“Bernie would not want tough questions”
The Singapore Grand Prix is traditionally where the political and commercial deals for the following season are tied up, which accounts for a much busier paddock environment.
Walk slowly from one end to the other – dodging the ever-present TV crews – and you’ll see flesh being pressed and the champagne flutes being brimmed as the movers and shakers strut their stuff.
This year the atmosphere was most curious, as if the sport were in commercial limbo as the teams and stakeholders digested the news that Formula 1 is to change hands for an eye-watering sum. Or maybe it isn’t – there are still some regulatory hoops through which to leap. But it’s still close enough to reality for there to be the sense of the passing of an age. In a word, the atmosphere was febrile. Up and down the paddock, people were facing up to the prospect of a future without the man who has shaped F1’s fortunes for more years than he’d care to mention: Bernie Ecclestone. Is F1’s evergreen ‘ringmaster’ about to succumb to the law of the jungle and be expelled by another big beast?
Tellingly, neither Ecclestone nor the senior figures representing the incoming and outgoing owners – Liberty Media’s Chase Carey and Donald Mackenzie of CVC Capital Partners – were expected to attend the race in Singapore. We hear from wellplaced sources that Carey doesn’t want to do any mainstream media-facing work until he’s got F1 terminology down pat. He is well aware of how much scrutiny he will be under. Mackenzie is an infrequent visitor to grands prix, preferring the backroom and boardroom environment, and not someone who seeks the limelight.
Bernie is never shy of a photo opportunity when he wants to get a point across, but he wouldn’t want to be faced with any awkward questions either.
So what a surprise it was when all three of them not only arrived in Singapore, but then walked down the paddock together in peak time in a calculated show of unity. Unfortunately for them, bedlam ensued. If the presence of Bernie always triggers a Pavlovian reaction in media folk, this manifestation of the Holy Trinity set in motion a veritable rolling maul. There were elbows everywhere.
And then, to the palpable horror of seasoned Bernie-watchers, the unthinkable: not content with shoving at his colleagues to get the shot, one cameraman actually laid a hand on Ecclestone himself and propelled him ungently out of his frame – the better to get an unobstructed image of Carey and Mackenzie alone.
Is this an artistic metaphor for the boardroom struggles to come?