "you don't have the feeling. But when you compare the points and the results it's the same, over many years, so I think you have the same level of drivers here. He's a nice guy too, Ralf, but he's very different to Montoya. I like both of them, and I think it's a fantastic combination for Williams."
DC: I know what you mean - they are very different personalities, but yet their results are exactly the same
Berger: "Yes, but if you went out and asked the results of people they would say no, Montoya has much better results, but it isn't true - they're the same. And I really would like to be fair because this guy - Ralf - is doing a good job.
"But at the end of the day, everybody is comparing him to his brother, and his brother is very, very outstanding. There's nothing wrong with that, you know - nothing to be ashamed about being behind the brother, because he is the best in the field."
DC: Do you think because Ralf and Juan are so different, with different strengths, they make a good pairing as teammates?
Berger: "Yeah, I think it's a great combination for us."
"Frank looks like he is thinking about the retainer for Ralf!" Berger says, chuckling at the photo.
"I knew Frank before, but I never raced for him, and I didn't know him good enough - now I know him good enough. He is such a fighter. He's such a fighter. He's such a hard, disciplined man - in negotiations, for himself, in whatever he's doing - the guy is somehow a guarantee for success. Now I see even more, when I see an old picture and I see him running, how strong he was - you could read it on his body, on his face that he was really someone who could run maybe a marathon every day if it was necessary. That just fits with all his behaviour I've seen of the last five years. Whatever he does, he does it with extreme commitment. Not easy - not easy at all - but he plays the game in a very special way, and that makes his success."
DC: You just finished the negotiations with Frank - it must have been hard, considering the length of time it took. How satisfying was that to you?
Berger: "I think we are all smiling, so it came out quite nice, but it was not easy at all!"
DC: And with BMW's new deal with Williams now signed, is your work finished at BMW?
Berger: "I wouldn't say all, but another big part. And yes, my goal now is to step out more and more, and after this I'm relaxed because I'm convinced it is the right solution for the future."
"Bernie is the guy I have the most respect for in this business," Berger says. "You can say want you want, but I think simply we all got into a fantastic life and under fantastic conditions - financial conditions, and also how the business was developed - and I think it's all thanks to him. You know, people are starting to forget it and just starting to look at all his money, but if I think what Ron Dennis, what Michael Schumacher, what myself, what we all made in this money, I think it's only fair that the guy who leads the whole thing makes the money that he made."
DC: He made a lot of rich people in this paddock...
Berger: "He made everybody rich. Stupid or not stupid, somehow everybody got quite rich. Not just on the drivers side - engineers, journalists... I mean, ask which other field - if you are a political journalist, any other field - there is no other field which is as comfortable as the Formula One field. Really you have to work hard, but you get some extra out of it and I think that's all set up by him. And I really try never to forget this, and you know, it's sometimes not easy, sometimes difficult to remember, because he is doing something that you don't understand. But I have met a lot of business guys in the last 25 years from some big companies, but he is the most switched on guy I have ever met in all my time. He is the most switched on business guy."
"Well...." Berger sighs.
DC: You two never seemed to get on too well, but I don't know if that's true or not?
Berger: "No that's not true. We, we, we... I would say we're friends, no question, but..."
Berger pauses, calculating his words. "There were certain times when we would not be on line with our impression, our opinion, but we've never been against each other and in the last few years we became quite close. If I meet Niki I like him, and I think it's the same for him, but it's not a friendship where we speak every day. But it's a friendship."
DC: Do you think you're closer now because you're not competing with each other?
"Well..." He pauses again.
"Today I understand very much what you don't understand when you come as a young driver - as a young driver you come into this business, if you are confident, with very little respect for others. Later on you find out how difficult it is to have success in this business. So when I was young I came in, and yes Niki Lauda won the Championship, but he wasn't really a spectacular driver - he wasn't a Gilles Villeneuve, a Montoya or a Senna, you know - and I was more attracted to these kinds of drivers.
"And I think I did not respect enough what he really achieved. Today I respect him a lot, because he won three times the World Championship, so today I really know what he did, and under the conditions he sometimes did it. And it's the same for me today when the young drivers come in.
"I think he felt a lack of respect for his performance in the beginning, and so that's why maybe he didn't play back in the same way as you guys would have expected from another Austrian colleague. But I think it was my fault, not his fault, and this is now all gone - I respect him a lot, and I think he knows where my qualities and my weaknesses are, and we are friends."
DC: He had a chance, albeit short, to be a team principal - would you like to have an opportunity at this type of job?
Berger: "Not at the moment, because at the moment I am not available, but I could be... when I reach Formula One again, I could be, yes."
"I lost a really good friend," Berger says, looking at the picture of two times 500cc motorcycle champion and Australian TV commentator Barry Sheene, who died earlier this year from cancer.
"We were both really similar in the way of seeing things and treating things and doing things, and his passing away gives me a lot to think about. When he phoned me - I think I was one of the first guys he phoned when he was just coming back from the doctor and found out what he had - when he phoned me and he told me, that was the moment I definitely started to think to stop. He was always the guy who said 'what are you doing, come on - let's enjoy ourselves; what are you doing with all this BMW stuff? You know it's not a question of money; let's have this life, I'll take this helicopter and we'll go for a ride, come with me now'.
"And we enjoyed ourselves so much when we were together, but then I never had much time, and he was much more consistent with contacting me and trying to do something together than I was, because I was so busy. But then when he phoned me I said shit - the guy would come and say 'let's spend the life, let's spend the time, life is too short, let's do it in a good way'. I thought, shit he was 100% right and he would know it; his time's going to be short, and how long is my time, you know?
"I spoke to him and said 'Barry, I mailed you a contact and they're the best guys', and he said 'no Gerhard, it's too late, it's not going to be alright anymore, it's going to be such suffering and it's not going to work in the end, and I don't want to let my children even see me in conditions like that - I decided to do just nothing, I decided to just spend the last days in the best ways that I could'. And I said 'oh shit'... it's really hard, you know.
"And now he's one of the guys I think regularly about, and I'm just trying to... you know, he always said to me 'Gerhard, let's do a race at Goodwood - Damon Hill with one bike, me with one bike and you with one bike', and I fixed it with him, but every year I had to change it because I had no time. And this year I said I was going to do it, and it was clear that we were going to do it, and now he died and he's not going to be there anymore.
"I just said to Damon the other day, when I met him, 'let's at least do the race, and I'll try to get Barry's motorbike at Goodwood'. I would love to go and do it, I really want to phone up the guys at Goodwood and see if they can organise me his bike and I can do a race with Damon."
DC: Barry always lived his life at 100% - do you think you do the same?
Berger: "Yes - and that's why I say we were very, very similar. All through my Formula One career coming to Australia I was just flat out with Barry, and this time I was there without Barry - that was just the last days that he was alive. I felt really terrible - it was just not the same. And actually it was Barry and myself and then George Harrison was part of it, and suddenly the group - George, Barry and myself - wasn't there anymore."
"This," Berger points at the picture of his McLaren days, "was maybe the most interesting time in my racing life. A competitive team, with a competitive guy like Ron Dennis, and a competitive guy like Senna on the side - that was really something, that was racing. And that was also the time when I had to go to the limit in all aspects to survive in this group!"
DC: It made you tougher?
Berger: "No, it didn't make me tougher - the problem was it made me be not what I am. I had to put my extreme lifestyle on the side a bit, but it didn't give me what I want on the other side - it wasn't like an exchange, you know; I pull a little bit away from my lifestyle and I get a bit more performance in the race car. But actually it was the other way around. Everybody is how he is - try to be yourself and then you're the best."
DC: When you came into Formula One, you obviously thought you were going to win the Championship. When you were at McLaren you saw these guys who did win Championships. In retrospect, do you think there was any way you could have won it, or did that show you that it was simply not meant to be?
Berger: "I'm not the type of guy who says 'if I do this I win the Championship', because simply I did not win the Championship - very simple, straightforward. I still think from the talent, I was on the level, or sometimes ahead, of people who won the Championship, but that's not enough - you need more. And I think I could have done more if I had the chance - if my father at the age of 12-13 years said 'okay, I'm happy to support my boy in karting to give him the time in racing to develop himself'.
"Don't forget that I start racing at 21, I did only 40 races - everyone talks about Kimi Raikkonen, how quick it was for him, but I did 40 races from the first race I ever did to my first race in Formula One, and in the 40 races at least 15 or more were Alfa-sud and touring cars. So I did maybe one and a half years in Formula Three, that's it, until I went into Formula One, and that was something where everyone was just so many years ahead of me, and they just knew the game so much better."
"Nice moustache, by the way!" I tell Berger as I hand him a picture of himself holding his daughter Cristina.
"Yes, well that was the fashion at the time!" he retorts, laughing.
"Well that was my time when I was a mechanic, with Cristina - my oldest daughter - who was... well, it's simple, it was nearly 24 years ago. At this time I was just wild, young and full of life; a mechanic sitting under the trucks and repairing gearboxes and clutches. I had already decided in my head that I don't want to do this all my life, because I have to get something better out of it than the changing of gearboxes!
"And here" - he holds the picture of himself with wife Ana, as they enter the FIA's traditional annual gala in Monaco last year - "well, that's the other side; you can see I have on the smoking jacket here with my wife Ana - not really my style, I think I was forced by the FIA to be dressed like they are in the year's event. But that's maybe twenty years later."
DC: And this is the future - now you have the rest of your time to spend with your family
Berger: "Yes, yes... right now I just want to relax a little bit, for a year. but I don't think I will be away for good, because I cannot see my life without racing."