There have been lots of rumours about Audi and Formula 1 in recent times, despite the fact that the stories are always denied and that the whisper is that the company will not enter F1 as long as Bernie Ecclestone is involved in the sport. No-one seems to know why there is an antipathy between Ecclestone and Volkswagen boss Ferdinand Piech, but it does seem that something is stopping the company entering F1, as many of the executives think it is a great idea and much better value for money than the current activities. Ecclestone is 84 and Piech 77 so perhaps at some point things will change. In the interim Audi Sport continues to quietly collect Formula 1 people to work on its programmes. About a year ago the company hired Gabriele Delicolli to lead its driver simulator programme. He had previously been in charge of Ferrari’s simulator development from 2007 onwards. Prior to that he was a race engineer at Maranello from 2001 to 2006, working with Rubens Barrichello from 2002 to 2005 and with Felipe Massa in 2006. He had joined Ferrari from Jordan where he spent a year engineering Jarno Trulli and before that three years with Sauber where he worked with Jean Alesi and Pedro Diniz. He began his F1 career in 1997 with Minardi, engineering a young Trulli, joining the team from the Alfa Corse touring car team where he started racing in 1994.
The latest Audi hiring is also interesting as the team’s new Technical Director from January 1 will be Jorg Zander, who has spent the last five years running his own engineering business (called JZ-Engineering) in Switzerland. Prior to that he was the Deputy Technical Director of Honda F1 Racing and was involved in the design work of the Brawn 2009 car. Prior to that he spent two years as chief designer of BMW Sauber from 2006 to the end of 2007 and before that spent a year as chief designer at Williams. His F1 career had begun with Honda from 2002 to 2005 but prior to that he spent 11 years as a designer at Toyota Motorsport GmbH in Cologne. None of this means anything, except perhaps to show that Audi and indeed Porsche have sports car teams rich with former F1 talent.

Oh joy (Part 2)

German bank BayernLB is reported to be seeking €345 million in a lawsuit against Bernie Ecclestone, relating to the controversial 2006 sale of the sport’s rights. The state bank of Bavarian is accusing Ecclestone of bribery. The word is that Ecclestone has counter-sued in London.

GP+ – don’t miss it!

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 15.39.42

GP+ has been following the Formula 1 season up from start to finish. We have been at all the races and the 21st edition of the year is our round-up of the action. Who did we think were the best drivers of the year – we rate them all. We look at all the teams, the excitements, the scandals, the politics but above all the racing. We talk to Christian Horner and Dan Ricciardo, we look at the political upheavals at Ferrari and remember the team that really did win every race in a World Championship. We look also at the Jenson versus Kevin story at McLaren, plus we review books that would make great Christmas presents and there are pages and pages of great photography so you can look back at the year over the festive period. If you sign up for 2015 we will let you have the Review of the Year as part of the subscription.

Also in GP+

- The Hack grumbles about Christmas Past and Present
– JS wants the FIA to take some responsibility
– DT gets his kicks north of the border

At 120 pages, this is the biggest GP+ EVER…

GP+ is the fastest magazine in the Formula 1 world. It will be published before Lewis Hamilton even starts celebrating. It is 90-odd pages and is published in PDF format so you can read it on your computer, you iPod and even on your mobile. It’s an old style magazine but in a modern format. It goes right to the heart of the sport, inside the F1 Paddock. We are there at every race and we get to the people that matter. We are also passionate about the history of the sport and love to share it with our readers.

GP+ is an amazing bargain. You get 22 issues for £29.99, covering the entire 2015 Formula 1 season.

For more information, go to http://www.grandprixplus.com.

Give it a try for 2015.

Spain’s Prosecutor’s Office has begun an investigation into alleged corruption and embezzlement in the awarding of contracts relating to the 2012 Formula 1 race in Valencia. The writ names Francisco Camps, a former president of the Valencia region, Dolores Johnson, a tourism official, and Jorge Martinez, a shareholder in Valmor Sports, the company that acted as the promoter of the event. The courts have been instructed to look into how it was that a small company with no experience in motorsport and only 12 employees was given the job of promoting this major international event. The writ claims that Camps is suspected of misappropriation of public funds and corruption.

What next? Teams pulling off bank robberies?

Ferrari has announced that Jean-Eric Vergne will join the team next season as a test driver, to work on car development in the simulator. He will join race drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, third driver Esteban Gutiérrez, plus the regular test drivers Marc Genè and Davide Rigon. Pedro de la Rosa departs and will presumably show up at McLaren at some point soon.

“I feel very honored to be joining the Ferrari family and becoming a part of the most prestigious team in the
history of Formula 1,” Vergne said. “The objective is to help the Scuderia get back to the top step of the podium. Having had two years working in the simulator for a top F1 team and three years racing with Toro Rosso, my experience will add to the great efforts that are currently being made in order to get the team back to its winning ways.”

How do you save money in Formula 1? That’s easy. You don’t give it to people who give nothing of value to the sport. All they will do if they stay where they are is drag the sport down. What’s needed now is an owner with some ambition and vision, not a bunch of people who are loading the sport with debt and hoping that Bernie Ecclestone will hold back the march of time. King Canute would have been proud of them.

Engineers spend money when it is available and they know how not to spend it, if the demand outruns the supply. Ask any F1 engineer and they will tell you that regulation changes cost more money. If you leave things the same, or you cannot think of any way to improve what you have, the money will not get spent, at least if there is good management in a company. This is why mature regulations are the cheapest way to go racing and why they are also the best way to promote close competition. When everyone has basically the same equipment, the racers can make a difference.

Now you can argue that this means that one-make racing is the way to go, but that misses the point. One-make racing stifles innovation, whereas allowing change leaves open the opportunity for brilliant ideas, such as double diffusers (or even something useful for the car industry, like the Williams flywheel designs or the things that McLaren is now doing in many other industries). Innovation is the DNA of the sport and it is the reason there is such a strong racing industry in the UK. Nothing is ever allowed to stagnate. One-make racing is technical stagnation. Going to customer car business models always result in the same story: one company does it better than the others, the opposition cannot compete as success brings money and strengthens the strong. The weak die out. You end up with a one-make formula…

The key to success in the future is not the containment of technology and a focus on the show business aspects of racing (1000 horsepower, screaming engines and accidents galore) but rather the containment of cost, allied to a thing called marketing. If you want people to watch your show, you have to tell them how good it is; how clever it is; how brilliant the people are; and, for the business folk, how powerful a tool the sport can be for their business. You have to sell it – and not in the way the current owners use the word. It is no longer enough to stick it in TV. The world is moving on all the time and F1 must go with it.

Costs can be controlled and the sport can be aligned with the motor industry’s creed of absolute cost-efficiency, allied to flexibility and speed of response. The hard financial work with the new F1 engines has already been done. The knowledge is out there. You don’t have to spend squillions researching it, you just have to buy it. Thus the calamitous engine costs (which should not have happened if the FIA was not half asleep) should now be reducing. The laws of economics suggest that prices should fall. Car manufacturers, if they are smart, will not screw teams but instead will provide the technology to different brands and partners and spread the costs: it’s called platform engineering and it is at the very core of modern automotive industry thinking. You share the costs to deliver better products to the customers. Brand is more important than mechanics.

The sport is incredibly powerful if it is used successfully but manufacturers, promoters and sponsors are being scared away by the prices, the sport’s shonky image and its old ideas. People with new ideas and real ability get knifed because they represent a threat to the old order, who just want to go on doing what they are doing. Success is only measured in money, not in customer satisfaction. Everyone feels they are being screwed and so working together for a common cause is impossible. Everyone has an agenda and no-one has big picture vision. It’s so 1980s. The teams are like Cold War governments, developing irrelevant widgets that no-one needs, simply because someone else has got them. Boys, haven’t you heard? Even Cuba’s not a bad guy these days…

Unless the sport is their core business, the winners in F1 don’t stick around for long. They milk the sport and then they leave. And even if they have to pay large sums, they go when they want to go, not when some contract might say they should. Ask BMW and Honda how much they paid to go…

Thus the way to handle these manufacturers/sponsors is not to try to nail them in, but rather to make the sport something that they don’t think they can go on without – even if they have to subsidise their customers a little.

Personally, I think F1 would be downright stupid to go back to older engines, it will not save much and it would be an image disaster, because going backwards is not the right answer and because none of the powers-that-be have any real skilled communicators. Look at what happened this year: a brilliant positive story about new green engines was completely wasted and the whingers were allowed to grab the spotlight and complain about noise. Yes, noise is important, but noise is also energy and if one is saving energy, noise is viewed as wasteful…

The commercial forces look only at the money and right now they cannot even spell the phrase “long-term”. The governing body doesn’t govern and fails to promote its primary source of revenue. This makes no sense. The FIA’s fixation with things that are irrelevant to its existence – and not its job – is shocking. The World Health Organisation and the United Nations has agencies and campaigns to solve such problems and the FIA is not a government. It’s a bunch of motor clubs, ranging from professional insurance-driven giants to two blokes with go karts in Upper Wombatia. Why does the FIA leadership crave leadership in a sector that has no value to its membership? Do its campaigns make any difference? Surely these tasks are better left to governments. Remember too that the FIA will always be viewed as an industry lobby by real politicians…

The FIA was created to administer motor racing. Some of its presidents have had bigger ambitions, but what ultimately did they achieve?

The FIA should be moderating the excesses of the commercial interests and protecting the sport and not building castles in the sky. The federation may be too small a playground for ambitious leaders, but leaving the core business to fester is not going to end well. The FIA needs to wake up and find a way to get racing to stay financially viable, using monetary controls, rather than accepting money to stand back and be powerless.

An inauspicious start

Down in Maranello there is a lot happening, indeed things are changing so quickly that the previous CEO’s answers to Ferrari’s problems are now beginning to arrive AFTER the said CEO has departed. This means that they may not be the first choices of the new team boss – tobacco baron Maurizio Arrivabene – although it might be an expensive business to fire them as they walk through the door on their first day with their new team. This, of course, assumes that Arrivabene knows who they all are, as selling cigarettes and running races teams are not jobs that have a great deal in common and one assumes that the new boss will need to rely heavily on his Technical Director to know whether the new people are a good idea. The good news for Ferrari is that the last CEO had a similar lack of such knowledge so it seems a safe assumption that the team is actually being run by James Allison. This is a good thing, unless someone fires him because they mistook him for someone else…

And if that sounds unlikely, it should be noted that the press release announcing the demise of the Hiroide Hamashima was followed 26 minutes later by the news that Hirohide Hamashima had been fired as well.

The good news is that Nick Fry has yet to be fired from any role at Ferrari.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 34,736 other followers