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.