A quick catch-up…

Since I shut up shop on December 17 there has not been an awful lot to report in the F1 world. The usual suspects have churned out a stream of “he says, she says” stories to fill the Webosphere over the break, with plenty of idle speculation about the available Williams drive. There has been talk of Bruno Senna and Adrian Sutil, but there is no doubt that Rubens Barrichello still has a decent chance of retaining the position as the team needs a sure-fire points scorer to take advantage of whatever the new car is capable of achieving. Rubens is a safe pair of hands, although Sutil may appear to be quicker, although there is a risk factor involved in such a decision. None of the other candidates have won Grands Prix and while there might be a decent arguments for drivers like Sebastien Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari, Jerome d’Ambrosio or Tonio Liuzzi, Williams is taking a sufficient number of risks already and it would perhaps be wise to give Rubens a final season in F1, while the team prepares Valtteri Bottas for the job in the longer term. Pastor Maldonado still has plenty to prove, but he is a necessity for the team at the moment. Things may change in the months ahead.

It is worth noting that in recent days the logo of AT&T Williams has disappeared from the team website and has been replaced by the plain Williams F1 badging. The AT&T name remains in the partners section, but both the website and Facebook pages have been altered from ATTWilliams to plain WilliamsF1, suggesting that the AT&T title sponsorship has come to an end after five years. This has been rumoured for some time, with one suggestion being that the US telecommunications giant was none too happy about the team’s Venezuelan associations. This would not be surprising given that over the years the Venezuelan leader Hugo Chaves has described President George W Bush as the devil and called Barack Obama a clown. In recent days the eccentric leader has even suggested that the United States may have invented a way to give cancer to left-wing political leaders in Latin America…

In any case, if all goes to plan, Williams will soon announce a new title sponsor, which is expected to be QNB, the national bank of Qatar. One can only hope that this deal has been completed to give the team a stable platform from which to fight back to where it should be in the F1 pecking order. Finishing ninth in the Constructors’ Championship in 2011 was unthinkable for Williams just a few years ago and one can only hope that the team’s decision to sweep away the old technical management, which has been running things since 2004 – the year the team won its last race – is a success. The change was inevitable when it emerged that the FW33 was not competitive, particularly given that the design team started work early on the car, in order to try to gain an advantage after a poor 2010. Sam Michael is a smart and hard-working individual and has ended up at McLaren in a very different role to the one he had at Williams. It will be interesting to see if this suits him better.

The choice of Mike Coughlan as Michael’s replacement was interesting but hinted that Williams could not afford to wait for another name designer to become available. Coughlan was looking for any chance to get back into F1 after the McLaren spy scandal of 2007. He has a track record that suggests that he should be able to produce a decent car, particularly as the team has now given up on Cosworth engines and struck a deal with Renault. The team’s new chief aerodynamicist Jason Somerville has a good reputation and in Mark Gillan the team has a solid chief operations engineer. If this combination does not work then there will need to be bigger questions asked about the way Williams is run. Rubens Barrichello’s frustration boiled over last year when he remarked that “we need a leader. Right now, it is almost like we have too many, but not enough.” This did not make him popular, but one can understand what he meant. Success in F1 is fundamentally driven by the force of personality of a leader inside a team, be that a team principal, an engineer or a driver. The old regime at Williams had that in spades.

The principal piece of real news over the Christmas break was that Patrick Head has stepped down from his position as a board member of Williams Grand Prix Holdings. Head co-founded the team with Sir Frank Williams back in 1977 and led the team to no fewer than 113 Grand Prix victories and a total of 16 World Championships, between 1980 and 2004. Head, who sold most of his shares in the team last year, will continue to be a director of Williams Hybrid Power Limited, a subsidiary of the main company that develops and produces hybrid technologies.

“Patrick and I have been in partnership for 34 years,” says Sir Frank Williams. “During that time, he has been the leader of the technical team that has won the majority of our race wins and championships. This is a remarkable legacy and one which will be treasured and definitely not forgotten. Patrick is a very straightforward, hard working and truly gifted engineer who comfortably operates at a world class level. I will miss him very much, as I am sure his colleagues will.”

One point that should also be made is that Head was the man under whom many of today’s leading engineers were trained, his “pupils” including McLaren’s Neil Oatley, Frank Dernie, Adrian Newey, Geoff Willis and many others.

There was a certain amount of irony at the New Year with the announcement about Head and the New Years Honours List in the UK. This featured the appointment of Adrian Newey as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), in recognition of his services to motorsport. The 53-year-old engineer has a remarkable record, having been involved in winning 16 World Championship titles for Drivers’ and Constructors’ in the last 20 years. While recognition for Newey is good news for the sport and well-deserved, there remain a number of other world class F1 engineers who have not been honoured for their successes in the past. Ross Brawn’s work was recognised in 2009 with an OBE, but Head, for example, has received no such accolade. Nor for that matter has John Barnard, the other great British engineer of the 1980s and early 1990s. Given that the UK government is now making a lot of noise about the importance of engineering, it is only right that these oversights should be fixed.

The British honours system remains rather hit-and-miss but to my mind Head and Barnard deserve recognition just as much as Newey and Brawn. The fact that John Surtees has only been given an OBE despite his unique achievement of not only winning world titles on two and four wheels, but also running his own Formula 1 team, is another example, and I also believe that Ron Dennis should be knighted for his services not only to the sport, but also to Britain’s car industry.

Also in the New Year’s Honours List was 1992 World Champion Nigel Mansell, although his appointment as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), was not in relation to the sport, but rather for his work with the UK Youth charity.

That apart there was some talk of Sebastien Buemi becoming the official reserve driver for all Red Bull teams at Grands Prix this year. This makes a lot of sense.

The only other point of note was a remark made by Mr Justice Vos during a hearing in London with regard to a law suit from German media group Constantantin Medien over what it alleges was an undervaluation of shares in the Formula One group of companies when the business was sold to CVC Capital Partners. Gerhard Gribkowsky did not respond to the writ, which seeks tens of millions of dollars in damages from Bernie Ecclestone, his former lawyer Stephen Mullens and Bambino Holdings, the Ecclestone family trust.

The judge was told about the payments made to Gribkowsky by Ecclestone and Bambino and when told the details, responded: “Isn’t that a bribe?” This does not mean anything in particular, but it is nonetheless interesting to hear the thoughts of a learned judge on the matter.

In the meantime the government of Bahrain says that it will try five police officers over the deaths of two people in custody during the unrest early last year. At least four people died in detention after the country introduced a period of martial law with an independent report suggesting that the authorities were to blame for these deaths. The country’s public prosecutor says that two of the policemen beat two detainees to death and the other three officers failed to report the incident to authorities. The trial is due to begin on January 11. It is anticipated that another 15 officers will face similar charges in the months ahead as the country tries to rebuild its damaged public image. The Bahrain government has promised to implement the report’s recommendations.

While this is a very positive step for the country, there is still much opposition to the regime, with opposition groups saying that a change of leadership is needed to heal the rifts created.

There continue to be protest marches in Bahrain with tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades still being used to break them up. In recent days a 15-year-old boy has been killed in one such protest, with the opposition and the authorities disputing the cause of death. The country’s public prosecutor is investigating. As part of the healing process the country’s new chief of police has hired an additional 500 police officers “from all sections of Bahrain society”. However, the head of a commission set up to supervise the implementation of the recommendations of the report has already resigned because of criticism from opposition groups.

F1 seems to be intent on holding a Grand Prix in Bahrain in April. There are many (myself included) who feel that this is not a good idea unless there is very rapid progress in the next few weeks as an event is more likely to stir up trouble than to help in the process of national healing. One can understand the desire of the authorities not to be held hostage by what they believe is a relatively small group of extremists, but I question the wisdom of F1 getting involved in such a tricky situation, when it is not absolutely essential to include the event on the calendar.

As the F1 world now returns from the break we can expect more news in the weeks ahead, before the first new cars begin to appear at the end of the month.

58 thoughts on “A quick catch-up…

  1. It’s sad to see the falldown of Williams, after so much success in the 80s and 90s. Not having 2 drivers signed on the 1st of January is not a good signal for this year either. Their whole situation reminds me a lot of the old champions Tyrrell, who ended up making up the numbers.

  2. Happy New Year Joe, and keep up the good work. It’s a pleasure to read you.

    I share your feelings about Bahrain. I haven’t heard that the medical staff have been released from prison yet.

  3. I always thought it was weird AT&T sponsored Williams, considering they are American company, no US GP and I would have thought not that many viewers from US compared to other markets. It seems that money would have been better spent in some form of American national motorsport. But I’m sure there is a reason, what the hell do I know about sponsorships….

    1. It would make more sense for AT&T to sponsor a race in the USA, that way their name still gets the F1 corporate image but it is not associated a team, who is now an “also ran” and it’s a lot cheaper. If you spend lot of money sponsoring a team you need it to be either in the top four or in the news a lot.

  4. Welcome back Joe.

    Re: your first few lines – there was a terrible, terrible, just terrible “article” in The Telegraph of all papers, F1 online section.

    The title was basically ‘2012 season going to be much closer’

    Then the content was just blah blah blah Vettel domination 2011 blah blah blah Hamilton had a bad year blah blah etc.

    To all readers – please do NOT search and click for the Telegraph article as it will justify the ‘writers’ crud.

    But really… all the main newspapers are just painful at F1 content.

    Thankfully real testing is but 1 month away now!

  5. Why would anybody want an “honour” from a system that “honours” a convicted fraudster. I think we do need a system of some sort which recognizes various achievements in a person’s life, but it needs to be run properly.

  6. Hi Joe,
    Happy New Year and welcome back.

    Have you heard of the reasoning (beyond money) as to why GP2 is holding a stand alone event in Bahrain a week after they’re there with Formula 1?

  7. Great to hear from you again Joe and a Happy and Prosperous new year to you and all who sail in these murky, oft obfuscated waters.

    The British Honours system is the epitome of hypocrisy, in that while it rightly rewards achievements in all walks of life, the system of choosing the recipients is hidebound in tradition and privilege.

    I found it disturbing that the latest criticisms of the ruling class in Bahrain are now coming from religious leaders, who, have hitherto kept their heads below the parapet lest they be lopped off. The first sign of religious progress is the resignation of Ali Saleh Al Saleh. However today he has agreed to the king’s request to continue.
    The people of Bahrain need to be careful that they do not swap one type of repression for another far worse, as is happening in other middle east countries who enjoyed a “Spring” in the autumn last of year.

    It seems that the USA is keen to provoke a direct confrontation with Iran over it’s arms/nuclear development, forgetting that Iran is already a very major player/exporter in the arms market. (A consequence of past and current policy by the west) Why mention this? Because if Iran gets fed up with the harassment and sanctions imposed by the USA and european countries they may easily carry out their threat to close the Straights of Hormuz to shipping. This will bring the already promised rapid response from the USA who has a major carrier group in the Gulf of Oman waiting for an excuse. Thus the whole of the “F1 middle east zone” could become a war zone, most of it being situated on the south side of the Persian Gulf probably within range of a medium sized rocket from Iran’s southern coast should they give facilities to the US navy or airforce, like Bahrain to the 5th fleet. In such a scenario there is also the danger of Israel and it’s liking for massive pre-emptive strikes.

  8. Happy New Year All and Everybody!

    Certain – cough splutter – airline “owner” stiffed his payroll taxes, too, so I read.

    Aside to TF: get it sorted mate, bloody washout out there. Men of steel and cockroaches, etc, remember which kind you are.

    Yeeep, the honours system sucks. Some were missing. Maggie would call this lot wets, for sure. I’d sort it out, but I’m not allowed, wrong “religion” 🙂

    Okay, since it is the New Year, in order of washing the dirty laundry in public, I have a confession:

    I am pissed about this, but Sky got me. Might be we have to get new tellys. (har har, try finding a good “normal” one without 3D gizmos!) Might be I want to watch the replay even when I get to the race. Might be I found a telephone line contract I can cut which was never even plugged in, so net nett, no loss. Might be I can split it with my buddy, if I get ESPN for baseball, who being American thinks F1 is uh, weird. But I got done. There you go, 15 quid a race. New baseline. Will it work, though?

    That just means I was a total hypocrite for months, and got sold. Easy to sell a salesman, so they say . . .

    And Grib still has no friends. I thought some bloke called Thorsten was on his side. No word.

    Over the holiday, I got stuck in. Still pulled working hours, but new book on Marcell Reich caught me. Rudy, again, RICO, again.

    Sorry Joe, The Artist not yet in the cinema here, hopefully will have some attractive company for when it is. I did get sent a disc of one called “Big Fan”. Awful movie, all about some lame nearly middle aged guy who lives with his mom, and gets kicks by phoning in to a sports line, all scripted to live vicariously through his sporting love. Really terrible, I could have straightened the script 😉

    Best to all, should be a fun year, only . . well, days,

    – john

  9. Joe,

    Welcome back and happy new year! Do you have any insight into the Austin GP situation. There seemed to be some positive developments and work has apparently re-started… but it is so hard to tell smoke from actual fire.

  10. The internet in general over Christmas and New Years is a bit of a graveyard – thankfully things will start to liven up again soon. Testing season will be here before we know it! Happy new year all!

  11. Happy New Year to you Joe and welcome back – good to read you again.

    Lord Ronald of Dennishire should have happened indeed – perhaps the establishment thinks that having a visit from Dave during 2011 was reward enough. I suppose at least there was some motorsport recognition so let us hope that is a trend that continues. At least Nige and Adrian are earning it rather than buying it through political contributions.

  12. Greetings from the US :

    Frankly, the remarks you attributed to Chavez don’t sound all that unrealistic.
    Sure, Bush is not literally “the devil”, but he did deliberately lie to the American public in order to justify making war on a country which had not attacked the US. That’s about as evil as it gets, in the real world. Regarding Chavez’
    remark about the “US giving cancer…”, it’s well known that the US has
    assassinated more than one leader who wasn’t doing what the US wanted.
    This is the truth, and the truth is not always pretty or politically correct.
    As far as Obama being a clown, I voted for him and I won’t be making that
    mistake again, Obama made a lot of promises pre-election and most of
    them have been ignored. Americans are ready for someone who doesn’t
    behave like this, Obama won’t get a second term, mark my words.

    Regarding AT&T, it’s common knowledge that AT&T wiretaps all the conversations which are held on its networks. That’s not exactly nice
    behavior from many Americans’ point of view. So instead of AT&T “distancing itself” from WIlliams, I prefer to think that WIlliams would be wise to distance
    itself from AT&T.

    1. For A.N. Other,

      Funny thing politics, best left alone. Best scene – my humble view – in Wag The Dog is where they all ask eachother if they voted. No prizes for guessing if they did or not.

      I am super super sensitive as to how advertising connexions work. You surely know, or can find, it is as ugly as sin, the building in NY which AT&T used to (or still does use) dump all the calls with. But why rat on them? Geneen comes in here, also . . . The ITU specs for most every landline here allow for “remote provisioning”. Why is this new? And also how do we strike that against Bell Labs, and all the wonderful people there, whose inventions we this minute use to correspond? Self determination, is what nations are about.

      I am just a nincompoop, but it is the nature of governments to delve into private lives – just as any curious person does on a sinecure to boredom and inept purpose – , unless, unless we give them something better to do. Our responsibility. Unspeakably, I might suggest Churchill’s thought [sic] “You can count on the Americans to do the right thing after they tried everything else”. I think that’s fair cop because the Americans try more things faster than anyone else, so often as not get to the right idea first.

      Back to F1. I am saddened Williams seem to have lost their ways. Head is off to sort out the new business. Needed. It doesn’t sound like racing, but it does sound like I have a cat in hell’s chance of my clutch of shares regaining some value. If I wanted to gamble on their races, we have bookmakers here. If you remember, this might be an awful fall from the days they could take Saudia’s money, and put pace on track, and it can be argued they since got soft. Proof positive, that being part of the pack is no way to go in racing.

      I do not know if such things really affect, or matter in F1, from advertising or sponsorship point of view. I just don’t, do not have the experience. But I can say that almost every brand has some dirt to be dug, and so not always best to tar the associations. What matters, privately, to me, is what the people in that effort want, what they want to promote. There, is a big disconnect which you touch upon.

      all best,

      – j

  13. I apologize for the terrible formatting of my previous post. The posting setup on this website regrettably doesn’t allow for checking such things prior to posting.

  14. Welcome back, Joe. We all wish you a great 2012.

    Can’t stop thinking that Williams could have one of the strongest duo amongst tier-2 teams with Sutil and Barrichello …

    1. 100% agree. From what I’ve read Sutil isn’t great technically which is what Williams really need right now, but if QNB funding is substantial enough to drop PDVSA then I think Sutil or D’Ambrosio would be the perfect number 2 to replace Maldonado.

  15. Welcome back Joe! It’s great to have you back. Your observations always put the F1 happenings in a clear and proper perspective. I hope your break was a pleasant!

  16. Happy 2012 Sir.

    Not to poop on your first post of the year, but I find your wanting the British “pot” Knighted, while wanting the Italian “kettle” banned for life, quite amusing.

    And as this appears to also be the political blog, I’d like to say Ron Paul 2012 for a free and prosperous America.

    1. “…free and prosperous America”.

      Such obvious, junk filled political rhetoric from self-interested American ‘politicians’ makes me so happy to live 3000 miles away from all of it.

    2. Oh dear – first post of the year and it’s started… Be strong, Joe, be strong.

      People who can’t see the difference between Ron and Flav should stay away.

      And what made him think it was a political blog? Reading difficulties?

      All the best for 2012!

  17. If memory serves me, when Webber departed Williams for RBR, he characterized the team as “Victorian”. Can’t improve on that.

    Ironic that one of FW’s greatest strengths is also his Achilles’ heel.

  18. I really respect how you shut down your site in the winter. I hope your online magazine will offer single issues for sale. I received an iPad for Christmas and I’ve been buying magazines and downloading them. I would love to try your magazine (for one issue) and read it on my iPad. I use the zinio app.

  19. Good to have you back Joe.
    The Williams situation is not good or healthy for F1.
    While you were on a well earned break, the Daily Mail ran an interesting story about Genii looking to acquire the Lotus (road car) company. Not sure who or why the story was placed, but had a fair amount of detail, which matched up what we have been hearing – gossip – rumours doing the rounds in the City. You best mate, that CEO, for once said nothing when asked……writing on the wall?
    Where is Pat Symonds these days, and will we see him again in F1?

    1. Genii buying Lotus is something that I have been saying would happen since September, when the deal was first agreed. Genii has been raising money ever since.

      Pat Symonds is a consultant at Marussia Racing, basically running the technical side these days, but not attending races.

      1. I know we had a presentation, but due to legal restrictions can’t add or say any more. My bet would be look to Q4 2012. Once all the dust settles. Your best mate – the CEO, won’t be around if the rumours are correct

  20. Head is one of the great engineers in the sport’s history and deserves all the recognition for his talent and hard work. It is too sad that he left under their current run of form, it would have been nice to see him leave with the team returning to it’s winning way’s… or at least in an upward trajectory.

  21. Welcome back and happy new year, Joe. After all that it looks like Rubens is back for his 20th season then, eh? Good news, and reassuring for me to see that Williams are heeding my advice… (I hope). After all, they’d be nuts to drop him.

  22. The honours system is a very strange and often unfair selection process, in my opinion far too many people are given honours for some pretty strange things.

    I still can’t help but wonder why so many CEOs are knighted…

  23. Welcome back Joe.

    Just thinking, will the Cepsa, Aabar relationship place Jaime at Mercedes GP as a reserve driver for 2012?

    Will Cepsa, Nova Chemicals and Falcon Bank remain STR partners for 2012?

  24. Good to have you back Joe. All nice and refreshed to give us the proper journalism that has been missing since Dec 17.
    Justice Vos’s thoughts on the Gribkowsky nonsense are illuminating, could this be the start of the unravelling of Bernies empire?
    I, like you, find it astounding that Uncle Pat has not had recognition from Her Majesty’s Government for his services to engineering along with the others you mention.
    It would be foolhardy if Frank didnt retain Rubens. A very safe pair of hands, considering the present position of the team. If the car is anything like then Rubens will extract/develop any performance to be had.
    All the best Joe.

  25. Happy New Year All and Everybody! also from my end.

    We should not be so pessimistic about Williams.I m sure they will do well in 2012.
    Only 2011 was bad year for them as both in 2009 and 2010 they managed to lead races.
    But they key decision will be the drivers.A pair Barrichello/Maldonado will not bring anywhere.
    They should go with Adrian Sutil and Jaime Alguersuari and reduce the races for Maldonado to build a new team.

    1. Maldonardo will keep his seat, Barrichello will retain his seat and Senna will be signed as reserve. Mid season Barrichello will do an emotional handover to Senna.

    2. Based on most driver decisions (or employee decisions as Williams see it) made in the past they will make the wrong one, usually at the wrong time having messed everyone around. Just read Maurice Hamiltons excellent book ‘Williams’ and it comes across how badly they treat their drivers. Maybe Webber describing them as Victorian was spot on?

  26. Good point about the lack of motor racing figures in the New Year honours. Ron Dennis is way overdue a knighthood.

  27. Joe

    Amazing how dictators seems to think that hanging (or whatever their method is) a few of those carrying out their orders will placate the majority.

    In South Africa one of our mass murders of political opponents, fully sponsored by the old South African government summed it up best when he said the former leaders like Nobel Peace Prize winner (what a joke) de Klerk were cowards who hid behind the old chestnut of “i didn’t know.” Yet the orders had to come from somewhere to quell the dissent.

    F1 should not be going to Bahrain, China and even I venture Abu Dhabi until they have what their population consider freedom. Sadly cash is King.

    In South Africa we lost our Grand Prix because of apartheid eventually, yet the same policy, just not black and white is ignored in Bahrain.

    And on the New Year Honours, its a scandal that John Surtees is not a Sir at the very least, along with all the others you mention such as Patrick Head and John Barnard.

    On Ron Dennis i think the thing holding him back is that he is too politically orientated to the Tory’s, but not political enough. If that makes sense. Maybe he will get recognised in the Birthday Honours. But it is well overdue.

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