This week in Geneva

The return journey from Delhi was not as easy as it perhaps should have been. The first plane was late and there were some “Jobsworths” at Dubai International Airport who tried to stop us making our connections. They were following the rule book, probably, but sometimes the rule book is stupid and needs to be ignored. Fortunately for me I managed to find someone who had enough understanding of these things to agree with me and I caught the flight I was supposed to be on, leaving my luggage behind, but a lot of others were left stranded there. Anyway, by the time I got home I was ready for a few hours off.

It is going to be a busy week for the F1 team principals as they are all meeting up again on Thursday in Geneva for a meeting of the Formula 1 Commission. Just a that you understand the importance of this body, the commission consists of 26 members, including 12 team representatives; eight promoters (four from Europe and four from outside Europe – three from each region being picked by FOM and one from each region being chosen by the teams). The remaining six members are a tyre representative; an engine representative; two sponsor representatives, the FIA President and the Formula One group representative (Bernie Ecclestone), who is the chairman of the body. Winning a vote requires 18 members of the Commission to vote in favour of a motion. The recommendations of the F1 Commission then go to the FIA World Council, which has the right to accept or reject the proposal, but cannot modify it.

There are three requests for chassis name changes on the table. Team Lotus wishes to change its chassis name to Caterham; Lotus Renault GP is asking for its chassis to be renamed Lotus, rather than Renault, and Marussia Virgin Racing wants to change its chassis name from Virgin to Marussia. The Caterham-Lotus settlement is now agreed between the two parties involved, but some of the other teams are arguing that F1 brands need to be carefully preserved and should not be hawked and traded, as Lotus has been. There is also believed to be some resistance to the Caterham name, as some people do not think it is really the right kind of brand for the sport. This is rather short-sighted as the plans for the car company are heavily influenced by the Asian markets, where Caterham has little or no brand history, so the brand can become whatever the owners want it to be.

The Lotus Renault GP team also needs to convince the commission that it linked to Group Lotus and is going to be manufacturing road cars and intending to continue to do so for an appreciable period of time, rather than simply buying the brand and then selling it on to someone else.

The argument is really about continuity, with the “real” F1 brands, such as Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Sauber, wanting to maintain other brands, such as Lotus. It is inevitable that some of the teams at the back of the grid will change identity with each new owner, as this is required for survival.

However, these entities rarely last long in the sport and so names such as Red Bull, Force India, Scuderia Toro Rosso, HRT and Virgin have little long-term F1 brand value, now that names such as Minardi, Benetton, Jordan, Arrows, Ligier and Tyrrell have all disappeared. There is the troublesome middle ground with names such as Mercedes and Lotus, which have F1 brand value, but have not been consistently in F1 and there is some additional discussion about precedent as Honda Racing F1 was allowed to become Brawn GP for a season and then Mercedes, without the company losing its historical performance payments.

This is particularly important with the Renault-Lotus switch as the historical value is believed to be worth as much as $60 million a year. Team Lotus also stands to gain a large sum of money if it is allowed to make the Lotus-Caterham switch because the team will probably end the year, having finished in the top 10 for the last two consecutive seasons, which will give it a different legal status, as defined by the Concorde Agreement. Some of the teams are using these arguments in an effort to gain a bigger share of the revenues, while the contentious question is also potential a good weapon to divide the FOTA teams.

“As a Formula 1 community, we should be doing everything we can to help and facilitate teams,” FOTA chairman Martin Whitmarsh. “If they come up with a clearly silly, divisive name or a name that’s damaging to Formula 1, then we should be able to use good judgement to prevent it, but if it’s clear that the name change facilitates the funding and the retention of that team within F1, then we shouldn’t use the polemics and politics to prevent it.”

The F1 Commission will also be asked to discuss the definition of a constructor, which is currently defined in the Concorde Agreement as being an entity that designs a certain number of “listed parts” for its cars, including the chassis, bodywork, suspension and various assemblies and mechanisms. The number of these “listed parts” can be changed if all the teams agree. There are worries that some of the teams are getting rather too much from technical partnerships, the specific target for these discussions appears to be Force India, which is performing extremely well, largely due to a technical relationship with McLaren.
Some of the other teams feel that Force India’s performance is too strong and that too much technology has been bought and thus the rules need to be refined. This is potentially a very divisive subject as Marussia Virgin is just beginning a technical relationship with McLaren, while Team Lotus has technology deals with Williams and Red Bull Racing and HRT has similar arrangements with Mercedes GP and with Williams.

Another facinating point will be a discussion over the idea of introducing a system of demerit points for F1 licences. Drivers would lose points for offences and if they lose too many points they would face licence suspension for a period of time. Fines and other penalties may also be applied in addition to the points. The advantage of such an idea is that it would help to provide opportunities for youngsters to make an impression as stand-ins if a regular driver were to lose his licence. With safety standards as they now are, the turnover of drivers in F1 has slowed considerably with veterans remaining attractive to teams because of their experience, particularly when there are such tight restrictions on testing. Rubens Barrichello, Michael, Schumacher and Jarno Trulli, for example, have all been in F1 for 15 seasons or more, while Jenson Button, Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa have all done 10.

The Formula 1 Commission is going to discuss the problems that have been created this year in qualifying as teams have taken to not going out in the Q3 session, in order to save tyres for races. This has had a detrimental impact of the qualifying show and teams feel that itis necessary to find a way to keep the Q sessions exciting, without them impacting the race strategies.

There are also believed to be questions over whether or not the FIA should be allowed to hire people from the teams, and vice versa, based on the possible transfer of intellectual property. This discussion has come about because of fears that former Ferrari engine design Gilles Simon worked to create the FIA’s new engine rules and then departed to join the planned Pure engine firm.

We believe that there will also be discussions about whether a permanent F1 steward might be good idea in order to create more consistency in decision-making. The current system features a number of FIA-appointed stewards who each do four or five races and communicate with one another so that they can provide guidance to other stewards who do only one race a year.

There are expected to be discussions about the involvement of teams and drivers in more F1 promotional activities and regarding the question of the identification of the drivers on the cars, as this remains a big problem for many spectators.

The other item of note is a discussion about the Grands Prix in Bahrain and Korea in 2012.

43 thoughts on “This week in Geneva

  1. off topic, but Joe I think you may be able to clear something up for me regarding the Indian GP.

    In India it is illegal to advertise alcohol. Many companies get round this by producing a similar product with the same branding. For example you can buy and advertise Fosters water (promoting beer). At the Indian GP Findia circumvented the rule through advertising KingFisher airlines and water instead of Beer and Whyte and Mackay music CD’s (check photos if you are not convinced)

    What I couldn’t see is what Mclaren did with Johnnie Walker, the branding was on the car, but without any additional text.

    I’m sure this is boring to most people, but the branding and sponsorship side of F1 is something I’m extremely interested in.


  2. I don’t think young drivers would be chosen as substitute drivers should a driver be suspended. Just look at some of the drivers used as substitutes in the last decade – Wurz, De La Rosa, Badoer, Gene, Klien, Heidfeld etc.

  3. Joe

    Completely off topic and apologies for that, but have you seen,

    “Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, chairman of sports car maker Ferrari, said in a letter to the daily La Repubblica that Italy had reached “the point of no return” and urged Berlusconi to make way for a government of national unity”, on Reuters website.

    You have written occasionally about LDM’s political ambitions over the last few months, this looks like his latest step to get rid of Berlusconi.



  4. Hi Joe, really interesting stuff.

    Regarding the constructor discussion, do you think this is going to be all about limiting technical co-operation or do you think there might be discussions about the reintroduction of customer cars?

    Personally I think with some limits to ensure that F1 doesnt become a spec series (e.g. each constructor can only supply chassis’ to one other team) this could help the bottom half of the grid run competitive cars much more cost effectively, which in turn might lead to more drivers being awarded places on merit and more cars finishing on the same lap! I had hoped that F1 might go in this direction a few years ago with Red Bull and Toro Rosso but the whole thing seemed to evaporate overnight. Imagine how popular Toro Rosso seats would be for 2012 if it had been a customer car!

  5. Excellent post Joe, fascinating insider info.

    I was just wondering how come all of this noise has kicked up about Korea. Bernie fought for it and even broke some of the circuit prepartion rules to get it running last year, now he’s almost closing the door in its face. Is this directly due to the New Jersey race coming along?

  6. Joe, always love the politics (and the fast cars) in the sport and I look forward to your column inches that feed in to the sports background.

    Thanks and look forward to the next one.

  7. I really don’t get the problem with Caterham and it not being ‘good enough’ for F1, how it could possibly be seen as not the right kind of brand for F1 is beyond me. When you look at it in terms of what they do it is perfect, they make the closest thing to a racing car for the road and they have been doing so for 30 odd years. Oh and if Lotus is good enough for F1 then they were originally a kit car manufacturer anyway! I would question more brands like Santander, with their silly adverts and marketing guff saying they have the same ‘values’ as F1, they provide no technical input into F1 and banking has nothing to do with racing.

    They do have a point with playing cheap with brand names, Lotus should never have been ‘brought back’ by licensing out the name, either do it properly or don’t bother.

  8. @Jon Wilde – Surprisingly, McLaren did nothing, they left the Johnnie Walker advertisements on the car as usual. They have always removed the logos at Turkey and Abu Dhabi in the past, but not this time for some reason.

    Sauber were another team to remove their alcohol advertisements, trading Jose Cuervo Tequila for Cholula hot sauce, as both are owned by the same company.

  9. @Jon Wilde it’s a bit old now but if you like that side of F1 there was a book titled something along the lines of ‘build up to an f1 race’, published in the early 1980s. Quite an interesting read.

    Do you know/remember the title Joe? I’ll try to find it tonight.

  10. Thanks Joe for this post giving us a lot of inside-information… Could you give us the names of the 26 members and/or (at least) the organisation each of them is representing ?
    Many thanks in advance.

  11. Guillaume
    Apparently the cheapest on the calendar, at approx £35 for a 3 day ticket for entry and £85 for a 3 day including grandstand. This sounded very good until one realises that £35 is well over a month’s income for the majority.

    The BBC spent some time on the streets of Delhi trying to finf anyone who had heard of F1. They found one fan and one other who knew about it.

    It was therefore very apparent that FOM, CVC and “Bernie inc” do not appear to have spent a penny on advertising or promoting F1 to the great Indian public. The Bollywood stars stayed firmly inside the event promoting to those already inside. (or maybe just hanging)
    So hopefully this week they could consider spending some money on F1 awareness in the countries on the F1 calendar. I would guess that 99.9% of Indians were totally unaware of the race happening in their country.

  12. I am puzzled by “Team Lotus also stands to gain a large sum of money if it is allowed to make the Lotus-Caterham switch because the team will probably end the year, having finished in the top 10 for the last two consecutive seasons, which will give it a different legal status, as defined by the Concorde Agreement.”

    I had always understood that the money disappeared if you changed your name, your previous status was revoked and you had to start again as a new team.

  13. There is also believed to be some resistance to the Caterham name, as some people do not think it is really the right kind of brand for the sport.

    And HRT is?

    Another facinating point will be a discussion over the idea of introducing a system of demerit points for F1 licences.

    Absolutely no point doing this until they sort out the stewarding. It is way to inconsistent and minor driving errors get penalised far more than deliberately dangerous driving.

    We need Tony Scott-Andrews back and given proper authority to act.

  14. Will you be there for those meetings or will you be able to report on what they decided in detail? I’m particularly interested in Korea. I wonder if they’ll let Korea “off the hook” for the remaining 5 years on their contract.

  15. Joe,

    I think as a fan of F1, that all teams – drivers who make it to Q3, have to run a minimum number of laps, like say 5 laps. If they fail to run them, then the highest placed driver in Q2, moves up on the grid, and the driver who didn’t run for whatever reason, goes to the back of grid, or takes some sort of grid drop say 10 places. They are there to put on a show, so must do. Fans pay money to see them, and feel cheated when they don’t turn up.

    I like the idea of points on the driver’s license. Most countries in the world have something like that for us normal driver. You have a points system in football, after so many yellow cards; you sit out the next game. Drivers are rich and therefore can afford to pay off the fine, or a deal is done and the team is fined. Once the driver has hit the top of his points then he sits out, which means the team has to bring in the “third” driver. It might stop bad behaviour on the track and off it.

    Testing. I go back many years and cheap tickets to Spain, when all the teams went testing there. Yes a total waste of money given the number of people there, but for us, as a fan, it was great in the early days. Cheap flights, cheap hotels (off season), we would go mid week, take the girls. We head out to the track, they do what they like, shop for shoes. At the track, we got in for free, could walk around just about everywhere. Over the years they did start to tighten up the testing sessions, and charged you to enter the track. In the old days you did see the drivers push the cars to their limit, and yes lots of off. A couple of times we listen in to car – pit radios. You were close to the action, and a few times we could actually talk to the drivers while they waited for their cars to be picked up. It was a whole day for nothing.

    F1 and Brands seem light years away, but today it is all about brands value. Bernie has changed a lot in F1. So name changes, hard one to call. One wonders for example how long will Red Bull be in racing. Looking back over the years, we have seen drink companies come in and out of racing, but drink companies move to wherever they get the best exposure, and maybe F1 stops pulling in the numbers, then why would Red Bull want to take part in F1

  16. Joe,

    What do you predict the full names of the teams might be?

    “Lotus Renault GP” surely won’t change to “Team Lotus”? The Chapman’s clearly stated they wanted the Team Lotus name to remain out of F1. Group Lotus surely won’t go against that, will they? The chassis will obviously change to “Lotus” the team will be reffered to as “Lotus”, sure, but what of the official name? Might they just extend the current name to “Lotus Grand Prix”? Obviously and finally dropping the “Renault”?

    Current “Team Lotus”, I have heard now “Team Caterham Air Asia” and “Caterham F1 Team”?

    “Marussia Virgin Racing”, if the chassis and general refference to the team changes from “Virgin” to “Marussia”, the “Virgin” in the middle of the team name now looks out of place. What’s the word on a change here?

    Weren’t there also some changes pegged for HRT and Williams, Joe?

    “AT&T Williams F1 Team” to “AT&T Williams Renault”?
    “HRT F1 Team” to….???

    1. Sam Oz,

      I am guessing, but I think Lotus Renault GP will become Team Lotus.
      I think Team Lotus will become Team Caterham Air Asia
      I think Virgin will become Marussia Racing

      No idea about the other teams.

      The Chapmans, as we have seen, blow where the wind goes…
      Group Lotus and the team will be owned by the same people, so that point is irrelevant.

  17. Korea’s learning the hard way about the new venture into F1.

    I’m wondering why the track location was chosen so far from Seoul.

    Surely there would have been other locations/takers closer to Seoul.

  18. @ Brian – All the fuss about Korea is because how screwed up the whole affair has been. I live here, and have for a long time. The Korean Auto Valley Organization (KAVO) and the local governments screwed the pooch in every way possible on this one, both last year and this year.

    Especially telling was the food that was still in the refrigerators and the trash that hadn’t been cleaned up from last year’s race. It gives you a mental picture of the attitude of the organizers and the city officials that is pretty typical nationwide, unfortunately.

  19. Love the blog as usual Joe. My interest in the business of sport is often increased after reading a post. How are Marrussia affording all this sponsorship when they don’t have a solid car out internationally. And does this mean the end of virgin in f1

    1. davcuk,

      Marussia is funded by a man called Andrey Cheglakov. Interesting guy. Made a fortune in the early 1990s with Dendy games consoles.

  20. The concept of driver demerits seems sensible in principle, but justifying it on the grounds that it will allow young drivers more of a chance seems very far fetched. I can think of ways to increase opportunities for young drivers, but that’s not one of them…

    Also, when did the requirement that each team be a constructor first take effect? (Sad to think that Rob Walker and Tyrrell’s early teams would not have been allowed…)

    As for issue of driver identification, here’s a novel idea: make sure the dang car number can be seen without a microscope…

  21. RShack
    The rules say:
    21.2 Each car will carry the race number of its driver (or his replacement) as published by the FIA at the beginning of the season. This number must be clearly visible from the front of the car.

    Now I would say that “the front of the car” will only be visible during the race from a rear facing camera on the car in front. (however most would fail that test) Of course “the front” could be taken as anywhere in front, these regs were written before the high nose era when numbers could be actually be seen from the front. Nowadays the number is usually on the top of the nose, but it can be anywhere visible from the front.

    In fact the regs need to be re-written to say: “This number must be shown in a suitable font, clearly readable from the front and both sides, having a minimum height of 0.2m (200mm) on a contrasting background. Cars should be easily individually identifiable at relevant distance on track to marshals, stewards and spectators, without the use of special equipment.

    This means the marshals can identify which cars are in their sector and spectators can know which cars go past their viewpoint.

  22. As someone who comes from what F1 views as the wrong side of the Atlantic, I think the very fact that some grand congress must take on the matter of car identification is instructive. They require new rules to force them to *permit* fans to easily identify their cars-and-drivers? Really? In what parallel universe can the matter of rational self-interest and this question coexist?

    I am reminded of the same point when I see comments from those within F1 circles about F1’s global expansion increasing the number of races. The focus seems to be on how inconvenient it would be for participants. How crazy is that? Silly me, but I’d think rational self-interest would begin with the question of what the target audience is (geographically and otherwise), and how many races are required to properly serve that audience. Once that is determined, they would then consider what adjustments are required to recognize and respect the needs of insiders.

    (Hint: Did NASCAR make a big deal about it when their schedule required alternating pit crews? No, they did not. In fact, most NASCAR fans don’t even know it happened. Rather, NASCAR simply took what steps were required to serve their audience, and did so without whining. This is because they viewed it as an opportunity for greater success, not as a source of suffering.)

    The only explanation I can conjure comes down to class. According to this hypothesis, F1 insiders might view themselves as belonging to an upper class, with fans belonging to a decidedly lower class. I am not insisting this explanation is the right one, am only saying it’s the best explanation I can muster. I freely admit my hypothesis might be very wrong. But if it is, then what other explanations might there be?

    This is not a poke at our fearless leader, as his role seems to fall in the nether-land between F1 insiders and normal folk. I easily can see how more races cause him more stress, more strain and more cost without any corresponding benefit. While his life as an F1 globetrotter seems attractive to us from afar, anyone who has managed to earn top status with annual flyer miles can begin to appreciate the intangible costs on both his body and his soul. Given that, I take any negative comments from him as accurate reporting about his reality, not as whining.

  23. I hope they tweak the customer car rules. F1 would be much more interesting if Virgin, HRT and Lotus could buy an OLD McLaren/RBR/Ferrari rather than struggle with totally uncompetitive machinery. Teams like Williams and Sauber wouldn’t have much to complain about because they should easily be able to design a quicker car than the one a front runner had last season.

  24. Hi Joe

    Do you think we’ll hear much later today or will the outcomes from the meeting leak out over a few days?


  25. Joe, thanks for the in-depth look into what the guts of my fav sport are up to this week. While I haven’t looked too deeply into the ‘net to find this kind of information, I don’t suspect it is easy to come by (if at all anywhere).

    Also, I was pretty pleased to see some coverage of Austin in the BBC race footage from last weekend (just catching up on it). As next year approaches my levels of excitement ratchet up slowly. I very much hope you hold one of your famous ‘Evening with Joe’ events, and I’m sure I can convince a few new F1 fan friends to attend. I know it’s still a year away, but I’ve already got a list of questions. Thanks again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s