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Weekend with Bernie

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The former F1 supremo gave Austria a miss after putting both feet in his mouth about his good friend Vladimir Putin.

The Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday came with no surprises. Ferrari and Red Bull finished one and two and Daniel Ricciardo continued to struggle in the McLaren, finishing ninth.

What was more interesting to those who remember the years when the sport was owned by Bernie Ecclestone was what the now 91-year-old had to say about Vladimir Putin as the cars lined up at the Red Bull Ring.

Ecclestone ran F1 much as the Russian dictator conducts foreign policy and announced that he would “take a bullet” for Putin who was “a first-class person.”

Later he said he “didn’t mean to upset anybody” and did not support the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.

But the British tabloids had already splashed the former F1 boss’s comments across their front pages, with the the Daily Star warning Bernie’s geriatric nurse that he had got out of bed again and needed to be restrained.

The nonagenarian told commentator Piers Morgan that sometimes people said things without thinking and “probably I did the same.”

The diminutive Ecclestone was often pictured strolling through the pits at Albert Park in the company of two-metre tall Australian Grand Prix chairman Ron Walker and delighted in keeping secret the outrageous fees he was gouging out of the Victorian Government to run the Melbourne race.

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Ecclestone, one of the richest oligarchs in the United Kingdom, still has trouble in remembering just how much money he does or doesn’t have.

For instance, he is being pursued by British tax authorities over his non-declaration of some 700 million Australian dollars in overseas assets.

Perhaps not so surprising when the former F1 boss’s wealth is calculated in billions following the sale of his interests in F1 to Liberty Media in 2017.

Another asset that apparently slipped Bernie’s memory last month was the handgun in had in his luggage as he departed Brazil, where he has one of his many properties.

He admitted it was his gun but he didn’t remember putting it in his luggage.

The tabloids now have more to write about following the has-he or hasn’t-he resignation of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson over similar  periods of forgetfulness.

But back to the Austrian Grand Prix, which Bernie said he wasn’t attending because no one would want him there.

After Ferrari’s win at the British Grand Prix the previous week, the Prancing Horse showed it had the pace to match Red Bull.

In Austria, it was obvious although a Ferrari one-two was lost when Carlos Sainz had to park at the side of the circuit when his car caught fire.

The Spaniard pulled up on an incline on turn three but had to stay in the car with his foot on the brake as it rolled back towards the circuit.

Sainz had to wait as the flames licked higher until marshals were able to put chocks behind the wheels.

Max Verstappen was on pole but Charles Leclerc in the other Ferrari seemed able to pass him almost at will, taking the lead from the current world champion on three occasions as the race unfolded.

Leclerc’s victory was more impressive when it became obvious he was having problems with the throttle refusing to lift in the slower corners and Leclerc having to hook his foot under it.

Verstappen was second and Lewis Hamilton third for Mercedes, with teammate George Russell fourth.

Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was forced to retire after a first lap shunt with Russell, the drivers blaming each other.

The resurgence of Ferrari at the halfway point of the season shows Red Bull’s dominance is being challenged. Mercedes is also showing a marked improvement with 11 races to go.

McLaren and Daniel Ricciardo continued to disappoint their fans with the Australian driver finishing ninth behind Lando Norris in seventh.

The whispers are still around that the Honey Badger will be dropped next season with a year to run on his contract.

But it did bring a couple of points after a disastrous first half of the year.

If Ricciardo is dropped, the likelihood is he will retire at the age of 33 and now becoming involved in a new television series.

Disney backed Hulu is behind a project on the F1 world with Ricciardo acting as an executive producer on the series.

“It is fiction,” says Ricciardo, “but I’ll try to give as much input” to make sure it “stays on course” and doesn’t have people saying that ‘it doesn’t happen like that.’

Production company Temple Hill is involved after making First Man, about Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.

There may be some sort of omen in that. Armstrong’s mother said her son would have flown a washing machine if it had wings.

The Honey Badger’s fans would have said the same about his ability in an F1 car before the wheels fell off.

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Author: Peter Coster

PETER COSTER is a former editor and foreign correspondent who has covered a range of international sports, including world championship fights and the Olympic Games.

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