Brivio joins Alpine F1

Alpine F1 Team has confirmed that Davide Brivio will join the team as Racing Director

His specific role and responsibilities will be announced in the coming weeks.

He will report to the Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi.

Davide joins Alpine F1 Team with a wealth of experience and success following more than 20 years in the MotoGP World Championship, most recently sealing the World Championship crown for rider Joan Mir, and the Teams’ Championship title for his former team.

Jurgen Hubert 1939-2021

Jurgen Hubbert has died, at the age of 81. He played an important role in coaxing the Stuttgart car firm back into motorsport.

Mercedes has quit the sport after the Le Mans disaster in 1955 and showed no real interest in returning, fearful of reviving the painful memories. Hubbert watched racing at Solitude in the 1960s, he was not a racing enthusiast. He joined Mercedes in the late 1960s and moved up in the company to become head of strategy by the mid-1980s.

At the time Sauber had decided to use a modified Mercedes road car engine to power its Group C sports cars. The Mercedes factory was not involved and Sauber had to go to Heini Mader to ask for the engine to be updated. Mader added two KKK turbochargers and the resulting engine was fitted into the old C7 chassis, although the car was called the C8. Sauber then asked Mercedes-Benz if he could run the car is a Mercedes wind tunnel and this sparked interest in Stuttgart, although the company under CEO Werner Breitshwerdt was not interested in going racing. Hubbert realised that the sport was a brilliant way to market Mercedes and promote the brand, because he believed that the diversification of the company was shifting focus away from the road cars and that the company was suffering as a result.

Breitshwerdt retired in 1987 and control of Mercedes was taken over by Werner Niefer, who decided to adopt a more aggressive policy. That year Sauber had managed to secure sponsorship from the Yves Saint Laurent company, which was promoting its Kouros fragrance, although Hubbert was providing some funding. The results were not great, but at the end of the year Hubbert had convinced Niefer that motorsport was a good strategic policy and so it was announced that Mercedes-Benz would open a competition department to look after Sauber and various teams running Mercedes 190Es in Group A touring car racing. This would be headed by the racing journalist Norbert Haug.

The Sauber team name was changed to Sauber Mercedes and sponsorship was found from AEG, a Daimler-owned appliance company. The team finished second in the Sports Car World Championship in 1988 and in 1989 the cars were painted silver and the team won the title and scored a 1-2 finish in the Le Mans 24 Hours. The 1990 season was another success and so preparations began for Sauber and Mercedes to enter F1 together. Harvey Postlethwaite was hired as technical director and Mercedes funded the construction of a new factory for Sauber in Hinwil, but at the end of 1991 Niefer decided to put the project on hold because of the economic situation. This left Sauber to go it alone in F1 in its debut season in 1993, although Mercedes continued to provide some funding on an unofficial basis, with Ilmor providing V10 engines. That summer Niefer died and was replaced as head of Mercedes by Helmut Werner. He decided that for 1994 the engines would be badged Mercedes and the team became Sauber Mercedes. The season was nothing special and McLaren, which was struggling with Peugeot engines, approached Mercedes about using its engines in 1995. A deal was struck.

That year Werner and Jurgen Schrempp fought to succeed Edzard Reuter as CEO of the Daimler Benz company, with the latter winning. But when Werner opposed Schrempp’s strategy of merging with Chrysler he was replaced as head of Mercedes-Benz by Hubbert. He would remain in charge of the firm until 2004. In addition to pushing for motorsport he expanded the model range to include new premium models, including the M-Class and CLK, plus the A-Class and the Smart. The relationship with McLaren developed slowly and the partners did not win a race until 1997, but then in 1998 and 1999 Mika Hakkinen won two titles and the team remained competitive for many years. Hubbert remained in his role while also becoming head of the Grand Prix World Championship organisation, which was a negotiating ploy by the manufacturers to establish their own Grand Prix series from 2008 in competition Bernie Ecclestone. In the end a deal was struck and peace returned.

Hubbert retired in 2004 but continued to attend races from time to time for years afterwards, including the third McLaren-Mercedes World Championship title in 2008.

“Jurgen Hubbert was Mister Mercedes,” said Ola Källenius, chairman of Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz AG. “With integrity, innovative spirit and great success, he shaped Mercedes-Benz forever. Under his responsibility, a historic product offensive was launched with groundbreaking vehicles such as the A- and M-Class. As a leader, he was able to integrate and motivate his teams with a passion for technology and the highest standards for himself. He is forever assured of the appreciation of the entire Mercedes family. We mourn a great personality and a great person.”

New COVID restrictions in France

France has just announced that arrivals from non-EU countries must have had a negative test 72 hours or less. There may be exemptions for truck drivers but all others will still have to quarantine for seven days, even with a negative test. Some exemptions but this will make life difficult for F1 people from GB even passing through France. It will also impact Alfa Romeo as Switzerland is not in EU. We’ll see if the sport can get exemptions.

Leclerc tests positive

Charles Leclerc has tested positive for COVID-19.

In accordance with the team’s protocols, Charles is tested regularly and yesterday, the result from his latest test came back positive.

Charles is the fifth F1 driver to test positive – a statistic which suggests that the sport still has work to do, when compared to the percentages seen among the general public.

The other four are Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll, Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris.

Thoughts on the (new) F1 calendar

The latest version of the Formula 1 calendar has been issued by the F1 Group, although it is by no means certain that this will be the definitive schedule – although this is clearly the intention. In the current global circumstances, however, one cannot take anything for granted as international travel remains complicated, even if the British-based F1 teams still maintain their “elite sport” status, which makes movement easier.

The downside of that is that Brexit has made things more complicated as all the European team members working in the UK are going to have to go through the process of getting the required work permits, which is going to make it very complex for F1’s human resources people, who will have to wade through the paperwork required. There is also going to be a fair amount of red tape relating to the trucks that go backwards and forwards between the UK and Europe and one can expect at least some of them to end up being based on the Continent, to avoid the need for all this necessary pen-pushing.

The eagle-eyed will have noticed that the new calendar includes two Italian Grands Prix. One at Imola on April 18 and another at Monza on September 12. Such a thing is not unprecedented (in 1960 South Africa had two Grands Prix in a year: one on January 1, the other on December 27), but it is also very unlikely in the modern and litigious age of branding. It is logical to assume therefore that the first race will again be a Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna, as this is the region which will be paying for the race, presumably to promote the Motor Valley concept. The other races which will have different names than those listed will be Brazil, Mexico and the United Kingdom. These races will be known as the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, the Mexico City GP and the British Grand Prix. The first two obviously relate to who is paying for the race, the third is just a matter of protocol. The British GP has – in the modern age – always been the British GP. However one can ask why that is the case as Great Britain is England, Scotland and Wales, while the United Kingdom is Great Britain and Northern Ireland, plus a few other odds and ends out at sea.

Wars have been fought over such matters ad infinitum but motorsport seems to be blind to the fact that the national sporting authority is known as Motorsport UK and yet it organises the British GP and Rally GB. Until recently, in fact, there was a plan to hold Rally GB in Northern Ireland, which would have had the pedant constitutionalists all a-twitter… as that would be like holding the Luxembourg GP in Germany.

Oh wait…

Whatever the case, I don’t suppose it will stop the Europeans calling the Silverstone event the English GP because it is just too complicated to understand all the different names involved.

Anyway, it is interesting to note the change in F1 strategy, allowing regions to name national races. That was the case when there were two races in the same country, but generally the national GP was the national GP.

Ah well, money changes everything…

A (moderately) interesting move from Renault

Alpine is currently being revamped and hidden away in the detail is the news that Alpine has signed a memorandum of understanding with Group Lotus to study possible areas of cooperation, including the joint development of an electric sportscar.

Alpine and Lotus will conduct “a comprehensive feasibility study for the joint engineering, design and development of an EV sportscar by leveraging the resources, expertise and facilities of the respective entities”. They will also explore the development of a joint services offer combining their engineering expertise and, most interestingly, “a collaboration to leverage Alpine’s motorsport platform covering F1 to Formula E and endurance is also under study”.

“The signing of this MoU with Lotus shows the lean and smart approach we’re implementing as part of the new Alpine brand strategy,” said Laurent Rossi, the new CEO of Alpine. “Both brands have an amazing legacy and we are most excited to start this work together, from engineering tailored solutions to developing a next-generation EV sports car. This collaboration along with our transformation mark the beginning of a new era in which we’ll be taking the Alpine name and line-up to the future. We’re putting F1 at the heart of our business, leveraging our in-house expertise and best-in-class partners such as Lotus to inject our cars with leading-edge performance, technology and motorisation”.

Group Lotus is owned these days by China’s Geely, which owns 51 percent of the shares, while the remaining 49 percent are controlled by a Malaysian conglomerate called Etika Automotive, a firm which is owned by the low-profile Syed Mokhtar al-Bukhary, who startd out as rice trader and today controls a number of large conglomerates, including MMC Corp, a utilities and infrastructure group involved in shipping, energy, and construction; and DRB-HICOM, which manufactures, assembles and distributes passenger cars, trucks and motorcycles.

Geely owns the Geely, Lotus, Lynk & Co, Proton and Volvo brands in addition to the London EV Company. The firm builds around 1.5 million cars a year.

Alpine has revealed a totally uninspiring “winter” livery. Hopefully the racing livery will be more interesting.

Trouble in Brazil

A judge in Brazil has suspended the payment of an $18 million contract which the Prefecture of Sao Paulo had agreed with the F1 group for a race in Interlagos this year. The details of the deal were announced last week in the official state journal, with a five-year deal that allowed the prefecture to pay the promoter money to run a Grand Prix.

However Judge Emilio Migliano Neto has ruled that the contract needs to be looked at in detail because there was no tender for the contract and because of the secrecy involved in the negotiations. This could be the result of the former race promoter stirring up trouble as there as been some some discontent in the relationship in recent years.

The judge has given the city five days to produce required documentation. The deal was agreed in November for the city to host a race at Interlagos for the next five years. The race is to be called the Sao Paulo Grand Prix rather than the Brazilian GP as a result. It is unlikely that this will impact the race in any permanent way but it will make the paperwork more arduous.

F1 calendar shaken up

Formula 1 has confirmed a new version of the calendar – as expected, with the season now beginning in Bahrain on March 28. The ongoing situation regarding COVID-19 has meant it is not feasible to begin the season in Melbourne, but the Australian Grand Prix will has been listed for November 18-21. The Chinese Grand Prix is also off and there are talks going on to reschedule the event, although this will not be easy. Imola will be on April 18, while the race that is still to be announced (probably Portugal) will be on May 2.

For the moment, therefore, the calendar remains at 23 races. In order to accommodate Australia, the races in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi have been pushed back a week from November 28 and December 5 to December 5 and December 12 respectively, while Brazil has been moved forward from November 14 to November 7, creating a new triple-header with Austin and Mexico. This will add to the tough nature of the travel – if, of course, things remain as they are – and there is not certainty of that.

F1 continues to say that it expects fans to return to the grandstands and to the Paddock Clubs but that will largelt depend on whether the local authorities think this is a good idea, and on whether fans actually want to go to races in a pandemic. That will differ from country to country, depending on the attitudes in the different nations.

A big shake-up at Alpine

Change had been expected at Alpine but it was thought that Cyril Abiteboul’s role with the firm was safe – but it seems that was not true as Renault has just announced that Laurent Rossi has been appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Alpine brand, effective today. He will be in charge of Alpine Cars, Sport, F1 and competition activities, and will report to the company Chief Executive Officer Luca de Meo.

Abiteboul is leaving the company after 20 years. It remains to be seen whether he is moving to a new role in Formula 1…

Rossi began his career with Renault in 2000 as a development engineer, after completing a Masters in mechanical engineering. In 2009 he left the firm after finishing an MBA course at Harvard and joined the Boston Consulting Group in New York, as the firm’s automotive industry expert.  In 2012 he moved to Google to develop commercial relations with automotive industry companies, firstly in Paris for the Europe region, then in New York for the Americas region and then globally. He returned to Renault in 2018 and was named Vice-President of Corporate Strategy and Business Development in 2019. He is a member of Groupe Renault Management Committee.

It has yet to be announced what roles will be taken by others but it is expected that MotoGP team boss Davide Brivio will join the team, working alongside Marcin Budkowski.

“I would like to thank the Groupe Renault for having trusted me for many years, particularly with the relaunch and reconstruction of the team since 2016,” Abiteboul said. “The solid foundations of the racing team and the entities in France and England built over these years, the strategic evolution of the sport towards a more economically sustainable model, and more recently the Alpine project which provides a renewed sense of meaning and dynamism, all point to a very fine trajectory. I would like to thank Luca de Meo for involving me in the construction of the Alpine Business Unit and I wish the new structure every success.” 

De Meo said that Abiteboul’s work had been “remarkable”.

“I would like to warmly thank Cyril for his tireless involvement, which notably led the Renault F1 Team from the penultimate place in 2016 to the podiums last season,” he said. “His remarkable work in F1 since 2007 allows us to look to the future, with a strong team and the new Alpine F1 Team identity to conquer the podiums this year.”

The announcement clearly indicates that the split is amicable, which suggests that Cyril has not been kicked out but is leaving to go on to something bigger and better. This makes some sense as de Meo gave the impression that Cyril would be involved in the future of Alpine when the plan to switch from Renault to Alpine branding was first announced at Monza.

It may just be a coincidence, but the news comes just a few days after the announcement that the Fiat-Peugeot merger has gone through, to create the new Stellantis company, which boasts no fewer than 14 different brands.

Stellantis is headed by Carlos Tavares, who used to be a big player at Renault. When Abiteboul first took an important role in Renault Sport F1 in 2010, in the wake of the Singapore GP scandal he was seen as someone who had the confidence of Tavares and was elevated to deputy managing-director of the team when Tavares was COO of Renault. Cyril then departed to join Caterham, an arrangement which included the promise of an Alpine sports car, which was going to be a joint venture between Caterham and Renault., This was largely a Tavares project but he departed Renault in the summer of 2013. He subsequently became head of Peugeot and was the architect of the merger with Fiat. Although the Alpine programme went ahead, Caterham dropped out of the project and of Formula 1 and so Abiteboul went back to Renault to become team principal and managing-director of Renault Sport F1.

Stellantis’s current involvement in Formula 1 is through the Alfa Romeo brand, which is the sponsor of Sauber. The team has not been a great success.

It will be interesting to see what Abiteboul will do next…

A real hero

It has been a horrible month for motorsport with a string of obituaries to begin 2021, several of them as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, France lost one of its great motorsport heroes, Hubert Auriol, and as with Claude Brasseur a week or two ago, I thought readers might like to hear his story.

Auriol did not have much to do with Formula 1, but I met him in March 1994 at his celebrated restaurant called Le Pont de Suresnes. I was there for a launch involving the Pacific Grand Prix team, which was announcing a sponsorship deal with the oil company Igol and the venue was chosen, I believe, because Auriol was a pal of Paul Belmondo, who was being announced as the team’s second driver.

I remember being surprised by Auriol’s height more than anything, because in my experience bike racers had always been small and skinny. Hubert was a big guy. He was charming and was very modest when talking about his achievements.

A few years earlier I had been on the Dakar and I wrote at the time that the even the famous F1 racers who were taking part knew that “the real stars of the desert were the men on the motorcycles, to whom heroism is second nature”. Auriol was the biggest name at that point. I had followed the Dakar closely for a number of years and had heard the stories of his courage.

Born in Addis-Ababa in Ethiopia in 1952, Hubert was the son of Jacques Auriol, who ran the Chemin de Fer Franco- Éthiopien, based in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Hubert and his three sisters grew up in Africa and often went on safari with their parents, using an old Land Rover.

The family moved to Paris when Hubert was in his early teens and after school he went to business school and then started negotiating deals in the textile trade. His passion was motorcycling and he started competing in motocross and enduro events when he was 21 before he signed up to race a bike in the first Paris-Dakar in 1979. He went on to compete in nine Dakars on bikes and then later another seven in cars. He won in 1981 and 1983, riding for BMW France and was second in 1984.

And then in 1987 he was leading on the penultimate stage by seven minutes when he crashed and broke both his ankles. If you are of a squeamish nature don’t read on… he somehow hauled himself back on to the bike and got going again and rode the last 20 kilometres that day to get to the finish. He was still two minutes ahead of his rival Cyril Neveu, but when the medics arrived to look at him, it was clear that he could go no further. The gave him morphine and set him off to hospital in a helicopter. The following day, Neveu rode to victory. After that Auriol gave up bikes and turned to cars and in 1992 won the race.

Auriol continued to compete but concentrated more energy on his restaurant but in 1994 he was offered the role Then in 1994 he joined these race director of the Dakar by the Amaury Sports Organisation and took on that role from 1995 until 2004.

Along the way he was appointed to France’s Ordre National du Mérite  and to the Légion d’honneur. He also tried his hand as a television presenter, being the presenter of the first series of Koh-Lanta, a reality game show based on the format of the Survivor series in 2001. He did only one season before handing over to sports journalist Denis Brogniart, who also presented TF1’s Formula 1 coverage between 2004 and 2012. The show continues to air each year.

Auriol later became involved with the organisation of the Africa Eco Race, after the original Dakar switched to South America.

Tragically, Auriol’s ex-wife Caroline (they divorced in 2003), mother of their three daughters, was killed in an cycling accident only five  weeks ago.