Mercedes and Ecclestone in bizarre row over Lewis Hamilton TV coverage

Mercedes executives are believed to be angry with Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone after their cars struggled for television coverage during Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton won the race – tightening his already vice-like grip on the drivers’ championship – with teammate Niko Rosberg coming second, but another deeply satisfying performance for the German team was soured by elements of the race broadcast – which seemed to ignore both cars for long periods.

Over the course of the 90-minute race at Suzuki, The Guardian estimated that Mercedes cars were shown on television for just six minutes – far shorter than would be usual for cars at the head of the field.

Team executives believe the lack of coverage was at the behest of Ecclestone.

“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, former world champion and now Mercedes’ non-executive chairman, told reporters.

“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 today 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.”

Ecclestone is reportedly angered at Mercedes after the team failed to reach an agreement with Red Bull about providing engines to the team for the 2016 season. Red Bull (and by extension support team Toro Rosso) are instead close to a deal with Ferrari, as they move on from their existing partnership with Renault.

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.”

The broadcast edit had practical implications for the team, with pit crew unable to easily monitor the progress of both cars. Team executive director Toto Wolff admitted that the lack of visual updates had caused problems for his team, but denied knowledge of any vendetta on Ecclestone’s part.

“It is always very difficult to please Bernie all the time,” Wolff said. “I need to find out.”

However, the Guardian quoted another Mercedes executive who did not wish to be name as saying: “I think Bernie was trying to flex his muscles and make a point.”

On the track, however, it is all smooth sailing for Mercedes. Hamilton is now 48 points ahead of Rosberg in the title race, with five races remaining.