Few things put the current Formula One bosses on red alert more than this inbound ‘royal’ inspection. Nor will anyone elicit a greater number of craning necks or photographers’ shots than the man in question.
Such is the visitation by Bernard Charles Ecclestone, 91 years young, father of a 66-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son. And two other girls, both in their thirties, about whom you may have read from time to time.
Petra and Tamara’s dad is scheduled to end his long on-the-spot isolation from the sport he created as a modern, billion-dollar phenomenon by attending, as we can reveal today, the final race of the most captivating season of recent memory taking place in Abu Dhabi next Sunday.
He will, as it stands, sit out Saudi Arabia’s inaugural grand prix this Sunday, the penultimate round at which Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will, if results go his way, dethrone Lewis Hamilton from his long and serene reign as world champion.
Bernie Ecclestone wants Lewis Hamilton's title battle with Max Verstappen to go to the wire
Bernie Ecclestone plans to attend the the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi
Ecclestone’s absence from the first part of the Middle Eastern double-header is no surprise as he has been away from the paddock since Covid engulfed the world. His last trip to Formula One was to Abu Dhabi two years ago.
I spoke to him this past weekend in Ibiza, where he is living along with his 45-year-old wife Fabiana, a Brazilian lawyer who dotes on him and is a significant figure in her own right. She flits in and out in the background of our conversation, attending to his every concern in their sleek, smart pad in the Balearics.
Are they chasing the last rays of sun in southern Europe? No, it is 15°C outside — a passable temperature, and maybe an improvement on storm-lashed Britain — but the slightly warmer climes are not the reason for their shelter on brighter, distant shores.
‘I’m doing a little bit of property development here,’ he tells me. ‘It’s not for the weather that we are in Ibiza. I have things we need to do in business. We will be heading back to Gstaad for Christmas.
‘As for London, we left there thinking Covid might be over in two or three months, and because it wasn’t we decided to operate out of Switzerland. When will we go back to London? No idea. We’ll have to see how the world changes over the next few months and make a decision then.’
Ecclestone’s duties now include helping bring up his little son Ace — formally Alexander Charles Ecclestone, born last July. He and Fabiana have also just bought the farm next to the coffee plantation they own, a 25-minute helicopter hop from Sao Paulo, Brazil — purchased in 2012 for £8million and bigger than Monaco.
There is no scaling down or any gentle retreat into retirement.
It is nearly five years now since the multi-billionaire was replaced as Formula One supremo when the American conglomerate Liberty Media took control of his life’s work. His enthusiasm for the spectacle he shaped is undiminished and each race weekend he switches on Sky TV to follow it all.
‘I watch every practice and whatever is going on,’ he says. ‘Sky do an exceptional job. I keep in touch with a lot of the people involved.’
Former F 1 supremo says the fans probably want to see somebody else be world champion
So the big question: Lewis or Max for the title? ‘Either of those two,’ he says, deadpan.
Hamilton trails Verstappen by eight points with the final two instalments to be played out. The momentum is with the Englishman following wins in Brazil and Qatar; the arithmetic is with the Dutchman, victor in nine races to Hamilton’s seven so far.
‘It is difficult to say which one will prevail,’ Ecclestone continues. ‘I think it now depends on a little bit of good or bad luck that either of them bumps into.
‘Generally, the public — and this is nothing against Lewis, he has done a first-class job — probably wants to see somebody else be world champion. That is the feeling I get from people.
‘Lewis has been a bit luckier until now. Whether that luck will remain or run out we’ll have to see.
‘Max as champion would be good for Formula One. Mercedes have been great, but it would be good if someone else came to the fore.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen could dethrone Lewis Hamilton in Saudi Arabia this weekend
‘Max presents himself very, very well to the public. New kid on the block sort of thing, though he has been performing well for a few years but was largely unknown.
‘People wonder if they will crash but if they do it won’t be intentional. It could happen but I don’t think either of them will do anything silly or drive in a way that could cause an accident.
‘If it does happen it probably won’t be anything to do with them. That is what I am saying about luck and it could be the difference between being champion or not.
‘It’s been a good championship, what we have been waiting seven years for. That’s