The testing in Jerez is probably not worth reading too much into. The teams were all up to different things and the results were rather varied depending on the day. This was followed by a lot of stories with quotes about how one team felt it was going to be more competitive than last year and blah, blah, blah… No-one said that their car was rubbish. No surprise there then.
It seems that some progress has been made in negotiations for the new Concorde Agreement, as the sport is still operating without one at the moment. Ten teams have financial deals with Bernie Ecclestone and it looks like Marussia is going to get some money as well, which is only right.In previous years the teams outside the top 10 got $10 million a year, which is a lot less than the top 10 but nonetheless a decent wedge. I tend to agree with Bernie Ecclestone that teams should prove that they deserve the money they get. The deal is likely to be pretty similar to previous years with some travel costs and (perhaps) some assistance with engine bills.
Elsewhere there was some chit-chat after the announcement of the Le Mans 24 Hours entry list about a Chinese team called KC Motorgroup Ltd, which has been granted an entry for the French endurance classic. What was interesting is that the team founder Paul Ip is quite open about his plans.
“I started KC Motorgroup Ltd with one ambitious goal in mind, ” he said, “to be the first Formula 1 team in China. This year, we are going to compete in the Le Mans 24 Hours – which is an amazing opportunity for us. In the foreseeable future, KCMG will expand further to the European countries and through-out the world.”
So it is worth keeping an eye on him.
Jaime Alguersuari did himself no favours with a little outburst about how it is unfair that his F1 career has run into trouble, despite the fact that he is only 22. Given that he had two and a half years in F1 to show his talents one might say he probably had a fair chance with Scuderia Toro Rosso, although he thinks Red Bull’s decision to drop him was “incomprehensible”. To suggest that F1 is an auction is also not really the right thing to be doing. The top drivers get their drives and are paid because they have proved themselves worthy of that. The rest have to scramble as best they can. It was ever thus. Alguersuari is also unhappy that a team let him down with promises about 2013 that were not kept. It may sound harsh, but Samuel Goldwyn was right when he said that “a verbal agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on” and it is just a tad naive to think otherwise. Far worthier men than Alguersuari are also out of work in F1 this year, notably Kamui Kobayashi, who looks like he is heading to a Ferrari drive in GT racing.
I notice that a few websites are now finally beginning to pick up on the mess into which Force India boss Vijay Mallya has got himself with Kingfisher Airlines, as the banks have now announced that they are moving to recover $1.4 billion of defaulted loans to Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines, which has been grounded for several months. The team bravely says that this will not affect the season ahead and I am pleased to hear that, but I am still rather sceptical as to whether a team with two troubled deeply owners and little real sponsorship can go on spending to the level that Force India does. I am also curious as to why it is taking so long for the team to name a second driver. It is not logical if the only criterion for the choice is talent. It is far better to allow whoever is chosen to settle in before the season begins. Thus, the cynic in me suggests that the choice is all about money.
The other point of interest is the latest TV viewing figures which reveal that the overall audience in 2012 dropped from 515 million to just over 500 million. That is still a terrific audience. If you have ever wondered how such numbers are calculated it is worth noting that the figures involved come from the broadcasters themselves. These come originally from market research companies such as Nielsen who use statistical sampling techniques that are not dissimilar to the methods used by political pollsters. This is achieved with a sample audience including different classes and income brackets. The figures from the sample are then extrapolated to estimate the number of viewers in the population of a country. It is a very complicated business but seems to be pretty accurate.
The biggest audience drop for F1 in 2012 was in China, where viewer numbers fell from 74.5 million in 2011 to 48.9 million, a whopping 35 percent. This was blamed on programming clashes. Audiences in Russia also fell by 12.9 percent which was probably due to the fact that Vitaly Petrov was not doing particularly well. Brazil, on the other hand, was booming and most of the European markets did OK, although the numbers were slightly down in the UK, where the advent of pay-TV had an impact. This was offset by the fact that Sky produced vast amounts of coverage which was watched by those who invested in subscriptions.
Nonetheless the sport claimed 21,000 hours of coverage in 185 countries, with 110 broadcasting organisations. It is worth noting that Italy and France are both switching over to pay-per-view/free-to-air mixes in 2013. In Italy Sky is taking over the rights but is sub-contracting some of the live coverage to free-to-air channels; while in France it looks like the whole championship will be shown on the pay-TV Canal Plus. These trends are caused by the fact that free-to-air channels do not have the money to compete in the bidding with pay-per-view companies. At the moment this does not seem to be a worry for F1 sponsors, but the teams are keeping a close eye on the numbers in case that starts to impact on their rate cards.