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Lewis Hamilton TV blackout starts row with F1’s Bernie Ecclestone

Furious Mercedes executives plan to confront Formula One’s chief executive,Bernie Ecclestone, to ask him why pictures of Lewis Hamilton winning Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix were in short supply on television screens.

The Mercedes team were utterly dominant, with Hamilton winning for the eighth time this season, with his team-mate Nico Rosberg second. But the 90-minute race featured only an estimated six minutes of their cars in action. “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,” Niki Lauda, the Mercedes non-executive chairman, said after the race. “Somebody must do the filming here. I have 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. So it was interesting.”

Deep down Mercedes are seething that one of their most impressive performances of the season was not represented on TV. Ecclestone is thought to be unhappy with Mercedes because the team did not provide engines for Red Bull, who are looking for a replacement for Renault power units next year.

But Lauda added: “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.”

Toto Wolff, the Mercedes motorsport executive director, said: “I wasn’t sure where we were during the race. I had to look on the timing screens. You couldn’t see the cars on track.”

Asked if he had upset Ecclestone, there was a long pause before Wolff said: “It is always very difficult to please Bernie all the time. I need to find out.”

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.”

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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.”

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 on Monday, 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 to pull level with his idol, Ayrton Senna, on 41 race wins. After losing out on pole in the previous two races, and being beaten to the top of the podium by Sebastian Vettel in Singapore, Hamilton re-established his total authority.

This win took his lead over his only realistic challenger, Rosberg, to 48 points, with five rounds to go; he is also now 59 points ahead of Vettel, last time the champion in 2013 and whose dogged hopes of a fifth world title now look a little far-fetched.

A year ago here Rosberg won pole and was beaten by Hamilton in wet conditions. On Sunday the sun shone all day but it was the same result, with Rosberg quickly losing his grid-place advantage to the more aggressive British driver, who squeezed him off the road through the first two corners and went on to win by 18.9sec.

“It’s quite an emotional day. I’m full of joy and happiness and light,” Hamilton said later. “I felt I was sailing, and I’m sorry I can’t share that experience with you. For me to win here, at a race where I loved watching Ayrton drive, and to match his wins, it doesn’t feel real at the moment.”

Rosberg added: “It’s going the wrong way. I had to win today.” But, crucially, he did not. And after the race most of the talk centred on Hamilton’s chances of lifting a third title before the end of the season, in Brazil, even, or perhaps Mexico on the first day of November. He is the champion of the season, everyone knows that. It is just a matter of how long he can keep it going for.


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