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Archive for the ‘F1 Drivers’ Category

A freebie for Thanksgiving…

It’s Thanksgiving, so we’d like to say thanks to all of you for reading this blog, and give you a further reason to be cheerful by offering those of you who are unfamiliar with Grand Prix+ magazine a free copy of the issue published from Abu Dhabi on Sunday night. We’re doing this so that you have a unique opportunity to experience first-hand the product that we create from the track after every FIA Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix. A subscription to the publication costs just £29.99, which we believe is incredible value for money. In total in 2015 there will be 22 magazines – a preview, 20 race issues and a review, which works out at a price of just £1.36 per issue. And you can access it online within six hours of the chequered flag falling. It really is the fastest magazine in Formula 1.

The content comes from four F1 respected reporters who between them have attended more than 2,000 Grands Prix. They are passionate, highly knowledgeable of all the sport’s eras, and sufficiently well-connected to get to the people who matter. We believe that F1 needs to have a journal of record in the electronic age when there is so much clutter and fragmentation of content. GP+ keeps it simple and tells the story. We report the races, analyse the news, give insights into the people and organisations involved and also firmly believe that history is an important aspect that helps us to respect the past, understand the present and mould a successful future.

And, if there is something that takes our fancy as a feature story, we write about that as well…

Anyway, download this freebie by clicking on the image below and, if you enjoy what you read, sign up for 2015…

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I hear that the F1 Strategy Group meeting managed to get through a few points on their agenda yesterday, leaving about 20 undiscussed. It is good to see that the new streamlined decision-making body is working as well as the old system used to… I am of the opinion that this whole new system is fundamentally flawed and that before too long it will all fall apart, if only because the smart F1 teams will all now be asking serious European Commission-level lawyers whether or not the arrangements that exist are within the boundaries of the European Union competition law. If they are told that they are in trouble I would not be surprised if there was a race to get to Commission first because the competition people operate a very clever system under which the first member of an alleged cartel to confess gets to go unpunished, a system that is designed to rip unfair competition apart.

I may be wrong but I’ll bet there is a lot of legal advice being taken on the matter at the moment.

In the meantime it has come to light in company paperwork in Jersey that Ferrari and three other teams have the opportunity to get a shareholding in Formula One group in the future. The Delta Topco Ltd company (95136) agreed a special resolution a year ago that allowed for the creation of two new classes of redeemable ordinary shares known as LST Shares and Team Shares. LST (which means longest serving team) basically means Ferrari and there are three similar shares for other teams, in addition to the FIA’s share of the business. It is all there on paper, albeit hidden away in the back of beyond in St Helier.

The team principals the other day gave some hints about there being financial penalties if the members of the Strategy Group decided to quit the sport before 2020 but – inevitably – no-one was willing to say anything out loud. All the teams are committed to the championship but some are bound with financial penalties, which they believe give them more rights. The shares seem to be the rights they wanted.

What is clear amongst all this skullduggery is that no-one gives a toss about the small teams. This is not a smart approach because small teams can stir up all manner of trouble and, at the end of the day, the big teams need small teams to compete against if they want their achievements to look good. The teams should really know better, because several of them were small teams not so long ago and were simply fortunate that someone was able to pour endless streams of money into them which allowed them to be made successful. Money, of course, is not the only answer but if it is used sensibly then a team should be able to become a challenger if it does the right things. Williams is showing how it is done right now…

So what can be done? If the teams will not accept a cost cap and the FIA will not/cannot impose one, the best thing to do (apart from changing the FIA) is to find a way to slash the costs that are hurting the small teams. The manufacturers whinge and whine about it not being fair that they should foot the bills – even if they neglect to say that F1 budgets are nothing much in the overall scheme of things.

Well, here’s an idea to solve that problem. The big players in F1 are all sharing platforms with other automobile companies in order to cut R&D costs. It is the thing in the industry these days and they do not care because they believe the customer does not know. Mercedes, for example, has AMG and is sharing a platform with Infiniti and with Aston Martin. Renault has a string of brands that use the same platforms and technologies: Nissan, Infiniti, Dacia, Samsung and Nismo. Ferrari is part of the Fiat group and that means that it is linked to Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, Lancia, Maserati, Ram Trucks, and SRT. Honda also has the Acura brand and uses Mugen too.

So if we need cheaper F1 engines what is wrong with these companies passing on their engines to their sister brands and allowing them to kick in some cash to buy their way into F1. In that way we could have a Red Bull-Nismo, a Williams-Astin Martin or a Sauber-Maserati competing against a Haas-Chrysler and a Lotus-AMG. Let’s be honest, here, how many members of the general public know which car company is owned by another car company? How many know that Porsche and Skoda are in the same group? Or that GM owns Cadillac? So F1 could very quickly expand in terms of manufacturers even without any new engines being built and each company could kick in moderate funding to be involved. That way the investment made could be spread between the car companies and they would still have cash to put into the teams to improve their performance. The law of diminishing returns means that the engines will, in any case, close up in terms of performance in the course of the next couple of years. The hard work is done. Such activities are absolutely in line with what the industry is doing at the moment.

An even more radical solution would be to what Tesla has recently done in the electric car industry and make all their technology open-source in order to spread the existing knowledge and allow other car manufacturers to join the development race – and in doing so strengthen the industry as a whole.

If only one of the F1 manufacturers was to make its engine technology available to all it would save newcomers having to go around buying up the people who know how to do it and thus get more people involved. The original players would still have the advantage, but the sport would be better off.

The latest wittering from some about changing the whole engine formula is plain stupid, as this would simply mean going back to engines that are not good any longer, or would add to the costs. F1 exists to highlight automotive technology and it could do that much more effectively than it already does. And that would benefit the entire industry, while leaving those with the in-depth knowledge with the advantage. Others could save money catching up but getting ahead would be tough.

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Nico Hulkenberg has been named as one of the drivers who will race for Porsche at Spa and Le Mans in 2015. The team intends to field a third 919 Hybrid for two races in the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship: the Spa event on May 2 and the Le Mans 24 Hours on June 13-14. There will also be the Le Mans test day on May 31 The current F1 calendar means that there will be no clashes between the events

“I’ve been a Porsche fan for a long time and have been watching their return to the LMP1 class closely.” said Hulkenberg. “The desire grew to drive that car at Le Mans. I am very pleased the 2015 Formula 1 calendar allows for it and I’m grateful to my Sahara Force India Formula 1 Team’s generosity to let me go for it. Now it’s up to me to work hard to satisfy both commitments.”

The names of the remaining drivers are yet to be announced but one name that may be on the list is Jenson Button. Button knows some of the Porsche crew very well, thanks to his BMW days with Williams back in 2000. At the time Fritz Enzinger, now Vice President of LMP1 at Porsche, was one of the BMW F1 engineers.

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Williams gets a Lotus sponsor

Lotus F1 sponsor Rexona, a deodorant brand manufactured by British-Dutch company Unilever, has decided to switch its funding from the Enstone team and will become a Williams F1 sponsor in 2015. The brand has been sponsoring Lotus since the beginning of 2012. The Rexona logo will appear on the sidepod, front wing and front wishbones of the Williams Mercedes FW37, as well as the team environment and apparel. Williams says that its Williams Advanced Engineering business will be “working with Unilever to provide support in the areas of sustainability and efficiency”.

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The last action of the F1 year

The post-Abu Dhabi test which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday resulted in the fastest lap going to Mercedes test driver Pascal Wehrlein, who lapped the circuit in 1m42.624s, during his 96 laps of running on the second day of the test. This was six-tenths faster than the Ferrari of test driver Raffaele Marciello, who clocked a 1m43.208s after 91 laps. Max Verstappen did two full days and completed 133 laps with a best of 1m43.888s, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari, 81 laps with a best of 1m43.888s and Nico Rosberg (114 laps with a best of 1m44.512s). Jolyon Palmer was next in the Force India but did only 37 laps for a best of 1m44.516s followed by the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson. The Swede did 178 laps over the two days and set a best of 1m44.551s, while Will Stevens was next for Caterham, completing 178 laps with a best of 1m44.888s. Spike Goddard was next for Force India with a best of 1m44.944s after 89 laps, while Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz Jr completed 88 and 100 laps respectively, setting best laps of 1m45.151s and 1m45.339s. Felipe Nasr did another test for Williams, ending his day with 83 laps under his belt and a best of 1m45.937s, while Lotus ran Charles Pic, Alex Lynn and Esteban Ocon. Pic was fastest with a 1m46.167s after 89 laps but Lynn was only a fraction slower, setting a 1m46.168a lap after 52 laps and Ocon did 34 laps and set a best of 1m47.013s. McLaren and Honda struggled, with Stoffel Vandoorne doing five laps over two days, without setting a lap time.
The times are not really indicative of anything as we do not know what the teams were trying to achieve.

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Vergne confirms he’s out

Jean-Eric Vergne has tweeted that he is out of Scuderia Toro Rosso.

“Despite a good season & 22 pts, I’ll not drive anymore for Toro Rosso in 2015. Thanks for those years. Let’s go for another big challenge.”

Sad.

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Oh what a twisted web

Annaliese Dodds is a Member of European Parliament, representing the South East of England. Her constituency includes Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, East Sussex, West Sussex, Surrey and Kent. As such, she represents (at European level) a number of the Formula 1 teams. Alarmed by the failure of two F1 teams and alerted to potential problems by an article in The Times a few weeks ago that suggested that the FIA has been “neutered” by the deal to create the F1 Strategy Group, it seems that Dodds has written to the European Commission, saying that she has “grave concerns” about the governance of the sport. This has been developing at the same as a letter was sent from the small F1 teams to various parties in the sport, suggesting that there is “what is effectively a questionable cartel comprising, the Commercial Rights Holder, Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren and Williams”.

The accusation of a cartel was rejected by those involved in Abu Dhabi. They argued that the Strategy Group was a forum to discuss ideas, but they did have to admit that decisions made by this body have to be agreed by a vote and then go to the F1 Commission and the FIA World Council, although these two bodies have no right to change the proposals. They can only accept or reject them.

FIA President Jean Todt has already admitted that the FIA’s power to make rules no longer exists, telling media in Bahrain earlier in the year that “I do not have the power to change the regulations. I am convinced that Formula 1 is far too expensive, and that something should absolutely be done, but for us, as the governing body, we have more or less zero influence as to the costs.”

There is an odd contradiction there, isn’t there? We are the governing body, but we have no influence…

On its website the FIA says that it is “the governing body for motor sport worldwide” and “administers the rules and regulations for all international four-wheel motor sport including the FIA Formula 1 World Championship”. Elsewhere there are references to it being “the sole international body governing motor sport” with the “the exclusive right to take all decisions concerning the organisation, direction and management of international motor sport” and the claim that it will “organise the FIA Formula One World Championship which is the property of the FIA and comprises two titles of World Champion, one for drivers and one for constructors. The Championship and each of its Events is governed by the FIA in accordance with the regulations”.

And yet it cannot change the rules?

How does that work? Sporting federations are allowed to do as they please if they behave in a proper way, but back in 1999 there was a problem between Formula 1, the FIA and the European Commission over governance questions. There was eventually an agreement (in 2001) which stated that the FIA’s role would be “limited to that of a sports regulator, with no commercial conflicts of interest”.

Publicly, there is no obvious answer to the question of why the FIA cannot change the rules, but the answer seems to lie in a secret deal called the Concorde Implementation Agreement, which came into effect in the summer of 2013, creating the F1 Strategy Group. This excluded the smaller F1 teams from the decision-making process, gave Ferrari a right to veto rules and regulations, established the Strategy Group structure and granted the FIA the right to purchase a one percent shareholding in Delta Topco, the parent company of the Formula One group, which exploits the commercial rights of Formula 1, for something in the region of $450,000. One percent of the F1 Group is currently reckoned (on paper) to be worth $66 million and we believe that there was a further deal that granted the federation about $35 million in loan notes. On top of that the FIA received a one-off payment of $5 million, as a signing bonus.

This was all very convenient for Todt as he was facing an election at the time and this financial windfall pretty much guaranteed that no-one dared to stand against him. The problem is that the money that should one day come to the FIA is largely tied up until CVC Capital Partners – the owner of the Formula One group – decides to sell its shares, which would mean that the FIA could tag along or be dragged along in the sale process. It cannot do anything until that happens. One can only presume that the FIA, being cautious by nature, went to the Commission and asked if this deal was acceptable to the competition department.

Todt’s remarks in Bahrain set alarm bells ringing, but for those who wanted to get people digging into the problem, the timing was bad. The last European Commission was just coming to the end of its term of office and was winding down. A new Commission was put together in the autumn under Jean-Claude Juncker and this began work on November 1. It is interesting to note that The Times article was published on November 3, so whoever was stirring up trouble was not slow to go into action. Juncker’s Commissioner for Competition is Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager and it is believed that she has or will shortly meet Dodds for a discussion. There are even suggestions (that cannot be verified) that some of the teams have been summoned to talk to the Commission.

If the Commission decides that the deal is not acceptable, it could lead to the unstitching of the arrangements and perhaps to fines for the parties involved if they are deemed to have been in the wrong. In these matters, the commission is generally happier if deals can be struck without things needing to get hot and heavy, but if any of the parties involved offer too much resistance it could get ugly. The FIA does not really have the resources to pay big EU fines and while the Formula One group might have that kind of money, they are not going to be keen to spend it. The other problem is that the Commission is notoriously slow in its activities and although there may be many rumours it is unlikely that there will be any official movement for a year or two, if the last investigation is anything to go by. Perhaps the Commission is now more efficient…

Having said that if there are hints of trouble in the media, floating the Formula One group is not going to be easy (although that is pretty unlikely already given the mess that F1 is in at the moment) and this may also mean that the trouble coincides with the next FIA Presidential Election at the end of 2017, which would make life difficult for Todt and those who supported the decision to do this deal.

I hear from the Strategy Group meeting today that there was barely a discussion (and no agreement) about how to help the small teams which will not do anything to get them to stop whatever they are doing. And there are suggestions that the trouble may not be coming from the teams but rather from dissident elements within the FIA that do not like the way that Todt does business.

Time will tell if there is any meat in this potential barbecue…

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