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All Formula 1 fans want to feel a little closer to the action. An Audience with Joe gives you the opportunity to do exactly that. The next Audience will be held on Friday, October 31, at the Z’Tejas Restaurant in Austin, Texas, from 7.00pm-11.00pm. The restaurant is located at 1110 W 6th St, Austin. Entry is by ticket only.

The event costs $60 per person and tickets are limited… so book now. The evening will include a buffet dinner, while drinks will be available at normal bar rates.

The event will allow F1 fans to ask one of the sport’s most experienced journalists, who has not missed a race in 25 years, anything they like about the world of Grand Prix racing. There are only a limited number of tickets available in order to ensure that all the fans have the chance to get answers to their questions.

This is what the fans of previous Audiences with Joe have thought about the event:

“Just wanted to say that we all had a wonderful evening. If Spa is an option then I’d not think twice about doing it again. Great to meet you and I look forward to delving into The Grand Prix Saboteurs.” – Bassano.

“Just got back from the evening – which was absolutely excellent. Joe was on sparkling form and massively entertaining – and at nearly three hours of talking, you certainly got your money’s worth! Joe’s answers to the audience’s questions were always funny, insightful, and on many occasions highly revealing. There was time for a number of the people in the audience, including me, to ask multiple questions – which was wonderful. Whatever he was asked he had an entertaining view and, more to the point, a lot of insider evidence to support it.” – Bostonracing.

“Good fun. Very enjoyable evening indeed.” – Leigh O’Gorman.

“Great evening, thanks very much Joe for making my Dad’s 70th birthday present exactly what he wanted, a thoroughly engaging evening about F1.” – Roy Knaggs.

“A superb evening, with great stories and frank opinions. It just didn’t seem long enough.” – Gilles Villeneuve Fan.

For more information and to buy tickets, click here

Caterham Sports Ltd has  gone into Administration. The London-based  Smith & Williamson accountancy firm of Moorgate, London has been named at the administrator. The good stat were previously seized by the  The Sheriffs Office have been passed to the administrator. However, there remains a dispute as to whether these items could have been legally removed from the team. The administration does NOT threaten the racing team, despite reports to the contrary. It is a complicated business but it looks likely that  Caterham Sports Ltd will end up being worth very little. The Formula 1 entry, the most important asset, is owned by a Malaysian company called 1Malaysia Racing Team Sdn Bhd. This had an operating company called 1Malaysia F1 Team (UK) Ltd. This would later convert itself into 1Malaysia Racing Team (UK) Ltd and ultimately it became known as Caterham Sports Ltd. When the team changed hands in July the new owners must have either bought or leased 1Malaysia Racing Team Sdn Bhd, in order to the all-important F1 entry. This remains valid unless the Malaysian company itself is deemed to be insolvent in which case the Formula One can terminate  the agreement and cease all further payments. This has not happened. Thus the F1 entry is entry as long as the team continue to appear at races.

It is difficult to ascertain exactly what has happened but it seems that shares in some of the companies in the original structure may have been pledged in exchange for loans. If these pledges were not lifted the new owners could not take control and thus their backers could not reasonably commit money to the project. This probably explains why at the end of August, a parallel company called Caterham CF1 Grand Prix Ltd, which was owned (on paper at least) by deputy-team principal Manfredi Ravetto, was set up and seems to have taken over the running of the business for 1Malaysia Racing Team Sdn Bhd. This is perfectly legal. The operations of the team passed from one firm to another. The key question is who owns the assets (machinery, cars etc). This remains uncertain but when the bailiffs came to seize some of them a few weeks ago, they were stopped from putting them up for auction on the basis that they had no right to take them. This would suggest that they were not owned by Caterham Sports, but rather by either the Malaysian parent company, or by the independent Caterham CF1 Grand Prix Ltd. There is nothing wrong with a company selling its assets to another company owned by the same people – if  the assets were sold at a reasonable price when the first company was still legally solvent.

The administrators say that they are in discussions with 1MRT to see whether Caterham Sports can continue to supply the F1 team.

“Positive discussions were held between the administrators and the team manager, Manfredi Ravetto, and also with the financial backers of the team on Friday 17 October and it is hoped that these will lead to a financially acceptable arrangement for the continuation of the relationship between the company and the F1 Team,”  the administrators said. “If a financially acceptable arrangement cannot be agreed between the administrators and the Caterham F1 Team the administrators will then enter into dialogue with other interested parties with regard to a sale of the business and assets of the company.”

The key question is who owns what.

The FIA has announced the membership of  an Accident Panel to discuss Jules Bianchi’s accident at the Japanese Grand Prix. The group will carry out a full review of the accident to gain a better understanding of what happened, and will propose new measures to reinforce safety at circuits – if they are deemed to be necessary. The work of the group will start this week and the findings will be presented to the FIA World Council in Doha on December 3. The Panle will be headed by Peter Wright, the President of the FIA Safety Commission, and a respected F1 engineer and safety expert. The panel will include former Team Principals Ross Brawn and Stefano Domenicali, Roger Peart, the President of the Circuits Commission, Gerd Ennser a representative of the FIA Stewards, Emerson Fittipaldi, President of the FIA Drivers’ Commission, Eduardo de Freitas, the Race Director of the World Endurance Championship, Antonio Rigozzi,  a judge at the International Court of Appeal, who has been co-opted by the teams, Gérard Saillant, President of the FIA Institute and President of the Medical Commission and Alexander Wurz, President of the GPDA.

The composition of the panel is not quite as expected with no specific safety experts other than Wright. It had been thought there might be more safety engineers involved, as they are the ones who have done the work on how best safety issues are addressed.  Having said that there are a sufficient number of credible individuals on the panel to ensure that the proceedings will be fair. It is clear that the entire process is largely a public relations operation, as we have never seen such a panel before, despite there being regular accidents at all levels of the sport.

 

Wei Di, the director of the Automobile and Motorcycling Administrative Center, part of the country’s General Administration of Sport, says that a Chinese group is bidding to acquire a Formula 1 team and that “in the next one to two years, China will have its own F1 team”.

He did not say who was behind the idea. The organisation he heads is the state-run sports organization which serves as the permanent administrative body of the Federation of Automobile Sports (FASC), the country’s FIA-linked sporting federation. It was established in 2002 in order to organize, direct and promote automobile and motorcycle sports in China.

These reports were followed by an announcement today from the State Council, China’s cabinet, that the country intends to grow its sporting sector into a $813 billion industry (yes, you did read that right) by 2025 to boost employment and domestic consumption. A policy document issued by the Council says that private investment will be encouraged, new sports facilities will be built and the government will support the sector. This is part of the current shift that is going on to create what the Chinese are calling “a new economy”, moving away from heavy industry.

Nico Hulkenberg will continue to race with Force India in 2015. The 27-year-old German returned to the team in 2014 after a stopover with Sauber and has enjoyed a very good season. However, it is clear that his signing shows that he has no better options elsewhere for next year.

“It’s good to confirm my plans for next season,” he said. “This is a team I know extremely well and we’ve enjoyed a great year together with some special results. The team has big ambitions and I believe we can have a competitive package once again next year. We have a strong partner in Mercedes and everyone in the team is motivated and hungry for more success. I have a good feeling for 2015 and there is a lot to be excited about as we try to build on the results we have achieved this year.”

Mirages in the desert

Further to my previous post, I see that Forbes has paid me the compliment of going through my analysis, trying to pick holes in it. I trust that if I am proved to be correct they will dump their current correspondent on such matters and come to me for help… I used to work with them on their rich lists but in the end I didn’t see the point as they didn’t pay.

So let me follow-up on why I don’t believe a word about a race in Sin City.

When F1 visited Las Vegas in the early 1980s it was a place with a population of less than 500,000. Today it has four times that population but it effectively stopped growing in 2007. Gambling has been stagnant as well as a result of the rise of Internet gaming, deregulation in other States, and foreign expansion by the casino companies, notably in Asia. Today more visitors go to Las Vegas for its attractions (fake though they may be) than go for gambling. Land on The Strip that used to be used for parking lots has disappeared beneath vast hotel complexes. The city has 150,000 hotel rooms and fills them in dramatic fashion, but the rates are low and nearly 60 percent of visitors still come by road. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority recognises that international visitors spend more money and has set a goal of boosting foreign visitor numbers to 30 percent of the total by 2020. This will require a serious hike from 6.4 million to 12 million. Thus one can see that there is an argument that Vegas could benefit from a Grand Prix and I am sure that some of the local entrepreneurs might be willing to invest in the idea, but are they really willing to invest sufficient money to make a race happen? And do they have the clout to close The Strip?

The Cirque du Soleil and a few other organisations are not going to pay $50 million a year, plus construction costs and the city is not going to want weeks of disruption on The Strip. If Bernie Ecclestone was not willing to compromise on a brilliant track plan in New Jersey, why would he in Vegas? It is a market that is about 10 percent the size of New York.

Races these days need government money: Singapore has proved that. Billionaires are not stupid with their money and they want numbers that pretty much guarantee success before they commit to vast investments.

Themselves of a private-public partnership is good if the city is able to pay. They might consider additional taxes on hotel rooms for the race week, but there is going to be huge opposition to that from hotels at the other end of town. If the tax was to cover only a certain area then a percent of the business would switch to the cheaper districts. And would all this drive away regular business and end up costing money? Would F1 draw enough people to make it worthwhile. In this respect places where there is limited tourism (such as New Jersey and Long Beach) are much better bets than Vegas.

Would the city pay and give all the necessary permissions? It is doubtful, judging by recent attempts to get a soccer stadium built. The city has never had a major league sports franchise of any kind but there are attempts to get a Major League Soccer team going on at the moment. This will require a stadium and the promoters of the idea (quite rightly) feel that the city should pay some of the costs. The money being discussed is peanuts compared to F1 fees, but the city has been baulking at the idea for months because the growth of Vegas has meant that the money available is really required to sort out infrastructure problems, such as water and sewerage, not to mention schools and policing. There is also a strong tradition in the city – the capitalist Mecca – that private money should pay for new developments. These days many casino companies are listed entities and thus less willing to take risks and they have sought growth outside Vegas. Some have over-extended themselves, notably Caesar’s which is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, with an impressive $24 billion of debt.

At the height of the recent financial crisis in 2009 the city did agree to allow the Las Vegas Marathon to close The Strip for the first time in its history, but that was for one day and not at times when the gamblers are going places. There would be a lot more resistance if there was to be an F1 race, which requires weeks of construction work and disruption. The Singapore GP has been a big success, but a lot of the city’s shopkeepers and taxi drivers hate it because it means they make less money. The flow of traffic affects all of the casinos and not all will be in favour of an event.

There is no real scope in Las Vegas for novelties such as night races as the time zones would mean an 8pm race would be shown in Europe at 5am, a worthless hour for TV viewing numbers. The only race that would work in F1’s big markets would be early in the morning and that would not work for Vegas.

All things considered, none of it really makes sense in real terms.

In the past Vegas has tried racing and has failed. In the 1990s a promoter called Tommy Baker tried to sell the city on a race with free admission. It did not work. Later Champ Car managed a race down in the backwoods behind the downtown area and that failed.

Remember too that this story came from Bernie Ecclestone by way of media who print whatever he wants them to print for fear of losing the access they currently get. Bernie has always known how to play suckers and he’s doing just that with this story. And, of course, it is completely out of character for him to talk about deals that are under discussion unless it serves his purpose to make them public. And his folk tend to get their knickers in a twist when such stories leak out. So why is it put there?

The only sensible conclusion is that this is either part of the process to get F1 talked about in the US in the run up to Austin (an old Ecclestone trick used all over the world) or he wants someone else to feel pressure and sign a deal. Having failed to get races off the ground in Long Beach and New Jersey (when both would have been possible and desirable if the Formula One group had been willing to invest) a success in the world’s largest consumer market is long overdue. Austin is OK, but in global terms it is still just a small town in Texas. Vegas is not ultimately a big market, in the way that New York and Los Angeles are.
I am going to go on watching for action in these markets. And given Vegas’s location I’d say LA is still the place watch.

A thought for the day

Health and Safety fans who have made such a fuss since the Bianchi accident in Suzuka, you can read in the news today that at least 39 people have just been killed while hiking in Nepal, because there were snow storms and avalanches that were not expected. An avalanche in April on Mount Everest also killed 16 sherpas. This is terribly sad, FIFTY-FIVE lives lost, but I don’t hear anyone crying scandal or looking for someone to blame. Those involved knew the risks. Surely you have to ask why were these people not protected?

What exactly is the difference between taking risks on a race track and trekking in a dangerous place?

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