Taming prancing horses…

There have been an increasing number of rumours about Ferrari drivers from Italy and although the team’s blogger – known as The Horse Whisperer – has been quick to dismiss much of the talk as “twaddle” there is sometimes a grain of truth hidden in such things. One thing that is clear is that the team negotiated a contract recently that few demands recently that nails Fernando Alonso into a contract until the end of 2016. That move seems to have been part of a bigger strategy to secure key elements of the World Championship for the Exor/News Corporation alliance as it grinds ever onwards towards buying out CVC Capital Partners and the other shareholders in the Formula One group.

But what did it take to achieve that signature? Money is obviously a part of it, but Alonso is still hungry to win and in order to do that he needs a better car. He has struggled for two years and wants better results. Logic dictates that when looking for the right people to help him achieve his goals, Alonso will delve into his past and be in favour of those who helped him on previous occasions. Thus the Spaniard is very keen on the likes of Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds, who helped him win two World Championships while at Renault F1 in 2005 and 2006, but who both came unstuck in Singapore in 2008 when they connived to get Nelson Piquet Jr to crash his car to bring out a Safety Car that enabled Alonso to win the race. Alonso did not share the blame for that incident as no-one could prove that he knew what was going on, although to be quite frank, everyone in F1 thinks he was involved, whether that is right or wrong. The suggestion that is coming strongly from Italy at the moment is that Alonso wants his own crew back together again, much as Michael Schumacher did when he was in Maranello and the team hired Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne.

In theory this is not possible until January 2013 as Briatore undertook “to abstain from having any operational role in Formula 1 until December 31 2012”, following the overturning of a lifetime disqualification from the sport which was the original punishment. That decision was overturned by a French court, but only because the federation screwed up as the World Council does not have the power to make such judgements.

As part of the settlement agreement Briatore recognised “his share of responsibility for the deliberate crash” as team principal of Renault F1. He expressed regret and presented an apology to the FIA. Later he issued a press release which said that he “confirmed his acceptance to bear his share of responsibility in the Singapore events in his capacity of managing director of the Renault F1 Team, at the time they happened, without any admission of a personal guilt”.

The stain remains on his career, whether he has expressive imaginative lawyers or not.

In order for Briatore and Symonds to join Ferrari next year – if the rumours are true – there would need to be an agreement from the FIA and that would undermine the authority of the federation – which is already battered following the Bahrain Affair.

However, it may serve the purposes of the FIA and Ferrari to want Briatore on their side at the moment. If one considers the current political situation in F1, Briatore is not as insignificant figure, despite not being around on a day-to-day basis. He remains a close ally and confidant of Bernie Ecclestone. Without the Italian as a supporter, Ecclestone’s position would be weaker, even if there is a danger that Briatore might try to sway Ferrari towards Ecclestone’s arguments. Against a background of a high-level bid to buy the sport by Ferrari parent company Exor and News Corporation, such a move might be considered palatable, if not entirely desirable, to split Ecclestone and Briatore.

Briatore would, in any case, be answerable to whoever is running the main Ferrari company and it is not clear who that might be, as there continue to be rumours that current chairman Luca di Montezemolo will be moving into Italian politics as soon as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi falls from power. That moment is getting ever closer following his defeat in a June 12-13 referendum over water privatisation, nuclear power stations and a law that in effect placed the Prime Minister above the law and prevented him from ever coming to trial. This came after the defeat of the ruling party in local elections in May, in which Berlusconi’s coalition lost control of important cities such as Milan, Naples and Trieste. What is clear is that Fiat will decide on the identity of the new Ferrari boss, and Fiat is run by John Elkann, who is also the man in control of Exor.

None of this takes into account the public perception of such a manoeuvre, although F1 has proved many times that it cares little for how the sport is viewed by the world – notably in the recent mess over Bahrain.

The Horse Whisperer may come out and say that this is all twaddle as well, but the problem is that I have tried to ignore the stories for a couple of weeks (on the grounds of taste) but they just keep coming back…

23 thoughts on “Taming prancing horses…

  1. “whether that is right or wrong” ~ That’s a bit of a change in tune for you Mr S.

    I don’t hate Flav or the red cars as much as some but the thought of him in power a Ferrari males me feel a bit on the sick side.

  2. Hi Joe
    you articles are great and I totally agree with your views. It’s always a pleasure to read your blog.
    Unfortunately some things that you write about the italian political situation are not correct, but I can understand that it is not easy to go inside the italian situation from abroad. The italian government is still in power and has won a confidence vote, so it is likely that it will remain in charge until 2013 when there will be the political elections. So maybe Luca has to wait until then to measure him with the polls. And bear in mind that Berlusconi did not lose Napoli as this city has been ruled by the left even in the past five years. The sole city that he lost in may is Milan, and I agree it has been a heavy defeat.

    And regarding Briatore and Symonds my view is that it is a logical move for Alonso. An unfair driver (as McLaren spygate and Singapore crashgate showed very clearly.) which is building around him an unfair team.

    1. ian,

      I don’t think that is the intention because I am sure it will not work. The plan is for an alliance of interested parties to do that. This makes a lot of sense.

  3. “Twaddle” is a very “Italian” term, isn’t it … 😉
    I wonder who is really writing those blogs.

  4. As a Ferrari fan, this churns my stomach. Briatore was an unsavory character before the singapore affair, I thought after it all we would see was the back of him. I hope you are wrong Joe, as much as I think it is time for Bernie to move aside and let someone else take the sport into the next stage of it’s evolution, Briatore just brings a lot of baggage with him that I’d rather stay in the past of the sport.

    It would be a huge gamble on the part of Ferrari/Exor to think that Flavio could convince Bernie to let go of F1 from his still living (in not sure about warm though) fingers. Do you really think that the powers that be (Elkann/Murdoch) really think that Briatore can deliver?

    I’m crossing my fingers and my toes for the horse whisperer to be right, although him being Ferrari’s PR department, I wouldn’t bet a Dollar on it.

  5. Is Pat Symonds that respected in the technical arena or is it just a case that Alonso feels comfortable with Flav and PS? I’m afraid I don’t know enough about Pat Symonds to see if this is security or genius at work. Schumacher obviously got great cars out of Byrne. Alonso didn’t always get great cars out of Renault. Or was that simply budget/circumstances changing?

  6. Joe,

    I thought the other day you reported that the Briatore trip to Ferrari was of no consequence. Now it seems to have consequence.

    Signed,
    Confused

    1. Bloomsm

      That is the join of being a reporter. One keeps in discovering new things. And guess what? Opinions can change as a result of new information.

  7. “Alonso did not share the blame for that incident as no-one could prove that he knew what was going on, although to be quite frank, everyone in F1 thinks he was involved,”

    Hamilton witnessed before the FIA in 2007 saying he wasn’t aware that McLaren was using Ferrari data. I think that everyone in F1 thinks he knew (I am sure he knew) and consequently that he commited perjury. He lied later before the FIA stewards against Trulli which further highlights his own understanding of the Truth.

    I don’t know who’s morality is more questionable but both aren’t examples of honesty. I just wanted to add some balance to your views.

  8. Joe, do you think t is possible to separate the F1 business side from politics in any significant fashion so as not to come off as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’? For the past few days I’ve been looking into Exor/NewsCorp alliance and it’s possible impact on F1 in international politics, and I just cannot seem to get away from a very conservative political bent from NewsCorp in particular – given the explicit statements made by Rupert and his sons/family/executive directors, etc. Having followed very closely the way FOX news specifically has become a primary supporter and media outlet for ultra-conservative American politicians, even offering them paid speaking/’consultant’ positions ON AIR (which at one time would have been considered highly unethical in our political campaign laws), in addition to the incredibly crappy F1 coverage FOX/SPEED offers in the US, I am deeply disturbed by these rumors. NewsCorp has unquestionably engaged in unethical business dealings and political donations in an effort to expand their media empire through legislation put forth by the very politicians they offer paying on-air gigs…whats to stop them from doing this on an international level?

    I have been digging into the Delta-Topco spaghetti mess of their corporate structure and it would seem the two business models share much of the same subterfuge and hedging of liability in their organization…so I don’t believe the operations side of F1/FOM would be any better given the profit-driven nature of NewsCorp and it’s abandonment of what most of us would call ‘ethics’. Any thoughts?

  9. Flav is his own man and the reason he has done so well in F1 is because he has no clue about the practical side of it. The Benettons brought him in for precisely that reason – he was selling sweaters or something before being let loose in F1.

    What he did was wrong, there is no question. Can you ban someone from sport for life? I am of the view that this is a dangerous road to go down.

    As for Pat, I have no idea how involved he was in the proceedings at Singapore in 2008. He always struck me as a fairly normal bloke to be working in F1.

    I don’t think it is the answer for Ferrari. They need an Adrian Newey and an internal structure geared towards winning the world championship.

  10. I guess I should also mention that I see political pressure on the BBC to drop it’s coverage, motivated by the same conservative ‘austerity/freemarket/corporate pandering’ types in the UK gov’t – the end result being a drop in the overall value of the sport due to the loss of it’s best english-speaking broadcast. The goal, of course, is to lower the purchase price of FOM etc. al.

    Also, the way conservative repubs, the same offered paid airtime on FOX, have been attacking the public/gov’t financing of the Austin race makes me uneasy, because if that race were to fail, the value of F1 would drop even more – and these are issues FOX has direct influence over via said politicians and it’s national broadcast platform. Hard not to see connections here, given the unscrupulous way Murdoch and co. have proven to operate in the past.

    I hope it’s just conspiracy and shadows in my peripheral vision, but I’m not so sure.

  11. I believe your overall preferences have been clear for a while, you have an axe and will grind it with anything you find.

    You take the obligatory shot at Alonso and suggests ‘most’ believe he knew about crashgate. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did know in the aftermath of it. But his strategy was typical of Renault gaming the system at the time; it was valid (and had already succeeded improving his position) before the SC appeared. More – why on earth would Alonso want it to happen? He’d won 2 WDCs and plenty of races. Unless you truly see him as Dick Dastardly it makes no sense for one race win that can’t affect the WDC.

    As another poster says in reply – Hamilton likely knew about Stepneygate too. I expect most of F1 thinks that as well, though we haven’t read it from you . And I don’t think the less of him – how could he not have been aware of it? But in a team that he considered home you’d expect no other outcome but feigned ignorance. And you know what – it’s not relevant. And you too took a shot at Alonso not because it’s relevant but rather because it’s what you want to suggest.

    I expect Alonso may indeed want to build a winning team but if so it’s got nothing to do with the issues you focus on. It’s because he wants people who he knows and were successful.

    Would you convict the entire McLaren team?

    1. Carthartic,

      I always assume that people read this blog to help them understand more about the sport. It is written to achieve this goal and it generally goes down well with those who have brains set to “receive” rather than to “transmit”. Why is it so hard for people to understand that I have no axe to grind and simply want the sport to be “played” fairly? I tell it as I see it, whether it accords with what people want to hear or not and my opinions are fashioned by knowledge that I have gained at around 400 consecutive Grands Prix. I am simply trying to pass that on to others. I don’t have a problem if you do not agree with me, but it would be nice if now and then people would stop and think “Do I really know the facts?” before they start slinging mud around. The one thing that consistently amazes me and makes me think I am wasting my time and energy is the lack of respect accorded by fans from Busted Flush, Minnesota and Rattling Dunny, Tasmania, who magically transform into instant experts in F1 with unimpeachable sources in the business, just by going on to the Internet…

  12. Well said Joe. Thanks for sharing your insight and knowledge. There are always people who “know” better though, don’t let them get you down.
    As for the future of F1 in the hands of Ferrari and people like Rupert Murdoch and having to pay per view I’m pretty worried. I know f1 is a commercial enterprise but in it’s current form the power is spread about between teams, comercial sponsors, the FIA, FOM, tv companies, etc. If this new take over happens the power will be concentrated in far fewer hands. Most of a teams finance will come from one tv company because sponsors will be less interested in a pay per view formula. Also having effectively Ferrari part owning F1 would be like Chelsea or Man U owning the premier league. There would be far to much leverage going on.
    Thanks again for a great blog.

  13. Hope your fingers haven’t fallen off after all these posts today Joe! A very interesting story, particularly the role of John Elkann, a man with that much power in Italy can surely get whatever he wants. The idea of Flav and PS coming back remains as distastefull as ever, the only thing I don’t understand is why would Alonso want Flav back? I can understand Fernando wanting Symonds on side as he is a tech guy who could help with the design and development of the car and make it go faster, he was also widely regarded as one of the best strategists in F1 (maybe a bit too good), but what is Flav going to do to help win races? He knows nothing about racing cars or race strategies, so why risk bringing back the most controversial one, who is also the least useful, at least from Alonso’s point of view.

    PS Cathartic F1, Alonso’s strategy was guaranteed to cost him places when he pitted, unless of course a safety car came out at the perfect moment. The race strategy would have been planned pre race, do you not think a 2 time world champion would have questioned such an early stop? You may be right about Lewis knowing about the Ferrari data at McLaren, but I would be more likely to believe a rookie driver didn’t know about secretly obtained technical data, than a driver of Alonso’s calibre and experience didn’t know that a crazy strategy didn’t have a good reason behind it.

  14. WOW!

    The only thing required to make this winning equation complete would be reinstating Giancarlo Fisichella as a regular race driver (No.2, of course) and it would bring back the 2005-2006 title winning squad – only this time it would be red instead of blue ‘n’ yellow!

  15. No idea if it’s right, but I wonder if Alonso wants Flav back to do the job Jean Todt did at Ferrari.

    I spent years thinking Todt did sod all.

    Ross, Rory and Michael won 2 WDCs and one WCC together without Todt, then pitched up at Ferrari and won some more with him. BFD.

    I think I was wrong. I think thanks to Jean Todt, the rest of the team worked as if they were not Ferrari and not in Italy, and so were able to achieve the same results (and more) that they had at Benetton.

    I think Ferrari are hugely lacking that at present. I think the biggest single problem they’re facing is that they don’t have somebody batting for the F1 team and all its staff, who’ll say that we win and we lose as a team, and I chose all these people and stand by them, so sack me or leave us alone, and really mean it. Every time something goes wrong, the cry for a scapegoat goes up and often one gets delivered. Result – ass covering on an epic scale.

    No idea if Flav can do that or not, but I’m sure they need it done and I don’t see it happening at the moment.

    Just my speculation, obviously no real data. Any thoughts, Joe?

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