Did Bernie censor Mercs?

Blanking Hamilton from TV at Japan GP may be due to no-sale of engines to Red Bull

Lewis Hamilton gestures at a camera after winning at Suzuka in a race where TV viewers worldwide hardly ever get to keep track of the Mercedes cars in action.
Lewis Hamilton gestures at a camera after winning at Suzuka in a race where TV viewers worldwide hardly ever get to keep track of the Mercedes cars in action.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Lewis Hamilton swopped his role as a Formula One world champion for an afternoon as the invisible man on Sunday.

The Briton took a dominant win at the Japanese Grand Prix, not that millions of viewers around the world got to see it as the official television coverage mysteriously blanked out his Mercedes car.

Niki Lauda, the Mercedes chairman, wants to know why Bernie Ecclestone's television arm, which controls the worldwide distribution of the sport's coverage, somehow missed out the man winning the race.

"I was watching TV all day long, and funny enough I saw Saubers and a lot of Honda cars but I don't know why," Lauda said.

"Somebody must do the filming here. I've to ask what's wrong with him. I want to see Bernie next week and ask him what is the reason.

"At the moment, I can't say much but it was funny that even the pitstop of Lewis - the leader - you only saw him driving out. You didn't even see if he changed his wheels."

One estimate from the Internet was that Mercedes cars were shown for only six minutes in 88 minutes of coverage.

There was a suspicion of revenge on Sunday because Mercedes have refused to sell engines to Red Bull.

As a result, Red Bull are threatening to quit the sport and Ecclestone, F1's chief executive, cannot afford to lose the four-time world champions from his global show.

"I spoke to Bernie on a couple of occasions about this engine deal and it was very clear (Dietrich) Mateschitz (the owner of Red Bull) never really approached us.

"Then, Ferrari came and offered an engine and that is now being negotiated," said Lauda.

Toto Wolff, the Mercedes head of motorsport, needed a long pause before he answered the question as to why his team were apparently blanked out, with no shots of Mercedes pitstops or the customary head shots in the garage.

"It's very difficult to please Bernie all the time," he said. "I need to find out. I was not sure where we were during the race. I had to look on the timing screens."

Had Mercedes been punished for not giving engines to Red Bull?

"No. I don't think this is linked," he replied. "Obviously, TV pictures are important and there was some good fighting with midfield.

"But I cannot imagine this is done with some sort of strategy because that would be clearly misrepresenting everything happening on track."

But when the same question was put to another Mercedes executive, who did not want to be named, he said: "I think Bernie was trying to flex his muscles and make a point."

Ecclestone's defence may be that the best action was down the field once Hamilton had dispensed with Nico Rosberg, his team-mate and pole-sitter, within three corners of the start to romp home.

But, with McLaren in apparent meltdown, on and off the track, with Red Bull on the brink of pulling out of the sport - taking Toro Rosso with them - and with the futures of Lotus and Renault due to be decided soon, it was as if the entire world of Formula One was intent on showing its dysfunctionality.

Thank goodness, then, for Hamilton who returned to his most dominant form - after a setback in Singapore - to pull level with his idol, Ayrton Senna, on 41 race wins.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2015, with the headline 'Did Bernie censor Mercs? '. Print Edition | Subscribe