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Not long ago, there was talk of a Formula 1 race on the streets of Italy’s capital city Rome. In part this was due to the fight then going on between the Formula One group and the authorities at Monza, but there is little doubt that there was also some considerable interest in the idea in the city, which was looking for ways to boost its tourism. The city recorded 15.3 million tourist arrivals (people staying overnight) in 2015, which is up considerably on 2014 when there were 13.5 million, which is nonetheless more than twice as many visitors as in 2000. However, some of Italy’s other cities, notably Venice, Florence and Milan have been doing better and Rome wants to remain competitive. There also seems to have been a slowdown last year, in the wake of the attacks on visitors in Paris in the autumn of 2015.

The original idea was in around 2010 when the then mayor Gianni Alemanno planned for a street track in the Esposizione Universale Roma district. Last year a new mayor Virginia Raggi was elected, a member of the Five Star Movement, and she has been open to similar ideas but for a Formula E race.

Last week the city government unanimously approved the plan for an all-electric race on the streets in 2018…

Bureaucracy moves rather slower than the Formula 1 world and the plans to get the World Championship back in Long Beach, where it used to have a race between 1976 and 1983. After that the City of Long Beach refused to meet Bernie Ecclestone’s fee demands and the race switched to CART in 1984. That continued until 2008 and since 2009 the race has been held for IndyCar. The loss of Long Beach is often seen as being one of Bernie Ecclestone’s biggest failures, as it meant that Formula 1 lost a solid foothold in the US markets – and gave the rival series a big event. In recent years, however, with Indycar relatively weak, the race has not lived up to expectations with few out-of-town visitors and very little international coverage for the city, which wants to boost its tourism, and draw attention to its attractions, including the Long Beach Convention Center, the Aquarium of the Pacific, its beaches and marina, its museums and art galleries, its shopping outlets and, of course, the Queen Mary liner. This is important because tourism is Long Beach’s second-biggest industry behind manufacturing and is responsible for nearly 7,000 jobs and substantial revenues.

The City of Long Beach has been pondering a return to F1 for a while, but is fearful that a race would cost too much. In order to find out what was possible in 2016 the City asked for bids from promoters willing to take on the event. This resulted in two rival bids, one from the Grand Prix of Long Beach organisation, which is owned by Aquarium Asset Management, a company that belongs to Kevin Kalkhoven; the other from an organisation called the World Automobile Championship of California (WACC), which is run by Chris Pook, the man who created the Grand Prix, back in the 1970s. Grand Prix of Long Beach’s contract with the city runs out after the 2018 race and so a change could take place in 2019.

Last week the city agreed to sign a contract with KPMG Corporate Finance LLC, a consulting division of one of the celebrated auditing firm, to evaluate the bids made and help in the selection process for the next operator of the Grand Prix of Long Beach, having concluded that it did not have the necessary expertise to make a decision. It has allotted $150,000 to get some help. KPMG will review the bids and assess what is achievable and whether the financial plans behind them are realistic. It will also assess the risks involved for the city.

According to the paperwork, KPMG will be working with Britain’s Apex Circuit Design to help with the technical assessments relating to the race track. KPMG and Apex have worked together for a number of years, it seems, dating back to 2009 when the FIA Institute appointed Apex as a partner in its Facility Improvement Programme and Apex then teamed up with KPMG, which provided commercial modeling and financial assessment for commercial sustainability for the projects that the FIA forwarded to Apex. This included a number of tracks around the world, including Silverstone, Bahrain, Sepang and others. Thus the partners have a decent track record in developing commercial plans for racing.

It is fairly clear that Formula 1 offers a much better opportunity for the city, in terms of bringing in revenues and giving Long Beach greater international exposure. However, the City is wary of the costs involved, even if WACC seems to be proposing a deal that will cost nothing, apart from a small piece of land on Shoreline Drive, in order to build a suitable pit building. However, as we have seen in Melbourne, such constructions can be used for other purposes for the rest of the year, so the city may also gain space for other events.

If Red Bull’s engine strategy for the future is to campaign for an independent engine supplier, the company is in more trouble in F1 than I thought. In its current situation, Red Bull Racing ought to be out there, doing whatever is necessary to get a manufacturer deal. If that is not possible, then they ought to be paying someone to build them an engine, as TAG did with Porsche back in days of yore. If you want to win races in the modern world of Formula 1, you need to have a factory engine. If you want evidence of this, it is very clear. Ferrari customer teams have won only one race in the modern era (since 1980). That was Sebastian Vettel’s win at Monza in 2008 with Toro Rosso. Mercedes customers have yet to win a race since the start of the new formula in 2014. Independent customer engines would seem to be a thing of the past. One can bring back the idea, but how does one make them competitive with the factory motors that are being developed all the time? That did happen in the 1970s, when Cosworth engines battled with Ferraris and Matras, but after the arrival of the turbocharged engines of the 1980s, Cosworth faded away as a force in F1. There were some other customer engine arrangements, such as the Megatrons, Playlifes, Supertecs, Mecachromes, Asiatechs and Acers, but these were all rebadged manufacturer engines rather than proper independent engine suppliers – and none of them won a race.

Red Bull’s theory is, it seems, that if the importance of horsepower is neutralised again, Red Bull ought to emerge ahead, as was the case when F1 was stuck with its frozen V8s before the current engine formula began in 2014. That old formula did nothing for the image of the sport as being technologically advanced. Red Bull was fortunate in many ways because it had Renault engines at a time were dominant and Renault had blown its own ambitions with the cataclysmic Singapore Scandal in 2009, which drove the company from the sport, red-faced in embarrassment at having its employees get caught cheating disgracefully. It took the firm five years to come back, giving Red Bull a window to become a lead team for a manufacturer. The team seized the opportunity and it paid off handsomely, although in the end Renault felt the need to return, irritated by the fact that Red Bull was getting all the publicity. The new rules helped Renault come back, but the resulting engines have not yet been great and Red Bull made a serious mis-step by complaining too loudly about the engine supply. Renault was happy to see the back of the team, when Red Bull cancelled the contract and stomped off in the summer of 2015, under the misguided impression that Mercedes was going to give it engines.  The team discovered that no one else was interested in supporting those who bite the hand that feeds them, and it was all rather embarrassing for Red Bull and they dressed the engines up as TAG-Heuers to avoid the reality that they were really only a Renault customer again. As the Renault F1 team is now beginning to get up to speed, Red Bull needs a new idea and as no manufacturers seem to be interested so the choice is rather limited: build your own engine (and why would a fizzy drink company do that?) or argue for an engine that might work out in your favour.

Ross Brawn has made it clear that he thinks that an independent engine supplier is a good idea, which is not a real surprise as it cuts the power of the manufacturers, who otherwise have considerable influence over their customers. But is it realistic in the modern day and age, with the technology we have today?

Cosworth did design an engine for the new formula but that was a long time ago and the company does not have the funding to pursue its F1 ambitions. It has turned its attention to other work. To get the whole thing up to speed would require a great deal of money – and the only way that could really happen if if there was a manufacturer willing to make the investment. Back in the 1960s Cosworth did manage to pull off just such a stunt by getting money from Ford to build the DFV. That was one of Ford’s greatest investments as it won a string of races without having any huge financial involvement in the engines. Getting another manufacturer (or Ford, come to that) to do the same thing might be a good way to get the independent engine that FOM wants – while also offering the investor great value in branding, but the engine development race would need to be slowed down in order for that to work. There is another engine out there somewhere because the original PURE project may have died, but the engine that it was developing was inherited by its supporter TEOS Powertrain Engineering, located in Montigny-le-Bretonneux, not far from Versailles. The PURE Corporation itself was liquidated at the end of 2015.

Teos is a joint venture between Mecachrome and the IFP Investissements, a French public company which is dedicated to research in energy and hybrid development. With the change in rules in 2017, Teos did approach some F1 teams, hoping to find some interest and indicated at the time that the project was still being headed by two old stagers in the F1 world Jean-Pierre Boudy and Jean-Francois Nicolino.

If money can be found, this engine could be developed as an independent supplier.

It is still a bit of a long shot, but it seems that this is the best idea Red Bull has at the moment.

An F1 car for 2027

Renault has unveiled a concept Formula 1 car called the RS2027 at the Shanghai Motor Show, aiming to give the world an idea of what Formula 1 cars could look like in 10 years from now. The car would weigh 600kg and would boast 1341 hp, which would make an impressive power-to-weight ratio, allowing the cars to lap faster than ever before. The car would be powered by a small internal combustion engine, with much more powerful energy recovery systems, which would give the car five times as much as electrical power compared to today. The car would feature four-wheel-drive and four-wheel-steering, active wings, a clear canopy and a transparent helmet would mean that the drivers could be safe and at the same time be visible to spectators. The car would use LED displays to show information about its race and its available electric power. There would be much more access to telemetry. Renault also suggests that the race weekend formats would change with such ideas as fan-boost, split races and even rookie races in the Friday night.

“We look forward to generating inspired conversations with the racing community, fans and enthusiasts through this concept that highlights our ideas and desires,” says team boss Cyril Abiteboul.

Here are some pictures of the RS2027:

 

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IMG_0051The Bahrain Grand Prix was another great race and a further sign that we are in for a lot of exciting Grands Prix this season, as the competition between the Ferrari and the Mercedes is finely-balanced. The Mercedes is clearly faster in qualifying, while the Ferrari seems to be better in the races. This means that we ought to see a lot of action as the season goes on. We can hope that Red Bull and others (notably Renault) can make progress in the course of the year to join the fight, but that may be asking a little too much. Nonetheless, the prospects are good for great races all year.

Getting GrandPrix+ published as quickly as possible is always a challenge and when a race starts at 6pm, and finishes at 7.30pm, getting it all done before midnight is exciting, particularly when there are other jobs to be done as well. However, by midnight we were on our way, rattling up the highway towards Manama, bound for Muharraq Island, where Bahrain International Airport is located. Half the F1 Paddock seemed to be in the lounge waiting for the biorhythmically-challenging 03.35 flight to Dubai, and other similar departures. People were keen to get home after two (or, in some cases, four) weekends away and to enjoy at least half of the Easter Monday holiday at home.

First thing on Tuesday morning, it was back to the Russian Visa Department to finish off the process in time for the next race. It seems that some folk don’t really understand the stress of getting visas when you are a working F1 journalist and how we have had to jump through hoops and juggle passports in recent weeks. Some of the stories are truly horrendous, with a number of people getting their documentation only 45-90 minutes before their flights. I cannot say I understand the logic of this because the F1 media is visiting all these places to be part of an event that is supposed to promote the country involved and yet they seem paranoid that we might tell the world truths that they do not wish the world to know. To be quite honest very few F1 journalists have any desire to rock any boat and we are much more Austin Powers/Johnny English than we are Mr & Mrs Smith. My trip on Tuesday was simply to pick up my passport but only when I had it in my hand could I feel relaxed. So it was time for a lunch to celebrate the end of the visa season and a little sashimi did the job, a reward for fortitude in the face of bureaucracy.

Thus, the green notebook was delayed a few hours. It was nonetheless a busy book over the weekend with notes about all of McLaren’s woes and adventures. There were the first rumblings of the 2018 driver market and the usual grumbling about engineers in teams which do not have great cars this year. Ferrari once again rushed out a post-race statement from chairman Sergio Marchionne after Sebastian Vettel’s win in Bahrain, but once again this was largely ignored by a media, which is fed up of being treated like mushrooms by Ferrari. This would seem to suggest that the team needs a change of communication strategy, if not a change of staff…

As I was wandering post-prandially back to the Metro, I happened upon the Renault Atelier Café, on the Champs Elysées, where one can look at new cars and have a cup of coffee at the same time. Nowadays it finds itself next door to a Five Guys outlet, vying with Ladurée and Fouquet’s to feed the world. How the world is changing…

Renault featured strongly in the notebook with a scrawl that read: ‘Alonso – Ren 2018’. This indicated that Ferdando is supposed to have received a solid offer to drive for Renault Sport F1 in 2018 (and for some years after that). No doubt the offer is financially attractive, but McLaren seems to be trying to hold on to the Spaniard with the lure of the Indy 500 and, perhaps a run at Le Mans as well. Renault cannot really offer that at the moment. Alonso has been in the wrong team at the wrong time too often in F1 so he cannot now hope to beat many records, but he has settled on a desire to complete the so-called “Triple Crown”, which means to win the Monaco GP, the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Indianapolis 500. There is an alternative definition which includes the F1 World Championship rather than just Monaco. Graham Hill is the only driver to have done it. Those to have won two of the three are Tazio Nuvolari, Maurice Trintignant, AJ Foyt, Bruce McLaren, Jochen Rindt and Juan Pablo Montoya, although if the World Championship is included (rather than just Monaco) the list expands to include Mike Hawthorn, Phil Hill, Jim Clark, Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi and Jacques Villeneuve. Alonso is now 35 and so his focus has changed somewhat and he wants to go after F1 victories but also wants to win Le Mans and the Indy 500. The team most likely to help him achieve this is McLaren, although it is hard to imagine McLaren winning at Le Mans unless the ACO runs out of prototypes and has to run the race just for GT cars. That would not be such a bad idea given the strength of GT racing at the moment.

There is another note in the book about what it costs to run a team of prototypes each year and that is pretty eye-watering stuff: Porsche 280 million, it says, Audi 220 million and then there is separate note which indicates that Peugeot is willing to spend 80 million for its yet-to-be-announced LMP1 project. The figures are in Euros. These are HUGE budgets and it is hard to imagine how they can be justified given the coverage that WEC gets, even allowing for the fact that Le Mans is a pretty big deal – even if car companies still have to advertise their victories… Renault might get Fernando to Le Mans, but I cannot see the French going to Indianapolis any time in the near future.

However, all this is a long way off yet and Renault may be able to offer him a better ride in Formula 1 in 2018, given that McLaren-Honda has a whole lot of catching-up still to do. Those who watched closely would have seen that all the major McLaren board members were present in Bahrain and they seemed to be spending a lot of time in meetings. The word is that the board is getting close to finalising a deal that will see Ron Dennis selling his 25 percent share in the company, although the devil will obviously be in that little detail knonw as cash. The word is that Ron is now now focussing himself on government work and creating an impressive country estate somewhere near Henley-on-Thames.

For the moment, however, things are moving on slowly and it is a case of inshallah for the the buyers. The endless meetings, however, were probably more to do with what the company is going to do about its relationship with Honda. The options remain the same: stick with the Japanese firm and wait for it to come good, (either with or without help from Mercedes); switch to Mercedes and find a way to settle with Honda, or wait until Honda does a deal with another team and then reach for the parachutes. Things need to be done soon.

McLaren continues to change the way it does business, with the McLaren Applied Technologies moving a number of its departments off the McLaren campus in Woking and into new premises on the Southbank in Central London. The move has been made because McLaren needs more space in Woking and also because it wants to attract urban types to its staff, which was difficult to do in the bucolic splendours of Woking.

Changes of mentality are happening all over Formula 1 at the moment as Liberty Media makes its presence felt. Bernie Ecclestone did show up in Bahrain and did talk to the media but his comments were surprisingly muted. I guess that being chairman emeritus is better than not being chairman emeritus.

Sean Bratches, the managing director of commercial operations of the Formula
One group, says that he has had conversations with as any as 30 promoters who
are keen to host Formula 1 races in the future, but when asked about Turkey he did suggest that it would be unwise for me to buy land in Turkey, on the basis that there might be a race there one day. (I wasn’t planning to). One gets the impression that the F1 folk were none too pleased that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued photographs of his meeting with Chase Carey. It was just a few days before a tight referendum which would give Erdogan more power and every vote counted. One cannot help but wonder if the F1 photo opportunity was more to with getting votes than getting a race. In any case, Turkey’s record with F1 is not good given the dubious podium activity in the past… and given what has been happening there of late (in terms of coups and bombs) F1 would probably be best staying away.

The whisper in Bahrain was that Liberty’s primary focus at the moment is on getting a race in New York. This would be a revival of the stillborn event that was planned at Port Imperial, New Jersey, where some of the necessary infastructure was built, including the parking garage that would be converted into the pits, media centre and hospitality units. The track would need to be a little different to the original plan, as some buildings have gone up, but the key remains to find the funding. There are supposed to be similar plans in Las Vegas, but these have always been scarily vague, while there is still the desire to have races in Miami and in Long Beach. Indianapolis Motor Speedway has also said that it would welcome F1 again – at the right price. Fidning races is obviously not the problem at the moment – if the price is right – the difficult bit may be losing some of the existing events.

The Formula 1 Strategy Group meets next week in Paris and among the subjects in the agenda is a new proposal for head protection which has been dubbed the shield, which appears to be some kind of windscreen. The unloved halo seems to be on the way out – and most people in F1 seem to think this is a good idea.

Mallya and hype

Vijay Mallya responded to the reports of his arrest with the following Tweet: “Usual Indian media hype. Extradition hearing in Court started today as expected”.

The Metropolitan Police, however, did issue a statement as follows:

“Officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Extradition Unit have this morning, Tuesday 18 April, arrested a man on an extradition warrant,” it said. “Vijay Mallya, 61 (18/12/1955), was arrested on behalf of the Indian authorities in relation to accusations of fraud. He was arrested after attending a central London police station, and will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court later today, 18 April”.

So Vijay Mallya was arrested this morning. There was no police chase, nor a raid on his house, nonetheless he was place under arrest.

So where’s the hype in that?

Mallya arrested

Force India F1 boss (and India’s representative on the FIA World Motor Sport Council) Vijay Mallya was arrested this morning in England and will soon appear in Westminster Magistrates’ court.

In February India’s Ministry of External Affairs sent an extradition request to the British Home Office and this was endorsed by the Home Secretary and sent on to Westminster Magistrates’ Court. It is believed that Mallay’s name was one of
nearly 20 on a list that the Indians requested as part of discussions over possible future trade deals, in the wake of Brexit. The British are desperate to find some big trading partners and so handing over a few fugitives is a small price to pay in the circumstances.

The charges against Mallya in India relate to his defaulting on loans of $1.4
billion. Mallya is currently stuck in the UK without a passport as his Indian passport has been cancelled and he is unableto hold another unless he revokes his Indian citizenship. He must also find a country willing to issue him a new passport. He was recently removed as the chairman of the Federation of
Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI) but continues to be India’s representative
on the FIA World Motor Sport Council, although he cannot attend meetings.

Force India is a team that effectively runs itself these days but Mallya has been required to raise money when that is required. His arrest, if confirmed, will be an embarrassment for the sport. The word is that the team is for sale but that the owners (Mallya and his trouble partner Subrata Roy of Sahara) want $250 million for the business. It is highly unlikely that anyone will pay that price. The adverse publicity will make it harder for the team to be sold and to find sponsorship. The team is funded largely with prize money, but recently sold a $15 million sponsorship deal to Austrian water treatment company BWT.