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The Manor Marussia F1 Team has confirmed that its financial backer is Stephen Fitzpatrick, the boss of the Ovo energy company. Manor’s President & Sporting Director will be Graeme Lowdon, with former Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King as the team’s interim chairman. The team says it has modified cars that will comply fully with the 2015 regulations but will introduce a new 2015 specification car later in the year.

“I want to thank all of the teams, the FIA, Formula One Management, our suppliers and staff and of course all of the fans for the support we’ve received over the past six months,” says Lowdon. “It has been a challenging period for all of us but we’ve come through it and now we just want to go racing again. With formidable new business leadership in Stephen Fitzpatrick and the board presence of Justin King we are now in a great place ahead of the new season. This is a fantastic and very rewarding moment for all those involved with the team.”

King said: “It’s a real pleasure for me to be involved in Manor. I know from the years I spent at Sainsbury’s that with the right people, the right values, and sheer hard work, you can turn any business around. In Graeme and Team Principal John Booth we have all three and I’m fully confident that we can help Manor be competitive at the highest level of racing.”

Stephen Fitzpatrick said: “We’ve all worked incredibly hard to get the car ready for Melbourne and the season ahead. Our fans have given the team amazing support for many years and we want to restore Manor to the very best of racing in the future. I have a lifelong passion for Formula One and can’t wait for the season ahead, with Manor and the team.”

Fernando Alonso is not racing in Australia, and that has led to much inanity and conspiracy theorizing. I don’t see why there is such a kerfuffle on the subject or even about the accident. It is clear that he crashed and hit a wall. Perhaps he might have been going faster at the time but it was still a sizeable hit. He hit his head, probably on the side of the cockpit. The helmet and the cockpit surround foam did its job, but it was still a hit. He went to hospital and they said “best have a lie down and a cup of tea” so he followed their advice and stayed in hospital. Some of the team said things without checking the facts and suddenly we were in Dealey Plaza, looking for a grassy knoll. Alonso, they surmised, had been hit by a thunderbolt of electricity that had escaped the car, looped the loop, and landed on his nose. I think I even read a report blaming the Mafia. This was no doubt denied by Teflonso’s mate Flavio, who may have blamed Fidel Castro and Marilyn Monroe…

Hmm. Let’s get real here. Alonso banged his head. The doctors said “Voste te una commocio cerebral”. Fernando asked for some Nurofen. That’s it. With concussion one needs to be careful because a second impact can lead to a problem called SIS (no, not Secret Intelligent Service), which means Second Impact Syndrome, which is nasty. A second head injury causes diffuse cerebral herniation which for reasons that are still rather unclear is devastating and even healthy young people can die within a few minutes. Thus when a person is diagnosed with concussion these days they are told not to bang their head again. Now Fernando might wish to race and say “Forget the doctors” but the knowledge that insurers will almost certainly not pay out on a death cause by SIS because there was a clear warning from doctors about what could happen meant that he and the team could not risk it. On top of that, the team, and the federation come to that, in these litigious days, could not allow him to race lest there be liability claims made against them if  Fernando was to die during the event.

Thus he will sit on a beach somewhere and Kevin Magnussen will get the chance to show that the team was entirely wrong to dump him and keep Jenson – all assuming that the car can be kept running for a race distance…

Kevin Magnussen will drive in place of Fernando Alonso in Australia, because of the Spaniard’s concussion.

It seems like there are never enough hours in the day at the moment, but as the F1 teams get into the packing up stage and prepare to head out to Melbourne, the talk in F1 circles remains that of money – or rather the lack of it.

To be fair, motor racing has always been about money. From the very start of the sport the field was made up of barons and industrialists, either because racing cars were “good sport” or because it gave them the chance to show off their wealth. It did not take long for the automobile companies to realise that the sport was good for their business and so began to search for the fastest drivers, often mechanics who were in the right place at the right time, or bicycle racers who had proved they could handle speed. From then on speed remained the key, unless money was in short supply. That is still true today and while I am appalled by the appointment of Carmen Jorda as the development driver at Lotus F1 Team, I fully understand how and why it has happened. Jorda had cash, the team needed cash. End of story.

What is sad about the whole business is that it really is a step backwards for the cause of female racing drivers, which is bad news for the sport. F1 would love to have a competitive woman racer, but just as nations new to the sport yearn for their own F1 driver, but struggle to find the right person, the female world must wait for the right woman to come along. I think we came close last year with Simona de Silvestro. She has a very decent pedigree in IndyCar and did some useful F1 tests and I believe would have made a perfectly decent F1 driver – although perhaps not a winner. That would have made her the Danica Patrick of F1 and would have served the sport well. Sadly, Simona did not have the money behind her and now she has given up and is aiming to re-establish herself in IndyCar. She is struggling to find the cash to do even that but one must hope that money can be found and she will get a fourth Andretti car. If I believed that Jorda would develop into a useful driver then there would be some hope, but I just don’t see how that is going to happen. She will be useful for the team to wow its VIP guests and she might attract some more money, but she is never going to sit in the top 10 of the F1 grid. Thus to see her so promoted is galling and to see poor Simona having to stay in the limelight by driving a Formula E around the streets of Geneva feels wrong.

The sport, as we know, never invests in anything, but if the people at CVC Capital Partners had any imagination (or a hint of strategic ability) they would pay some cash and get de Silvestro into an F1 drive. That would create some buzz and bring some new fans to the table. A little demographic engineering would be smart. Formula 1 is currently suffering from a nasty case of Fifty Shades of Grey as its audience grows ever older and older.

It looks from testing that the season will be silver/grey again, with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg leading the pack in their Mercedes. You can say that is no good, but it is something we have often seen in the past. New rules lead to one dominant force and then the rest catch up. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

When one looks closely at the pre-season testing one sees that Mercedes is comfortably ahead of the game. Perhaps the others are a little closer but the lap times in Barcelona make it fairly clear that we should not expect too many miracles.

Nico Rosberg’s 1m22.792s was set on the second day of the final test, using soft tyres. Lewis Hamilton set the second best time overall on the third day was a 1m23.022s, using soft tyres. Valtteri Bottas’s best in his Williams-Mercedes was a 1m23.063s, but that was achieved on supersoft tyres on the final day of running. This was slightly better than Felipe Massa’s 1m23.262s (also on supersofts the previous day) and ahead of the Ferraris. Kimi Raikkonen set a best of 1m23.276s (supersofts), while Sebastian Vettel’s best was a 1m23.469s also on supersofts. So the Mercs are ahead and have a bit in hand as well. We still have to get a better picture about the Red Bull-Renaults.

It is good to hear that Bernie has advanced some prize money to the smaller teams to keep their cash-flow going. One cannot blame the suppliers to be asking for cash, given that they have been rogered senseless in recent years with teams going out of business and being slow in paying.

Elsewhere Manor seem like they are going to make it this year (more good news) although we have to see if they can do it in time for Australia. Will Stevens has been named as one driver and the other drive will probably go to a Giedo Van der Garde, or someone like that. He will do a decent job. The fact that Max Chilton has given up and signed to race for the Nissan LMP1 team is pretty significant in that respect. He has been priced out of the market. It is also noticeable that Alexander Rossi has signed to race once more in GP2 because there are no options open in F1.

Now is the time of anticipation and muted excitement. A new season is always like that. It will be good to see some sunshine down in Australia (hopefully), but for a lot of us the first few weeks of the year are going to be tough, flying backwards and forwards to Europe, rather than lolling around on beaches between events.

One positive element, I think, is that American healthcare magnate Brad Hollinger has upped his stake in Williams F1 by exercising his option to buy more of Toto Wolff’s shares.

Hollinger now owns 10 percent of the team. This makes him the second largest shareholder in the business, ahead of Patrick Head (9.3 percent), Wolff with 4.2 percent, with the staff holding one percent and the remaining 24.10 percent being held by the public, through trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Sir Frank still has control. Hollinger says he is involved to make money in F1 and believes that the sport is on the verge of a big leap forward.

One presumes that this is a five-year plan and he seems some changes taking place in that period… Actually I think that is pretty sound thinking.

We are now busy getting the preview edition of GP+ ready for publication at the weekend so those of you who have not renewed your subscriptions would be wise to do so in order not to miss the first magazine. Click here to do so. And if you are going to Melbourne and would like to attend the Audience with Joe, you can sign up here.

Going to Melbourne?

Melbourne Audience logoI will be hosting an Audience with Joe for fans in Melbourne on Friday, March 13. Not a great date perhaps but in France they buy lottery tickets on Friday 13th because they consider it a lucky day, so I prefer to look at it that way as well…

The Audience is a very simple concept. It allows F1 fans to ask any question they like about the sport and I will do my very best to answer it, with as little slander as possible (well, if I can avoid it). I really enjoy giving fans the chance to see under the skin of the sport and it is a fun event in a convivial environment. It is also a great way for fans to meet one another and chat about their favourite sport. It is a great thing to do during the F1 weekend in Melbourne.

This year’s Audience will take place at the West Beach Bathers Pavilion at 330A Beaconsfield Parade, St Kilda. You can get there from Albert Park by tram, or even walk if if takes your fancy. The event will run from 7.30pm-11.00pm with food and drink available throughout the night at bar prices. The tickets are the same price as last year when we had a great turn-out and plenty of interesting questions, so it is best to book early as the number of tickets is restricted in order to make sure that everyone has the chance to ask their questions. Tickets cost A$65 per head and you can buy them by clicking here

Renault sniffing around

The latest whisper is that Renault is pushing ahead with a project to buy an existing F1, in order to get a better return on its investment in F1. Since the French manufacturer gave away its  F1 team in 2009 and fled the sport, red-faced after being caught with its trousers around its ankles over the race-fixing disgrace the previous year, the Company has not enjoyed much publicity, despite its successful engines. The success has been sucked up by Red Bull and Renault’s sister brand Infiniti and Renault barely gets a mention when a Red Bull wins a race. This makes no sense at all. There was a plan a year or so ago to sell part of Renault Sport F1 to Nissan and share the engines and the technology but that was blocked, despite being very much in the style of Renault boss Carlos Ghosn’s management. The obvious choice would be to buy Red Bull Racing but there is no sign that this is for sale, although a deal for three years of free publicity for The Austrian firm might convince Dietrich Mateschitz to go along with the plan. In any case he has a second team in Scuderia Toro Rosso and could keep a presence that way, at a fraction of the cost. Lotus is an option but that would require some serious rebuilding, while Force India and Sauber are not really seen as serious options. From what I hear Ghosn has given the go ahead for Renault to go shopping but we will have to see what comes back in the bag…

Appointments

So we slide ever on towards the start of a new F1 season and, as we all wonder what to make of the testing, there are various is being dotted and ts being crossed. Real stories are thin on the ground. The continuing blah-blah about Alonso’s accident highlights the lack of other stories. It is a reflection on the Internet’s news creation services rather than based on any realities.

The team now known as Manor has named Will Stevens as one of its drivers – fair enough. It’s a pay deal no doubt, but Stevens has had a solid career to date and did a decent job with Caterham last year. Lotus, on the other hand, has named some entirely insignificant GP3 journeywomen to be a development driver. It says it all that I would need to look up her name to know how to spell it… but cannot be bothered as there is nothing in her career to suggest that she will ever be in F1, and I see no reason why she would be granted an F1 licence. The team bank account is filled a little more (cash-flow is tough) and the cause of finding a serious female F1 driver has taken a backward step. Promote no hopers and the task will be harder for those who follow… Money talks more than a discarded radio star. That aside there is little to report.

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