F1 Monaco Grand Prix: Bernie Ecclestone maps route to Russia
On the 60th anniversary of the inaugural Formula One world championship, the sun warmed the harbour throughout first practice in Monaco and for most of the afternoon session. Bernie Ecclestone even has the weather on a string.
"Sorry about the wait. I'm not winning at the minute." Not winning is a relative term.
His phone rings off the hook, which means Ennio Morricone ringtones belting out spaghetti western classics around the paddock, and the queue outside his motor home stretches twice around the harbour. Well almost.
I waited in line with the representative from new Spanish entrant, Hispania Racing Team, already struggling to pay their paddock bills.
"Everybody wants to see me. They think I can help. That's why they call me the godfather," Ecclestone said.
"HRT have got problems. I will sort it out. I'd like to see 12 teams finish the season because they have made the commitment to come in. We might lose one of them. But I'm doing my bit to make sure it doesn't happen."
Ecclestone, the sport's commercial rights holder, is an easy figure to lampoon, a gift for pc warriors, but the cartoon commentary does not begin to get to the essence of the man. There is not a voice raised against him in this parish.
For every controversial aside praising Hitler there is a grateful recipient of his largesse. More than one Eddie Jordan wanders this precinct thankful for his benefice. Without him they would be darning the holes in their socks.
As well as saving teams, Ecclestone's big thing is the redrawing of the F1 map. His next stop after Monaco is Sochi in Russia, where he hopes a race might make the F1 calendar in 2013.
"The Russians are good people. They get on with things. It is a matter of whether it suits us or not. I have to have a look at it first."
Negotiations are also advanced to host a grand prix in the Italian capital, where the streets were roped off last week for the reconstituted road classic the Mille Miglia.
"Rome is moving forward. That is going to be good. It's a bit political, obviously. But Rome could be ready in 2013 and Russia about the same time."
The Ecclestone-led shift from F1's European heartland meets with mixed reviews. The state-backed palazzos in the east have reset the sport's financial parameters but killed the spectacle.
Projects in Bahrain, China and Valencia were all typically ambitious yet have tended to produce soporific races. Asked what his options were when threatened by Iceland's volcanic core in Shanghai, Ecclestone replied: "Suicide."
No such difficulties in Monaco, a venue which more than any other characterises this sport. "It drives me mad to work here. It is not an easy place to operate, obviously.
"But in the end it still has that nice bit of glamour. They gave me a watch a few years back when I had done 50 consecutive races here. You didn't see any of these big buildings in the paddock that we have now. Everything was completely different.
"People ask me if I would go back to those days. Everybody seems to want to go back except when you get there you wish you hadn't. It's romantic more than anything."
Ecclestone goes back further than most. He was at Silverstone in 1950 when Giuseppe Farina drove his Alfa Romeo to victory in the inaugural world championship race.
Before he ran the show he loved it. Still does. "I'm a fan as much as anything. I particularly like [Red Bull driver] Sebastian Vettel. Michael [Schumacher] looks in ------ good shape, too. He looked great in Barcelona. People were too quick to write him off. Why pick on him? His return has been brilliant for Formula One."
And what of Jenson Button, the championship leader for whom he feared after joining lion king Lewis Hamilton at McLaren?
"I was stupid enough to have a bet with someone that neither Jenson nor Michael would win a race this season. Now I'm out of pocket."
If you are reading this Lewis, look away now. "Hamilton has been disappointing. He was unlucky in the last race but that's what happens when things are going badly for you.
"People praise his overtaking but you don't get any points for passing cars."
Ennio goes again, evoking smoking guns and conflict resolution in ponchos. Another meeting beckons. You wonder where he gets the energy.
"Don't drink or smoke. Never have. That's the secret. What am I going to do if I retire? I'm happy doing what I do. The minute I didn't think I could deliver or wasn't doing a good job I would stop. None of those things are happening."
Longevity, you might think, would be aided by the change of personnel.
The radio active dynamic between Max Mosley, Flavio Briatore and Ron Dennis is no more. F1's governing body, the FIA, is in the invisible hands of old Ferrari fixer Jean Todt, a silent bruiser happy to pull levers in darkness.
"We don't need the president getting involved in stuff that doesn't concern him," Ecclestone said, code no doubt for doing as he is told.
Despite the sport's quieter political profile, Ecclestone misses the old legislature.
"Yes I miss having Flav about the place. He is good company and he was good for this sport. People associated him with F1. He was a character. We miss Max, too. Max got a lot more right than wrong.
"The biggest problem that Max had was that he couldn't package things in a nice way. You tell people to take it or leave it and it doesn't work. "It's quieter now at the FIA, which is how we like it."