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Ruminations on Williams

The Williams team has announced that it wll be running Sergey Sirotkin alongside Robert Kubica in the post-Abu Dhabi testing. This throws a curved ball into the theories that Kubica has already signed a deal with the team for 2018. There is no question that the team is interested in the Polish driver, particularly as he seems to have found some financial support from Polish companies, but if Sirotkin is being tried out it suggests that the Russian either has more money than Kubica, or that he is offering a chunk of money for the test, in the hope that it will turn the heads of the Williams management.On balance, the first explanation seems to make more sense. Sirotkin is currently Third and Reserve Driver with Renault F1, having moved up from the role of Test Driver in 2016, after a strong year in GP2, finishing third behind Prema Racing drivers Pierre Gasly and Antonio Giovinazzi. His position at Renault is obviously eased by funding from SMP Racing, which can be seen on the R.S.17. He has long been funded by SMP, a Russian financial institution owned by Boris and Arkady Rotenberg, a pair of oligarchs who are active in the world of construction, oil industry infrastructure and finance. The two brothers enjoy a large number of government contracts and are close to President Vladimir Putin, which has resulted in Boris being on the list of individuals sanctioned by the US and the EU, following the Ukraine Crisis in 2014. Boris Rotenberg has invested a great deal of money to develop motor racing in Russia, supporting Sirotkin, Mikhail Aleshin and others, while also being active in GT racing. Next year SMP will be running a team of Dallara prototypes in the LMP1 class of the World Endurance Championship. The fact that Sirotkin has been allowed to test for Williams suggests that his time at Enstone is probably coming to a close. The team seems to be looking to Anglo-Korean racer Jack Aitken in the future. He is a member of the Renault Academy and is expected to move into Formula 2 next year. He recently tested a Renault F1-run 2012-spec Lotus E20 at Jerez. Sirotkin has not raced since 2016 and so really needs to get back into a car in 2018 if he is to continue with his ambitions to be a Formula 1 driver.

This would seem to suggest that the choice of the Williams driver for next year is going to be influenced by money. The team gets around $80 million in prize money, with a rumoured $20 million from Martini. There is also a significant sponsorship from Unilever, to promote its Sure and Rexona deodorants and there is no doubt that the Stroll family is also buying space on the car, in order to sell it to fund Lance Stroll’s drive.

Williams has been taking drivers with funding behind them for some time, notably with Pastor Maldonado, hoping to keep up with the bigger teams and waiting in the hope that a manufacturer will come along and partner the team. This could happen when the new engine rules and financial structures are introduced in 2021 and so getting to that point is the key for the team.

There is plenty going on in the F1 world at the moment, even if it is the end of the season, so while we are away in Abu Dhabi, you can listen to the discussion but clicking here.

There are still some tickets available for my Audience with Joe on Friday, December 1, in London. You can buy them by clicking here.

The inside story…

My goal with this blog is to help fans better understand, and to give them a chance to learn more about the sport. If you are fascinated by the spor, you are bound to have questions and my Audiences with Joe are designed to provide answers.

With plenty of questions about the F1 season, lots of politics developing and with Christmas approaching fast, this is a great event for F1 fans to find out more about the sport. I will happily answer any and all questions about the sport. You get a lot for your money, with a whole evening of questions, plus a break for a buffet dinner, time to meet the other fans.

You can purchase as much or as little alcohol as you like- and you’re always welcome to buy me a drink because the answers generally get better when I have a drink or two…

I will be hosting the next Audience at One Knightsbridge Green in London, on Friday, December 1, just a week after Abu Dhabi. The event is open to all F1 fans and will run from 7pm-10.30pm. Food will be served mid way through the evening, while drinks will be available throughout.

Here are a few opinions about the event from previous attendees:

“I thoroughly enjoyed it. Hope there’s another London one soon.”

“Just got back from the evening – which was absolutely excellent. Joe was on sparkling form and massively entertaining and at nearly three hours of talking, you certainly got your money’s worth! Joe’s answers to the audience’s questions were always funny, insightful, and on many occasions highly revealing. There was time for a number of the people in the audience, including me, to ask multiple questions – which was wonderful. Whatever he was asked he had an entertaining view and, more to the point, a lot of insider evidence to support it.”

“Good fun. Very enjoyable evening indeed.”

“Great evening, thanks very much Joe for making my Dad’s 70th birthday present exactly what he wanted, a thoroughly engaging evening about F1.”

“It did indeed go very well – past 11 pm and there were still questions and much discussion.”

“Just wanted to say that we all had a wonderful evening. If Spa is an option then I’d not think twice about doing it again. Great to meet you and I look forward to delving into The Grand Prix Saboteurs.”

“A superb evening, with great stories and frank opinions. It just didn’t seem long enough.”

“Just got back from An Audience with Joe Saward evening – which was absolutely excellent. Joe was on sparkling form and massively entertaining – and at nearly three hours of talking, you certainly got your money’s worth!”

“Joe was every bit as forthright and honest in the flesh as is he is on his blog – if not more so – and his answers to the audience’s questions were always funny, insightful, and on many occasions highly revealing.  Whatever Joe was asked, he had an entertaining view and more to the point a lot of insider evidence to support it.”

“I had a great time last night at the “Audience with Joe”. Thanks for making the effort and spending so much time chatting to us all. For anyone local to future “Joe” events, I encourage you to get along and join us in the fun!”

To book tickets, click here

How F1 payments work…

People often ask who gets paid what in Formula 1. It is a very difficult question because the total is based on the annual earnings of the Formula 1 group (the EBIDTA), but it is not 100 percent clear what is included and excluded in reaching this figure. The basics of how this is divided up are understood, however, with five percent of the money going straight to Ferrari, two and half percent from the teams’ share and two and half percent from the commercial rights holder (CRH). This is justified on the basis that Ferrari is “The Longest Standing Team. There is then the prize fund, which is divided in half to create two smaller funds (known as Columns). Column 1 is divided equally between all the qualifying teams (in order to qualify they must be in the top 10 for two of the three previous seasons), and Column 2 is divided up on the basis of their performance with the World Champions getting 19 percent of the fund, with the other nine teams getting the following percentages: 16-13-11-10-9-7-6-5-4. There are then various bonus schemes, the most importnt one being the Constructor Champions’ Bonus (CCB) scheme, which rewards the three teams that have scored the most race wins in the previous four seasons. Thus 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. This is an odd way of calculating the cash as Mercedes have won 54 victories, Red Bull 18 and Ferrari five, but the CCB does not take into account the actual number of wins, but rather the position in the hierarchy. The current breakdown is $37 million for Mercedes, $33 million for Red Bull and $30 million for Ferrari. In other words, Mercedes gets $685,000 for each win, Red Bull $1,830,000 per win, but Ferrari get a whopping $6 million per win.

If a team wins two consecutive Constructors’ Championships, it gets a one-off payment per year of $30 million, which has helped Mercedes a great deal in recent seasons, having won three of them (to date). When you add it all up, it is very clear that Ferrari gets a fantastic deal from the sport. And if you add in sponsorship, merchandising. licensing and so on, it is clear that the Italian team is not spending a great deal on F1 – if anything. Thus the suggestion that pulling out of F1 will provide savings for the organisation are wrong, and it will need a pile of money to advertise its products, as the sport is doing that at the moment – and Ferrari has no other marketing, beyond a couple of theme parks and a lot of people walking around wearing Ferrari merchandising…

To help understand the structure, here is a chart showing the flows of money and some estimations of the money being paid out.

The branding of F1

The F1 logo is clever. It always has been, and it has been under-exposed because the company under Bernie Ecclestone didn’t really care about branding. Bernie often said his customers were not the public, but rather the TV companies, race promoters and sponsors who funded his games. They were the ones who dealt with the public. Bernie’s business model was all about exclusivity and cash, not about selling F1-branded key chains and coffee cups. Liberty Media has a different vision and so wants a different look. Changing the logo means a long brand-building process, although if the logo speaks for itself it is an easier process. If it says ‘F1’ people will understand. There is an argument that a lot of folk never saw the 1 in the old logo and simply saw a flying F. The new logos proposed don’t seem awfully dynamic, one might even call them dull, but they do the job. Will they sell more merchandise than the flying F? That’s doubtful. Anyway, it’s done and I hear the new logo will be used from Abu Dhabi onwards, I actually forgot to mention it in the green notebook this week!

Who knows whether it will be successful or not? Most companies when changing logos tend to modify the old, rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water, but in this case one can see – across the board – that the owners want a completely different image for the sport and want everything Ecclestone to be gone. Bernie was a buccaneer, they are energised corporate types and so a new image makes a lot of sense.

However there might be a better way to do it. Perhaps over the winter it would be wise, having now alerted fans to a change, to have a competition to find a new logo for 2018 and beyond, by asking the fans to send in designs. Fans love that sort of thing and the result might be better.

Just a thought… a big brand launch in February with all the car cars would be a good way to bring the new logo to the attention of the world.

My apologies, but the last few days have been very busy, writing 18 hours a day and, of course, flying home from Brazil. Then I had to try to get the hotel in Sao Paulo to give back money to which it helped itself without my permission – and without telling me. The justification for this was so obtuse that they needed an hour to work it all out, which meant that I was a bit later getting into the traffic jams and thus the check-in queues. I found myself behind a group of people who could only have been a band on tour, what with the black leather, tattoos, piercings and pigtails. I discovered that yes, they were a band on tour. Yes, they were heavy metal. Yes, they had been talking some funny languages, identified as Norwegian and Hungarian, and, yes, they were rushing back to Europe to play this week with the Oslo Philharmonic,(Yes, really). Not being an expert in Norwegian black metal, I asked the name of the group and was told Satyricon. I was none the wiser, but had an interesting chat comparing the lifestyles of F1 and Norwegian black metal.

“Where did you play in Rio?” I asked.

The guy shrugged. “I dunno. When you are on tour, you get to a hotel, you get in a van, you do a concert…”

Ah yes, that I understood…

It is true that when one is on the road, things tend to blur into each other. Every street in Sao Paulo looks pretty much the same, we agreed, when lost on the way to the circuit one day. In many ways Brazil is a great country, and in others it is incredibly sad. The other day, when discussing the future of the Grand Prix, someone suggested a street race in Rio. I am still giggling about that one. If you read the newspapers, you will know that last summer the Brazilian government sent 10,000 security people, including 8,500 soldiers into the city to try to stop a wave of crime, following a sharp increase in gun battles between the police and drugs gangs. A few weeks ago there were days of intense fighting between different drug gangs, trying to win control of one of the city’s favelas. In comparison, Sao Paulo is a positive utopia, even if politics has become something of an Ealing Comedy (Carry on Corruption?) with suitcases filled with money being handed over to go-betweens in pizzerias, before being delivered to the top level officials. This is why the country is undergoing Lava Jato, otherwise known as Operation Car Wash, a scandal surrounding industrial scale bribery and corruption concerning Petrobras, the national oil company and a celebrated F1 sponsor. This is serious stuff when one considers that a Supreme Court Justice handling the trials died in January when a plane he was on, crashed into the sea for no apparent reason… Of course, when your society is corrupt from top to bottom, it is hard to fight against criminality at all levels. And this is what F1 walked into last weekend.

Brazilians are generally a pretty friendly bunch and Interlagos is a great race track, steeped in history. Just up the Avenida Senador Teotonio Vilela from the main gates of the circuit there is a purple store called Stoc-Car Bar e Lanches, which was once old man Barrichello’s hardware store. A few doors further up from that, next to the China Box takeaway, is the original headquarters of the Fittipaldi Formula 1 team, where they built all the cars from 1974 to 1979, up to and including the F6. However between Interlagos and the inner suburbs of Sao Paulo, where the F1 folk stay (it takes too long to get to the centre of town), there is a road that heads downhill towards the smelly Jurubatuba river. It is a dodgy area and people with guns regularly pop out and try to steal things by pointing their weapons at the unfortunate passers-by. F1 people have been attacked in this neighbourhood for years and one would think that the race promoter and the city would want this to stop as the purpose of the Grand Prix is to create publicity for the city, not tell the world that it is a home of hoodlums. But no, nothing is ever done in advance, if someone is attacked more police appear, but they don’t always stay very long.

So, I suppose that being robbed by a hotel is a little more subtle than having someone stick a gun in your face, but it is probably not the way to win stars of excellence from worthy bodies who judge these things. By Monday F1 was pretty fed up with this and Pirelli and McLaren announced that they were cancelling a planned test and going home early. And here’s the funny thing, Brazil is paying Formula 1 for this kind of publicity…

Still, the word on the street for some time has been that the relationship between the race promoter and Formula 1 is right up there with the joyous love-in between Israel and Palestine. I am told the whole thing has been getting very silly with the promoter refusing to allow a Rolex clock into the paddock unless someone paid for it. It all sounds like it is building up to a right messy divorce, which probably explains why F1 seems to be very keen to get a race going in Buenos Aires, as quickly as is possible. For the record, it seems that the no-one wants to promote the Brazilian race beyond 2020 when the current contract runs out. The word is that Tamas Rohonyi Kertesz, the man who heads the promotion company, is leaving Brazil to return to his native Hungary. Rohonyi is, of course, a major ally of one BC Ecclestone, not to mention being a neighbour as Rohonyi owns (or owned) a coffee plantation near Amparo, to the north of Sao Paulo. Ecclestone visited the farm some years ago, liked what he saw and duly bought a 200-acre coffee plantation (as you do…) called the Fazenda Ycatu, and he has since started marketing its products as “Celebrity Coffee”. The word recently has been that Rohonyi has sold his plantation to Ecclestone and is getting out of Brazil. I don’t know if that is true, but they are close, Rohonyi being the man who introduced Mr E to his wife-to-be Fabiana Flosi, who used to be on the staff of the race promotion company at Interlagos.

But maybe the time has come for F1 to think again about Brazil. It is the sport’s biggest current TV audience (by a long way) but there are no guarantees for the future. The retirement of Felipe Massa at the end of this year will mean that there will be no Brazilian driver on the grid for the first time since the Dutch Grand Prix of 1971 when Emerson Fittipaldi was missing having been injured when a French driver on the Cote d’Azur did an unexpected u-turn and Emerson was smacked-up in the ensuing shunt.

Actually, upon reflection that is not true, because I don’t believe that there were any Brazilians present at the San Marino Grand Prix of 1982, when only half the field turned up because of a boycott, which was part of the infamous FISA-FOCA War, a battle over commercial control of the sport between the federation and the F1 teams. Later, of course, FOCA’s leader Bernie Ecclestone separated the teams from the rights they had won and made them all his own…

The world has moved on and those who think we are going back 35 years to the same kind of fight are dreaming. The sport is now so big that no-one can consider breaking it up. It would be suicidal and would cost a fortune and the offers that will be on the table from Liberty will be sensible, if not generous. They are in the game to make money, but their idea is to do it in a logical way, working with the team and the other stakeholders. The days of divide-and-conquer are over and, as a listed company, their ability to have special deals with the likes of Ferrari is pretty minimal. If they do that, what is to stop a Williams shareholder suing Liberty because his team does not have a fair share of the revenues?

Ferrari has taken a fair beating for suggesting that it might quit the sport if it doesn’t get what it wants. The response inside the sport has been fairly clear. Off you go folks… The manufacturers want to preserve their advantages, but they are not going to throw themselves on the Ferrari bonfire unless it really makes sense. And it doesn’t. On top of all this I seriously doubt Sergio Marchionne is going to pull Ferrari out of F1. He is up to his neck in things that are much more important. He’s trying to keep Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on the right path. Thus far he has managed to hit all his targets and has collected vast (some might say obscene) bonuses as a result. Recent revelations indicate that by the time he leaves FCA in 2019 Marchionne will own shares in the company worth $325 million. He wants to keep the share price high as a result of this and is looking for a partner with which to merge the business, but there is a nasty little scandal brewing over labour deals struck by Chrysler with the powerful United Automobile Workers. These, it seems, were achieved by bribing the union representatives and the FBI wants to know whether Marchionne knew about it. It certainly helped the company enormously. Faced with such things, the F1 problems of Ferrari are really not that important…

One should also consider one other thing that may have an impact. In Italy there are two sports that the nation follows: football and Formula 1. As we were flying home from Brazil on Monday, Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, being knocked out by Sweden. It was the first time in 60 years that the nation did not make it to the competition, which it has won four times and been runner-up twice. For many Italians it was a complete disaster. The manager was sacked (of course) and the media spoke of it being the darkest moment in the country’s sporting history. Now, imagine how well Marchionne would fare if he pulled Ferrari out of F1…

One of the goals of the new engine rules is to attract new manufacturers and while we are fairly sure that Aston Martin and McLaren will have their own engines in 2021, we are waiting to see who else may appear. There are rumours of Alfa Romeo and there is still much talk of the Volkswagen group, with its portfolio of brands. For a long time the word has been that Porsche will come to F1, but in recent days there has been a big switcharound in the management of the various brands and the suggestion that the brand strategies will change. Wolfgang Durheimer, who has played a big role in the company’s motorsport strategies has stood down from his role as boss of Bentley and Bugatti. The latter brand will now be led by Stephan Winkelmann, who was previously in charge of Audi Sport GmbH and Volkswagen Group boss Matthias Mueller is looking for ways to give the company’s brands more individual identities. At the same time Ferdinand Piëch, the architect of Volkswagen in its current form, has given up his influence in the company, passing on his shares to his relatives. An era has ended. It is interesting to hear that Bentley may soon have a new model called the Barnato, named after Woolf Barnato, the celebrated Le Mans winner back in the 1920s. Bugatti is planning a new model called the Atlantic, after the famous sports cars of the 1930s but the brand is now going to move down-market a little, to reach a wider audience. Could motorsport be part of that strategy? Logically it should be, Bugatti was always about the sport…

Elsewhere Lamborgini boss, former Ferrari F1 chief Stefano Domenicali, is planning a hybrid supercar for his brand. He’s keen to take Lamborghini back into F1. Could that also happen? Technology sharing is all the rage this days…

In the paddock in Brazil, the word was that Williams is going to go for Robert Kubica next year, as team-mate to Lance Stroll. We will have to see if that is true, but the one thing we know is that Robert has the passion to do it. This means that Pascal Wehrlein and Daniil Kvyat are going to be out of F1 because it looks like Sauber will announce Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc as its drivers for 2018, leaving Ferrari protégé Antonio Giovinazzi out of a job. Sweden will once again beat Italy…

It’s not confirmed yet but it makes no sense at all. Ericsson has been overshadowed this year by Wehrlein, but the team’s anonymous Swedish owner seems keen to make the same mistake many have made before him. While a team owner is entirely entitled to spend his money as he wishes, employing a driver on the basis of his nationality, rather than on his ability is a bad idea. It demotivates the staff, who want to be excited by the drivers and it impacts on the team’s potential earnings.

Passion was evident at Scuderia Toro Rosso as well over the Interlagos weekend, with Franz Tost getting rather hot under his collar and saying unwise things about Renault’s engine supply, suggesting that the poor reliability is deliberate and that Renault is trying to nick Toro Rosso’s sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship. Renault was less than impressed by this and Red Bull’s Helmut Marko later made a statement saying that there has never been a question about Renault being unfair. It was slap down for Tost and one wonders whether there might be longer term implications because Franz’s black-and-white way of seeing things may not help if he is dealing with Honda next year. Franz has always been passionate and enthusiastic, but this can get you into trouble in F1. For the last three years at least he has confidently predicted that the team will finish fifth in the Constructors… The real story has been 7th, 7th and 7th. Following that logic, the team should be seventh this year as well – behind Renault. We’ll see in Abu Dhabi.

Finally, there is a note in the green book about Netflix having some people in the paddock in Brazil, taking a look at F1, with a view to future streaming deals… interestingly this week there has also come word that Amazon has grabbed the British rights to the US Open tennis competition, to add to its earlier deal to stream coverage of the ATP Tour, following on from an deal to show NFL games in the US. It looks like Amazon is on the prowl for sporting content and has money to spend…

Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 16.59.53Sebastian Vettel won the Brazilian Grand Prix for Ferrari, chased all the way by Valtteri Bottas, while Lewis Hamilton drove a sensational race from the pitlane to fighting for third place with Kimi Raikkonen on the last lap. It was a good show, but as the fans drifted away after the race, one could not help but wonder what would have happened in Hamilton had not crashed in the Q1 session of Saturday, an accident that required him to start at the back of the field. It didn’t really matter because the World Championships are all sewn up, but a win is a win and racing drivers want them…

– We look at Lewis Hamilton’s place in history

– The F1 engine discussions

– Do the FIA Stewards do a good job

– We talk to George Russell

– We remember the days when F1 cars had four-wheel-drive

– JS believes Liberty Media has the right idea

– DT believes Ferrari has the wrong idea

– The Hack wonders whether Ferrari is serious about quitting the sport

– Peter Nygaard works his magic with lens and finger

GP+ is the fastest F1 magazine. It comes out before some of the F1 teams have even managed to get a press release out. It is an e-magazine that you can download and keep on your own devices and it works on computers, tablets and even smartphones. And it’s a magazine written by real F1 journalists not virtual wannabes… Our team has attended more than 2,000 Grands Prix between them. We’ve been around the block a few times and we know the history of the sport and we love to share it all with out readers at a price that is a real bargain. We believe that by attracting more people at a sensible price we can achieve so much more than all those who exploit the fans. In 2017 you’ll get 22 fabulous issues for £32.99, plus the 2016 season review completely free of charge.

For more information, go to www.grandprixplus.com.