Feeds:
Posts
Comments

In the last 18 months I have mentioned several times on this blog that Aston Martin might want to come into F1 with Mercedes V6 engines, badged as Aston-Martins. This may seem a radical idea, but it fits in entirely with the way that the automotive industry is now working, with car manufacturers sharing all manner of different technologies. Aston Martin has been controlled since the end of 2012 by the Italian private equity firm InvestIndustrial, which is run by businessman Andrea Bonomi. He was well aware of the potential value in automotive brands, as he is involved with the development of the planned Ferrari theme park in Spain. InvestIndustrial was originally founded by the Bonomi and Benetton families and has enjoyed much success with its investments.

I heard last year that there was a plan for an Aston Martin F1 project, which would have involved none other than Flavio Briatore, the disgraced former team principal of the Renault F1 team, who was drummed out of the sport after the Singapore scandal in 2009. The word is that the investors decided they wanted more of a James Bond image and Briatore did not fit in at all. However, it seems that InvestIndustrial concluded that in order to achieve its strategic goals of doubling Aston Martin sales to 7,500 by 2018, it realised that it needed to do more than upgrade the company’s ageing products, notably the DB9 and the Vantage, and add new ideas, notably an SUV to compete with products from Porsche and Bentley. In order to achieve this the strategy was agreed to offer Mercedes Benz a five percent share in the business, in exchange for automotive technology.

In the autumn of 2014 InvestIndustria announced that Andy Palmer would become the CEO of Aston Martin and that Simon Sproule, the vice president of communications at Tesla Motors, would become the company’s chief marketing officer. Palmer and Sproule had previously worked together at Nissan, where they cooked up the idea of promoting the Infiniti brand by sponsoring Red Bull Racing. This was controversial because it meant that Infiniti got much of the publicity, while Renault did not get the recognition it deserved for the F1 engines.

The latest rumours link Aston Martin to a supply of badged Mercedes engines for Red Bull Racing, which would mate Red Bull chassis technology with Mercedes engines and act as a way to market Aston Martin across the globe. A month ago in the JSBM newsletter I wrote that “rumours have also suggested that the private equity company InvestIndustrial, which owns Aston Martin, is trying to put together a deal to have an Aston Martin-branded chassis, powered with a rebadged Mercedes engine.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 16.58.34

GP+ was the first e-magazine in Formula 1, eight years ago, and it remains the fastest magazine in the sport, appearing just hours after the chequered flag. And don’t think that because we are quick and electronic we are not a heavyweight magazine. We attend all the races (we are actually there, on the ground, which is unlike 90 percent of the media purporting to be involved in F1 these days. It is exactly the same as a paper F1 magazine, but in a modern PDF format so you can now read the magazine on your computer or tablet, you can also store it without needing to be online to read it. That means you can have virtual shelves of magazines, without the wife complaining! The four main contributors to the magazine have been to nearly 2000 Grands Prix between them, all of us are either over or close to 500, which takes about 30 years to achieve! So you can be sure that we know the scene, we know the people and we have access that others cannot have. The magazine ranges from 80 pages to 120, depending on what is going on. It’s an old style magazine but in a modern format. We are also passionate about the history of the sport and love to share it with our readers so if you want to learn more about F1 without needing to buy a pile of books, this is a great way to do it. You can buy the entire archive as well as the 21 issues that makes up the 2015 season. An annual subscription from January 1 to December 31 costs £29.99. That is an incredible bargain when you consider what you are getting. We are keen to share our passion and knowledge of the sport so that fans can better understand and appreciate what they see on TV.

For more information, go to http://www.grandprixplus.com. If you want to try out a sample magazine, click here to download…

The much-maligned Formula 1 Strategy Group meets today at Biggin Hill and there is a sense among the leading players that this is a meeting of much importance if F1 is to sort itself out a bit for 2017. Is there any real chance that some sensible decisions could emerge from it? Everyone has an opinion about what is wrong with F1 and few point out that fundamentally it remains sound. That needs to be said. F1, for all its faults, remains the leviathan of motor racing. It’s not going to die overnight. The primary problem at the moment, at face value, is that the races are too predictable. This does not make it a crap product. You cannot blame Mercedes for doing a better job than its opposition. You have to blame the opposition for their failure. The good news is that Nico Rosberg is fighting back  against Lewis Hamilton so there is still a battle for the title.

For some – myself included – the solution to the problem lies not in change, but in allowing the formula to mature. Trying to come up with stunts to make F1 more viewer-friendly could backfire massively and changing the formula in an unwise way could not only add to the advantage of the best team, but also add to the costs involved. Thankfully wiser heads than those who proposed refuelling and customer cars seem to have prevailed and those ideas have been rightly binned. It is a good illustration of why people with no understanding of F1 should not be given a voice… (even if they happen to be in powerful positions). The wheel does not need to be reinvented.

Yes, there are some financial issues as well, but they could easily be solved if the FIA got up and fixed the mistake it made by not putting a cap on engine supply deals. That was dumb. The manufacturers are not making more money now because half the teams are not paying their bills… so arguments that this cannot change ahould not be accepted. The sport needs the smaller teams because it cannot ever trust manufacturers and sponsors. They do what they want to do and do not care if the sport suffers. This to give them power was a very unwise thing to do. It was also unwise to give the big teams more money, beyond what they can win. If they think they should be rewarded for long service to the sport that’s fine but they can earn extra money selling teeshirts and sunglasses rather than being given unfair advantages. F1 will only ever solve its problems by getting rid of the unfair advantage and getting everyone to sing from the same song sheet. The problem, of course, is that some people don’t want unity of purpose because they are only interested in power. This holds the sport back. There is plenty of money generated, and plenty more that could be made, but trying to come up with strategies when the structure needs fixing is wallpapering over cracks on the wall. The problems will not go away until the cause goes away. 

When faced with predictability, the sport needs to be more engaging with the fans. It is, for example, absolutely the wrong time to be switching the good stuff on the official Formula 1 website behind a pay-wall. The sport is charging fans too much, both for tickets and for pay-TV. Numbers are falling as a result. This is because the owners want ever more cash out of the sport. They have had plenty and, from where I am sitting, the faster we get rid of the current lot, the better the sport will be. Any new owner would have the nous to understand that it is time to invest because the sponge has been squeezed too much.

The other structural problem is that the FIA has abdicated its role as the governor and protector of the sport, while losing focus of what is important to the federation. F1 defines what the FIA is. There are plenty of other organizations to introduce zebra crossings in Zululand. If that is what the management wants to do that is fine and merit-worthy, but they should concentrate on one job or the other. If that means resigning one role or the other, so be it. The sport needs people who care, not people with agendas.

The key point that many people seem to miss is that Formula 1 is exciting by its very nature – even for kids who fight virtual dog fights in outer space. The key thing is to get them to actually look at what F1 is doing and stop selling the sport to rich old men. A few extra mph is not going to make a great difference. A little more noise may get some people all a-twitter, but there is also evidence to suggest that it drives other spectators away. How many people are going to take their treasured toddlers to a place where they will get their ears blasted out?

Six years ago I wrote the following and I think it largely holds true:

I believe that all anyone wants is a more wholesome sport. Wholesome is a good word and F1 people often forget that out there in the real world most people live fairly wholesome lives. Yes, it is nice to watch TV soap operas and see people dealing with messed up lives, but that is only make-believe. F1 is real and so the soap opera element of the sport is not a good thing. If you want the big money from the corporate world these days you need to be wholesome. That is why NASCAR has sponsorships from the likes of Burger King, McDonalds and M&Ms in addition to the more muscular beer and home improvement brands.


Two years ago at the Motorsport Business Forum in Monaco Disney executive Lawrence Aldridge got up and spoke about why F1 marketing people were not achieving as much as they could be doing because they were not paying enough attention to the audience. He argued that 80% of all consumer decisions are made by Mums, more often than not with the kids in mind. Yes, Dad has his say and if he is a mad racing fan then Mum will agree to go to a Grand Prix to keep him happy, or at least let him go by himself or with a mate. But to a large extent Mums are being overlooked by F1 and that is just not sensible given their spending power. The success of the Roary the Racing Car TV show and the F1 in Schools programme are elements which are good for the sport and very Mum-friendly, but both of them are largely independent initiatives.

I think it is fair to say that for a number of different reasons F1 is underperforming in the entertainment market place. It needs to clean up its act, focus on the charisma of drivers like exciting Lewis Hamilton, the chirpy Felipe Massa, Jenson Button the playboy, the goofy Sebastian Vettel and the very popular square-jawed Mr Webber (a big hit with Mums everywhere). It has got nothing to do with morality. It’s just good business…

The run-up to the British GP is a time when there are events for the national media to give the race a boost and the British GP is bigger in this respect than other events, if only because of the British F1 media is one of the larger groups of journalists. The chance to have a chat with the drivers is always useful but the PR folk are always looking for new ideas and so I ended up at an idyllic cricket club not far from Silverstone to have a good time, doing English summer things, such as playing croquet, cricket and having sandwiches in the pavilion. It was all very pleasant, although middle aged men playing games for youngsters is perhaps not a good idea, as witnessed by one of our number being carted off in an ambulance having damaged his knee while being over-energetic on the cricket field. Right now Dan Ricciardo is at the crease and looking like he has some idea about cricket, which one would expect from an Australian (even one who may not be entirely sure when the Ashes begins). It will be interesting to see how Daniil Kyvat does, as cricket is not the number one sport in Russia… However, with the TV involved you get some pretty odd things, including the man from Sky dressed in a suit, trying his hand…

Whatever next?

IMG_9025

IMG_9024

Sorry it’s been a bit quiet. There’s not much been going on in the F1 world, with the focus being on Formula E and the Goodwood Festival of Speed. I see that a bunch of my friends ended up in Glastonbury for a muddy music festival. Whatever floats your boat… Actually, I am on a boat right now, crossing the Channel to England for the British GP and associated excitements. I would normally take the Eurotunnel but the prices were out of order and so I decided to go back to my youth and take a ferry. It’s really rather nice, apart from the coachloads of squeaky teenagers. I asked the barman where to find a quiet place and he recommended a lounge with a swipe card entry where squawking adolescents are not allowed and you get free drinks and nibbly things and a quiet view of the dunes of Dunkirk.

Last weekend I chose the non-racing route and spent my time going to the market, deciding on the best fruit and veg, getting a chicken roasted on-site and spending the afternoon building shelves and other DIY tasks. It’s not very F1, but I cannot afford the staff to do these things. I did watch the Formula E race, and was not much impressed by the track, although the driving was of a pretty decent calibre.

On Sunday we went to the annual brocante or vide grenier (rough translation = jumble sale) held in mottled sunshine beneath the trees in the town square where I live, near Paris. We bought bits and bobs, nothing more than 15 €, but came home with some real bargains. We had merguez in baguette for lunch…

I watched the second Formula E race as well and must admit that it was a pretty exciting show, if only because overtaking was virtually impossible without it becoming a contact sport. The drivers had to race watching their gauges and apart from the lack of speed and noise, FE seemed to suffer a lot of similar criticisms that F1 faces. The pit stops with a mandatory time at rest were just dull.

Maybe that’s what people want these days, but the standard of the track seemed like something from the 1950s. There was virtually no run-off but as the cars were going pretty slowly the plastic barriers seemed to suffice. A friend of mine, who is not into racing, said that the podium ceremony seemed a bit like a garden fete, with the lady of the manor – in this case the Duchess of York – popping on to the stage to give Sam Bird a prize for the best roses. It was just different – but that made it quaint and rather engaging.

I am a great believer in racing driving technology and I’m sure that Formula E will do that. I’m not quite sure how Alejandro Agag is going to pay for it all,  but perhaps he will weave charming webs for investors and slip away while they work that one out. We will see. I suspect that if FE does make it to Paris next year and if there isn’t F1 on the same day, I will probably go to see the show.

I think Richard Branson’s postulating about the future was wildly optimistic, but I doubt he’ll be in FE in five years from now…

I know that Tuesday is not the perfect day for an event, but it is the only opportunity this summer in the UK to meet Joe Saward and ask him questions about Formula 1. There is a lot going on in the F1 world – both on and off the track and there are plenty of questions that fans may want to get an inside line on. The event is open to all fans (except lawyers representing F1 people) and gives fans the opportunity to find out what is really going on in the sport.

The Audience will take place on the spectacular terrace of One Knightsbridge Green, SW1X 7NW, the home of Prism, F1’s pioneering sports marketing agency, on Tuesday, June 30. The event will be by ticket only so there is no possibility of walk-in tickets on this occasion.

The Audience will run from 7pm-11.00pm and there will be a buffet dinner served mid way through the evening. Drinks will be available at normal bar rates

Joe not missed a Grand Prix since 1988 and keeps up with what’s going on in F1 circles so its a great opportunity for you to learn some of the stories behind the headlines in a convivial atmosphere, with other fans of the sport. The audience is limited in number to allow everyone the chance to ask questions. So book now if you want to be sure of getting a ticket. It’s a bargain at £35 per head. 

Click here for more information.

Smoke and mirrors

There is action in the world of the ownership of the Formula One group – but one needs to be very careful at taking things at face value, because these kind of people never go public until a deal is done, unless they want the publicity to achieve something. Normal people go to the media to get the truth out, but financiers do not. They go to the media when they want messages delivered or when they are in negotiations. Often, I have found that it is best to believe absolutely the opposite of what they tell us, because more often than not this is what happens. So, CVC apparently does not want to sell (which means that they do). The price is £5.5 billion (which means that the price is a lot less but there is another bidder). Money is always an issue in these matters. CVC Capital Partners has made a vast amount of money out of the sport, about five times the investment made, but they have done so at a cost. The company is now in the public eye and is seen as being grasping and completely uncaring about the sport. They are seen within the sport as being asset-strippers and have done F1 long-term damage in exchange for short-term gain, notably with the squeezing of revenues from racing circuits and the switch to pay-per-view TV. They have failed to invest in social media and the overall audience (F1’s biggest asset) is weakening as a result. The idea of selling is not perhaps any great surprise. There is action looming from the European Commission that may or not happen; Bernie Ecclestone is 85 in a few months from now and he is still trailing legal troubles behind him. The attitudes towards sports are changing following the FIFA Scandal and CVC boss Donald Mackenzie is coming up for retirement. He has been the motive force in the F1 investment and perhaps some of the other “partners” are less keen. But being private equity people they want to squeeze every penny before they depart.

I had an inkling that this was coming when I spoke to a top F1 figure (who should best remain nameless) and he said that “something will happen” when we were discussing the ownership of the Formula One group. This set off all the alarms in my head because people don’t say things like that. “Something will happen” means “something is happening”. Thus it was no surprise to see a story pop up in the Financial Times yesterday, suggesting that there is buyer out there and naming a consortium involving 75-year-old Stephen M Ross, a real estate magnate, who has made squillions developing chunks of New York City, notably the Time Warner Centre and the Hudson Yards, that used to be a stretch of industrial wasteland along the Hudson River. One of Ross’s companies is RSE Ventures, an investment firm which has in the past funded such things as FanVision, the handheld in-venue content device that was used in F1 about 10 years ago under the name Kangaroo TV. The company invests in sports-related business. The motor for the company is CEO Mark Higgins, a former press secretary to Mayor Rudi Giuliani, who later became a major player in the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which has rebuilt the World Trade Centre site. He went on to become the business director of the New York Jets football team, including being involved in the construction of the MetLife Stadium. He is now involved in the running of the Miami Dolphins, which Ross owns. RSE has also launched International Champions Cup in 2013, an attempt to create a club World Cup competition. The soccer connection probably explains the involvement in the bid of Qatar, which is rolling in money and keen to invest in sports in order to improve its global image. The goal is to make Qatar into being seen as the centre of global cosmopolitan sport. The recent FIFA scandal has not helped. Qatar is probably rather worried that FIFA Scandal might lead to the World Cup being taken away and so could be trying increase its sporting credentials in other areas. Money talks, of course, and so the idea of Qatar in league with American investors should not really be a surprise, although the government in Doha has been upsetting its neighbours in the Gulf, notably as a result of funding the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Various Gulf states withdrew their ambassadors last year because they felt that Qatar was interfering in their internal affairs.

Strange bedfellows. The question is who is the locomotive?

Private equity people offer little hope for changes to the existing financial structures, simply more of the same and probably an expansion into new areas where money can be made. There are plenty of them because there is plenty of revenue that has been left on the table. A buyer such as John Malone, the cable magnate, had a reason to buy other than screwing profit for the business. His aim was to use the sport as content and generate revenues by providing it to his clients. That does not mean that he would not make money from the sport but it would be in his interest to have the sport performing well and focussed on the positive.

Will Ecclestone still be able to hold on to his role? CVC has been unbelievably loyal to him and given that altruism is not their thing, one has to ask why this was the case? Probably they were terrified to try and run the business without him… Who knows? What else could it be? When it comes to a new buyer, however, it is hard to imagine anyone would want to keep an 85-year-old in charge, particularly one with legal problems following him around. On top of that F1’s political crisis was ultimately his doing and thus far he has failed to fix it.

Bernie’s primary motivation in all of this must be to try to stay in charge. He’s not a quitter and the fact that he says he will sell his shares if the deal goes through, will be designed to worry any newcomer… in other words he would prefer a different deal and there is probably someone else in the market.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 36,186 other followers