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Max Verstappen is the key figure in the future of Formula 1. The next megastar. The man who everyone hopes will bring a new generation of fans to the sport. Already, at the age of just 20, he has an army of tens of thousands of fans, who travel around Europe to watch him in action. There is orange is every grandstand and the numbers of Verstappen in places like Austria, Belgium, Italy and Britain are impressive. These are fans of all ages, few of them being his own generation, but Formula 1 hopes that Max’s precocious success will lead to younger fans. The problem is that the Verstappen generation is, according to sociologists, rather different from the generations that have gone before, which makes them more difficult to attract to a sport like Formula 1. They do want heroes, as can be seen from the cult of celebrity that exists today. They want to know about people living interesting lives, but they are not a very sociable bunch. They do not remember a time when there was no internet and so their lifestyles and social interactions are radically different to previous generations. Their social life is their phone and they are supposed to be more comfortable online than out partying. They appear to like phones more than they like people. Statistics show that meeting up with friends on a daily basis is down more than 40 percent compared to 15 years ago and when they do get together, some cannot stop using social media. They sleep with their phones on their beds and researchers say that it is a lonely and dislocated generation, sleep-deprived and more prone to depression. The number of them who are dating is significantly down compared to the previous generation, fewer teens are having sex, the teen birth rate is at an all-time low, down a whopping 67 percent compared to 25 years ago. Kids no longer get driving licences because it offers them freedom, nowadays they do it to stop their parents nagging. All of this is troubling, but at the same time, it shows that opportunities exist to engage with them and get excited about Formula 1. The sport has been slow to adopt social media, but things are changing and Verstappen’s generation is interested in him. They may not sit through a Grand Prix, but they want to know how he is doing. Perhaps they will pick up on others of the same generation as a result, but one must understand just how ahead of his peers Max actually is. Verstappen is 20 and the next youngest winner in F1 at the moment is Valtteri Bottas, eight years his senior. The Vettels, Hamiltons and Alonsos are in their thirties. There is hope that the Vandoornes, Sainzs, Ocons, Wehrleins, Strolls, Leclercs and Norrises will add to the appeal of F1, but right now Max is the locomotive of his generation.

And while it is good to see his army driving around Europe, it is entirely logical that the Formula One group is keen to cash in on Max’s success and hold a race in the Netherlands. It would be a sellout, no question. The country has a population of only 17 million, but it seems as though most of them are Verstappen fans.

Ask a Dutchman about reviving the Grand Prix (which has not happened since 1985) and most will laugh and say it is impossible and yet for a decade Rotterdam hosted a major street demonstration event every summer in the Cool district (really), which attracted up to 500,000 spectators and many of the F1 teams took part. Rotterdam currently say that nothing is possible because of roadworks going on in the area for a couple of years. Amsterdam’s bureaucrats say that racing should take place on race track, not on roads.  Amsterdam attracts around six million international visitors a year and ranks seventh of the European cities, behind London, Paris, Rome, Prague, Milan and Barcelona. It is ahead of Vienna and Venice. Rotterdam is a long way behind in terms of numbers but has now overtaken The Hague as a tourist destination. In other words, Rotterdam would benefit more from a race

The Netherlands has a reputation for being  eco-conscious, a paradise of windmills, cycling and recycling, and this certianly caused some problems for Zandvoort, the country’s primary racing circuit, back in the 1980s. It is true that there are hopes that by 2018 the country’s trains will be powered by wind-generated electricity and the nation is the only one in Europe where there are more bicycles than people. But, at the same time, Dutch carbon emissions per capita are amongst the highest in Europe, almost double the figure of the French and 50 percent more than Britain. And the share of energy coming from renewable sources is below the figures in Germany and Denmark. So it is not that green a place.

Zandvoort could be rebuilt if money but could be found, but that would be a major project and access would remain a problem, unless spectators arrived only by train, which is quite possible and happens in other places, such a Melbourne, Montreal, Singapore and Monaco. There is another circuit at Assen, famous for motorcycles, but it is a bit out in the wilds and would require modification. Building a circuit might be possible, but the Netherlands is not a big country. It’s a maximum of 194 miles long and 164 miles wide, so empty land is in short supply. However, there are areas which have been reclaimed from the sea where big new facilities could be built, if someone wanted to fund them. There is an opportunity here, let’s see if anyone will grab it.

 

Passion and Ferrari

My friend and colleague Will Buxton has written passionately in recent days about the state in which Ferrari finds itself. He believes that through driving flaws and unreliable cars, not to mention picking Kimi Raikkonen as the second driver, the team has wasted a World Championship-winning car and, as a result, heads will roll. He also points out also that the team’s inexplicable communication policy (say nothing) is not very clever, something with which I agree wholeheartedly.

Ferrari as a brand is all about passion and to shut down communication and simply turn out trite social media messages (with American spellings) is not forward-thinking. The team’s press officer (he may have a fancier title, but doesn’t deserve it) wanders around, looking like he fell out of an opium den. The team staff seem frightened to be seen talking to media and, as Will pointed out, they seem frightened, full stop. Looking in from the outside can give a false impression, just as it can bring insight, but I sense the same thing.

Entire books have been written on the question of leading by respect, rather than by fear, and why the former is more successful than the latter. It’s basically Darth Vader versus Obi Wan Kenobi. The down side of the dark side is that people who are fearful of losing their jobs become defensive, they don’t take risks, they do all they can to shift the blame on to others. They don’t work for the organisation, they work to survive.

Great leaders lead with respect. They empower those around them, encourage them with enthusiasm and energy and allow them to make mistakes. Respect moves a company forwards, fear holds it back.

If one accepts the premise that the Ferrari problem is one of fear, one has to then work out from where this is coming. Logically, it comes from the top, and by this I mean Sergio Marchionne, the chairman, who is famed for his use of the corporate stiletto (and we’re not talking heels here), despite his avuncular jersey-wearing appearance. You tell Marchionne he’s wrong and you’re likely to be filleted from the organisation. The great leader is never wrong, unless he decides it himself. So if one wants to survive in this environment, you have to do as you are told. This helps to explain why Maurizio Arrivabene, who was a big marketing banana in a major tobacco company and is obviously no fool, now finds himself with the marketing policy of a medieval castle under siege. OK, he looks like a Sherlock Holmes villain, with his thunderous glares, but there must be more to him than that. Perhaps it would be wise to let the media (aka the world) see the man behind the Heathcliff mask?

But then does it really matter? Ferrari hasn’t won a World Championship since the days of Jean Todt, half a generation ago, and yet the road cars are still selling in ever-increasing numbers. To me, this says that the racing matters – but the results don’t – unless it is REALLY embarrassing. Every time a Ferrari blows up, I have a habit of saying: “Well, I’m not buying a Ferrari”, which is true for two reasons: the first is that I cannot afford a car with a price tag of $200,000 and, even if I could, I’d spend the money on other things that I consider more important. Don’t get me wrong, Ferrari understands road cars. It is incredibly successful in this respect. Successful men buy Ferraris because these red supercars are symbols of success. Their engines scream: “Ladies, I’ve got money and room in the passenger seat for a trim little derrière.” They are status symbols first, great cars second. You never go unnoticed in a Ferrari, and to me this is largely what they are about. Ferraris scream “Oi you! Shut your mouth and look at my wad!”

Formula 1 is different. It’s about clever engineers doing great things. But it is also about communicating, telling the world what you can do, delivering a corporate message. The racing team exists to give Ferrari more glitz than rival products from the tractor manufacturer down the road. It exists as an aspirational brand. Everyone wants to be rich one day, and for reasons which are quite unclear to me, this ambition translates into buying Ferrari-badged tee-shirts and hats.

But media of all kinds are not the enemy, they are your allies and while some can be irritating and self-important on occasion, they are an essential part of the sport, telling the stories, perpetuating the romance, building the legend and, now and then, delivering messages that teams don’t think about, but need to hear, popping the balloons of delusion, into which some teams disappear.

You do not win respect by building a wall around yourself and keeping the gates shut. Perhaps they debate these things within the keep of the Maranello Castle, but one gets the impression that geese can get away with saying “Boo!” to Ferrari folk at the moment.

Everyone with a brain knows that the last thing you should do when things go wrong in an F1 team is to fire everyone and start again, a cycle that Ferrari has been known to go through now and then. The best thing to do is to figure where the problems lie and redirect the energy in the right direction. It’s Management 101, not Harvard MBA.

The World Championship is not over yet, but it’s going to take some whopping good luck to pull this title from the fire.

Let’s see what happens and Ferrari’s reaction to it. It will tell us a lot…

An interesting choice

Scuderia Toro Rosso, Red Bull by another name, has decided to give New Zealander Brendon Hartley a run in the United States Grand Prix in Austin, to see whether it made a big mistake by dumping him from its Red Bull Junior Team eight years ago.

There was a time, not long ago, when Red Bull had drivers aplenty, but Red Bull’s Helmut Marko went through them like The Man with No Name went through Mexican bandits in spaghetti westerns. Some fell from roofs with sickening thuds, some were wounded and ran away. Marko cleared the town. Today, of the veritable Red Bull Juniors, only Dan Ricciardo, Desperate Dan Kvyat and the gawky kid Gasly remain in Marko’s OK Corral, the rest have been gunned down or have fled. Max Verstappen was bought in to bolster the programme, while the blue-eyed boy SebVet snagged a prancing horse and galloped away into a dusty sunset.

When Carlos Sainz was dragged (not kicking nor screaming) to Renault, Red Bull had a problem, because newbie Gasly was committed to fighting for Honda in the Super Formula in Japan, leaving a free seat for the US Grand Prix in Austin. Marko’s phone has, no doubt, been ringing a lot as every man and his dog has tried for the drive, but it seems that Marko was curious to see what happened to some of his victims and has picked Hartley, who is looking for a single seater career now that his Porsche sports car career has been torpedoed by the company pulling out of WEC. Hartley has done well with Porsche, his flaxen haystack of hair cut more conservatively than it was in his days on the Red Bull farm. In the last three years he has successfully raced Porsches, winning the World Championship in 2015, with his team-mates Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard. This year he may repeat that feat, but has already scrawled “Le Mans winner” into his CV.

 

“This opportunity came as somewhat of a surprise,” he said, using English grade understatement. “I never did give up on my ambition and childhood dream to reach F1. I have grown and learnt so much since the days when I was the Red Bull and Toro Rosso reserve driver, and the tough years I went through made me stronger and even more determined. I want to say a huge thanks to Red Bull for making this a reality, and to Porsche for allowing me to do this alongside the World Endurance Championship.”

Maybe there is method in all this madness and Porsche is rumoured to be considering an F1 programme in the years ahead and so would like to see one of its own landing in F1. If Hartley does a good job, one can imagine that he might be viewed as a possible replacement for Desperate Dan in 2018. Otherwise, so they say, he’s off to a ride in Indycar…

Attention race fans!

If you are going to Austin for the United States Grand Prix and you want to know more about Formula One, why not consider attending an Audience with Joe on Friday night. I have been covering F1 for 29 years – attending every single race in that time – so I have a vague idea about the sport. I think the best idea, however, is to quote from a few previous attendees:

“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!”

You get a lot for your money with a whole evening of questions, plus a break for a buffet dinner. You can purchase as much or as little alcohol as you like and you will meet other F1 fans in a convivial environment. When you go to the circuit on Saturday, you will know a whole lot more about the sport…

Joe’s 2016 Audience in Austin will take place on Friday, October 20 at Pelons Tex-Mex Restaurant, 802 Red River Road, Austin, TX 78701

To book tickets, click here

. They will not be available on the door.

The Toro Rosso drive

Scuderia Toro Rosso has got itself into a bit of a pickle by agreeing to let Carlos Sainz go to Renault Sport F1 with immediate effect. The team had already dropped Daniel Kvyat to make room for Pierre Gasly, but the Frenchman has a commitment to Honda next week in Super Formula in Japan, where he can win the title for Honda, the only Honda driver who can. As Honda is Toro Rosso’s engine supplier next year in F1, it was logical to let Gasly go, but that left a problem. Even with Kvyat returning, Red Bull has dumped so many drivers that there are no obvious replacements for Gasly.

It is important in that the battle in the Constructors’ championship is tight with millions at stake. The logical choice would seem to be Sebastien Buemi, who regularly works in the Red Bull simulator in Milton Keynes and so is up to speed with the latest technology. But then he is a Renault factory driver in Formula E and Renault is part of the Constructors’ fight so it makes no sense for the French team to agree to let Buemi go.

The primary problem is access to a Super Licence. There are about 60 drivers who have such a licence and 22 of them have raced in F1 this year (the regulars, plus Paul di Resta and Gasly). The others include retired stars such as Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber and a bunch of older sports car drivers such as Buemi, Andre Lotterer, Lucas di Grassi, Neil Jani, Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas, Benoit Treluyer, Kazuki Nakajima, Loic Duval, Brendan Hartley and others. Few of them have any recent open-wheeler experience beyond Formula E and it makes little sense to use them. There are IndyCar drivers such as Will Power, Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Juan Pablo Montoya and Alex Rossi, while rising stars Sergey Sirotkin, Oliver Rowland, Antonio Giovinazzi, Charles Leclerc, Alex Lynn, Nyck de Vries and Felix Rosenqvist may have contractual conflicts.

If one filters the list for those with recent F1 racing experience the number reduces significantly, because of the need for the drivers to have driven 300km in an F1 car in the last four years. It remains to be seen what Toro Rosso can do about this. If Buemi is not available, the best bet might be to go for Rossi, it being the US Grand Prix. The only problem is that Rossi is off the radar at the moment, taking part in the filming of The Amazing Race, teamed up with buddy Conor Daly. The word is that they were last seen somewhere in Iceland… but may now be in Belgium or the Czech Republic.

Spanish women

Carmen Jorda became a Formula 1 development driver not because of her results driving racing cars. Finishing 28th in GP3 in 2012, 30th in 2013 and 29th in 2014, with a best finish of 13th, is not the raw material from which F1 careers are hewn and her appointment seemed inappropriate at best. When the announcement was made, in February 2015, the head of the FIA’s Women in Motor Sport Commission, the distinguished rally driver Michele Mouton, described the appointment as “a marketing gimmick” and said that there were much better choices available. The implication was very clear: Jorda had landed the role more because of her looks (and, perhaps, her money) rather than her ability. At the time Lotus needed the money and did not much care how the appointment was viewed. Jorda faded out of the sport last year, but popped up again a few days ago by saying, rather unwisely, that “it’s not fair to be compared with men because we will never be on the same level”. One can understand this remark if she was speaking only of herself, but other women racers did not agree.

“I think some of us have proven differently,” tweeted Simona de Silvestro.

Women in motorsport is, of course, a subject that gets lots of people charged up, for a wide variety of different reasons. Mouton says that she thinks that a woman can be in F1, “if it is the right girl, with the right skills and the right opportunities”. Women, she argues, do not often get a chance with a top car; they do not get sufficient testing.

“You need all of that but I am sure that a girl can do that,” she said. “The big question is whether a woman can win in Formula 1 and I am not sure about that. That is a different question. Men and women are different. We are not built the same way and I think the biggest difference is in terms of emotions and sensibilities. I never had a problem going at top speed with a 300 ft drop right next to my car, but on a race track when you are doing 300 kph down a straight you feel more exposed, or at least I did. I think that women have a stronger sense of self-preservation than men. It is an instinct that is more developed in the woman than in the man. And I think that is important when you come to the last tenth of a second. A woman can work up to the top level but men will just do it. Boom. Flat out. I hope that I am wrong in my analysis and that it is not really like that, but that is what I think.”

Nonetheless, Mouton and the other members of the commission have been working to try to convince more women to become involved in the sport in many different roles, including engineering, officiating and so on and it is clear that the barriers are coming down. A walk in the F1 paddock these days reveals many more women than used to be the case, and they are doing different jobs.

Ferrari has just announced that it is taking on a different Spanish woman to help it improve its performance in F1. The team is struggling with reliability and it has called in Maria Mendoza, Fiat’s head of powertrain quality control for Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Mendoza has been a quality control engineer with Fiat since 2008, after joining the firm from the Avio Aero aviation company. It may be too late to fix problems in 2018 but her addition to the team will strengthen it in the future.

Lance Stroll will be staying at Williams next year. He has not had a bad first season with team, but neither has he blown away Felipe Massa. There have been 16 races so far and Massa has outqualified Stroll 12-3, the remaining race was when Massa was unwell and handed over the car to Paul di Resta, who started from the back. Massa has scored points 10 times, Stroll six times, but when both cars have finished (only eight times) Massa has been ahead on five occasions and Stroll on three.

In terms of World Championship points the score is 34 – 32, with Stroll having benefited from his somewhat fortunate podium in Baku, when both Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton hit trouble (Vettel’s self-inflicted, Hamilton’s caused by a loose headrest). In addition, Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen retired and so it was a rather unusual event.  Without that, Stroll’s numbers would be less impressive. Having said that, overall the Williams team has been underperforming significantly, given the fact that it has Mercedes engines. The team has scored only 66 points, while direct rival and fellow Mercedes customer Force India has collected 147. That is a massacre. What is required, therefore, above all else, is a better technical package for 2018 because (these days) there is no driver in the world who can take an uncompetitive car and beat competitive machinery on a regular basis. So, the pressure is on Paddy Lowe and his crew to deliver a better bolide. When it comes to the drivers, it all really depends on how one rates Felipe Massa. The 36-year-old Brazilian has won 11 Grands Prix in his 14 and a half seasons in F1. His last victory was his most famous one, in Brazil 2008 when he seemed to be World Champion for a few seconds before Lewis Hamilton snatched it from him.

In 2009 Felipe suffered significant head injuries when he was hit by a flying part that had come off another car. He returned to Ferrari in 2010 but has never won since. He joined Williams in 2014 and is popular with the team and with the sponsors, but was not going to be retained this year (the score in qualifying was 17-4 in favour of Valtteri Bottas) and he retired (the only other option was to be dumped). Nico Rosberg’s shock decision to quit handed Massa a second chance as Bottas went to Mercedes, leaving Williams with a seat to fill.

It is always difficult to put drivers into a pecking order, particularly as they develop over the time, but on paper Bottas was better than Massa and he is better than Stroll, and thus in F1 terms Stroll is no match for Bottas, who has not been as competitive as Lewis Hamilton. In other words, Stroll is not another Hamilton. And what Williams needs is a driver who will not only score well, but also motivate the workforce and drive the team forward. Keeping Massa is unlikely to do that. Paul di Resta, the team’s reserve driver, who has been out of F1 races since 2013 (except for his own race as stand-in for Massa). Prior to that he had a largely-unsuccessful three-year stint with Force India being in the shadow of Adrian Sutil in 2011 and Nico Hulkenberg in 2012 but then beating Sutil in 2013. He then returned to his career in DTM. In his favour are the facts that he is British and over 25, which is important to the team’s title sponsor Martini.

Robert Kubica, who has been testing for Williams this week, has not raced an F1 car since 2010, at which point he was very much a rising star and had a deal to drive for Ferrari. He lost it all when he hurt himself very badly in an accident while competing on a minor rally in Italy. His right arm was significantly damaged and it is only after a string of operations that he has got to a point where he can drive an F1 car again. He has to convince the team that he still has all the necessary elements to be an F1 star despite, in effect, driving with one arm. It would be a great fairytale if it were to come true, but Robert needs to be convince Williams that he is the man it needs. The downside for Robert is that Renault had the chance to take him in 2018 and did not do so. The final option appears to be Pascal Wehrlein, who has driven well this year with Sauber. He’s young and he’s strong, but there seems to be little interest at Sauber to keep him because it has thrown its lot in with Maranello and is expected to take Ferrari youngsters Charles Lecclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi next year. Wehrlein is a quality driver, which is why he is a Mercedes protégé but his shyness sometimes comes across as arrogance and he lost out to Esteban Ocon for the Force India drive this year. He is probably the best best for Williams, if Mercedes is willing to provide practical support. The question Mercedes has to answer is whether it has too many young drivers. There are Ocon and the young George Russell, and it is no secret that the team’s first choice as a replacement for Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas is Max Verstappen. One can envisage a future line-up of Verstappen/Ocon in the mid-term.

In the end we might end up with a three-driver combination with two actually driving and the third being used as an ambassador (as Mika Hakkinen is used by Johnnie Walker). Martini wants a driver over 25 to help sell its vermouth and Stroll/Wehrlein is too young a combination. If one looks at the use of Martini branding one sees Massa is full kit and Stroll with different shirts and caps, although the cars remain the same. This is because the alcohol industry has a voluntary agreement not to use stars/models under 25 to promote its goods. Thus Massa does the Martini work. Without him, neither driver could do it, but he could stay on (if it suited him) as a Martini salesman.