Used to keeping her eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama, Kate Walker looks back at Bernie Ecclestone's surprise appearance at the German Grand Prix...
Bernie Ecclestone has something of a reputation.
The Formula One boss is known for being an old-fashioned kind of businessman, a man whose word is his bond, a man with whom a deal is done on a handshake.
But Mr Ecclestone is also known for being a man with balls. Negotiations with Bernie tend to come out in his favour, the master wheeler-dealer holding out for the best possible option and getting it.
Those balls were on display at the Nurburgring last weekend, when Bernie Ecclestone attended the German Grand Prix contrary to all expectation.
The 82-year-old had absented himself from the 2012 race at the Hockenheimring, and it was expected that he would do the same this year. In May it had been announced that the Munich prosecutors had filed charges against the F1 boss in the Gribkowsky case, and the expectation was that if Ecclestone showed up in Germany, he would be arrested.
Instead, Bernie spent a pleasant weekend in the Eifel mountains, greeting friends and colleagues under ceaseless sunshine. There was no sign of trouble, no indication that he could be a man under pressure.
Naturally, the rumours started to swirl. Bernie had cut a deal with the prosecutors, or had found a loophole that made him immune from prosecution. Perhaps he had secretly bought the troubled Nurburgring or publicly waived the race fees as a stay of execution that would enable the F1 boss to enjoy the German race weekend.
But what the rumours failed to take into account is the present state of affairs in Germany. Following a recent spate of corruption scandals that have seen corporate offices raided following reports of tax evasion and similar, there is no public appetite for the Munich public prosecutor to cut a deal with Bernie.
While it is highly undesirable to imprison a man in his eighties, the notion of 'cutting a deal' in a bribery case – which would read like paying a bribe to get out of a bribe – is equally unpalatable. With charges filed at the end of May, the best solution for both parties is to play a bit of legal footsie – all conveniently slowed down by the need to translate documents from German into English (and vice versa) – for as long as possible.
That Bernie Ecclestone was able to take advantage of the legal to-ing and fro-ing to make an appearance at the German Grand Prix shows just how brave an opponent he can be.
Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to Crash.net. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, she keeps an eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama.