The last couple of days have been much-needed down time between the Malaysian and Chinese GPs. It seems like it has been flat out for months with the build up to the season and then the early races. There has been a lot of chat about the penalties in KL and a few other bits and pieces of note, such as the announcement of the name “Circuit of the Americas” for the track in Austin, Texas. There has been a certain amount of speculation about the Hispania Racing Team doing a financial deal with the Formula One group for a pile of money each year as Bernie Ecclestone continues to try to split up the alliance of the teams. No doubt some will be tempted to jump ship if Colin Kolles does get a $35 million a year deal, which is three and a half times what he is getting now. That would secure the future of the team but it would not make Kolles popular with the other team owners, many of whom consider that politically-speaking HRT is an irrelevance. If others break way and sign up with Ecclestone then this will undermine FOTA. It is a risk for Kolles but he seems to be of the opinion that Ecclestone will get what he wants in the future and that it is wise to the the first to break away, rather than holding out and being the last. The down side of this argument is if Ecclestone does not win, HRT may find out that it is not very welcome in the sport. As it is not Kolles’s team it is probably worth the gamble.
The other thing that one needs to look out for in the next couple of months is the appearance of any new engine manufacturers for the 2013 season. The rules are already set and while Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault are committed to the World Championship, they want to make sure that they will only need to provide engines for three teams apiece. This means that they need a fourth manufacturer. Cosworth says that it will be there and will develop a suitable engine at a fraction of the cost of the big teams, but there are some who think that it is already too late for such a project to begin. The Formula 1 rules have featured normally-aspirated engines since 1989 when turbocharged 1.5-litre units were banned and the FIA mandated 3.5-litre engines. Honda and Renault chose V10s, Ferrari went for a V12, while Ford stayed with a V8. There were also V8s from Judd and Yamaha and a Lamborghini V12. In the years that followed new contenders included a hopeless W12 from Life Racing Engines, a flat-12 Subaru, built by Italy’s Motori Moderni, an Ilmor V10 which would eventually become a Mercedes-Benz and a Porsche V12, which failed badly. Peugeot followed in 1994, while the engine rules were changed to 3-litres for 1995, after Ayrton Senna’s accident. In 1996 Ferrari decided to downsize to a V10 and in 2000 BMW joined the party and Toyota followed in 2002. By 2006 the FIA decided that the engines needed to be downsized again with 2.4-litre V8s mandated and after that engine specifications were frozen to keep down development costs. The lessons learned is that a change of engine spec provides opportunities for new players to enter the sport… So one can expect some action, particularly as many engine manufacturers are interested by the new green technologies that the rules will allow in 2013. While there is some whingeing about costs, it is clear that F1 remains an impressively cost-effective form of advertising, with the kind of associations that manufacturers want to have.
It will be fun to see what happens.
For the last couple of days we have been sitting in a wet Malaysia, getting lost in obscure corners of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya (which is a city that is so Gothic in design that it could be used for filming Batman movies, dodging the local drivers, who are really rather scary, and very hot chillis which are not much fun. We had a fun night out in KL listening to our F1 colleague Brad Spurgeon of the International Herald Tribune singing in a local club. Brad is one of F1’s more remarkable characters, his talents including an ability to juggle, to ride a unicycle, not to mention ventriloquism, singing and writing a book about philosopher Colin Wilson. The evening was enlivened by the unexpected arrival of Alex Yoong, the country’s first F1 driver, who is now involved in the Team Lotus Driver Development programme.
Today my GP+ partner David Tremayne and I went to visit Tony Fernandes’s AirAsia, to talk about cross-promotional ideas and Tony took some time out to show us around his operation. What we learned is that Tony seems to know all his 12,000 employees by name (truly extraordinary) and they all seem to love him. He then left us at the AirAsia Academy, where they train his pilots and insisted that we try out one of his simulators. So we ended up “flying” an Airbus A320. Taking off is easy enough when all the thousands of buttons are in the right places but the landings were rather more adventurous and I have to say that mine would have been rather uncomfortable for the passengers if I had really been a pilot, as they would have been wearing the overhead luggage racks as head-dresses. DT’s was rather less effective but we would have been out of our misery much faster – although the airport would have needed to put up at least one new building…