You may have noticed that I was not very productive today on the blog. It is half term in England and I have a niece of Disney age. I am not one of those people who believe that one should wear plastic Mickey ears from the moment one is born until the day that one drops off the perch and goes to join Walt in the Next (Disney) World or Magic Kingdom Come. However, avuncular duties dictated that I was posted to Disneyland Paris for the day, for a quick booster shot of Snow White and the Seven Small People, Mickey and Minnie, assorted princesses, pirates and, of course, 300 brightly costumed audio-animatronic dolls (one should not say dummies) singing “It’s a small world”, to remind us that international unity and peace are great concepts. As always, it struck me that if the torturers of the world ever run out of nasty ideas they can always resort to acoustic bombardment with “It’s a small world”.
I spent much of the day in queues but I did note a couple of points that might be useful for the F1 world. My niece’s favourite ride was Autopia, which gave her the chance to “drive” a car. Lesson 1: Cars are still very popular. The second lesson was that anyone in F1 who says that Europeans are not into buying merchandise, is clearly just not a good salesman. Everybody was leaving the park laden with Disneyana, the production of which must keep a number of Chinese factories in non-stop production. The lesson, therefore, was that F1 is failing with merchandising because of the way products are sold, not because Europeans do not buy merchandise. I noticed that Donald Duck has become almost invisible these days, compared to his old mate Mickey Mouse, and modern icons such as Captain Jack Sparrow, Timon and Pumbaa, Buzz Lightyear and Lightning McQueen. It is about the attractiveness of a brand and how they are developed. One can see that in F1 buying habits too. Ferrari sells well. Lotus too. The others do not. We will have to see how things change and how brands such as Caterham do in the future.
Lotus these days seems to believe that blanket coverage in motorsport is the way to sell cars. The firm has been slapping its stickers on racing cars left, right and centre. This week Caterham announced that it will be supporting the Arden International team in the Renault World Series in 2012, in addition to having its own teams in GP2 and GP3. The other news from Caterham was that Mike Gascoyne been appointed Chief Technical Officer of the Caterham Group and will now be involved in all technical initiatives across the Caterham empire. This opens the way for Mark Smith, Caterham F1 Team’s Technical Director to take over the F1 team’s technical side on a day to day basis, an interesting development.
One brand that is coming in for a lot of stick in recent months outside its F1 applications is Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher, which is both a beer and an airline. Some say that Mallya started the airline in order to promote beer in India, where beer advertising is restricted. If that is the case, it has cost him a lot as Kingfisher Airlines has never made money and recent stories about the Force India sponsor have been worrying. The stricken airline is struggling to stay afloat, because of huge debts. Salaries have not been paid and promises have been broken. Pilots are leaving and other airlines are saying that they are not interested. This has all dragged down the main Mallya empire an I have heard rumours that suggest that team co-owner Subrato Roy Sahara is helping Mallya out on the F1 team and the airline not because he wants to help his new partner, but rather because he thinks he can grab not only these businesses, but perhaps also the main Mallya company UB. That may sound far-fetched, but buying up debts seems to be a trend that is developing in F1 at the moment. This may lead to upheavals in some teams in the future as powerful new forces emerge within teams because their creditors want to offload non-performing assets. That is going to be worth watching in the months ahead.
These days I find that I will believe bizarre stories a lot more easily than was once the case, if only because one could not make this stuff up. It is a bit like a marvellous story I saw the other day from Reuter, I believe, which reported from Germany of a new way to create traffic jams that had been discovered during the recent cold snap. A truck carrying hundreds of packages of sauerkraut crashed on a motorway near Frankfurt, scattering its contents all over the road. It was so cold that the pickled cabbage froze on contact with the road surface, creating some very solid tank trap-like obstacles across the tarmac. This caused huge tailbacks and it took the authorities several hours to scrape the frozen sauerkraut off the road.
Life in Formula 1 is full of funny surprises, interesting ideas, dubious rumours and utterly bizarre truths…