Mattia Binotto is the new Chief Technical Officer of Ferrari F1. He is 45 years of age and comes from Lausanne, in Switzerland. He is a graduate of mechanical engineering from the Polytechnic of Lausanne in 1994, he then went on to study for a Masters in motor vehicle engineering at the University of Modena. He then joined Ferrari as a test engineer in 1995. He moved to the race team in 1997 and worked with Rubens Barrichello, in particular, before becoming chief engineer of race and assembly in the engine department in 2007. Two years later he became Head of Engine and KERS Operations and in October 2013 was named as Deputy Director, Engine and Electronics, taking on the role of Chief Operating Officer, Power Unit, the following year.
Ferrari is in even more trouble than we thought. The Italian team has parted ways with James Allison before he has properly had the chance to build a winning team. The move has not been explained except to say that they have “jointly decided” to end the current arrangements. Maurizio Arrivabene thanked James for his “commitment and sacrifice” and wished him success “and serenity” in the future. Allison himself was quoted as saying that he wanted to thank everyone “for the great professional and human experience we shared”.
There have been rumours in recent weeks that this was going to happen and speculation that Ferrari was chasing Ross Brawn. This was sparked by a recent visit to the factory by Sergio Marchionne. It seemed unlikely, nonetheless, even allowing for Marchionne’s lack of experience in F1, that he would do such a radical thing as firing the technical director, although he is celebrated for axeing people who do not achieve what he wants them to achieve.
There is an argument that Allison may have wanted to return to England after the shock of the recent death of his wife Rebecca, who was living in England while he worked in Italy. Some stories suggest that he may be returning to the UK to look after their three children, but it should be pointed out that the “children” are now 23, 21 and 17 and while the youngest may still be at school, the other two are already at university. This does not mean this explanation is not possible, but it is less likely than it might at first appear.
The third possible explanation is that James has decided that Ferrari is such an uphill struggle that he doesn’t want to continue, which might be a possible explanation, particularly if one is assessing one’s life after a traumatic event. Having said that James is not a man who takes commitments lightly and so he is very unlikely to have left of his own accord if there was a contract in place. Ferrari contracts are generally for five years.
James will not struggle to find work in England, even if he will probably need to take a year out for “gardening leave”. The most likely option is that he will return to Enstone to rebuild that team, with which he has long associations. He may also find McLaren knocking at his door, as he worked closely with Eric Boullier at Lotus before he departed to Italy.
Down in Maranello, Mattia Binotto will take on the role of Chief Technical Officer at Scuderia Ferrari. Whether this will result in success remains to be seen.
I generally don’t report on the private lives of F1 folk, unless it impacts on the sport, but I do feel very sorry for Bernie Ecclestone and his wife Fabiana. Kidnapping is a nasty business and we can only hope that the Brazilian police can solve the crime and rescue Fabiana’s mother, who was reportedly seized on Friday at her home in São Paulo. Oddly, on Saturday morning I happened to see Mr E arrive in Budapest with his police escort and thought it was rather odd that he stayed in the car for a long time on the phone. I figured it must be something pretty important for him to do that. It was also pretty odd that he took off on Saturday night and was not around for the start of the race (he doesn’t always stay until the end) on Sunday. With the benefit of hindsight, there were clues that something was going on, but one doesn’t generally include such things as kidnapping in one’s thought process. The news is not good for Brazil, as it prepares for the Olympic Games, underlining the image of the country as being a relatively dangerous place. I cannot say I’ve ever felt really threatened there, but then I’m not a billionaire and there is no reason anyone would want to kidnap me. At the moment no one is confirming the story, but clearly this is what is happening. There seems to be some kind of policy to avoid making any statements in such situations. There are, however, widespread reports that there is a demand for £28 million.
External forces are at work also elsewhere at the moment and this means that there are security fears for the upcoming German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, following the recent incidents in Germany.
In recent days 10 people have been killed and many more injured in separate gun, bomb, axe and machete attacks. Three were in Bavaria and one in Baden-Wurttemberg. These do not appear to be linked. They began on July 18 when an Afghan teenage refugee attacked passengers on a train with an axe and a knife. He was hot dead by police. Four days later an Iranian-German teenager killed nine people in Munich before shooting himself and two days after that there two separate attacks the first with a machete-wielding 21-year-old Syrian refugee who killed a woman and wounded five other people before being arrested. The same day another Syrian blew himself up outside a bar in Ansbach, after his application for refugee status was refused. Nonetheless, security at Hickenheim will be increased, particularly given the nature of the recent lorry attack in Nice. This is bad news for the race as it will probably affect the number of people wanting to attend. The race needs 60,000 spectators to break even.
In the racing world, the talk is all about the halo this week with a decision due on Thursday, while there are also rumours that Red Bull will not renew Daniil Kvyat’s contract because of poor results since he was demoted from Red Bull Racing to Scuderia Toro Rosso. Obviously, Red Bull’s Dr Helmut Marko never studied much psychology…
Not everyone knows that the city of Budapest was actually two cities: Buda and Pest, and that the names were pushed together forever when the two settlements engulfed one another. Buda is hilly and on the western side of the Danube; Pest is flat and on the eastern bank. Clearly the people of Pest (Pests?) lost out in the deal, as they lost their capital letter.
Anyway, the paddock in Hungary is a fair way inland from the beautiful brown Danube, in the Gödöllői Dombvidék (try saying that after a bottle of red). These are low sandy hills and in the summer they tend to be hot and sweaty, unless they are being battered by torrential rain storms.
The Hungarian weekend was dominated by much twitter-pattering about track limits, radio calls and, latterly, yellow flags. It was all fairly mundane stuff, but it filled the column inches of many a website and featured strongly in the jibber-jabber of the TV commentators. There was surprisingly little chit-chat about the departure of Sauber from Sauber, nor Nico Rosberg’s signature on another Mercedes contract. The question of the F1 halo continues to float above the paddock, although, for the life of me, I do not understand how there can be any halos in F1, given the paucity of saintly figures and other holy people. We will know more only after a meeting next Thursday when the final details will (hopefully) fall into place. Personally, I don’t see how they have a choice. Once you put a halo on an F1 car and run it around a bit and then tell everyone it is the next big thing for safety, you have created (perhaps deliberately) a liability problem. If the halo is not adopted and someone now gets hurt (or worse) by flying debris, the FIA and the team involved will be wide open to negligence claims, as there will be a clear argument that they had a solution, but chose not to employ it. Thus, I fear, F1 is stuck with the ugly halo in the short term. Hopefully, this will result in lots of controversy (people saying: “Yuk!”,”Ghastly!” and “I’m never watching Formula 1 again”) and then the FIA will rush to find a proper (and sexy) solution to the question of head protection. It is nonsensical to argue that heads should not be protected, but it would be better to have a full solution. The halo is not a bad concept, but it makes F1 cars look like some kind of Chris Evans character in the movie Cars, and it leaves gaps (quite literally) in terms of protecting the heads. The jet fighter cockpit is probably the sexiest solution, as we saw when McLaren produced its F1 concept car last winter (MP4-X), but it does have drawbacks that need to be carefully addressed. If these things work for jet fighters, they must be able to work for F1 cars.
With five races in seven weekends behind them, a lot of the people in F1 were feeling rather weary in Hungary, particularly as the dismantle/build for Budapest/Hockenheim (which is going on as I write) is by no means an easy one.
It was odd to see that on Sunday Bernie Ecclestone had left Hungary and was not present for the race itself (or at least the grid), but today it has emerged why this happened. Most of us think that being rich is the answer to all our wildest dreams, but there are downsides to it as well… and kidnapping is a nasty business.
There were some discussions during the Budapest weekend about the 2017 calendar and suggestions that teams are soon going to start switching over to rotating crews (which has been talked about for years). The bad news is that there is no sign of any change ahead. The plan for 2017 appears to be a calendar which is pretty much the same as this year. The teams are believed to be pressing for a few subtle changes to make their lives easier, with more races being twinned intelligently and, for example, the Canada-Baku back-to-back being reversed, so that everyone gains eight hours, rather than losing them. These may seem small things, but they make a big difference in terms of human performance. There is a lot of interesting work going on at the moment inside teams to help meet the demands being put on the crews by the calendar. At the same time it was interesting to hear several teams saying, publicly, that they are finding it hard to keep staff on the race teams because it means too much time away from home. There seems to be little likelihood that any of the races will drop out. The problems in Italy will be solved. It looks like Hockenheim will get the German race full-time and the Formula One group will become the promoter, keeping all revenues, including all the local subsidies. There are some questions about Austin, but a contract is a contract and it makes more sense to hold the event and make no money than not hold the event and pay for it.
The one subject of gossip in the paddock in relation to drivers was the future of Rio Haryanto. There have been signs for some time that the chirpy Indonesian does not have the money needed to complete the season and Manor cannot afford to let that slide. There are several solutions: the obvious one being to put reserve driver Alex Rossi in the car. The Indy 500 winner was supposed to appear in the paddock in Budapest, but he did not show up, although one should not read too much into that because there was a problem with planes being cancelled in Columbus, Ohio, which meant that Alex would not have got to Budapest until late Saturday afternoon and there wasn’t much point in doing that as he has to be back in Ohio next weekend, for the IndyCar event at Mid-Ohio. So Alex went to Indianapolis to watch NASCAR instead (although it seems this was a lonely experience as the grandstands were almost empty), but he had a break from his endless travel schedule. The reason that Rossi makes sense is that he is still believed to have some backers keen to help him in F1 and he knows the team. There would be no need for a period of adjustment nor any learning phase. He could do the last six races of the F1 season as his IndyCar schedule ends a week before Malaysia and he could then do Japan, Austin, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. Even better news is the fact that he raced for Manor in all of these races last year (barring Abu Dhabi), so he would not need to learn the circuits and thus would be better placed to score points, if an opportunity presented itself. From his point of view, this would offer the opportunity to make an impact in F1 going into the winter break and that could help him get a drive with Manor (or someone else) in 2017. If that fails he can always go back to IndyCar next year as the Indy 500 winner is always a man in demand, particularly if you are engine supplier Honda. The Japanese firm is not in a position to provide more F1 engines in 2017, otherwise Rossi might be in a very good place. Who knows? The Honda engines are improving all the time and a Honda second team in 2018 is not impossible…
However, there are other options. It might be a good idea (from a financial point of view) for the team to do a deal with Mercedes-Benz to help reduce its engine bills, as Mercedes is clearly keen to get Esteban Ocon up to speed in F1. Ocon is quite a talent (he gave Max Verstappen a hard time in Formula 3) and while he is officially “on loan” to Renault at the moment, he wears a metaphorical Mercedes teeshirt beneath his Renault overalls. The French team has been using Esteban in FP1 sessions, but Mercedes recently used him at the Silverstone test. Mercedes may want to see him up against Pascal Wehrlein at Manor in 2017, as this would be a good driver pairing for the Mercedes F1 team in 2019 – if Lewis and Nico move on (or need to be moved on).
The other man who might be seen in the Manor is Stoffel Vandoorne. McLaren wants him pin-sharp in F1 in 2017 and so mileage this year in F1 races would be helpful. Stoffel has been racing in Super Formula in Japan, but the car has been horridly unreliable and he has gained little thus far from that experience. The only real question mark is whether McLaren is willing to pay for him, although one can imagine that Mercedes might object to a Honda driver getting to play with a Mercedes engine. McLaren has still to decide (officially) if Stoffel is in the F1 team next year, but there are signs that Jenson Button is quietly packing a parachute (a Union Jack design, of course) and will float down and land somewhere near Grove, fairly soon. This means that Felipe Massa may be in need of a new job and there has been some talk that he might be chatting to people at Enstone, where experience in top teams might be useful.
Finally, it’s bad news for Apple fans. I hear that the Californian firm has finished looking at F1 and concluded that they are not going to push ahead with the discussions. When it comes to the sale of F1, I hear there has been one other change in the negotiations, with whispers that John Malone’s Liberty Media may be back in the bidding, against the ever-present Stephen Ross consortium. The negotiations currently centre on whether or not CVC and/or Donald Mackenzie (the CVC chairman) continue as minor F1 shareholders in the future, or whether they get thrown out with the bath water. Mackenzie, it seems, is rather taken by the F1 lifestyle and wants to play on, particular as he has to retire from CVC shortly, unless he get the firm to change its rules.
Someone said to me in Budapest that it would be a good moment for the Formula One group to buy Formula E, before the electric series gets to be more successful. That might help produce more profits for all concerned (in the long term) but it could end up with the ironic situation of Formula E buying Formula One. The largest shareholder in the Hong Kong-based Formula E Holdings Ltd is none other than the aforementioned Malone, although it should be added that this does not mean that he has a majority shareholding in the electric championship.
The Hungarian Grand Prix was not a classic, but the tension remained from start to finish as the two Mercedes drivers fought for the win, although TV viewers might not have known it given the lack of coverage the two cars received… In the end Lewis stayed ahead and Nico contented himself to say that he had lost the race at the start when Lewis took the lead and Nico briefly fell behind Dan Ricciardo, who pulled off an ambitious outside pass in Turn 1. Nico was able to scramble back ahead at Turn 2 and from then on it was a question of press sure being applied, hoping that Hamilton would make a mistake. Ricciardo ran third, shadowed initially by Max Verstappen but the latter was unfortunate during the first pit stops and found himself trapped behind an uncompromising Kimi Raikkonen. The roles would be reversed later in the race and at one point Kimi clipped his wings while trying to pass Max and complained about Verstappen’s tactics. The stewards said nothing. Vettel had a different strategy and this put him ahead of Max and Kimi and in the final laps he pressured Ricciardo, but he never really looked like a challenger for the podium. Behind the big six, Fernando Alonso had a lonely race for McLaren-Honda but brought home more points in seventh, while the top 10 was completed by Carlos Sainz, Valtteri Bottas and Nico Hulkenberg. Hamilton’s victory put him into the lead in the World Championship as it passed its mid-season point.
Also in GP+ this week…
– We interview British rising star Jordan King
– We remember John Blunsden, a man who changed the face of F1 media coverage
– We look at the history of Montlhéry
– We went to watch Hans Stuck drive his father’s AutoUnion at Shelsley Walsh
– JS muses over the importance of front men
– DT raves about hillclimbing
– The Hack delves into the recent F1 booing
– Plus the usual fabulous photography from Peter and Lise Nygaard
GP+ is the fastest F1 magazine. It comes out before some of the 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 have attended more than 2,000 Grands Prix between us.
GP+ is an amazing bargain – and it is designed to be, so that fans will sign up and share the passion that we have for the sport. We don’t want to exploit you, we want you to join the fun. You get 23 issues for £32.99, covering the entire 2016 Formula 1 season.
For more information, go to www.grandprixplus.com.
John Beresford Blunsden, one of the major figures in motorsport journalism, has died at the age of 86. John was old school. In the course of his career he not only redefined what motorsport magazines were but also encouraged generations of eager youngsters who to wanted to get into the business. One didn’t need to look up to know when John was around as the phrase “Hello old boy” would be heard. For my generation, he and longtime pal Alan Brinton were the doyens of the motorsport media, good men, proper reporters and good role models.
Born in Bristol, John began his working life in the motor trade, before convincing the Croydon Advertiser, his local newspaper, to let him write a motoring column. At the age of 19 he followed the Monte Carlo Rally with no less a figure than Bill Boddy of Motorsport magazine and a few years later, in 1957, when Motorsport’s owner Wesley Tee acquired Motoring News, John was recruited to work for the magazine which he helped to transform from being a trade publication to becoming a motorsport weekly. He campaigned for the title to be changed to Motorsport News, but Tee would have none of it, although today that is the name of the magazine. John was deputy editor to Cyril Posthumus and then succeeded him as editor in 1959. At the same time, he wrote his first book, a history of Formula Junior. In 1961 he moved on to become a freelance reporter, working closely with John Webb, the promoter at Brands Hatch. He took over the running of Motor Racing magazine, which had begun life as the magazine of the Half- Litre Club before becoming the official organ of the British Racing and Sports Car Club.
He and Brinton created the first truly modern motorsport magazine, including such innovative ideas as track tests (which Blunsden himself did) and driver interviews, rather than the usual diet of race reports and technical features. John was a smooth, fast and skilful driver and, in many cases, could match the lap times of the cars’ regular drivers. In that era Motor Racing was produced from a Portakabin in the café car park at Brands Hatch. In the same era John was also the editor of Airfix magazine, dedicated to the then new hobby of building plastic kits. In addition he and Brinton produced an annual Motor Racing Year, an annual recording the goings-on in international racing and he worked for magazines all over the world, helping to promote the sport and Formula 1 in particular. In 1970 he became the motor racing correspondent of The Times and attended almost all the Grands Prix from then until 1990.
In 1968 he was invited to become the manager of Motor Racing Publications, a book publishing company that had been started by Nevil Lloyd after the war. The following year he acquired a majority shareholding in the business and would ultimately buy the whole business. Under his direction, top priority was given to the creation of new titles, beginning with Around the World in a Cloud of Dust, the story of the London-to-Sydney Marathon, by Nick Brittan.
During the 1970s, the company concentrated on books about high-performance and collectable road cars, leading in 1979 to the creation of the Collector’s Guide series, which now runs to 60 titles. In the 1980s he created a subsidiary imprint, The Fitzjames Press, to publish titles that did not fit into the MRP portfolio. There was also a steady flow of motorsport titles, including a large number of biographies. He himself continued to write books and was twice the winner of the Guild of Motoring Writers’ Montagu of Beaulieu Trophy. He served as chairman of the Guild on two occasions in 1973 and 1982 and was also a trustee of the club.
In 2012, a stroke left him partially paralyzed and unable to walk – or write – but he remained cheerful and as interested as ever in the world of motoring and motor sport. John leaves a widow, Pauline, son Nick and grand-daughter Darcy.
The Sauber Group has been bought, in its entirety, by a Swiss-based investment company called Longbow Finance SA, registered in the village of Lutry, close to Lausanne. This entity has acquired Sauber Holding AG, the ultimate holding company of the Sauber Group, and it says that it intends to stabilise the group and create the basis for a competitive and successful future. The team will continue to use the Sauber brand and there is clearly a plan to expand the company’s engineering activities. Peter Sauber retires from all functions, being succeeded by Pascal Picci as Chairman of Sauber Holding AG while Monisha Kaltenborn, who owned 30 percent of the team, will continue to lead the company as CEO and Team Principal and will remain on the board.
“The new structure will allow us to finally further expand our third party business in which we commercialise our know-how,” says Kaltenborn. “This solution is in the best interest of our employees, partners, loyal suppliers, the base in Hinwil and for the Swiss motorsport. We are very grateful that Longbow Finance S.A.believes in the competences, efficiency and capabilities of Sauber Group, and we look forward to a new exciting future.”
There is very little known about Longbow Finance SA or who it may represent. It has been making investments for 20 years. It is a joint stock company, which manages the money of others, investing in shares, securities, real estate and other activities.