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The Singapore Grand Prix is always busy, with a lot of heavy-hitters in town. Finding sponsors these days is not easy because not only are the teams competing against other teams and rival sports, they are now having to fight off the Formula One group as well, and it’s not really a fair fight as FOM insists these days on knowing the names of all the guests brought to the paddock by the teams. No doubt this will lead to the big CEOs visiting the paddock wearing false moustaches and using pseudonyms to stop any poaching.

The Singapore paddock is a place to catch up with old friends from Asia and the Pacific and this year it was fun to bump into Craig Lowndes, one of the biggest stars of the Aussie V8 Series, who was in town doing some sponsor work and was invited to the GP by Red Bull.

I also bumped into Chung Yung-cho, otherwise known as Joe Chung, who was the power behind the Korean Grand Prix in Yeongam. I won’t forget the day of the first race there as Joe was battling to make sure everything went to plan, up until the very last minute. We don’t often get to see the emotion involved in being a race promoter, with all the highs and lows involved, and Joe’s face at the end of that race that day will always be remembered. He was unlucky in that the global recession hit at the wrong moment and the plan to build a city around the track, in order to develop the entire coastline area, never happened, leaving the Koreans with a racetrack without a raisin d’être in the middle of a marsh. He was thrown out and blamed for the disaster, but I never felt he was the one at fault. The bureaucrats messed things up and slowed things down so much that making the race happen cost more than the budgets allowed.

Today Joe is working on a new plan for a street race in the Seoul region. This is a better idea because the people and infrastructure are there. Joe saw Bernie Ecclestone and showed him the project and Bernie is interested as Korea is still an economic powerhouse where F1 should be. The hope is that the new race, based on the same model as Singapore, could be ready for 2016. We’ll see.

Racing is gaining traction in Korea with a new track opening recently at Incheon, just up the road from Seoul. This is an unusual permanent street circuit, which has the facilities there all the time but with normal traffic using the roads when there is no racing. The Incheon track was built into a new city laid out on reclaimed land and is designed only for national events. It is however a blueprint for similar schemes. It is a great deal cheaper than a temporary street track as the costs and time involved in the set up and tear down of such facilities is greatly reduced. The pits are permanent and the barriers remain in place, so I am told, but the debris fencing and grandstands are built each year.
Efficiency and cost-effectiveness are becoming more of a feature in F1 races these days, not only in terms of circuit construction, but also in the TV coverage. The Singapore event proved to be the first trial for the latest 4K quality TV feeds, with the data from the cameras being sent down cables in real time to FOM’s remote production facility at Biggin Hill where increasingly the organisation is editing the coverage into live shows that will be sent out to TV companies using Tata Communications’s data networks. I think it is only a matter of time before the FOM television production facility at races disappears and only cameramen are sent to events. The Biggin Hill facility is already producing a prototype feed along these lines for the Dutch TV channel Sport 1 and I think the trend towards cable and away from satellite will continue.

This helps to explain the interest being shown in F1 by US cable magnate John Malone, who understands that driving subscriber numbers up involves not only multiple broadband functions, such as Internet and phone access at sensible prices, but also good quality and sensibly priced content. This is probably the best possible compromise when it comes to the question of freeTV or payTV. If coverage is bundled with other things it is effectively free and the whole business benefits. Thus if a cable company owns F1 it can benefit from smaller profit margins on each subscriber but larger numbers of them, while also maintaining high TV rights fees in markets that it has yet to develop.

So the one area which still needs better cost-efficiency is the racing itself with teams needing to find a way to make themselves more sustainable. Cost cutting is the only way… If they don’t find a solution soon, the Formula One group is in danger of failing to meet the requirement for 20 cars at each race. This is why Bernie Ecclestone is currently talking about third cars, although agreements in place mean that this is almost impossible to achieve because the extra cars will not score points, nor win prize money. However the results they gain will stand, thus pushing the smaller teams further back in the pecking order. Consequently no small team is going to agree to change the contracts in place, and the so-called Strategy Group cannot change contracts without the agreement of all the signatories. Nor will the FIA want to change the deal because the failure of FOM to provide full fields could lead to the cancellation of the 100-year commercial deal, which would give the FIA control again. That in turn could lead to a better (and fairer) deal for all the teams, with a bigger share of the revenues. So those who will benefit from third cars are a smaller group than those who will lose out. The existing arrangements are, in any case, only an emergency measure and they are not compulsory if teams can prove that they cannot afford to run an additional car. If third cars are needed in the future only about four teams can really afford to run them, which means that if four of today’s teams fail and disappear (which could conceivably happen given the state of some teams at the moment) the sport would lose eight cars. The current 22-car field would be reduced to 14 but there would be only four non-scoring cars to replace them. That would make 18 cars, an insufficient number to satisfy the FIA contract.

The idea that all eight surviving teams would be happy to run three cars is flawed because those in the midfield know that FOM’s failure would open the way for a better deal for everyone (except perhaps Ferrari).

The irony of this is that cost-capping will slow this process, so it is in the interest of the middle-ranking teams NOT to cut costs so as to push the small teams out of business, to end the reign of FOM and usher in a new era where the distribution of revenues would allow all contenders a fairer share of the money. One can even argue that some small team failures with liquidation processes to wipe out the debts would provide the current owners with the chance to buy the assets cheaply and come back into a renewed F1 in a better shape.

If FOM was to lose the commercial rights, the FIA would still need a certain number of teams and those applicants with the best proven records and resources would be best-placed to win the available franchises…

There are times when going out of business is the most profitable route to take.

Your GP+ is now available

Sorry about the delay, we had a corrupted file and had to rebuild the magazine…

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 17.40.00Lewis Hamilton ruled in Singapore on Sunday evening – and the Englishman ended the day back in the lead of the World Championship after Nico Rosberg’s dreams of glory were interrupted by software gremlins before he could even start the race. Lewis did not have it easy. A badly-timed Safety Car gave him a mountain to climb, but he hopped and skipped his way to the summit. Sebastian Vettel had his best result of the year to finish second with team-mate Dan Ricciardo chasing him to the line. The race itself was a bit of a slow burner, but it caught fire at the end with some sensational action in the closing laps.

As F1 now heads for Japan, Hamilton leads the World Championship again.

In GP+ this week…

- We rip the 2015 F1 calendar apart…
– We look at the radio communication ban
– We praise F1’s brilliant hybrid achievements
– And we have some amazing tales from the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
– JS asks difficult questions that F1 needs to ask
– The Hack gets his teeth into Luca Montezemolo
– DT speeds along the salt
– Peter Nygaard captures the glory of F1 in Singapore

If you haven’t heard of GP+, you are missing out big time. This is the fastest F1 magazine in the world. It is published before the cars have cooled down properly. And we’re not pretending to be there in the F1 Paddock. We are there and we’re mixing with the movers and shakers. If you want to know what is really happening this is the place to find it. We are passionate about the sport and we have strong opinions – and a huge amount of experience. We don’t believe in sound bytes, so we tell the story in depth… We even know the history of Grand Prix racing and are happy to share it.

GP+ is the fastest F1 magazine in the world. It’s so fast, it’s almost real-time… But it is a magazine that tells you the full story, like racing magazines used to do. Yet it is published in electronic form in PDF format, so you can read it on a laptop or a tablet.

GP+ is an amazing bargain. You get 22 issues for £29.99, covering the entire 2014 Formula 1 season.

For more information, go to http://www.grandprixplus.com.

A dinner in Singapore…

Here in Singapore, we live in a strange timeless world. People come into the F1 Paddock at four in the afternoon and greet one another with “Morning!” and go off and eat breakfast. One has dinner at two o’clock in the morning. On Thursday, I went out for dinner (actually it was the small hours of Friday morning) with BBC Radio 5 Live’s Jennie Gow and James Allen (an old colleague from Autosport days 20 years ago) and my colleague David Tremayne. You can hear the conversation if you click here

Thoughts at the airport

Regular readers will know that the life of a Formula 1 reporter is one that tends to leave a trail of destruction, with children in odd places and residences that once had a purpose. I even have a very dead car sitting in a barn somewhere, next to box loads of F1-related documentation and other bric-a-brac. The lock of the barn is broken and so to access this treasure trove, one needs to climb through a window that is hidden behind undergrowth, where even cats fear to tread. I guess it’s a bit like those cars one hears about that have been bricked up in old garages. Alas, this is no Bugatti Atlantic but rather a humble Golf, dented by Paris parking à l’époque. I am not one of those people who fill their houses with F1 stuff so it all sits in lofts and garages. My wife is a practical soul and says that I should start an F1 museum of my own with all the memorabilia that lurks in the dark corners of my hideouts. It is worse than it sounds, because in addition to the flotsam and jetsam of my own F1 career, I have inherited the collections of others that stretch back to an age when I was still in short trousers. Still it is nice to have things like Frank Williams’s original brochure in 1969, or a Matra press pack. I have so much, I don’t even know what I have. A few years ago I spotted a file marked “Le Mans” and inside, amongst a number of other folders, I found a sheaf of original reports from the 1955 Le Mans 24 Hours, typed on the thin copy paper that they used in the old days. There were even editing marks. I had inherited it from a colleague, who had inherited it from a colleague…

There was a time when good fortune on the property market meant that I owned a nice apartment just off the Avenue Foch in Paris, school fees took care of that and I was left with a cottage in a delightful country village, about an hour and a half out of Paris, where streams have carved their way through the limestone of the Oise and created deep wooded valleys where, in medieval times, people built abbeys, donjons, priories and manoirs. For a while I lived out in these lovely sticks, but then life conspired to shift my focus back to Paris itself and so I have a weekend house and a life that requires me to be away for more than half the weekends in a year… All of this means that I don’t get to visit the house very often, indeed this year I spent one night there between February and the start of September. This meant that my wisteria was threatening the peaceful existence of the village and my tree (of unknown genus, let alone family) has grown so high that it was blocking out the sun for my neighbours. The architecturally-minded spiders of the neighbourhood had moved into the house, killing off the flies and had constructed a city of artful webs, untouched by human intervention. One of the joys of my existence is that I am not tied to one place, except by others and so when my other half had some holiday time we took off to the cottage and embarked on some clear-up. It is good to get away from the computer screen for a few hours each day and chopping down trees is as good an exercise as riding a bike. The other reason for the trip is that from now until the end of November there is not much time available to do such things. Thanks to the current F1 calendar, we are playing yo-yos to Asia for the rest of this month and then, because Sochi is really in the back of beyond, we have to come back to Europe in order to go there, by way of Moscow. The only option was flying through Istanbul and those flights sold out months ago. There may be other routes with correspondences in Tashkent, Yerevan, Yekaterinburg, Chișinău, Ulaanbaatar, Bishkek, Tambov, Ufa and Boompsidaisy, but I can live without such experiences. After we’ve done that, we get a brief break and then it’s Austin, Sao Paulo and Abu Dhabi in quick succession. And then it’s into the Christmas shopping… Fortunately, in the autumn months the wisteria doesn’t grow that much…

So while I was doing all this, the F1 world sailed on. The only news of any real important, or certitude, was that Mercedes announced the appointment of Pascal Wehrlein to the position of reserve driver. The 19-year-old from Sigmaringen had an impressive early career in single-seaters but lack of money led him to DTM, where he was the youngest driver in the history of the series and recently became the youngest ever winner. Little known to the world was the fact that he has spent 30 days this year in the Mercedes simulator this season, covering over 12,000 virtual kilometres in an F1 W05 Hybrid. He got his first chance to drive a proper F1 car at the Autodromo Internacional Algarve in Portimao recently.

In a perfect world…

I am anything but a good businessman but, in my favour, I love Formula 1 motor racing and I am passionate about it and so when I see rampant profiteering going on at the expense of the sport, I get annoyed. I want the best possible Formula 1 and so I naturally object to what the financiers have done to the sport. Suffice to say that if I was a multi-squillionaire I would buy the sport and fix it the way I think it should be. A lot would stay the same but distribution of money would be very different and no teams would get an advantage.

From a philosophical point of view, I don’t understand the super-rich. If you are comfortable for the rest of your days why is there any need to screw every penny from every deal. Yes, there is ego and the pleasure of doing the deal but I don’t get the need to keep score. Once you have enough money it ceases to have any value beyond being something than can be used for good. If you are earning money just to be richer than someone else you are no better really than a mouse on a wheel. F1 is just a game and irrelevant in the history of the world, but it nonetheless gives pleasure to millions and inspires people. It is their escape from the drudgery of everyday life. It puts a smile on their faces, and that is its sole real value. But making people happy is a sensible and tangible goal to have.

Anyway, this is why I do not understand the new calendar for 2015. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to work out that if one twins “fly-away” (intercontinental) in the same region, one reduces transportation costs. Thus a calendar with no fewer than six stand-alone fly-away races cannot possibly be justified as the most cost-effective route to take. There is absolutely no logic in having Australia as a stand-alone event and then a two week break before a Malaysian-Bahraini double-header and then China as a stand-alone event. You would save 30 percent of the cost by moving Malaysia to a week after Australia and then having China and Bahrain separated by a week. In a similar fashion it is daft not to twin Russia and Abu Dhabi, Canada and Austin and Mexico and Brazil. Thus the only possible explanation for such an inefficient calendar is that there is an agenda to try to force teams to accept more races by making the existing events needlessly expensive.

I started wondering if I was running the sport, what would be calendar be, so as to make F1 the best possible marketing tool? The first thing I would do would be to rid the sport of the current circuit designer and put the work in the hands of those who have a better understanding of the science of overtaking. It is a scientific problem that can be solved and built into a circuit. It does not have to be guesswork.

If I had 20 races to hand out I would do them more logically. I believe that there should be a sensible division into three basic zones, allowing TV packages to be created that would get everyone watching enough races to make the TV coverage effective for fans and advertisers. The first race of the season is a big event and it makes no real sense to stick it in Australia, where the TV audience is limited by the time zones, even with an evening race. It makes much more sense to start in the United States where one can build excitement in the US market and still hit prime time European markets if one starts the race at noon. So I would start in Austin in early March and then go on to Long Beach or Laguna Seca. If you start a race at midday on the West Coast of the United States, it is prime time TV in Europe. So it would be good to begin the Championship with an early afternoon race in Austin and then a lunchtime race in Long Beach or Laguna Seca. From there the cars would go to Australia and the people would go back to Europe and then Australia would be at the end of March twinned with Singapore on the first weekend of April before flying to cars on to Bahrain (April 19) and Sochi (April 26). That would get us back to Europe in time for Monaco (May 17), which I would twin with Belgium (May 24). It rains all the time at Spa so May and September are not very different.

After that I would send the teams out to Canada for a Montreal/New York double-header (June 14/21) and then back to Europe for France (why not try for the Bois de Boulogne in Paris) and Britain (back-to-back) – on July 5/12 -and Germany (if F1 cannot fill the Nurburgring then why not learn from Formula E and use Berlin Tempelhof) and Italy – July 26-August 2. No championship would be right without Monza. That would get us to the summer break. I would then go out to Asia for Japan and China back-to-back (Aug 30-Sep 6), with Abu Dhabi (September 27) and perhaps a street race on the east coast of Africa (October 4) if somewhere stable can be found. And then I would end the seasons with a double-header in Brazil (October 18) and a race in the West Indies (October 25).

For the record

The first Formula E race took place on Saturday in Beijing with the race being won by Lucas di Grassi, albeit after the two leaders collided at the final corner, with Nick Heidfeld’s Venturi car being hit by Nicolas Prost (E.Dams Renault) and then hitting a kerb and being launched into the air and into a crash barrier beside the track. Heidfeld was pretty upset after the crash as Prost clearly drove into him to try to stop Heidfeld stealing the victory. Prost was later given a 10-place grid penalty for the next round of the championship. Both cars retired in the incident leaving di Grassi (Audi Sport Abt) to pick up the pieces.

The average speed of the 25-lap race was published at 79.2 mph but the results appeared to be flawed as 25 laps of a 3.44km circuit amounts to 86.325km and if it took 52m23.413s to cover that distance then the actual race speed must be 98.86kmh, which translates to 61.43 mph. The official results were wrong (and still are), claiming that the 25-lap race was over a distance of 111.3 km.

France’s Frank Montagny, now mainly a commentator with Canal Plus, finished second for the Andretti team with Sam Bird third for Virgin Racing.

There was more than a little irony in the fact that the first Formula E race took place in a city that is famous for its dreadful pollution.

The next Formula E race will take place in Putrajaya, Malaysia on November 22, in 11 weeks from now.

A calendar for 2015

The FIA has issued a calendar for next year, with the continuing stupidity of expensive stand-alone fly-away races, no doubt designed to get the teams to ask for back-to-backs, with the ultimate goal being to expand the calendar beyond 20 races. Singapore and Japan have been pushed together, which will save money, but by the same token, Brazil is now a standalone, as Austin has been paired with the new event in Mexico. Australia, China, Canada, Russia, Brazil and Abu Dhabi all remain stand-alone races. The extra race means an extra week, which means that the team people will be getting home from the last race on the last day of November. As usual, the calendar has been created by those who do not have to live it and so they take none of the human damage involved into account as it does not bother them. It would be logical, for example, to pair Australia and Malaysia, Bahrain and China, Russia and Abu Dhabi and perhaps it would be more logical to twin Canada with Mexico. This would cut costs considerably.

The calendar announced is as follows: Australia, March 15; Malaysia, March 29; Bahrain, April 5; China, April 19; Spain, May 10; Monaco, May 24; Canada, June 7; Austria, June 21; Britain, July 5, Germany, July 19; Hungary, July 26; Belgium, August 23; Italy, September 6; Singapore, September 20; Japan, September 27; Russia, October 11; Austin, October 25; Mexico, November 1; Brazil, November 15; Abu Dhabi, November 29.

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