Once upon a time, in the world before Bruce Willis, a genteel form of entertainment was to go to the local theatre to watch Agatha Christie whodunnits, which had been translated into theatre from the original novels. It was always fun to try to work out who had murdered whom and why. The Mousetrap is still playing every night in London, 61 years and 25,000 performances after its opening. Everyone likes a nice mystery.
At the moment F1 has a great whodunnit going on. Lotus F1 has announced that its Technical Director is leaving, but no one knows to where he is headed. All the likely suspects have denied that they are responsible and the man himself is giving away no clues, except that he has signed an NDA and cannot speak. The primary clues are thus: who would make him sign an NDA and why and what the different teams have told one another and the media. McLaren and Ferrari have assured one another that they are not signing James, but perhaps some semantics has been involved. Perhaps when asked they had not actually signed, but were on the point of doing so. F1 is often like that. They tell “the technical truth”. I explained this some years ago, as follows:
“There is, let us say, a rumor in the paddock that Subaru is talking to Blue Wombat Racing and that a deal has been done for Blue Wombat to use Subaru V10 engines.
What does a good journalist do? He goes to ask the team if the stories are true. Oh look, here comes Mr. Talking Head, the team’s blue-eyed front man. Hello, you say. Can I have a word? No, he replies, and sweeps by, disappearing into a motorhome.
Grrr… An hour later he re-emerges. Can I have a word? You say politely. No, he says and sweeps by, mumbling some excuse about Bernie… Oh, you say loudly, that’s such a shame. I just wanted to know if you still have a job. This usually works when the talking head is a mere employee or a minority shareholder. If he is a team owner it is more complicated but any mention of the tax man usually results in a screech of soft leather as his handmade Italian shoes come to a sudden stop. He returns in a hurry. I hear you have a deal with Subaru, you say.
You cannot honestly expect me to answer that question, he says, trying to dodge the issue. Why not? It is an easy question. Do you have a deal with Subaru? No, he says, I do not. And there you have it. A novice F1 journalist will at this point rush off to the press room and file a “Blue Wombat Racing chief denies Subaru deal” story. But what did Mr. Talking Head really say? I-DO-NOT. When you think about it, why would HE have a deal with Subaru? The question should have been: “Does the team have a deal with Subaru?” The answer would, of course, have been “No”. But is that the truth? What is Subaru? It is a brand. A brand owned by a big anonymous company called Fuji Heavy Industries. Any deal would be between Blue Wombat Racing and Fuji Heavy Industries. So you ask the question differently. Have you spoken to Fuji Heavy Industries? No, he replies. What does that mean? You could argue that it is impossible to talk to an organization. One can talk to members of an organization but not to the company itself. And so one has to ask a different question. Have you talked to any person employed by Fuji Heavy Industries? No, he replies (just for a change).
So that is that. Or is it? Teams have agents, lawyers, acquisition managers and other assorted fixers to do all that rubbish. It is quite possible that Mr. Talking Head has not spoken directly with anyone from Fuji Heavy Industries. Do you have a contract with Fuji Heavy Industries? You might try. No (…well not on me. It is in my briefcase). Does Blue Wombat Racing have a deal with Fuji Heavy Industries? No (… the contract is between Blue Wombat Racing Cayman Islands Inc. and Fuji Heavy Industries). If you ask whether there is a contract between Blue Wombat Racing Cayman Islands Inc. and Fuji Heavy Industries, you will run into all kinds of trouble. No, will come the answer. (…what is a contract? Is it not merely a document which is the basis for a future negotiation rather than a binding legal entity?) Or worse than that. Don’t you trust my word?
This is an old trick in the F1 paddock. Most journalists are far too polite to admit that they do not trust the person with whom they are speaking. It’s rude to suggest such a thing and Mr. Talking Head is bargaining that the journalist will not be as uncouth as to accuse him of being untrustworthy. And so, you have to mumble that it is not a question of trust or a discussion about honesty. It is simply a question which requires an answer. Well, he will say, as far as I know there is no deal with Fuji Heavy Industries at the moment. That seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? But what did he really say? “As far as I know” means that he can deny knowing the information if later challenged on the subject. In American politics they call this concept “deniability”. Just to make sure he has added “at the moment” so that he can later claim that when he denied the deal it had not been done…
You can go on all day. Dreaming up questions and then thinking of ways in which the slippery fish of the paddock will slide out of them. And, of course, you cannot really accuse them of lying later on because technically-speaking no lies have been told. The questions have been avoided or there is sufficient vagueness to render the answer deniable at a later date. Either that or the meaning of the words is being debated. It is a bit like having sex in the White House… I didn’t have sex with her, said the President, but she had sex with me…
What this means is that in the end asking questions is a pointless exercise – unless one knows the answer already and so you can challenge the target at the right moment and get the truth as they scramble to get out of trouble. If you catch them out, they often break down – and then the truth is out… and they cannot do anything to stop it. One leaves with a sense of victory. The information itself may not be that exciting but it is game and as everyone in F1 will tell you, winning is everything.
So denials mean very little. Logic is usually the best way to work out what is happening, but logic does not always work. Lewis Hamilton’s move to Mercedes was not logical, except for Lewis Hamilton…
So what is right for James Allison? His kids have finished school so he could take off to Italy. He loves flying and has an aerodrome at the end of his garden. Why would he leave that? But he loved his time in Italy when he previously worked for Ferrari. Perhaps there is a house with an aerodrome next door near Maranello…
However… Ferrari has a technical director who is still settling into his chair. The chief designer has been round the block a few times, but does Allison want to be reporting to someone after having ruled the roost at Lotus?
Money is obviously an element but then so too is winning and James wants to win. Any man who has a plane of his own does not NEED money. Money is just a measure of his success.
Mercedes will soon get a new team principal in Paddy Lowe and there is no reason why he might not want a new TD. But Mercedes says “No, it is not us.” One can argue that McLaren and Williams need new technical leadership given the results, but both say “No it is not us.” Red Bull does not really need a new TD. Adrian Newey is doing a fairly decent job. Caterham says “No it is not us” and it makes little sense for James to be going anywhere else because he would not have the tools to win.
It is a real whodunnit. Or perhaps a real whosabouttidoit…
Read Full Post »