Hamilton equals Senna’s record as Ecclestone leaves Mercedes in dark
Lewis Hamilton equalled his idol Ayrton Senna’s record of 41 wins with a forceful drive in the Japanese Grand Prix yesterday (Sunday) - not that you would have known from watching the television broadcast.
Hamilton also matched the ferociousness of his idol’s racing, -forcing Nico Rosberg wide at turn one and easing his way to an eighth win of the season, one which puts him in total command of the world drivers’ championship. But again, other than that opening salvo, you will not have seen much of this dominant drive.
Lewis Hamilton of Britain pours champagne over the head of Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany on the podium after winning the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. Picture/AP
Mercedes were left furious and flabbergasted by Bernie Ecclestone’s decision - an obvious one - to cut them out of the official feed, beamed to all the television stations and millions of people round the world. There was no footage of Mer-cedes pit stops, very little of them on track, and no images whatsoever of any of the team garages, in a separate row over sponsorship.
It did not take a genius to work out that Ecclestone was exacting revenge for the decision by Mercedes not to supply Red Bull with engines for 2016, a deal he had been desperately trying to broker.Although Niki Lauda, the Mercedes chairman, later claimed that Red Bull had dropped the ball and that the German manufacturer had been willing to supply the team.
Lauda, the three-time champion, said he would seek a meeting with the F1 supremo, 84, this week to express his concerns.
“I want to see Bernie next week and ask him the reason,” Lauda said. “If you ask the question, you get an answer.”
The whole incident was reminiscent of the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix, when Force India were cut out of the broadcast for criticising safety procedures and refusing to run in Friday practice amid the uprising there. One of their team’s staff cars was attacked on the motorway but their failure to remain part of the paddock’s ‘united front’ exposed them to Ecclestone’s wrath.
Toto Wolff, the Mercedes chief, refused to confirm any sort of conspiracy here, but simply said: “I was not sure where we were during the race. I had to look on the timing screens. You could not see the cars on track. It is always very difficult to please Bernie all the time. I need to find out.”
In truth - but not in Ecclestone’s defence - there was not a great deal to see of the Mercedes cars after the start. After a superior getaway, Hamilton eased his team-mate wide, forcing Rosberg to take evasive action and fall back to fourth.
Hamilton, who had the inside line for turns one and two, said it was his “right of way”. Once he had dispatched Rosberg, he never looked back.
The German had to fight hard to regain second, and did so with a brave pass on Valtteri Bottas into the final chicane, and by leaping Sebastian Vettel in the second round of pit stops.
Mercedes finally returned to television screens when Hamilton crossed the line, easing to victory by nearly 20 seconds.