Amidst all the glitz and glamour present in Shanghai to mark the 1000th Formula 1 Grand Prix last Sunday, there was a notable absentee. Bernie Ecclestone. For many decades when the world of F1 was mentioned, the name of 'Bernie Ecclestone' would be mentioned in the next sentence. So where was Bernie? Well, the truth is not as exciting as some conspiracy theorists may wish because Ecclestone’s absence in Shanghai was due to food poisoning. However, after all his contribution to the sport, the occasion would surely celebrate the visionary whether he was in attendance or not or are they trying to take the camera lens away from the former F1 Supremo?
Bernie Ecclestone started as a used car dealer before transforming Formula 1 to dizzier heights than the sport could ever imagine. Now aged 88 years old and as sharp as his brain may be - a flight half way round the world would be draining on anyone. He explained his absence to the prominent French publication Auto Hebdo the week before the historic race:
“I will watch the race from London. I was going to go to Shanghai, but I changed my mind. A month ago I had food poisoning and I do not feel fully recovered.”
Bernie Ecclestone has always been a man to speak his mind and in the last week alone lit up headlines with his thoughts on Lewis Hamilton:
“Lewis is super and there is no doubt about that. Alongside his fashion business, it is almost as if he now treats Formula One as a hobby.’’
And the less said about the media storm following his thoughts on Michael Schumacher the better.
Ecclestone and controversy go together seamlessly. So, the question can be asked as to whether Formula 1 through Liberty Media has tried to take the camera lens away from Bernie Ecclestone?
One damning piece of evidence could be found in the souvenir programme which was sold out on Sunday even before the race begun. Out of 116 pages celebrating 1000 races…there was not a single mention of the name Bernie Ecclestone.
However, one camera lens not being taken away from Ecclestone was that belonging to the film crew of Channel 4 F1’s racing coverage whose host Steve Jones sat down with Ecclestone for his thoughts of his greatest accomplishment.
“I think I was happy with when Sid Watkins and I, who was the doctor at the time of Formula 1, and we really looked into the safety and from his point of view so that if there was an accident we could at least look after the people. We wouldn’t start a race unless there was a helicopter there.’’
Dr Sid Watkins, a man who also his not metioned by name in the commemorative programme but just like Ecclestone his influence still resonates through the sport today.
Ecclestone was also asked if he was happy with the changes brought to the sport by Liberty Media:
"They’ve done the best, or what they think is the best ,of what they can do. Whether it is or not we don’t know.’’
Hardly a resounding voice of confidence.
Whilst Liberty Media and Toto Wolff have been making noise about the possibility of a second race in China, Ecclestone was not impressed by the choice of venue for last Sunday’s historic race and would instead have preferred Silverstone to hold the 1000th Grand Prix seeing how it held the very first:
“Many more spectators would have come to Silverstone…I don’t know if Liberty thought about that. They haven’t been in the business long, so they may not have paid attention to details such as the first grand prix in history. They may not consider it as important.”
Such comments show that Chase Carey (F1's new Supremo) and Bernie Ecclestone certainly do not see to eye to eye. However, Ecclestone intends to fly out to Baku for the next Formula 1 race of the calendar so based on the coverage that gets, we may know then how valued he is in the sport still
The camera lens will always be on Bernie Ecclestone paying tribute to his achievement of the past - whether the new owners do or don't want this, in their quest to bring F1 into its future.