A load of rubbish

The Internet is filled with instant experts about Formula 1. I browse the web to see what is happening and I am amazed that there are so many people who claim to know so much and have such virulent opinions – when they have never been seen inside a Formula 1 paddock.

There are one or two of the more intelligent ones who argue that if one has sufficient good sources, being outside is an advantage because you are not afraid to have strong opinions. It is true that if one rocks the boat in F1 one can run into opposition, but that does not mean that having a media pass and access to the important people makes one a bad journalist. Indeed it is the best informed F1 journalists that upset people the most because they know what is really going on and cannot be dismissed as simply guessing.

The drift towards uninformed experts is happening across the media at the moment and it is a worrying trend because more and more of the news is rehashed with opinion added. There are few reliable news outlets although these remain the same: a small group of F1 reporters who go to all the races and who can pick up the phone and call the movers and shakers to verify the rumours that they hear. There are others beyond that who are carefully fed stories that people want to see in print and often those being fed the stories do not care nor bother to ask what is the purpose of the leak. A story is a story.

Manipulation of the news is thus relatively easy because the spread of news in the sport is like the waves on a pond. They grow concentrically and spread.

The new Brawn GP is a good example. If you read the Internet today you would think that only Ross Brawn is involved in Brawn GP. It is not quite true. The management buyout is still a management buyout and others are involved, but for whatever reason they have chosen for the whole thing to be fronted by Brawn. He is the one who has enjoyed the most success and the highest profile. With the exception of Nick Fry the others live in the F1 shadows. Fry’s position is rather odd. He has been with the team for seven years, coming in as managing-director of British American Racing, after BAT decided to hand over the running of the team from the founders to David Richards. In 2005 he left Prodrive to become a Honda employee and do the same job as before.

There are some who do not like him. He is not the guarded and unresponsive type of person one expects to see in an old-fashioned F1 team principal. He smiles and says hello. He answers questions if he can. He is a front man who plays up the message that he is delivering and plays down problems. Sometimes that does not come across well. He uses his words carefully but does not come up with the kind of bald-faced lies one hears from the mouths of some of the other team principals.

The delays in getting things done and the uncooperative nature of the principal players in recent months cane all be explained quite easily. Those involved in the purchase were bound by confidentiality agreements and so could not explain what was going on. The delays seem to have been caused largely by dithering within the Honda management in Japan.

The company decided to axe its F1 programme rather suddenly in December. It was presented as a financial necessity – but the truth was that a lot was going on in the background. The need to save money was obviously an element of that and the bad publicity created because Honda spent a lot of money to support its F1 environmental message and in to try to keep Super Aguri afloat was turned into a weapon against the management. One can speculate that the F1 decision was to do with a power struggle inside Honda involving president Takeo Fukui. The unsuccessful F1 programme was a good weapon against him and he had to let it go in order to fight off those who wnated him out for other reasons.

It has been argued (quietly) in Japan that another reason was because the company was not happy with the way the sport is run, both from a political point of view and from a financial angle. The Japanese manufacturers were the ones, for example, who struggled most to understand and accept the Mosley Scandal a year ago.

The fundamental reasons why Honda was in F1 still exist: they want the technology; they want the publicity; and – most important of all – they want their bright young engineers to be trained in the thought-processes of F1 so that they can move into the industry and make things happen quickly – as happens in F1. There is, therefore, every reason for Honda to continue.

Honda is a public company and has to answer to shareholders. Investors do not like waste because it means that they are losing profits. At the same time the idea that Honda can give away assets worth perhaps a quarter of a billion dollars brings into question the fiduciary duties of the directors on the main company. They have a duty to their shareholders not to do such irresponsible things. Thus one must speculate that Brawn & Co are simply caretakers of the team, or at least have had to agree to options that would allow Honda to buy the team back if it chooses to do so at a certain point in the future.

Given that the team was given away and is being funded by Honda money for 2009, the choice of the buyer was important in that Honda was not willing to sell to anyone with the slightest potential for embarrassment. The Japanese did not want to deal with anyone who had any hint of dodginess. In the end they also probably had to do things in rather more haste than they like to do, because time was running out.

So the sale to Brawn is almost certainly not the end of the story The other management members are involved and there may be other partners which were not acceptable to Honda but that are acceptable to the team that have yet to come to light. All the stories of Fry being ousted should therefore be treated with caution. The team may be called Brawn GP but it was Fry who represented the organisation at the FOTA launch in Geneva the same day as the announcement came.

We know half the story. We need to wait for the rest to be revealed.

22 thoughts on “A load of rubbish

  1. If you read the Internet today

    Talk about doing an impossible thing before breakfast!

    Given Honda’s performance since Nick Fry took over it’s hardly surprising some people are speculating he may not be involved in the new team. But although I haven’t got an F1 paddock pass, I doubt it’s printed on the reverse that only the bearer has a right to speculate about what’s going on in Formula 1.

    1. There is no rule against speculation inside or outside the paddock but I find it rather worrying that there is so much uninformed rumouring going on and much of it is being dressed up as though the people producing it are there in the paddock at the races. They are not.

      There is not one single accredited Internet journalist in F1.

      Those who do blogs and so on do other jobs first. A lot of the websites purporting to be serious are totally amateur.

      Everyone has the right to an opinion, but it is defrauding the audience to give the impression that these websites have access to the big players.

  2. The other point to consider is that these amateur websites have low overheads and are thus able to offer their services to bigger news organisations at a lower price than the professional reporters can afford to offer because they have to pay $40k a year in travelling expenses. This is putting the professionals into more and more difficulty and ultimately may kill off this small group of experienced and well-connected professionals.

    If that happens the available sources of good information will become even smaller and thus the quality will go down.

  3. I followed with great interest all the speculation and rumour-mongering. I knew not all of it could be true and as we got closer to the official announcement it was clear that very little of it was to be believed. Or at least, the way it was reported should be analysed critically.

    We saw headlines about deals being done here and there, drivers in or out, Nick Fry saving the team/destroying the team. Mostly pure speculation. But in the back of one’s mind there’s always the thought, “There’s no smoke without fire.”

    We live increasingly in an age of social media and we’ll have to get used to misreporting. The internet is now a conversation, as much full of knee-jerk misinformation as the typical water-cooler chat. It’s on the shoulder’s of the media consumer to sift out the fact from the fiction and apply a critical eye to what we read, hear or watch.

    What I can say is that I turn to JS and GrandPrix.com for the most reliable reporting. Keep up the good work.

  4. As editor of F1 News Update(it´s very small and very new), I can support the comment made by joesaward. I myself have a fulltime job, and I try to put in as much work on the news site as possible.

    I grant that there are a lot of bs out there, mainly because for some it´s all about being the first with the story. Problem is, that this tends to ruin what could be a good story. I always call the team or the contact person or who ever it is I need to call, and via those people I can establish what is right and what is wrong. I may not be the first to publish the story, but integrity and honesty are values I care about.

    On my site, I have access to most teams and their photo-gallery. I just have to follow the rules and guidelines and I have been doing so for numerous years. People know me, as “oh, yeah. You´re that guy that I talked to about…”

    That´s ok with me. I am not a known reporter or journalist, this is purely a hobby for me, but still it´s crucial for me to be as well-informed as possible.

    I think both the teams and FIA would benefit if they gave accreditation(sp?) to a couple of internet journalists. The internet has been here for quite some time now, and by doing so, a lot of speculation will stop and self-provlaimed experts will need to rethink their situation.

    BTW: I applied and got nothing:-)

  5. Why don’t you fess up and name the people, and some of the specific reports, you are referring to (such as the one that triggered this post), so that people can analyze your opinion here – either agree or disagree with you. Your entry is the equivalent of saying “good websites are good and crap ones are crap”. Naming some names will also give those who are being attacked an opportunity to mount a defense and perhaps explain how/why they purport to be a part of the F1 community even though the fact they are internet-based (and therefore fall foul of FOM rules for accreditation) precludes them from attending races.

  6. There are obvious legal reasons why I cannot name names and I don’t have the time nor the money to waste to fight legal actions from people who would ultimately lose. I have more important things to do.

    You need only to surf the web a little to find out who is being discussed.

    The other point you need to understand is that even if the accreditation (FIA not FOM) was opened up to Internet sites, only big organisations such as the BBC would be able to meet the costs involved. There would not be any of the people I am talking about who could afford to pay the bills. It is the cash rather than the rules that preclude them from becoming professional reporters. If they could raise the cash and get accreditation and learn the business and report in a responsible manner then I would have no complaints at all.

  7. Joe,
    There have always been many media around the world which ran various stories on F1 without ever having a correspondent in the paddock. Many, if not most of these bits, have been work of amateurs too (or professional adaptations of articles from better informed media). The only difference internet makes is that you can as easily browse it as you can “publish” on it which means you personally can follow a greater portion of considerably increased F1 coverage.
    However, the standard of information, interpretation, (professional) ethics and also the quality of writing is yet another question which, unfortunately, I would extend to all the media not limiting myself only to the “newcomers” on the web.
    As much as I remember, about a year ago a newspaper broke a sensational story which had shaken the F1 quite badly, although it has probably not been prepared by their regular GP reporter with some mileage in the F1 padock (not to mention the video material on their web site). I seriously doubt that research into MM’s personal habits has been done by journalists as the whole thing quite clearly resembeled a well prepared plot. Nevertheless, I was very dissapointed by the avalanche of condemnation of MM in many many articles written by regulars and real insiders among the F1 journos. Being convinced that there are several serious questions for MM to answer and also events/transactions to be explained in a frank and transparent manner, I’d say that his critics at the time should have focused on real problems and at least passively defend MMs intimate privacy in that irrelevant affair.
    Ocassionally you mention a paralax effect between perspectives of the F1 people and the real world and I strongly agree with you. For example take an average democratic and relatively developed country of the real world. Providing their PM would have arranged an important concession to be bought for 300 M$ for 99 years by his long time friend it certainly would have raised at least one eyebrow in the opposition. What do you thing would have happened if, within a few years’ time, it became evident that only the turnover of that concession is reaching billions over the first decade and that probably the profits over that period would more that exceed the price of concession for the 10 times the period? Of course, in real world most of the PMs and governements don’t last 10 years or more. I wonder why.

  8. The Mosley thing was a good illustration of the good side of the F1 media. While most newspapers around the world were banging away about the more lurid details about his sexual activities, there was very little said in the motorsport press, beyond questions about whether it was good for the sport to have a leader who had allowed himself to be in such a position and what effects that would have on the FIA power.

    It is true that some of the other hard questions are not asked of Mosley but I have asked the questions you mention and he has a plausible argument. It is this: by agreeing to the deal he got FOM to accept elements of FIA power that had not previously been recognised in any official way. He thus established the political power of the federation beyond argument and safeguarded the future of that organisation. From a financial point of view he argued that the FIA is a non-profit organisation and so he took all that was needed to guarantee its long-term future and to support some of his pet projects (through the FIA Foundation). I don’t agree with what he did because I believe the federation should be helping fund the clubs and grass roots motorsport.

    However, the FIA does still have the clause in the contract that allows it to veto the sale of the rights and that provides the opportunity for negotiations in the future.

  9. Joe, I think you are missing the point of most of the blogs and web-sites. In a lot of cases, the web-sites are simply passing on news and headlines. In the case of blogs, these have become excellent forums for debate, updates, and to be sure, conjecture. There are a small handful of high quality blogs that are more about opinion and arguing a point, and less about factual news. That’s your job.

    Although Keith’s blog does pass on news, most of us visit his blog in order to join in on a particular point he has focused on and share our opinions or even find out what they are through mostly healthy debate, something one finds very little of on the more mainstream sites. I would guess that a topic such as this would garner many more responses over at Keith or Clive’s sites than here, quite frankly.

    And I’m willing to bet that those who run F1 but only claim to care what the fans think, are actually checking out what the fan-driven sites are saying. So, while you may look down your nose at mere blogs, and I don’t mean in any way to diminish the importance of grandprix.com, there is plenty of room out there for those who care to to weigh in on the soap opera that is F1.

  10. Sorry, forgot to add two important points:
    1. Saluting the Brawn GP above all because it must be good news for the employees. For their sake I hope the team will manage to get through the storm.
    2. Web pirates or not, good and knowledgeable writers will always be needed and very appreciated. I am faithful to grandprix.com, Joe Saward and some other authors because I believe you (even when I dissagree) and cherish your knowledge and work. Maybe slightly older readers, who are still familiar with things as “trusted brand” and magazine subscription and reader loyalty in exchange for quality of written work etc. can spread the word over blogs and forums. Some education of new generations of fans would do no harm to good writing.

  11. I am not having a go at blogs and I want to promote social discussions about F1. This is a blog. It is not the same thing as a news website.

    I am having a go at news websites that claim to be something they are not. End of story.

    And I think you are entirely wrong about F1 people reading blogs to find out what the fans think. They are not doing that at all.

    That is why they are still doing daft surveys…

  12. Joe,
    Thanks for your explanation. Max is a weird and very smooth man, isn’t he. It’s not really difficult to dislike him, but quite easy to like him as well. 🙂

  13. Everyone has the right to an opinion, but it is defrauding the audience to give the impression that these websites have access to the big players.

    couldn’t agree more.

    This is putting the professionals into more and more difficulty and ultimately may kill off this small group of experienced and well-connected professionals.

    worryingly, i think this may eventually happen.

    one solution might be to educate and motivate f1 fans as to who to trust and who to avoid. as you mention though, legal issues probably prevent the naming and shaming that would be required.

    what you could do is offer up a list of the “…small group of F1 reporters who go to all the races”. those not named, could be avoided, or at least treated with caution.

    This is a blog. It is not the same thing as a news website.

    hallelujah.

    the only thing to add, is that autosport managed to further confusion in days gone by, with columns such as “davidson’s blog” and “ed’s blog”. which were news pieces, dressed up as opinion!

    appreciate the post, am glad you have a blog 🙂

  14. The web is a funny equity. In some ways it’s so much better than the previous formats (TV, newspapers etc). In other ways it’s a huge pain in the…

    As a reader – especially if you are from non-english/german/italian country, you have the possibility to read translated F1-news in your own language. Some of them then add to the excitement by chosing a juicier headline or alter a bit in the quotes. But a lot of readers are intelligent enough to discover that.

    Most of the points that you raised above is not reaaly that big a problem from the readers point of view. The less gifted will always believe all they are told no matter if the internet is there or not.

    I can see your point with real journalists and editors missing important income, because internet sites steal some of their work. But honestly – that is a problem in all sorts of trades these days, it’s just called something slightly different in other businesses. And it’s only fought with going into the fight head-on, and beating the new guys, even if ti has to be done on their terms.

    The biggest issue as I see it, is the amount of internet-created stories, that has absolutely nothing to do with the real world. Stories that makes even serious reporters asking silly questions in the press conferences, just to eliminate silly stories. Time that could have been used for good quality questions, but not the question that the majority of readers want answers to. Questions that make teams and drivers galore all being very corporate minded when choosing what and when to communicate. And then it turns back on the reporters, who then are a little too cautious about what questions the ask. What bowls they choose to stir. Because if they stir the wrong bowls at the wrong time, they too get the cold shoulder from teams/drivers or even the FIA for a certain period of time.

    That alone has made F1 very dull over the last 10 years, and even very big and very well behaved sites like Autosport.com looks at grandprix.com as a pain in the business who the world would be favoured to be saved from. I miss the fast answering drivers who didn’t always think before they spoke. I miss Stoddart for his bluntness and not very corporate nature. And F1 coverage will die if there is not Joe Saward to stir up things and bring us stuff that is not approved by this and that press officer.

    But in all this Joe – be honest. You are not the angel of the pack, and quite a few times you have written things that took you a good deal closer to court rooms than naming certain websites (not that I want you to). And on a number of occasions you yourself have brought news or theories that wasn’t right and maybe even close. That said, I’d rather live without the real biggies like Autosport, than I would live without grandprix.com. Everything I can read in their is only a few clicks away on the team’s respective websites. At least you tell us stuff, that we can’t read anywhere else.

    Keep it up – don’t ever let us down 😉

  15. It seems to me slightly contradictory and hypocritical to complain about you-know-whos-wink-wink that you won’t actually name, and then 5 minutes later report “Brawn to get backing from bwin?” at grandprix.com that you have clearly sourced from some of the websites you despise. google it, people, and see where the story came from, ‘cos it wasn’t from Joe and his paddock pass. There’s your list of people Joe despises.

    1. Chris, you are missing the point entirely here, presumably on purpose because I think the point I was making was very clear.

      This morning’s rant and rave was about people who twist stories into things they are not. Nick Fry is happily at work today in Brackley and he is doing the job he has been doing for years. Read the spin and you will see stories saying he is marginalised or even out on his ear. This is rubbish. All the parties involved in the negotiations were bound by non disclosure agreements so they could not speak. I believe that the shareholding structure of Brawn GP is probably covered by that, but I am told that it will all become obvious in a while. I take this to mean that there is another partner involved that Honda did not wish to deal with directly.

      The story about bwin comes from a French magazine, which was picked up by one of these organisations that pretend to have people in F1 but in fact are simply picking up stories from other people. In this case it is not a problem because the “spin” involved is minimal. Any journalist worth his or her salt will chase after a story that has come out in another country. People constantly take news from grandprix.com and Autosport and make it their own. There are some European websites that do not even pretend to do anything other that copy and translate.

      It is the TWISTING of news that I was complaining about, not the picking up of stories…

      I have already explained why I am not naming names and if you were in my position you would do the same thing. It is pointless to waste time and money when one has neither in large supply.

      When all is said and done, however, F1 fans will get what they deserve. If they prefer to read the sensationalised crap that is turned out each week by these people then that is what they will get. If they want measured and informed comment then it is available for the time being, but if these organisations go on doing what they are doing it will disappear because the professionals cannot compete.

  16. Couldn’t agree more, and I am glad you draw the distinction between blogs and news sites.

    I think most bloggers, like myself, who pass things along and tie in a little personal opinion have been burned more than once by what at first seemed like a valid story, only to find it has grown out of someone’s imagination. There are only a handful of sites I will now take as authority, and the rest are unsubstantiated rumor. Often, I think you’ll find the inaccurate news roots at the same handful of sources.

    As a professional journalist at a daily newspaper (sadly not with a racing focus), I am mindful of what I source. I have been impressed over the past year by the quality that exists in the F1 blogosphere, it is not something I find on all subjects. If only some of the “news” sites were so inclined.

  17. Joe you do not neet to name and shame, just maybe give a list of these sites you would reccomend people should check out for themselves.

  18. Joe, why don’t you do one of your Barium Meals like you did in 2002.2003 (?) that caught a lot of the “top” F1 websites out?? From what i remember it was about a management meeting about the future of F1….

  19. I couldn’t agree more, and I’m certain which ‘agency’ you’re referring to. I find it quite frustrating reading the same article at every other site, usually based around one single quote taken out of context.

    I work for one small site (although our visitor figures are measured in millions) and I take a great pride in making sure only thoroughly researched and accurate information makes it on to the site. I do, however, have the advantage of working in the industry until a few years ago, so I’ve still got the right contacts and no conflict of interests.

    The site has broken countless stories regarding BAR/Honda/Brawn over the years, although has been criticised recently in some quarters for being irresponsible. That was due to a story on 23 Feb that was perhaps run a little early, but proved to be accurate – something I was always confident about as my source for that one was impeccable.

    Even though we’re running on a limited budget (although one that allows a number of part-time staff and has enough money left to cover testing in person), it proves that any site can provide accurate and trustworthy content. It just depends on the owner/publisher/fan/whoever making the effort to produce such content, and having the desire to be successful.

    Sadly, a great many want nothing more than to simply say “I have an F1 website!”

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