By Alan Baldwin
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has defended the television coverage of last month’s Japanese Grand Prix after champions Mercedes complained that their drivers barely featured despite a one-two finish.
The Sept. 27 race at Suzuka triggered immediate conspiracy theories, with some even suggesting the manufacturer was being punished by Ecclestone for refusing to supply rivals Red Bull with engines for next year.
“People say there is no overtaking so what we showed is a hell of a lot of overtaking,” Ecclestone, 84, told reporters at the Russian Grand Prix.
“Actually, if you look at the figures I think nearly all the teams got more or less the same amount of coverage,” added the Briton.
Mercedes have been dominant this season, winning 11 of 14 races so far with eight one-two finishes, and can clinch their second successive constructors’ title on Sunday if they score three points more than Ferrari.
However, unlike last season, there have been few wheel-to-wheel battles between the Mercedes drivers with much of the action further down the field.
Suzuka, a Honda-owned circuit, featured more battles between teams scrapping for meagre points — as well as the under-performing Honda-powered McLarens being overtaken regularly.
“We had the same with (seven-times world champion) Michael (Schumacher),” Ecclestone said, referring to a period of Ferrari domination when the German won five titles in a row and races were often decried as boring.
“People don’t want to see one car alone on the track. If there’s some racing going on at the front, it’s good.”
Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda had told reporters in Japan that he would raise with Ecclestone the lack of coverage but the commercial supremo said the subject had not been discussed between them.
“What’s it got to do with Niki Lauda?,” he said. “Lots of people were unhappy about things. He came and talked to me about something else.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)