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Not good news for Vijay

After many weeks trying to avoid it, Vijay Mallya and several other directors of Kingfisher Airlines have finally been declared “wilful defaulters” but the state-owned United Bank of India. The move came after the Kingfisher executives failed to appear before a United Bank of India committee to discuss the situation. Once listed as wilful defaulters, Mallya and his colleagues cannot be granted loans by any bank or financial institution in India. As they cannot raise money there is now no chance of the moribund Kingfisher Airlines finding new funding in India, unless they resign from the board.

Jonathan Williams has died in Spain at the age of 71.

The son of a British Royal Air Force Squadron Leader, Williams was born during the Second World War when his father was stationed in Egypt. He was brought up in England and attended the exclusive Cheltenham College public school and then headed for London to study at Chelsea College. Williams began motor racing with a Mini which he raced illegally on old airfields with a group of friend that included Piers Courage and Sheridan Thynne. He became part of a gang of racersin London that included Courage, Charlie Lucas Charlie Crichton-Stuart and Frank Williams. After his initial experiments at racing he switched to proper events and in 1962 he bought an Austin A40 and scored 12 wins in a saloon car series at Brands Hatch, finishing second overall. The following year he jumped straight into Formula Junior on the continent, driving for the Merlyn team, before crashing and injuring himself at Monaco. He next bought a Formula 3 Lotus and with Courage founded Anglo-Swiss Racing, based in Lausanne, Switzerland. The two friends travelled to the most lucrative Formula 3 races around Europe but did not have much success because it was not as grand an organisation as the title suggested. In 1965 Williams joined Charles Lucas Engineering Ltd which was a rather more successful operation and the end of that year was offered a paid drive by the De Sanctis company in Italy. It was an offer which he could not refuse and it brought him victories in the Mediterranean GP F3 race at Enna and in the famous Monza Lottery race. His driving attracted the attention of Enzo Ferrari and he was retained by Ferrari in 1967 to race in Formula 2. The car was slow arriving and Ferrari allowed him to race for De Sanctis in the Monza Lottery – which he won again. At the end of the season Williams made his Grand Prix debut in the second Ferrari at the Mexican GP, standing in for the injured Mike Parkes. He finished eighth but Ferrari felt it was a disappointing performance. That would be his only F1 race but in 1968 he won the Monza Lotteria for a third time but his international career faded as Enzo Ferrari’s enthusiasm for him waned and his interest switched to newcomers Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell. For a while Williams raced sports cars, notably at Le Mans in 1970 when he co-drove the Porsche 908/02 which carried cameras for the Le Mans movie. He signed for Carlo Abarth to develop a V8 F1 car but this failed to materialise and the only F1 work he did after was to test Courage’s de Tomaso F1 car. He did a few F2 races with a Church Farm Racing Brabham and won the Monza Lotteria for a third time in a Frank Williams-run Brabham. He went on to race sporadically for Ron Harris’s Tecno team and for de Tomaso in the Temporada series in South America. In the same period he raced sports and touring cars and Formula 5000. In 1970 he raced at Le Mans driving a Porsche 908 camera car which Williams shared with Herbert Linge and was given a small acting role as a character called Jonathan Burton. After the 1971 Targa Florio he retired from racing and switched his attention to flying, initially doing air displays and later as a pilot of executive jets. Based in the south of France he followed that lifestyle until the 1990s when he decided to change his lifestyle and travelled southern Europe in a small motor home with his companion Linda, working as a writer and photographer.

Philippe Gurdjian had died at the age of 69. He was the promoter of the French Grand Prix for 13 years and went on to aid Bernie Ecclestone in setting up races in a number of other countries as F1 expanded into Asia.

Born in the Paris area in 1945, he started his career in advertising while racing in his spare time, competing in the Le Mans 24 Hours seven times between 1976 and 1986 with Porsches and Ferraris. In 1985 he was appointed promoter and organiser of the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard. When the race moved to Magny Cours in 1991 Gurdjian transferred with it and ran the race at the track near Nevers until he was removed in 1998. A close ally of Bernie Ecclestone, he went on to organise the Spanish GP for a period, helped set up the races in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi and oversaw the transformation of Paul Ricard into the testing facility it is today. Less well publicised were his efforts to find a venue for F1 in Africa, notably in Morocco. He was rewarded for his efforts with many awards, notably a French Order of Merit.
He also wrote a book about painting.

Time to move on

The Formula 1 media has been fixated in recent days on the Lewis Hamilton-Nico Rosberg situation and everyone has expressed their opinions, no matter how insane these may be. When you boil it all down, Rosberg has sullied his reputation but has a big lead in the World Championship. He may or may not have been fined by the team, but money is irrelevant in this circumstance. He will make far more if he wins the title. Hamilton accepted that perhaps it was wrong to do the dirty washing in public, but by doing so he has revealed a little more about his rival, which is fair enough. Points are points and Rosberg has them.

Mercedes Benz has done a decent job, jumping from burning bush to burning bush, trying to stamp out the fire without setting fire to its trousers, while the FIA has proved that a fishmonger has paid a visit as the administration appears to have been filleted and the back bone thrown away. The regulator of the sport has not reacted to a case in which an advantage has been gained by unsporting driving. It is not a matter of opinion over a racing incident if one of the parties admits intent… An investigation was necessary at the very least to examine the incident but nothing happened. But perhaps it being the holiday period in France played a role as well…

Mercedes has been struggling to figure out what to do with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton’s spat at Spa. Here’s the answer:

Lewis Hamilton: “Today we came together as a team and discussed our differences. Nico and I accept that we have both made mistakes and I feel it would be wrong to point fingers and say which one is worse than the other. What’s important is how we rise as a team from these situations. We win and we lose together and, as a team, we will emerge stronger.

“There is a deep foundation that still exists for me and Nico to work from, in spite of our difficult times and differences.

“We have the greatest team, the strongest group of individuals who have worked their hands to the bone to give us the best car you see us racing today.

“It’s important that we never forget that and give them the results they deserve.

“Today, Toto and Paddy told us clearly how we must race against each other from now on in a fair and respectful manner.

“The fans want to see a clean fight until the end of the season and that’s what we want to give them.

“It’s going to be a tough road from here but championships have been won from much further back than I am now.

“And I promise you that I will be giving everything and more to win this for my team, for my family and for my fans.’

“There is a deep foundation that still exists for me and Nico to work from, in spite of our difficult times and differences. We have the greatest team, the strongest group of individuals who have worked their hands to the bone to give us the best car you see us racing today. It’s important that we never forget that and give them the results they deserve.”

Nico Rosberg: “In the days since the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what happened during the race and discussing it with the team.

“I have already expressed my regret about the incident but, after meeting with Toto, Paddy and Lewis today, I wish to go a step further and describe it as an error of judgement on my part.

“The number one rule for us as team-mates is that we must not collide but that is exactly what happened.

“For that error of judgement, I apologise to Lewis and the team. I also want to say sorry to the fans who were deprived of our battle for the lead in Belgium.

“Lewis and I have been given clear instructions about how we race each other.

“As drivers, we have a clear responsibility to the team, the fans of the sport, our partners and Mercedes-Benz to deliver clean racing. We take that responsibility very seriously.

“I look forward to concluding the season with hard, fair competition on and off track right up to the final lap of the season in Abu Dhabi.”

Says it all really.

F1 and America

The ultimate irony about the failed F1 race in New Jersey is that while Bernie Ecclestone is blaming it on a promoter who failed to deliver the money, and the reporting on the matter inevitably fails to tell the whole story, it is still his primary ambition to get F1 into the New York and Los Angeles metropolitan areas, and by extension to conquer at least a small part in the lucrative US sports market. This is huge but F1 has failed to get a deal in Long Beach and has now failed in New Jersey as well. Both were viable projects, but failed because of the attitudes involved.

It has been clear for decades that the F1 business model will not work in the US market because it is too greedy. It leaves nothing on the table for the promoter, except some direct economic impact for the region and more nebulous international exposure and the impact of F1 on the glamour of an area and thus a potential hike in real estate prices. Very few public bodies in the US can provide funding and the best that can be hoped for is loans, and so F1 has been forced to rely on those on ego trips such as the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis. The race in Austin is an anomaly in that the state of Texas did agree to have a rolling loan to allow F1 to generate money for the local economy. But someone is losing money on this deal and we must wonder where it will ultimately end.

Formula One cannot simply blame America for the failures. If there is one market that would generate more money for F1, it is the United States. F1 is ultimately a consumer business and it should be strongest in the world’s biggest consumer market, a country that will continue to enjoy such status for at least another 30 years, such is its current level of domination. The potential for F1 to earn money in the United States is huge, but F1 refuses to make any investment. The irony in New Jersey is that Bernie recognised this and loaned the New Jersey promoter money, hoping to make things happen. But it made no difference because the loan was not enough to get the race started and then, of course, he fell out with the promoter and so the whole thing ceased to be viable as the right to hold the event suddenly belonged to someone with whom Mr E did not want to do business with any longer. And so the dream that was attainable has been dashed.
The problem goes back to CVC Capital Partners. They exist to take, using their financial muscle to buy companies and then take as much out as possible while leaving them saleable. If F1 is to make it in the US, someone is going to have to look at the bigger picture and have the patience to nurture races, to invest in building an audience. Take out the race fees and F1 can work anywhere. If you stop and think about it, the United States is a bit like Ferrari in that F1 wants it, the difference is that Ferrari has been able to leverage that desire into cash. The United States has not.

That might happen if a US company owned the business. Let us hope that this happens soon…

There is talk today, from the kind of sources one expects to see producing this stuff, about how Bernie Ecclestone is back, seeking revenge, and being needed more than ever by the sport.

Bernie has done amazing things with the sport and many have benefited from the success but I struggle to see the reasoning in the argument that a sport or a business will not live on without a specific leader: the USSR survived Lenin, John Pierpoint Morgan has been gone 100 years and banks using the Morgan name are still with us. The MCC has played cricket at Lords for 200 years but Thomas Lord has not been seen at the crease since 1832. And what is Ferrari if not a perfect example of the world moving on but an idea surviving?

As I do once a week since the trial ended I have checked to see whether Mr E has been put back as a director on the boards of the various F1 companies. There is no sign that this has happened. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened because you don’t HAVE to file such things immediately, but it is a suggestion, nonetheless that, despite the rah-rah and the cheerleaders, change is in the air, even if it is only in the planning stages.

When you detach your F1 brain and sail out into the realism of the real world, this is hardly a surprise. The owners of the business want their asset to have value for them to strip out. The current lot don’t care about all that is good in the sport, they care just of money and their reputations for being clever men of finance. The last thing they want the world to think is that the whole business will collapse without an 83-year-old magician, who does not have any credible successor in view. If we accept the theory of the pompom girls then Formula 1 is just a heartbeat away from Armageddon, and that would make even the toughest financier pale a shade or two to grey.
Will buyers arrive with billions knowing that the investment could be blown onto a squillion fluttering bits of worthless chaff if one person falls under a thundering red bus?

I fear not.

There is no question that Bernie is exceptionally good at what he does. He could do other things but he’s not that interested. He does what he does and he gets his kicks from it. He knows also, like any medieval prince would know, that the loudest supporters are all too often the people to be trusted least. The retainers do not wish to be buried with the king and they will be the first to cry: “The King is dead, long live the King” when the moment comes, in the hope that the next puppeteer will not cut their strings.

There will be a next generation at some point unless researchers can find the fountain of youth that Spanish explorer Ponce de León famously wasted his life searching for.

The folk at CVC are realists and they would be negligent if they were not considering what to do. I’m sure that they have rabbits up their sleeves and doves in their baggy trousers.

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