It has nothing to do with motor racing, but I feel the urge to mark the passing of Ben Bradlee, a man who did so much to define what good journalism should be – and who was not scared to take on the authorities when he felt it was necessary.
Bradley made his name with Newsweek in Paris in the 1950s, notably interviewing members of the Algerian National Liberation Front, which was battling for independence from France. This earned him an expulsion order (which he fought) but he returned to the US and became Newsweek’s Washington Bureau chief and when the magazine became part of the Washington Post group he moved on to become managing editor at the Post in 1965. He became executive editor in 1968 and remained in that role for the next 23 years. In 1971 he began publishing a State Department internal history of the Vietnam War from 1945-1967, which had been discovered by military analyst Daniel Ellsberg. This highlighted the dubious nature of some of the government decision-making and Bradlee felt that this should be debated publicly under the terms of the First Amendment. The Pentagon Papers, as they were known, were a significant step towards the end of US direct military involvement in Vietnam in 1973 and the revision of the Freedom of Information Act which gave the public better access to government documentation.
Bradlee went on to oversee the publication of stories that uncovered the Watergate Scandal, written by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, which would ultimately result in the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974.
Bradlee was also a significant advocate of improving education and the study of history as a way to avoid repeating the mistakes made by previous generations.
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Reports that the Formula 1 World Championship could go over 20 events in the future should be treated with a certain amount of caution. While the Formula One group has a deal with the FIA that allows for a maximum of 25 races a year this was primarily a negotiating ploy that allowed the FIA to see the possibility of additional fees for each race. There are legal contracts in place between the Formula One group and all the signatory teams that mean that team consent is required if the number of races is to exceed 20, although there are believed to be clauses that allow for “extra events” if certain stipulations are met regarding the costs and the benefits. To get all the teams to agree to more races at a time when so many of them are struggling is going to be difficult. It is fair to say that the teams are already stretched in terms of logistics and to do more races would require very considerable extra cost, as they would need to employ more people and overlapping crews. There are, quite simply, limits to what individuals can do. Already most teams report that the turnover of staff is much higher than it used to be because of the stresses and strains of travel and many people do only a few years and then return to a more normal life.
There is, as a result, very considerable resistance to the idea of more races because the expense of doing more is by no means certain to be covered by the prize money gained. Sponsors are currently not interested in paying more and thus it is doubtful that the expansion that Bernie Ecclestone seeks will become a reality. It is not just the teams that need to be taken into consideration but also the TV companies, as they too have heavy costs as a result of all the transportation.
The fact that this is being proposed is not primarily because it serves F1 to have more events, but rather because it drives higher profits, which the owners wish to do as they try to find a buyer willing to pay the price they want for the rights holding company.
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Christophe de Margerie, the chief executive of Total, a major Formula 1 sponsor, has been killed when the company’s Dassault Falcon collided with a snow plough as it was taking off from Moscow’s Vnukovo airport on Monday night. The accident happened just before midnight and the Russian authorities say that the driver of the snow plough was drunk. A criminal investigation has been launched into the crash, with also killed the three crew members on the plane. There were no problems with visibility at the time. De Margarie (63), a grandson of champagne magnate Pierre Taittinger, joined Total in 1974 and was named CEO in 2007 and chairman since 2010. He had been in Russia for a meeting with the government about foreign investment.
“France has lost an extraordinary business leader who turned Total into a world leader,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in a statement.
“The word ‘legend’ is often over-used, but in the case of Christophe de Margerie it is entirely appropriate,” said McLaren’s Eric Boullier. “Christophe was not only a great man but also a great friend. More than that, in fact, I wholeheartedly admired him. A wise, bold, determined and charismatic personality, and a proud Frenchman, he led Total from the front, and, from a Formula 1 point of view, he it was who steered his company’s Formula 1 involvement in recent years.”
Total is a sponsor of the Infiniti Red Bull Racing Team and of Romain Grosjean at Lotus F1. The company and its predecessors have been involved in Grand Prix racing since 1968 when Elf first became involved and was a long-time partner of Renault from 1977 onwards. The Renault F1 cars carried Elf sponsorship until 2008 when the brand was a changed to Total.
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There is trouble at Silverstone with the news that the three directors of Silverstone Circuits Ltd have been suspended on full pay pending an investigation into the affairs of the company. Silverstone Circuits Ltd is owned ultimately owned by the British Racing Drivers’ Club, which owns the circuit. Around 760 acres of the land has been leased to the commercial property company MEPC to develop it as business parks. The remaining land, which is effectively the race track, was subject to an attempted management buyout earlier this year but the BRDC called off the deal when the bid could not deliver the required financing. As a result of that the chairman of Silverstone Holdings, who was leading the bid, resigned from his position in July.
“The BRDC are taking a closer role in the running of the Silverstone business, with a new operating structure between the Club and the circuit,” the BRDC said in a statement. “John Grant, chairman of the BRDC, and Lawrence Tomlinson, director of the BRDC, have assumed the role of joint acting chief executive of Silverstone Circuits Limited. Having reviewed the Silverstone business, they have embarked on an exciting programme of restructuring to make the business more streamlined, concentrating on their core competencies as a circuit operator and the home of the British Grand Prix. “Whilst we cannot comment on the suspension of senior executives at SCL, it should be noted that this is only coincidental to the restructure.”
The BRDC is a club made up of 850 motor racing figures, the majority of them drivers. Silverstone Circuits Ltd has a deal to host the British Grand Prix until the year 2027, but at a cost of around $20 million a year.
There are only three directors of the company: managing director Richard Phillips, Edward Brookes and David Thompson.
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Caterham Sports Ltd has gone into administration. The London-based Smith & Williamson accountancy firm of Moorgate, London has been named as the administrator. The goods that were previously seized by the bailiffs known as the Sheriffs Office have been passed to the administrator. However, there remains a dispute as to whether these items should have been legally removed from the team. The administration does NOT threaten the racing team, despite reports to the contrary. It is a complicated business but it looks likely that Caterham Sports Ltd will end up being worth very little. The Formula 1 entry, the most important asset, is owned by a Malaysian company called 1Malaysia Racing Team Sdn Bhd. This had an operating company called 1Malaysia F1 Team (UK) Ltd. This would later convert itself into 1Malaysia Racing Team (UK) Ltd and ultimately it became known as Caterham Sports Ltd. When the team changed hands in July the new owners must have either bought or leased 1Malaysia Racing Team Sdn Bhd, in order to secure the all-important F1 entry. This remains valid unless the Malaysian company itself is deemed to be insolvent in which case the Formula One group can terminate the agreement and cease all further payments. This has not happened. Thus the F1 entry is valid as long as the team continue to appear at races.
It is difficult to ascertain exactly what has happened, but it seems that shares in some of the companies in the original structure may have been pledged in exchange for loans. If these pledges were not lifted the new owners could not take control and thus their backers could not reasonably commit money to the project. This probably explains why at the end of August, a parallel company called Caterham CF1 Grand Prix Ltd, which was owned (on paper at least) by deputy-team principal Manfredi Ravetto, was set up and seems to have taken over the running of the business for 1Malaysia Racing Team Sdn Bhd. This is perfectly legal. The operations of the team passed from one firm to another. The key question is who owns the assets (machinery, cars etc). This remains uncertain but when the bailiffs came to seize some of them a few weeks ago, they were stopped from putting them up for auction on the basis that they had no right to take them. This would suggest that they were not owned by Caterham Sports, but rather by either the Malaysian parent company, or by the independent Caterham CF1 Grand Prix Ltd. There is nothing wrong with a company selling its assets to another company owned by the same people – if the assets were sold at a reasonable price when the first company was still legally solvent.
The administrators say that they are in discussions with 1MRT to see whether Caterham Sports can continue to supply the F1 team.
“Positive discussions were held between the administrators and the team manager, Manfredi Ravetto, and also with the financial backers of the team on Friday 17 October and it is hoped that these will lead to a financially acceptable arrangement for the continuation of the relationship between the company and the F1 Team,” the administrators said. “If a financially acceptable arrangement cannot be agreed between the administrators and the Caterham F1 Team the administrators will then enter into dialogue with other interested parties with regard to a sale of the business and assets of the company.”
The key question is who owns what.
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The FIA has announced the membership of an Accident Panel to discuss Jules Bianchi’s accident at the Japanese Grand Prix. The group will carry out a full review of the accident to gain a better understanding of what happened, and will propose new measures to reinforce safety at circuits – if they are deemed to be necessary. The work of the group will start this week and the findings will be presented to the FIA World Council in Doha on December 3. The Panle will be headed by Peter Wright, the President of the FIA Safety Commission, and a respected F1 engineer and safety expert. The panel will include former Team Principals Ross Brawn and Stefano Domenicali, Roger Peart, the President of the Circuits Commission, Gerd Ennser a representative of the FIA Stewards, Emerson Fittipaldi, President of the FIA Drivers’ Commission, Eduardo de Freitas, the Race Director of the World Endurance Championship, Antonio Rigozzi, a judge at the International Court of Appeal, who has been co-opted by the teams, Gérard Saillant, President of the FIA Institute and President of the Medical Commission and Alexander Wurz, President of the GPDA.
The composition of the panel is not quite as expected with no specific safety experts other than Wright. It had been thought there might be more safety engineers involved, as they are the ones who have done the work on how best safety issues are addressed. Having said that there are a sufficient number of credible individuals on the panel to ensure that the proceedings will be fair. It is clear that the entire process is largely a public relations operation, as we have never seen such a panel before, despite there being regular accidents at all levels of the sport.
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Wei Di, the director of the Automobile and Motorcycling Administrative Center, part of the country’s General Administration of Sport, says that a Chinese group is bidding to acquire a Formula 1 team and that “in the next one to two years, China will have its own F1 team”.
He did not say who was behind the idea. The organisation he heads is the state-run sports organization which serves as the permanent administrative body of the Federation of Automobile Sports (FASC), the country’s FIA-linked sporting federation. It was established in 2002 in order to organize, direct and promote automobile and motorcycle sports in China.
These reports were followed by an announcement today from the State Council, China’s cabinet, that the country intends to grow its sporting sector into a $813 billion industry (yes, you did read that right) by 2025 to boost employment and domestic consumption. A policy document issued by the Council says that private investment will be encouraged, new sports facilities will be built and the government will support the sector. This is part of the current shift that is going on to create what the Chinese are calling “a new economy”, moving away from heavy industry.
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