The Mercedes AMG Formula One Team today announced that Bob Bell is to leave his position as Technical Director. Bob resigned his position in December 2013 and will leave the team at the end of November 2014, with the intention of pursuing new challenges outside the company. He has held the position of Technical Director since April 2011. Executive Director (Technical) Paddy Lowe will assume the responsibilities previously held by Bob. The role of Technical Director will not be replaced.

The big question is where Bob will turn up next…

Bell (56) is a doctor of aeronautical engineering, who started in racing in 1982 at McLaren where he worked as an aerodynamicist until 1988 when he became head of research and development, later moving on to other projects, notably the McLaren land speed record car MAVerick. In 1997 he moved to Benetton (now known as Lotus F1) at Enstone. After a couple of years he went to Jordan as head of vehicle technology before returning to Enstone (by then Renault F1) in 2001 as Deputy Technical Director and he became Technical Director in 2003. He was the team’s technical leader for the World Championships of 2005 and 2006. After the Singapore Scandal Bell became acting team principal and then Managing Director for the Renault team until he departed for Mercedes in 2010. Given his long experience and connections one can see a number of possible moves: Alonso would no doubt be keen to have him at Ferrari, the folks at Lotus would do well to take him on to rebuild what was “his” team for a while. McLaren might convince him to return to his first F1 team with more power, and a team such as Williams might also like to have him onboard as it rebuilds.

Time will tell…

01There are a lot of stories today about Marco Mattiacci, the new head of Ferrari Gestione Sportiva, who is replacing Stefano Domenicali. He grew up in Rome and is 42 years of age. He is reported to have started his career at Jaguar Italia in 1989, which would have meant that he was only 17 or 18 and as he is also listed as having studied Economics at the Universita’ La Sapienza di Roma, the Jaguar involvement must necessarily have been short-lived. He then worked in strategic consulting in London but in 1999 when he got a call from Ferrari to work in developing sales in various regions. After nearly two years he became the project leader of the Maserati launch in the United States for a year before moving to the US to be VP Sales and Marketing for Ferrari Maserati North America in 2002. Four years later he was sent to Shanghai as Executive VP for Business Development for Ferrari Asia Pacific, taking some time out to take part in the International Executive Programme at INSEAD in Singapore. After a year he was promoted to the role of President and CEO of Ferrari Asia Pacific and four years later was sent to the United States to be President and CEO of Ferrari North America, taking a little more time out in 2011 to attend a course at the Columbia Universy Business School in New York. He has since been based at Ferrari North America’s headquarters in Englewood, New Jersey, while living with his young family in SoHo in Manhattan.

A shock in Maranello

Stefano Domenicali has stepped down as Ferrari team principal. The news had not been expected.

“There are certain moments in the professional life of each of us where it takes courage to make tough decisions,” Domenicali said. “It’s time to implement a major change. I take responsibility – as I always have – for the situation we are experiencing. It is a choice taken with the desire to do something to give a jolt to our environment and for the sake of this group, which are closely linked. I sincerely thank all the men and women of the team, the drivers and partners for the wonderful relationship we have had in these years. I wish you all that you can quickly return to the levels that Ferrari deserves.”

Ferrari has struggled in recent years and has not won a World Championship since 2007. This year the cars – and the power units – have not been competitive.

The job of running Gestione Sportiva will go to Marco Mattiacci – CEO of Ferrari North America.

I was reading the other day about Sir David Brailsford’s decision to stand down as performance director of British Cycling in order to concentrate his efforts on being team principal of Team Sky. The report said that Brailsford “is currently preparing for this year’s Tour de France which starts in Yorkshire on 5 July and the Giro d’Italia, which starts in Belfast next month”.

I did a double-take. The Tour de France starts in Yorkshire? Eeh by gum…

I looked it up and, sure enough, la première étape will be from Leeds to Harrogate. This will be followed by a stage from York to Sheffield and then one from Cambridge to London. After that the cyclists will disappear into the Channel Tunnel (on trains one hopes) and will then get down to more traditional stages beginning with Le Touquet to Lille. There will be a brief call at Ypres in Belgium, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, but otherwise the cycle racers will then stay in France.

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 11.12.15It seems that Yorkshire outbid Florence and Edinburgh for this honour and the then British Sports Minister Hugh Robertson announced that the government would provide £10 million in funding to help host this most French of events. Robertson said that the total cost of having the Tour de France visit the UK would be £21 million. Why, I wondered, would a government splash out on cycling when it will not provide any funding for a Formula 1 Grand Prix that happens every year? It is just wrong.

I am sure that there are some screaming cyclists somewhere who would argue that F1 is bad for the environment but, by its own admission, the Tour de France attracts 12 to 15 million spectators each year. Some watch from their homes as the peloton whizzes past, but the majority drive some distance to see the event pumping CO2 out of their beaten-up old Peugeots and Renaults. If the F1 world had any clue about how to promote anything, it would point out that real pollution is caused by the people who watch sporting events, rather than those taking part. If a Formula 1 race is held in a city and people travel to the race meeting by tram or Metro then the pollution involved is minimal and so Grand Prix racing is way cleaner than cycling, if one adds up all the Tours, Giros and other such events.

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 11.14.44The Tour is organised by the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), which also happens to host the Dakar Rally in South American. Dakar, in case you missed out on geography lessons at school, is the capital city of Senegal, a republic of 13 million people on the west coast of Africa. So how did a race that was originally between Paris and Dakar end up in Argentina and Chile? The answer is political instability in Africa, which led the ASO to decide to move the event – and the Dakar brand – to a different continent. I put this clever thinking down to the ASO’s director of marketing Laurent Lachaux (although it may have nothing to do with him), simply because I used to know him when he was a humble press officer of the Larrousse F1 team in the early 1990s.

If the brand is not damaged and there is money to be made then a good sports marketer will jump at any chance. I note, by the way, that the Giro d’Italia (of Belfast fame) is owned by the RCS Media Group, which belongs to the Agnelli Family, which owns Ferrari… a company that does all of its marketing through sport.

The question of political instability and sport is one that is likely to rear its ugly head again in Formula 1. Over the weekend it was quietly announced that the Doorna WSBK Organization has decided to cancel the World Super Bike event scheduled to be held at Moscow Raceway on September 21. The organisation said that the current political situation “affects the capabilities of a number of key partner companies essential to run the event” and that the intention is for WSBK to return to Russia in 2015 and “for the remainder of the contract period up to 2021″.

SCEThe Russian Grand Prix, scheduled for October 12 in Sochi, is not yet a hot potato, but it is likely to become one, if Russia goes on messing with Ukraine. The Russian GP has clearly been designed to be a Putin propaganda exercise. He has been very much in the forefront of pre-event publicity right from the start, holding a well-trumpeted signing ceremony with Bernie Ecclestone when the deal was first done. But is it now wise for the sport to associate itself with him, in the wake of the Crimean Crisis? Doorna obviously thinks it is a bad idea. One hopes that F1 will think along similar lines. Right now, Russia has few friends in the world. The UN resolution which declared the Crimean referendum invalid was supported by 100 nations, only 11 were against it and those who did not want to upset Russia but did not want to support the country – 58 nations in total – abstained. The same happened in the Council of Europe where Russia’s voting rights were withdrawn by a vote of 145 votes in favour, 21 against and 22 abstaining. The Formula 1 group had traditionally done whatever brings in the most money (in the short-term), which means that going ahead is the most likely course of action. I cannot see the FIA having the gumption to open the door of its bunker and lay down the law about what is good for the sport. It has a daft rule that says that it cannot involve itself in any “political discrimination” which means that it cannot cancel the event, nor can it go ahead as the regulation can be read both ways. The teams cannot agree on anything, of course, and so unless the engine manufacturers step in and say that they are not taking part (which could happen), F1 will end up being used as a political tool by Putin. The danger is that being seen to be in bed with Putin, F1 will drive away sponsors and damage its reputation. It is a risk best avoided. Putin may not be happy, but he will understand and besides, if things are run as normal, the Formula One group will already have had money for 2014 from Russia. It can either send that back, or add another year to the contract when things calm down again.

Events can cross borders, but it is best that nations stay within their own frontiers…

The FIA finally got round to putting out a press release relating to the World Council meeting in Marrakech today. The release came hours after Haas Formula had announced that it had been granted a licence to compete in F1 in the future. No details were given by either party with regard to the date of the entry, which seemed an odd way to do business. The FIA said that it had accepted Haas’s entry and was “in the process of conducting further investigations for Forza Rossa”, so one must presume that there is still the chance of another new team. There was no explanation as to the identity of Forza Rossa, but one assumes that this is the Romanian government-backed project. There was no explanation as to why the Romanian project is still being looked into and Haas has been accepted.

The announcement said that all the F1 teams recently confirmed their commitment to work on cost reduction. This flies in the face of statements made in Bahrain where Todt said that “I understand that all the teams that are part of the Strategy Group are against it now”. A meeting will be organised with all the teams on May 1 to clarify how this will be done. The FIA did not mention it, but it was sent a letter before the meetings by the four smallest teams who seem to have suggested that the FIA needs to find a solution to the cost problem, or else there will be questions about the legality of the F1 Strategy Group.

The press release also said that a study on engine noise is under way.

There was little else to report, which was probably a good thing because the press release came out so late on Friday evening that most of the conventional media outlets will not be reporting the news. One can only wonder whether the FIA Communication Department, which unforgivably failed to do anything to promote the exciting new Formula 1 regulations at the start of the season, which led to much negativity about F1 in recent weeks, understands how the media works.

Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, has been granted a Formula 1 license by the FIA. The news has yet to be confirmed by the federation, but Haas presumably knows what he is talking about.

“Obviously, we’re extremely pleased to have been granted a Formula One license by the FIA. It’s an exciting time for me, Haas Automation and anyone who wanted to see an American team return to Formula 1,” he said. “Now, the really hard work begins. It’s a challenge we embrace as we work to put cars on the grid. I want to thank the FIA for this opportunity and the diligence everyone put forth to see our license application come to fruition.”

Force India has been doing remarkably well on the race tracks this year, with Nico Hulkenberg lying third in the World Championship after Bahrain and Sergio Perez picking up the team’s first podium since Giancarlo Fisichella’s amazing show at Spa in 2009. This means that the team is currently second in the Constructors’ Championship. It is all very positive.

However, out there in the real world, things look rather different. The team’s title sponsor Roy Subrata Sahara (who owns 42.85 percent of the team) remains in Tihar Prison in Delhi for failing to pay the $1.6 billion that the High Court of India ordered him to pay. He has been in jail for more than a month. Sahara became involved in the F1 business by loaning it money and took over the shares in Orange India Holdings SARL, the Luxembourg-based parent company of the Force India F1 team, when those loans were no repaid. He has no obvious interest in the sport.

The team says that there are no problems with money for this year. This is probably because there is a debt guarantee for $135 million in place, given by Diageo as part of its deal to buy control of Mallya’s United Spirits company. Mallya’s situation is anything but easy with his creditors becoming more and more forceful in their pursuit of money that they loaned him for the disastrous Kingfisher Airlines. The latest developments in this respect are that in addition to selling shares in Mallya companies that were pledged in exchange for loans (which has weakened Mallya’s control) there have also been steps to have him declared “a wilful defaulter” which will mean that he will not be able to borrow any more money in India. In addition the creditors have put all the Kingfisher trademarks up for sale. On top of that the three remaining directors of Kingfisher Airlines have all resigned.

Mallya remains a wealthy man in terms of his assets, although these are reducing all the time, but he still owes a huge sum of money. Keeping a racing team – which eats cash – in such circumstances is anything but easy. In theory Diageo could one day turn its loans to the team into equity (as Sahara did) and buy shares in the business, but it is a drinks company and is not obviously interested in owning an F1 team, as there are restrictions on liquor advertising in a number of F1 markets. It should also be remembered that the firm has a long-standing marketing alliance with McLaren, using its Johnnie Walker brand.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 32,103 other followers