Alexander Rossi will make his Formula 1 debut this weekend at Spa, replacing Max Chilton at Marussia. Rossi joined the team last month as reserve driver but Chilton has some “contractual issues” that need to be resolved. As a result if all goes well Rossi will become the first US driver to take part in a Grand Prix since Scott Speed departed Scuderia Toro Rosso seven years ago.

“It’s a very big moment for me and there’s a lot to prepare in a short space of time,” the 22-year-old Californian said. “On the other hand I have felt ready for this for quite a while now. It is also exciting to be given this opportunity at such a fantastic and historical circuit as Spa-Francorchamps. I can’t wait to drive the MR03 and I hope to reward the team with a solid race weekend.”

Chilton will return when the contractual issues are resolved.

Rossi has taken part in a number of free practice sessions over the past three years, with the most recent coming at June’s Canadian Grand Prix.

Ode to Spa

An early start this morning, to avoid Paris traffic and then, once clear of the capital, there is time to stop for a croissant and a café allongé, while the commuters get themselves into a tangle behind me. I can see across the carriageways that the queue to get into Paris is beginning to form. Sometimes it is good to swim against the current and go your own way. No, not sometimes, always. Life as an F1 reporter is a lot more fun than commuting each day…

I’m in no great hurry today. The road ahead going east is clear and it’s a good moment to give the sun a chance to climb a little higher to avoid driving straight at it with Icarian determination. And besides, is there a better way to face the day than with a coffee and a croissant in (vaguely) rural France? A year in Provence it is not, but 10 minutes beside the autoroute can be blissful enough, in the right state of mind.

This morning promises a run out to Reims and then a trek across the plains to the giant boar at Woinic, the 50-ton metal monster that stands beside the autoroute, designed to get people like me to stop and spend their money in a place that normally we would pass without a second thought. Niagara Falls, it ain’t, but it is an amusement along the way. From there the road goes up to Charleville-Mezières, passing briefly along the old circuit of the Argonne, where 110 years ago the great Leon Théry ruled the roost in the qualifying races for the Gordon Bennett Cup. One day I must explore the roads that made up that circuit.
After Charleville-Mezières, it will be on to the great fortress at Sedan and then up into the forests of the Ardennes and across the border into Belgium. I think I’ll restrain myself from doing a lap of the old Circuit des Ardennes today – it may have been the world’s first race that returned to where it had started, a revolution after the city-to-city races with which the sport began, but it was a big old lap and I have a lunch appointment in Malmédy. After that I shall climb the hill to Spa, no doubt by way of Burnenville, and all will be well in the world. Spa may not be the greatest racing circuit on earth, but it’s never more than third on anyone’s list. I’m told the weather is bad there, but that was yesterday and at Spa these things change in the blink of an eye. It will be interesting to hear the cars in the hills this year. Perhaps they will not sing like the old V8s, but I suspect their growl will scare the local wildlife. Besides people forget that before the V8s these hills were used to the melodies of orchestras of V12s. Things change.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been to Spa in the course of the last 30 years, but I do know that each time it is a pleasure to feel the heart beat just a little bit faster.

André Lotterer will drive for Caterham F1 Team at the Belgian Grand Prix and it is not really a great surprise. The team’s primary goal is to improve the performance of the CT05 and while Kamui Kobayashi is quick, he is not famed for his technical feedback, while the team’s second driver Marcus Ericsson does not yet have the experience to do the job but is still providing funding for the team and so the Swede remains in the second car. It’s a tough break for Kobayashi but one can understand why the team had taken the decision to try another driver. There were lengthy discussions with Britain’s James Rossiter but he is busy in Japan.

On paper, Lotterer is a German. His father was a German-Peruvian motorsport engineer Henri Lotterer but when Andre was three the family moved to Belgium and Henri established a racing team called RAS, best known in the 1980s as the team that prepared Volvos for the European Touring Car Championship. So Andre grew up in Belgium, attended school in Nivelles and cut his teeth in competition there. Today he is officially resident in Monaco, spends several months a year in Japan but returns to Belgium on a regular basis to see his mother, who remains there. His father died several years ago.

It is also often forgotten that Lotterer was a Formula 1 test driver with the Jaguar Racing team back in 2002 but did not find a way to break into Grand Prix racing and so headed to Japan where he built himself a very successful career in Formula Nippon and the Japanese Super GT Championship. he was the Formula Nippon champion in 2011. This led to him being recruited by the Audi factory sportscar team and to his three Le Mans victories in 2011, 2012 and earlier this year. The team believes that Lotterer will provide them with the feedback that is needed in order to make changes to the Caterham that will give the team a chance to score points in the latter part of the season. It is a tough challenge but Lotterer is clearly up for it because he is giving up a Japanese Super Formula race in Motegi to compete at Spa, which will impact his chances in that series, in which he is lying second, battling former Williams F1 driver Kazuki Nakajima, his team-mate, for the title. The team says that weather also plays a big role at Spa-Francorchamps and Lotterer is one of the most experienced drivers racing in mixed conditions, thanks to his considerable experience on Japanese tracks.

“I’m ready for this challenge and I cannot wait to jump in the car and make the most out of the weekend ahead,” said Lotterer. “I will need to get settled and used to the car quickly, as the team has worked on a number of updates and we will need to have as much time as possible out on track to optimise the car’s performance. I really enjoy racing at the legendary circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, it’s one of my favourite tracks and it’s very close to where I grew up, so this makes the weekend even more special.”

So I’m back in action after a very pleasant break in glorious Cape Cod. I will leave it to the local tourist board to do the promotion for the place, but suffice to say that I keep going back, despite having travelled the world and found many beautiful places hither and thither. My timing seems to be pretty good this year as no sooner am I settled in at the desk than the action begins again, with the announcement that Max Verstappen has been signed by Scuderia Toro Rosso for 2015. This will make him the youngest ever F1 driver – by about a year – if all goes to plan and he makes his debut in F1 in Australia next year. Max has had one season of single seater racing, albeit a mightily impressive one. He comes from good stock, however, as his father Jos was super-quick in his day and his mother Sophie Kumpen comes from a dynasty of Belgian racing folk and was a great racer herself. And I’m not kidding when I say that. On her day in karting she beat people like Jarno Trulli, which was no mean achievement as Jarno was mighty in a kart. So when it comes to mixing DNA, Max should have all the right chains in place to be a star. And, of course, in addition to the genetic advantages, he has been a racer from birth so he has all the behavioural advantages as well. On top of that he is a bit like Kevin Magnussen in that he will benefit from the lessons learned from his father’s mistakes. Jos was incredibly fast but he jumped into a top F1 team too early and got royally screwed. He spent the rest of his long career trying to fight back from that but never really found a car to give him the chance to win. Hopefully Max will make up for it. I have to say that I feel very sorry for Jean Eric Vergne as he has a lot of qualities that make a top F1 driver but he has been hideously unlucky. He was all but a match for Dan Ricciardo, and when his car has run well he has been beating Daniil Kvyat, but such is the way with Red Bull junior drivers. They take you up the escalator but then throw most of the drivers away when they get to the top. It’s ruthless but I guess it is their money to burn. As a youngster if you had a choice you would take the money but I’d always worry about the fact that you can soon fall out of favour and get thrown from the bus like a long list of good guys who are no longer in F1 because they had no parachutes. Hopefully JEV will find something next year…

As for the rest of the news since I’ve been away, there was only one story: Bernie Ecclestone buying his way out of the mess in Germany. Personally, I think it is a disaster for German justice because it sends out all the wrong signals about the way Germany does business. What value is preaching anti-corruption to the world and signing treaties if you then take money to settle cases? It screams injustice when a man facing charges of bribery pays and is deemed to be free without any decision as to whether he was in the right or in the wrong. Good for Mr E for being smart enough to work out an escape route, but I don’t see it as being a good thing for the image of the sport. It is arguable whether it is good for the business. Yes, Bernie holds the whole business together (and we don’t know if anyone else could because no one has ever tried) but at the same time, he might be seen by some to be holding it back as F1 could develop in new ways with new minds brought to bear on the subject.

It takes a lot to understand why the Germans came up with such a solution, but my feeling is that the prosecution service had lost confidence in their case and felt that they might lose. A defeat would have been worse than a pay-off for the prosecutors because it would have smacked of incompetence on their part. Getting such a huge sum of money from Ecclestone gave them some means to deflect criticism. Most importantly, however, it is the unspoken things that count. Ecclestone got off and may appear to some as the winner in this case. But was it really a win? How many people out there in the world believe he is innocent? No innocent man pays $100 million to a government if he believes he has done nothing wrong. He simply fights the case and believes in justice as a concept. Yes, that risks being found guilty if the case goes wrong but paying to walk away leaves the impression of guilt – and there is no escaping that. The twisted logic of the prosecution was that they would get a large sum of money for the state, avoiding embarrassment, and yet the world – rightly it wrongly – would see Ecclestone as having done wrong. So it was a pragmatic decision.

The key question for F1 is whether this hurts the image of the sport. If Ecclestone had been found guilty he would be gone but by not being found anything he remains. We have to see just how much power is returned to him by CVC Capital Partners. A lot of folk in F1 assume that it will all return to the way it was before but there are no guarantees of that happening. CVC wants out and the business will sell better with the fewest number of visible flaws. I cannot help but wonder if the sport does not suffer because of its image. In order to get all the best clients one needs a business that has the right image. This is why I believe that so many big corporations that should be in F1 are not there. You cannot argue the power of the sport to deliver a message around the world. It is a phenomenal business tool but very view multinationals are using it as they ought to be. Perhaps it is because no one has explained how powerful the sport could be for their business, but it might also be that the sport has a slightly dodgy image, thanks to dealings with places where F1 does not need to be, and people who cut a lot of corners and get caught doing unseemly things.

Some argue that the spirit of F1 is best expressed in the arts of entrepreneurship, fast moving ducking and weaving types who get the job done. There is much to support this argument, but one wonders whether overall the business would be better off with a slower moving management but a better overall corporate image. There is no answer to that question. We have what we have.

To the beach!

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Well, folks, the time has come for the summer break. It’s been a busy year but with nothing much happening in F1 until the clans gather again in Spa on August 21, I am shutting down the blog.

It is a good moment to say “thank you” to my readers. Writing a blog is not always an easy thing because you need motivation and it is the passion of the fans that motivates me. I’d love that passion to be translated into readership of GP+ because it’s a win-win for everybody. You get the fastest e-magazine in the sport for a pittance. At £29.99 for the calendar year, it’s an astonishing bargain and if even half the blog readers signed up, my life would change dramatically. Money buys time and I’d have the time to write more on the blog. The magazine too would be much improved, because we would have the money to do greater things. You get 21 magazines in the course of the 12-month period from January to December for the price of a dull dinner for one… Give it a try. To sign up all you have to do is to go to www.grandprixplus.com

You can spend the summer break catching up with the F1 action so far this year, not to mention our eclectic feature articles and columns. And, of course the great photography.

If you have done that already, I suggest you try “The Grand Prix Saboteurs”. It is the true story of three Grand Prix drivers who became British secret agents, operating in France during the German Occupation in World War II. It is hard to believe that such a story could be true, but it is! If you are in Europe, buy it here. If you are in the US, click here.

If that does not float you boat, I have also written a rollicking tale of a young man who ran away to sea in the 1890s and went on to have the most extraordinary life on the ocean waves. It has got nothing to do with motor sport, but they say that a change is as good as a rest. It is called “The Man Who Caught Crippen” and if you are in the UK who you can buy it here. If you are in the US or Canada, try here.

Check out the reviews!

When I get back I am probably going to start work another book (or two) for the Christmas period, if I can find the time to get it sorted out while rushing around the world between Grands Prix – not to mention keeping this blog going on a duly basis.

Happy holidays…

As of tomorrow most the F1 circus will be on holiday for two weeks. This means that news will be thin on the ground because almost everyone will be doing things other than F1. The engineers and team bosses will be taking in some sunshine or enjoying a “staycation” and not traveling anywhere. There may be some quiet phone calls and meetings discussing what happens in 2015. You’re not likely to see Fernando Alonso touring McLaren because he’s already been there, but there may be meetings on boats off the coast of Sardinia. That sort of thing. Will that stop the news on F1? Probably not, there are sufficient bottom-feeders committed to producing x number of stories per day and a bunch of websites that are dumb enough to pay these amateurs for the scrapings from the bottom of the barrel. It’s simple, you sit in front of a computer and Google search F1 in different languages and then use Google translate to figure out a story. After a while you know the publications that you can steal from without anyone attacking you. It is a time-consuming business but no skill nor connections are required. It’s theft by any other name.

And there’s Bernie. He wants to keep F1 in the newspapers while at the same time keeping himself out of them as much as possible. This is tricky. Getting into the papers is easy enough. The organ-grinder has monkeys that dance to his tune no matter what the story. They don’t ask questions and they don’t analyse anything. They have sold out in exchange for access, connections and, who knows what else. Amazingly they get stories into supposedly good titles, which just goes to prove that you really cannot trust any big brand publications any longer as they have not even bothered to check to see whether their new journalist is Mr E’s butler. Good for him for being clever; shame on the monkeys for misrepresenting themselves as journalists and shame on the publications for publishing their self-indulgent crap, quoting their own work in other publications and other such underhand tricks.

Anyway, in an empty market, even rotten fruit will sell so be prepared to be fed a lot of propaganda. Slaves don’t get holidays.

But don’t believe too much of it…

The reports that Bernie Ecclestone is offering $33 million to settle the criminal trial in Germany are just plain weird. There have long been rumours that Ecclestone was looking for a financial settlement, but it has always looked to be rather unlikely. A fine is OK for a parking offence, but only a politician could argue against the absurd irony of letting a briber off with a fine. That’s not to say that Ecclestone is admitting guilt here, he just wants the trial to be over. He does not want a guilty verdict because he knows that this would mean that his F1 toys will be taken away from him. The only way he can keep the train set is to be declared “not guilty”, but even then there are no guarantees when dealing with private equity people who work only on risk analysis. They have taken a huge risk already getting things this far and one cannot help but feel that at some point they will pull out their glistening knives and solve the problem in a different fashion. Mr E is approaching his 84th birthday and has no successor. There are plenty of folk who think that getting him out of the way would instantly add to the value of the business. What has kept CVC Capital Partners supporting him so far is the fear of what might happen if he is not there… This is why they are in a hurry to sell now. It may have been a wildly successful investment, but the suits in the shadows don’t like being dragged into court and forced to admit that they don’t really know their management has been getting up to. It’s bad for their image.

Whatever the case, one cannot help but conclude that wanting a pay-off has bad implications. Why would an innocent man pay to stop a trial that should logically find that he has been telling the truth? Lawyers are not stupid men and women, although in general terms they will always kowtow to the man with the cheque book. The customer is always right, and so on….

So what is the angle here?

One likes to believe that justice does not work like this, otherwise what is the point of a justice system? Every crook and shyster would claim that there was a precedent and bribery would have to become acceptable behaviour in Germany, either that or the decision would have to be overturned and the judge fustigated for having allowed it to happen. He would have no career ahead of him.

If the case against Ecclestone is not good enough then the prosecutors may lose and be embarrassed, so perhaps this pay-off is being floated as a better option for them. Perhaps it is, but it would still be a lousy decision for justice in Germany. But then, if Ecclestone is confident of winning why would he not push for the victory? That is what you would do…

There are some who see a fine as being the pragmatic answer to a guilty verdict. The Germans obviously don’t want to stick an 83-year-old man in jail for a white collar crime, but just because one is old should not be an excuse if you have committed a crime. Let them all off and we will have a crime wave of cat burglar euro-pensioners… justifying their actions because pensions are shrinking. Some would argue that if a man can handle a wife roughly half his age, he can also handle some porridge [British slang for time in prison].

I cannot claim to know what is going on in Germany. What I do know is that none of it is good for the sport and in a corporate world this would not happen. And this is why one has to eventually reach the conclusion that a corporate structure is best for the future of F1. Transparency is good. More sensible financial structures are essential and a new age can then begin.

It is, in truth, a pattern that has been repeated over and over. The trailblazers go in and create a colony, the entrepreneurs give it dynamic growth and then the administrators are required. There is no room after that for the buccaneers. A calmer future beckons.

If other sports can make corporate management work, there is no reason why F1 cannot. It merely requires some owners who see the value in not always going for the fast buck, people who want profits but are willing to invest to build a stronger business. It needs competitors who are reasonable and fair and a management that is enlightened and open to new ideas.


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