The reports that Bernie Ecclestone is offering $33 million to settle the criminal trial in Germany are just plain weird. There have long been rumours that Ecclestone was looking for a financial settlement, but it has always looked to be rather unlikely. A fine is OK for a parking offence, but only a politician could argue against the absurd irony of letting a briber off with a fine. That’s not to say that Ecclestone is admitting guilt here, he just wants the trial to be over. He does not want a guilty verdict because he knows that this would mean that his F1 toys will be taken away from him. The only way he can keep the train set is to be declared “not guilty”, but even then there are no guarantees when dealing with private equity people who work only on risk analysis. They have taken a huge risk already getting things this far and one cannot help but feel that at some point they will pull out their glistening knives and solve the problem in a different fashion. Mr E is approaching his 84th birthday and has no successor. There are plenty of folk who think that getting him out of the way would instantly add to the value of the business. What has kept CVC Capital Partners supporting him so far is the fear of what might happen if he is not there… This is why they are in a hurry to sell now. It may have been a wildly successful investment, but the suits in the shadows don’t like being dragged into court and forced to admit that they don’t really know their management has been getting up to. It’s bad for their image.

Whatever the case, one cannot help but conclude that wanting a pay-off has bad implications. Why would an innocent man pay to stop a trial that should logically find that he has been telling the truth? Lawyers are not stupid men and women, although in general terms they will always kowtow to the man with the cheque book. The customer is always right, and so on….

So what is the angle here?

One likes to believe that justice does not work like this, otherwise what is the point of a justice system? Every crook and shyster would claim that there was a precedent and bribery would have to become acceptable behaviour in Germany, either that or the decision would have to be overturned and the judge fustigated for having allowed it to happen. He would have no career ahead of him.

If the case against Ecclestone is not good enough then the prosecutors may lose and be embarrassed, so perhaps this pay-off is being floated as a better option for them. Perhaps it is, but it would still be a lousy decision for justice in Germany. But then, if Ecclestone is confident of winning why would he not push for the victory? That is what you would do…

There are some who see a fine as being the pragmatic answer to a guilty verdict. The Germans obviously don’t want to stick an 83-year-old man in jail for a white collar crime, but just because one is old should not be an excuse if you have committed a crime. Let them all off and we will have a crime wave of cat burglar euro-pensioners… justifying their actions because pensions are shrinking. Some would argue that if a man can handle a wife roughly half his age, he can also handle some porridge [British slang for time in prison].

I cannot claim to know what is going on in Germany. What I do know is that none of it is good for the sport and in a corporate world this would not happen. And this is why one has to eventually reach the conclusion that a corporate structure is best for the future of F1. Transparency is good. More sensible financial structures are essential and a new age can then begin.

It is, in truth, a pattern that has been repeated over and over. The trailblazers go in and create a colony, the entrepreneurs give it dynamic growth and then the administrators are required. There is no room after that for the buccaneers. A calmer future beckons.

If other sports can make corporate management work, there is no reason why F1 cannot. It merely requires some owners who see the value in not always going for the fast buck, people who want profits but are willing to invest to build a stronger business. It needs competitors who are reasonable and fair and a management that is enlightened and open to new ideas.

Daft ideas

It’s holiday time now in F1 and in a few days everyone will be off in all directions. I am headed to where the F1 sun casts no shadow: to get properly away from it all. And I have promised myself that I will not waste my energy on the return of Flavio Briatore and other such trivial things. If the answer to F1’s problems is Briatore, then the question is wrong.

Thank God the racing is still so good. Yes, Mercedes is dominant but at least the team is allowing the drivers to fight. The instruction to Lewis Hamilton in Hungary to let Nico Rosberg through was not well thought out, and I don’t see why it was given. The last thing the team needs now is to alienate a driver. Letting them fight is the right thing to do. If the strategies chosen meant that Nico might need to rely on Lewis to succeed, then it was the wrong choice. To have ordered Lewis out of the way after such a great drive from a pit lane start would have been wrong and it is not as if a few points here and there is going to affect the Constructors’ World Championship. An instruction for Lewis to help Nico was thus a mistake and there was no insistence on it. Nico might have who fed about it but that is to be expected. Drivers are by nature selfish beasts and believe that they must always be the most important person in every room. So we should put it all down to the fact that the engineer involved must have had a bang on the head in the recent Tour de Hospital cycle event in Vienna and was not thinking straight.

Screen Shot 2014-07-27 at 17.33.08The Hungarian Grand Prix was brilliant fun. There was drama, excitement, surprises, controversy, crashes and a spectacular showdown. Anyone who tells you Grand Prix racing isn’t a great show is dafter as a brush. For a while it looked like Fernando Alonso might give Ferrari a wildly improbable victory, then it looked as though Lewis Hamilton might pull off an amazing pit lane to chequered flag win, as Nico Rosberg complained that Lewis was ignoring an ill-advised instruction. What were they thinking? Why on earth did they think Hamilton should move over? And then through it all came Daniel Ricciardo to record a popular and brilliant victory. The World Championship is tighter than ever. Wonderful.

- We say what we think about the idea of Flavio Briatore coming back to improve F1… and it ain’t pretty!
– JS remembers John Melvin
– We talk to Daniil Kvyat
– We look at ways that F1 can do a better job
– We remember Laszlo Hartmann, or was it Hartmann Laszlo?
– DT responds to criticism of the media by F1 team bosses
– The Hack remembers Felipe Massa when he was young
– Peter Nygaard and his team braved the elements to bring you their great photography

GP+ is the fastest F1 magazine in the world. It’s so fast, it’s almost real-time… But it is a magazine that tells you the full story, like racing magazines used to do. Yet it is published in electronic form in PDF format, so you can read it on a laptop or a tablet.

Our reporters are some of the most respected in the business and we take you behind the scenes in the F1 paddock and explain what is really going on. We have forthright opinions and we don’t care if we knock noses out of joint. There are plenty of fascinating stories from Grand Prix history as well, plus great photography and old style reporting, giving you a blow-by-blow account of what happened, both in qualifying and in the race, so you have a proper record which can stay in your computer for years to come.

You get 22 issues for £29.99, covering the entire 2014 Formula 1 season.
It’s the bargain available in Formula 1

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

BsrIGzWIEAEVUk8Sir Frank Williams is a massive fan of aviation. Last week he went to RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire to see an air display before flying out to Hungary. Amusingly, this fixation with flying means that some wires might get crossed: not least because it resulted in Fernando Alonso visiting the Williams factory. No, it wasn’t the Ferrari Fernando Alonso, but rather Fernando Alonso the Head of Flight and Integration Tests of Airbus.

This Alonso has done more than 3,000 hours as a test pilot with planes such as the A318, A320, A330, A340, A340-600 and A350 XWB. He was one of the crew of the first ever A380 flight. He has been with Airbus since 1982 when he began his career as a performance engineer, after graduating as an aeronautical engineer.

Frank Williams is still waiting for the day when the other Fernando Alonso comes calling, but he says that the door is always open if the Ferrari driver wants a chat…

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 14.17.08The Mercedes GP Petronas team is riding high in Formula 1 at the moment – except for Toto Wolff, who ended up yesterday in hospital in Vienna after he crash heavily while taking part in a 100km cycle ride. The drivers were not involved this year but rather the entire engineering group and according to reports the group was cycling on a road close to the River Danube near Vienna when someone fell and others crashed into one another. Wolff landed heavily on his right side, breaking his wrist, his elbow, his shoulder and his collarbone. He also suffered concussion. Susie posted a photo of her rather chastened-looking husband with his arm in a sling.

“My husband the hero!” she tweeted. “As we know, boys will be boys…Looks like I am on nurse duty for the next few weeks.”

Toto intends to be in Budapest at the weekend, if the doctors will let him out.

Wisdom and Russia

I am trying to understand the wisdom of F1 going to Russia this autumn. Yes, the Russian government has agreed to pay a rumored $60 million per year (with a 10 percent annual hike) to run a Grand Prix in Sochi. It is only money, but the folks at Formula One World Championship Ltd exist only to generate more revenues for the greedy private equity types who skulk in the shadows of the sport, sucking it dry. No chips are left on the table with these people. They do it for fun because they are all absurdly rich and have all the toys that anyone could wish for. It’s not the money that drives them, it is the game. Money is just a means of keeping score. So, ultimately, a wise man might say that once you have enough money to live well any further financial ambitions are simply ego, showing others that you are more able to make money than they are. Some would say that this is a sad state of affairs when one could be keeping busy with gentler pleasures or taking on different challenges: sharing one’s knowledge and money (a la Carnegie, Gates etc) with those less fortunate, going back to university, travelling the world, or more simple pleasures such as growing nice roses or vegetables, going fishing, having long lunches, playing with grandchildren, and generally doing relaxing things. Some do not have the imagination to look beyond what they know. Others are frightened of change.

Perhaps you cannot teach an old dog to do new tricks but F1 should at least try to behave decently and set a good example.

The problem with Russia (or most modern conflicts come to that) is that it is hard to know who to believe. We in the West are told that Ukrainian separatists with Russian missiles shot down the unfortunate Malaysian airliner. The other day In Hockenheim I had a discussion with a Russian colleague who fervently believes that the plane was shot down by the CIA, which he believes now runs the Ukraine government, because America wants to get a war going in Europe to weaken its economic rivals. This is not a stupid man, nor one who has not seen the world. His views are coloured perhaps by a period reporting in the Balkan wars. We went on to discuss whether it is really possible for either of us to know the truth. There is too much in history of governments doing bad stuff to get what they want. In the end, we shrugged and went our separate ways. I still tend to believe what I have read in the western press and I am sure he still believes what the Russian media is telling him.

Discretion is the better part of valour and so if one can dodge a problem before it arrives that is surely a sensible thing. Politics and sport are ill-matched bedfellows and it is best to avoid such relationships. Sport can be a means to heal rifts, but it can also be a propaganda tool. German domination of Grand Prix racing in the 1930s, for example, was designed to show off the power of the country’s technology. The 1936 Olympic Games is often held up as an example of sport being used for propaganda purposes.

How does one decide?

In the end, one has to be pragmatic. Right now, most of F1’s revenues come from liberal nations. If there is the perception among these people that Russia is the bad guy, then it is wise not to risk damaging the sport by insisting on doing something that people think is wrong. Perception is reality whether the perception be true or not. F1 and the FIA ought to have learned that lesson over Bahrain. The situation there was nowhere near as bad as it was portrayed, but the world believed it was and so F1 damaged its reputation. Perhaps this is a contributory reason to the troubles teams are having these days raising money.

If one spots what looks like an iceberg in the water, it is wise not to continue full steam ahead.

Mexico to return

The Mexican events company CIE has filed papers with the Mexican stock exchange indicating that subject to final negotiations and paperwork, it has agreed a five-year contract to host Formula One races in Mexico City, starting in 2015. Previous Mexican Grands Prix have been held at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, which is operated by CIE. The venue is currently used for baseball games and concerts and needs a lot of work to be brought up to modern F1 standards.

Mexico has hosted 15 Formula One races in the past. The first races took place between 1963 and 1970, and then again from 1986 to 1992.

If the race joins the current 19, it will take the total number of races to 20 as none of the current events seem likely to drop out.


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