Twenty years ago I wrote a column in Autosport entitled “Technically Speaking” which was a description of how an F1 journalist goes about trying to discover the truth. It was, I wrote, “like trying to attach a strawberry jelly to the back of a greased pig – with a staple gun” and required “the technical accuracy of a lawyer, the lateral-thinking ability of a nuclear physicist and the resilience of a marathon dancer”.
To illustrate this point I wrote a short scenario which I hope you will find interesting:
You hear on the grapevine that the A Team is about to sign a sponsorship deal with Hackensack Toiletries International Inc and is going to sign up the driver Greg Buckett.
“Hello Mr Team Manager. Do you have a moment?” [Normally, at this point, he walks straight past you and says "No!"]
Four hours later you are waiting outside the motorhome when he emerges. You leap out from behind a potted plant and corner him.
“I have to go to a meeting,” he says swiftly, backing into a corner.
“It’ll only take a moment,” you croon reassuringly.
He glances sideways. Where is the Seventh Cavalry when he needs them?
The interview begins (translations appear in brackets)…
Do you have a deal with Hackensack Toiletries International Inc?
“No.” (Of course I don’t, but the team does.)
Does the team have a deal with Hackensack?
“To the best of my knowledge, the team does not have such an agreement at the moment.” (I will deny I knew about the deal at the point at which you asked me).
Have you talked to Glen Buckett?
“No.” (I haven’t talked to Glen Buckett but I asked a man to approach him on my behalf).
Have any of your team spoken to Glen Buckett?
“No.” (The man who asked him was acting as a private individual and was not representing the team in any official capacity).
Have you spoken to Glen Buckett through an intermediary?
“No.” (Glen Buckett spoke to a team member – not an intermediary).
Have you instigated any approach by anyone to Glen Buckett?
“To the best of my knowledge, at this moment in time, no approach has been made by me.” (Well, of course, I have).
Okay, thank you. Let’s try talking to Glen Buckett…
“I’m sorry I have to go to debriefing.”
It’s back behind the potted plant again. Some time later, he re-emerges, is cornered, and made to speak.
Do you have a contract with the Hackensack A Team?
“No.” (The team won’t be called the Hackensack A Team it will be called A Team Hackensack and besides the contract is in my briefcase which is in the motorhome. I don’t have it on me. The pockets in my overalls are not big enough).
Have you signed an option with the A Team?
“No.” (Technically it is not an option, it is a full-blown contract).
Have you signed a contract with the A Team?
“No.” (The piece of paper I don’t have with me may be a contract but in court there would be hundred of loopholes will would render it useless – as all F1 contracts are if the right price is offered. Thus, in essence, it is not really a contract).
Thank you Glen. Oh, by the way, what happened to your car in the last session?
“It was an electrical problem.” (A rod came through the side of the engine and knocked the alternator off.)
Technically, of course, everything said is true…
So, let us examine certain remarks made in recent days. A Reuters report said that Maldonado was “an admirer and friend of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez” and quoted Chaves as saying that “We’re backing Pastor Maldonado and his team via PDVSA, so he can race round the world and show what he’s made of.” Maldonado also has support from the national telecommunications company CANTV, which Chavez nationalised in 2007. Reuters quoted Maldonado was saying that “I’m delighted with the support President Chavez has given me, not just economic but moral too”.
In defence of Adam Parr, it is true that Maldonado himself is not paying the money to the team, but the Venezuelan government clearly is and it wants Maldonado in the Williams seat. If this were a conventional sponsorship then the team would have taken the money and kept Nico Hulkenberg, who was clearly better than Maldonado when they were team-mates in GP2 in 2009, when Maldonado had two years more experience in the formula.
It may be that the money is not specifically tied to Maldonado. From what I hear the deal is for $36 million a year, for the next five years – a total of $180 million. And, yes, you are welcome to say “Wow!” after reading that. Obviously, in such a scenario the team could not agree to run Maldonado for the entire term of the contract because he might (just conceivably) not be fast enough to deserve a seat in F1, although it has to be said that this did not stop Milka Duna, another Venezuelan with support from Chaves from wasting her energies (and public money) in recent years in IndyCar racing. My understanding of the deal is that if the team wants to change drivers, it must agree to take any suitable up-and-coming Venezuelan of a certain level of competence (as defined, no doubt, in some clause or other), if one is available… Good news for Johnny Cecotto Jr et al…
Similarly, I read an email from an Italian website called http://www.422race.com, that Tonio Liuzzi has not had any conversations with Force India about his future.
Hmmm… well, perhaps someone has been doing the talking on his behalf…