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Archive for the ‘F1 Drivers’ Category

Mercedes has been struggling to figure out what to do with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton’s spat at Spa. Here’s the answer:

Lewis Hamilton: “Today we came together as a team and discussed our differences. Nico and I accept that we have both made mistakes and I feel it would be wrong to point fingers and say which one is worse than the other. What’s important is how we rise as a team from these situations. We win and we lose together and, as a team, we will emerge stronger.

“There is a deep foundation that still exists for me and Nico to work from, in spite of our difficult times and differences.

“We have the greatest team, the strongest group of individuals who have worked their hands to the bone to give us the best car you see us racing today.

“It’s important that we never forget that and give them the results they deserve.

“Today, Toto and Paddy told us clearly how we must race against each other from now on in a fair and respectful manner.

“The fans want to see a clean fight until the end of the season and that’s what we want to give them.

“It’s going to be a tough road from here but championships have been won from much further back than I am now.

“And I promise you that I will be giving everything and more to win this for my team, for my family and for my fans.’

“There is a deep foundation that still exists for me and Nico to work from, in spite of our difficult times and differences. We have the greatest team, the strongest group of individuals who have worked their hands to the bone to give us the best car you see us racing today. It’s important that we never forget that and give them the results they deserve.”

Nico Rosberg: “In the days since the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what happened during the race and discussing it with the team.

“I have already expressed my regret about the incident but, after meeting with Toto, Paddy and Lewis today, I wish to go a step further and describe it as an error of judgement on my part.

“The number one rule for us as team-mates is that we must not collide but that is exactly what happened.

“For that error of judgement, I apologise to Lewis and the team. I also want to say sorry to the fans who were deprived of our battle for the lead in Belgium.

“Lewis and I have been given clear instructions about how we race each other.

“As drivers, we have a clear responsibility to the team, the fans of the sport, our partners and Mercedes-Benz to deliver clean racing. We take that responsibility very seriously.

“I look forward to concluding the season with hard, fair competition on and off track right up to the final lap of the season in Abu Dhabi.”

Says it all really.

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F1 and America

The ultimate irony about the failed F1 race in New Jersey is that while Bernie Ecclestone is blaming it on a promoter who failed to deliver the money, and the reporting on the matter inevitably fails to tell the whole story, it is still his primary ambition to get F1 into the New York and Los Angeles metropolitan areas, and by extension to conquer at least a small part in the lucrative US sports market. This is huge but F1 has failed to get a deal in Long Beach and has now failed in New Jersey as well. Both were viable projects, but failed because of the attitudes involved.

It has been clear for decades that the F1 business model will not work in the US market because it is too greedy. It leaves nothing on the table for the promoter, except some direct economic impact for the region and more nebulous international exposure and the impact of F1 on the glamour of an area and thus a potential hike in real estate prices. Very few public bodies in the US can provide funding and the best that can be hoped for is loans, and so F1 has been forced to rely on those on ego trips such as the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis. The race in Austin is an anomaly in that the state of Texas did agree to have a rolling loan to allow F1 to generate money for the local economy. But someone is losing money on this deal and we must wonder where it will ultimately end.

Formula One cannot simply blame America for the failures. If there is one market that would generate more money for F1, it is the United States. F1 is ultimately a consumer business and it should be strongest in the world’s biggest consumer market, a country that will continue to enjoy such status for at least another 30 years, such is its current level of domination. The potential for F1 to earn money in the United States is huge, but F1 refuses to make any investment. The irony in New Jersey is that Bernie recognised this and loaned the New Jersey promoter money, hoping to make things happen. But it made no difference because the loan was not enough to get the race started and then, of course, he fell out with the promoter and so the whole thing ceased to be viable as the right to hold the event suddenly belonged to someone with whom Mr E did not want to do business with any longer. And so the dream that was attainable has been dashed.
The problem goes back to CVC Capital Partners. They exist to take, using their financial muscle to buy companies and then take as much out as possible while leaving them saleable. If F1 is to make it in the US, someone is going to have to look at the bigger picture and have the patience to nurture races, to invest in building an audience. Take out the race fees and F1 can work anywhere. If you stop and think about it, the United States is a bit like Ferrari in that F1 wants it, the difference is that Ferrari has been able to leverage that desire into cash. The United States has not.

That might happen if a US company owned the business. Let us hope that this happens soon…

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Magicians and Machiavelli

There is talk today, from the kind of sources one expects to see producing this stuff, about how Bernie Ecclestone is back, seeking revenge, and being needed more than ever by the sport.

Bernie has done amazing things with the sport and many have benefited from the success but I struggle to see the reasoning in the argument that a sport or a business will not live on without a specific leader: the USSR survived Lenin, John Pierpoint Morgan has been gone 100 years and banks using the Morgan name are still with us. The MCC has played cricket at Lords for 200 years but Thomas Lord has not been seen at the crease since 1832. And what is Ferrari if not a perfect example of the world moving on but an idea surviving?

As I do once a week since the trial ended I have checked to see whether Mr E has been put back as a director on the boards of the various F1 companies. There is no sign that this has happened. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened because you don’t HAVE to file such things immediately, but it is a suggestion, nonetheless that, despite the rah-rah and the cheerleaders, change is in the air, even if it is only in the planning stages.

When you detach your F1 brain and sail out into the realism of the real world, this is hardly a surprise. The owners of the business want their asset to have value for them to strip out. The current lot don’t care about all that is good in the sport, they care just of money and their reputations for being clever men of finance. The last thing they want the world to think is that the whole business will collapse without an 83-year-old magician, who does not have any credible successor in view. If we accept the theory of the pompom girls then Formula 1 is just a heartbeat away from Armageddon, and that would make even the toughest financier pale a shade or two to grey.
Will buyers arrive with billions knowing that the investment could be blown onto a squillion fluttering bits of worthless chaff if one person falls under a thundering red bus?

I fear not.

There is no question that Bernie is exceptionally good at what he does. He could do other things but he’s not that interested. He does what he does and he gets his kicks from it. He knows also, like any medieval prince would know, that the loudest supporters are all too often the people to be trusted least. The retainers do not wish to be buried with the king and they will be the first to cry: “The King is dead, long live the King” when the moment comes, in the hope that the next puppeteer will not cut their strings.

There will be a next generation at some point unless researchers can find the fountain of youth that Spanish explorer Ponce de León famously wasted his life searching for.

The folk at CVC are realists and they would be negligent if they were not considering what to do. I’m sure that they have rabbits up their sleeves and doves in their baggy trousers.

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A pet hate

The Rosberg-Hamilton in Spa has brought out a number of those people who like to accuse journalists of bias because they share the same nationality of one or other of the protagonists. One commenter, called Robert, summed up my views on this subject. “I do hate how people bring up the subject of being British in a negative way to further their opinions,” he wrote. “It immediately marks the writer out as none too bright in my opinion.”

I am happy to forgive people for being passionate about the sport they love and perhaps going too far in their remarks, but the accusation of nationalistic bias is something that I take as an insult and I feel it is all the more outrageous because the accuser does not have the wit to understand that such slurs are more a reflection of the person making them than they are a reflection of the target. In order to level such a charge one must believe that there are intelligent people who have blind, unquestioning devotion to a country and all of its subjects – and for me that is something that only a stupid man can believe. As a journalist one strives, if one has any professional pride, to be as objective as possible, and to cut through the smoke and mirrors to try and tell the story as it is. This is the reason for our existence. If one wants to be a propagandist it is a choice which one can make – and it pays far better – but one must accept that one must then have the opinion of one’s paymaster. Intelligent men through the ages have seen through nationalism and exposed it for what it is.

“Nationalism is an infantile thing,” wrote Albert Einstein. The poet and philosopher George Santayana phrased it differently but delivered the same message: “To me,” he wrote, “it seems a dreadful indignity to have a soul controlled by geography.”

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was more brutal in his assessment: “Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”

Having a different view on a subject when there is a conflict between two different nationals can sometimes appear to be bias, but more often than not, this comes because the national media speak the language of the individual involved and thus have a better understanding of the reasons and the character of the person who acted as they did.

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Bits and bobs in F1

There is a mix-and-match lot of news kicking around today with nothing really unexpected, nor very interesting. The idea of a Grand Prix in Greece has been kicking around for the best part of 15 years and has never got beyond the chattering stage. The whole thing is daft when you look at it in relation to the economics of the country. The big news about Greece in the real world is that the country’s economy is now shrinking at its slowest rate in nearly six years, according to the latest official figures. One can read this to be an improvement from an economy in free-fall but the economy is still in deficit and no sensible politician is going to provide funding for a Grand Prix until other things are sorted. Since the crisis of 2008 the Greek economy has shrunk by around 25 percent, largely because of drastic spending cuts and tax hikes required by the country’s creditors. Grands Prix are luxury items and they don’t get purchased when there is no money available.

Elsewhere, Martin Whitmarsh and McLaren have finally agreed on a settlement nine months after their relationship ended. The problem was not financial but rather with regard to what Whitmarsh could or could not do in terms of future employment. It was harsh business clearly designed to keep Martin off the job market but the passage of time has dulled the bloody-minded approach in Woking. It is doubtful it has dulled Martin’s abilities. Having plenty of holiday has probably made him a stronger overall package. Martin’s knowledge of the sport and his experience make him a man of great value for a team owner with the foresight to pick him, although the unstitching of McLaren’s “matrix management” that is currently going on is a sign that such approaches may work in other industries, but they definitely don’t work in F1.

The only other point of note is the FIA saying it will not get involved in the Rosberg-Hamilton business . This is to be expected with the FIA at the moment, which seems to be frightened of its own shadow in F1 terms. There is a clear difference between “flying under the radar” and doing nothing at all. In my view it is absolutely wrong for a regulator to not even investigate the matter. To try to argue that ”a comment alleged to have been made in an internal briefing and later denied by the team itself” does not warrant an investigation is to my mind an abdication of the governing body’s responsibilities to ensure fair play in the sport. Lewis Hamilton’s World Championship ambitions were materially affected by a move by his primary rival that was later claimed to have been deliberate. To do nothing simply underlines that the FIA is failing to do its job properly. The fact that race officials did not investigate the incident at the time was bad enough, and incomprehensible to many observers at Spa. One can only assume that the FIA is now trying to hide behind this blather because it would be embarrassing to put a spotlight on the initial failure.

This is typical of the murine attitudes of the current leadership and the failure of the people around the leadership to weigh in and point out the damage being done.

I am led to the sad conclusion that I care more about the institution that they represent than they do…

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Len Terry 1923 – 2014

Len Terry has died at the age of 91. Born in Birmingham in 1923, Terry grew up in London, leaving school at the age of 14. Initially he worked as an office boy for a theatre producer, but the war changed the course of his life when he joined the Royal Air Force becoming an instrument maker specialising in cameras that were used for aerial photography. Later he would be transferred to Karachi in pre-Partition India before being demobilised and moving to a job as a trainee draughtsman with the Ever Ready battery company in Walthamstow.

He would work as a draughtsman in various different industries in the years that followed, notably working with Professor Denis Melrose on the design of a heart-lung machine that was first used in 1957, enabling surgeons to start doing open heart surgery. At the same time he started racing in the highly-competitive 750 Motor Club world and joined forced with rivals Maurice Philippe and Brian Hart to build a Formula Junior car in the mid 1950s called the Delta. This was followed by another Formula Junior called the Moorland before Terry began to build his own Terrier cars in 1957, doing the work in the from room of his home and driving the cars himself. He then joined Lotus but he soon fell out with Colin Chapman over the Terriers. It did not help that he crashed and broke his leg. The Terriers did well in Formula Junior in 1960 with Hart driving. Terry moved to Gilby, designing first a sports car and then in 1960 an F1 car for Gilby’s Sid Green. He was then convinced to return to Lotus and became Colin Chapman’s design engineer, translating his ideas into designs and making them work. In this role he played a key part in the design if the Lotus 25 and 33 models. This was followed by the Lotus 38 with which Jim Clark won the Indy 500. He was later lured away to join Dan Gurney’s Eagle cars for F1 and Indianapolis and ultimately designed the 1968 BRM. He went on to design a BMW Formula 2 car but the project was cancelled after the death of Gerhard Mitter. At the same time he penned the Leda Formula 5000 car which would ultimately become a Surtees with much success in Britain and America. Later he would attempt a come back with the Viking F3 project and with BRM. He then returned to contract design work until his retirement.

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Yesterday was a pretty horrible day across Belgium and northern France. The man on French radio described the weather as “ridiculous” for August and that seemed about right, as I drove through endless streaming rain and dodged huge puddles. When I got back into France I decided to retreat for a while into motor racing history and set off for a lap of the long gone Circuit de l’Argonne, used 110 years ago, for a series of major international events. I did it for no reason other than it was there and I was not in a rush. It is always good to remind oneself from where the sport came and the fabulous old road tracks of Europe put a lot in perspective, particularly when you remember how basic the cars were at the time. In the modern age race tracks are fiddly things, Spa and Monza being the only ones that truly flow, but in the early days the sport was all about going flat out on fast open roads. These circuits were grandiose in conception and mightily impressive for the spectators, even if they saw the cars only a few times. The road was quick almost all the way, going straight across undulating hills with dips and crests and through classic avenues of French plane trees. There was a splendid section overlooking a large lake and several very grand estates and houses. One may travel faster today than the heroes did in their rickety racers, but one cannot help but be impressed at what they did.

History is a good place to hide when the present is unpleasant, but at the moment F1 is not a nasty place, but rather producing not only good races, but also exciting off track activity as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg play at being Tom and Jerry. We have learned that Rosberg has a darker side and that Lewis has a rather endearing Peter Pan-like innocence. But there is much subtlety in the goings on than the screaming headlines do not quite grasp. Nico did not set out to crash into Lewis at Les Combes on lap 2 of the Belgian Grand Prix, but he did make the conscious decision not to back out of a place where he ought not to have been when he tried to overtake. He said he was proving a point. Showing Lewis, presumably, that he cannot always treat the race track as his own territory as he tends to do in a fight. Nico was roundly condemned by his own team for his actions and the British press leapt on the bandwagon, painting Nico as black as a Ninja. Perhaps it was a smart thing to do, to lay down a marker and try to destabilize Lewis some more, but the execution was flawed when it came to the media because an annoyed Hamilton saw no reason to play the game any longer. If Rosberg was going to resort to dubious tactics, Lewis was going to make sure the world understood.

There was a marvelous moment of theatre at Mercedes when at one point after the race Rosberg was downstairs explaining that he had not done it on purpose, while upstairs Hamilton was revealing that Nico had told the team he could have backed out of the move, but chose not to…

When the incident occurred, I was sure that Rosberg was to blame. He had by his action materially affected a rival’s race – not to mention the World Championship – and I was astonished that there was not even an investigation into the incident. I did not think it deliberate because of the risk factors (which ruined both of their races) but it looked like a mistake that ought to have been punished because it was clearly not fair for Hamilton, but nothing happened. We concluded that the FIA’s new policy of allowing racing without penalizing every move that goes wrong was to blame for this lack of action. The problem with this is that if you let such things go, it creates precedents that can and will be exploited later by the unscrupulous. Sometimes the cry of “it was an accident” is a straight lie so allowing the boys to race without fear of being penalized only opens the way for dirty driving tactics.

So no action was taken because the FIA did not see the need and no team asked for the incident to be looked into because, even in the oft-bizarre F1 world teams are still smart enough not to be protesting themselves.

However the post-race revelations end up making the FIA look foolish, because there was a level of intent that had been completely overlooked up in Race Control. In another age, the FIA would now be holding an investigation and we would be off to the Place de la Concorde in a week or two for a Mosleyan coup de théatre, but in the age of Todt, not even dynamite can force a decisive gesture on the part of the President. Some see this as weakness, and it is hard to argue against that. All too often when it comes to power, Emperors parade themselves on horses, clad in invisible new clothes and the crowd is led to believe them, lest they are seen to be stupid by their peers. But in the case of Todt all that appears to be on the back of the horse is an empty pile of clothing.

As for Rosberg, the incident serves only to demolish his carefully-constructed image that he is a jovial boy-next-door kind of figure. And it raises questions about the incident in qualifying in Monaco, and the jumped chicane in Montreal. Lewis is a tough competitor, but he generally plays it fair. There’s nothing underhand about him.

For those who have never read A Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, the next paragraph will be of little use, but one wonders now whether Nico has followed other F1 challengers down the path of cynical ambition towards Vanity Fair, leaving Hamilton to wade through the Slough of Despond. They are both aiming for the Celestial City but who will get there first?

Onward to the next Wacky Race…

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