Hustle and bustle in Brazil

Since 2005 the Autódromo José Carlos Pace at Interlagos has been under the control of São Paulo Turismo, the events company that aims to increase the number of tourists visiting the city. This organisation does not have the money to upgrade the race track and so requires help from the Prefeitura de São Paulo. This is under the control of Fernando Haddad, who won the municipal elections last autumn and took office in January, ending eight years of rule by the more conservative Partido Social Democrático (PSD). Haddad’s campaign was focused on improving conditions for the poor in the city, and he easily beat Jose Serra of the PSD. This means that it will probably be more difficult for the circuit to find the funding needed to build the new pit and paddock complex that has been in the planning stages for a number of years.

“I have been unhappy with Sao Paulo for a long time,” Bernie Ecclestone says. “It’s a super race track, but the facilities need a big facelift.”

True, but in order to force Sao Paulo to act, Ecclestone needs a lever.

The Brazilians have been avoiding the upgrades for many year, working on the basis that Formula 1 does not have any real alternative venues as Rio de Janeiro has been focussed on the Olympic Games, which is due to take place in 2016, and the FIFA World Cup in 2014 in which Rio de Janeiro will host the all-important Final at the Estádio do Maracanã. Rio has been less able to bid for the race since the decision was taken to build over the old Jacarepagua circuit, to create facilities for the Olympics. Ecclestone has been looking at other Brazilian locations, but none seem to be up to scratch or do not have the money to host the event.

The Brazilian GP contract is available after the 2015 race and Ecclestone is now saying that it would be possible for the race to move to Rio, although this seems rather unlikely given the investment being made for the Olympics. Things have not been helped in recent days with the discovery that the roof of the Estádio Olímpico João Havelange has major structural flaws and could collapse in high winds. The stadium has been closed pending work, which will inevitably be expensive, and unavoidable.

F1 thinking in the luxury world…

Former head of marketing at WilliamsF1, Dominic Reilly, has just announced the launch of a new brand of luxury accessories which will be branded Dom Reilly.

Reilly spent 15 years with Williams, much of his time being on the road as he went from meeting to meeting, trying to drum up the money that the team needed. In the course of his travels he developed a keen appreciation of what makes for real quality, when it comes to luggage and accessories. He concluded that all too often fashion triumphed over function which meant that one had to choose between style and quality. He then applied to the Formula 1 mindset to the problem and began to look for ways to develop products with top line performance and style. The result is a new brand of luxury goods with the F1 mentality applied. He has kicked off with a partnership with Williams as the Official Supplier to the team. In addition Patrick Head has joined his business as a partner. To learn more about the Dom Reilly range, check out www.domreilly.com.

Forgiving and forgetting

Sebastian Vettel has apologised in person to Red Bull Racing staff for ignoring team orders during the Malaysian Grand Prix, something which commenters on this blog who thought his moves were fine should perhaps take on board.

“He’s said he can’t turn back the clock but he’s accepted what he did was wrong,” team principal Christian Horner told Reuters. “He’s apologised to the team and to every single member of staff for his actions, because he recognises the team is vitally important and being part of the team is a crucial aspect to being able to challenge for those championships.”

Forgiving and forgetting are, of course, different stories and while the team has been trying very hard to paper over the cracks that appeared in Sepang and has been busy telling everyone that Vettel and Mark Webber have shaken hands, one would forgive Webber if he was still counting his fingers.

Rebuilding broken trust between team-mates is a tough thing to do, but perhaps more importantly, Red Bull needs to work on getting Webber to trust the team management, which rolled over so easily when Vettel broke the team orders in Sepang. Given that weak response, Webber remarked that Vettel would get away with it “as always”, exposing the long smouldering belief that Vettel has always been the chosen one.

Suspicions of this have been rife since 2010 when the team made a shocking mess of things in Turkey after Vettel crashed into Webber. It was clear to any sane person that the German had caused the crash, but Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko blamed Webber and team principal Christian Horner impaled himself on the fence, rather than saying was obvious for all to see. There was a further indication at the British GP when the Red Bull designers produced a new front wing that was intended to help the drivers go quicker around the Northamptonshire track. Both men had one of the new wings on Saturday morning, but in the middle of the session Sebastian’s nose broke loose from its mountings. The team then decided to take Webber’s front wing and give it to Vettel, which did not go down well. After Webber won the race the following day, he made the famous remark: “Not bad for a number two driver”.

So the rifts were there before Malaysia and a handshake is not going to make much difference. The two drivers may have agreed to move on, but how much trust will there be when they next find themselves in that position. And how much will Webber trust the team to do the right thing? Vettel has the points he scored in Sepang and thus is ahead of Webber in the World Championship, whereas the pair would have had the same total if Webber had won the race.

Force India signs new Mercedes deal

Sahara Force India and Mercedes-Benz have announced the signing of a new long-term agreement which will see the team using a Mercedes-Benz powertrain in 2014 and beyond. One assumes from this that Mercedes is confident that the team has access to the money that is needed to pay for the systems, which is a vote of confidence in the team, which has two partners who are up to their necks in financial troubles at home in India. It seems, however, that there is sufficient money in offshore bank accounts to convince Mercedes to go ahead with the deal.

The agreement will see Mercedes-Benz supply Sahara Force India with a complete power train, including internal combustion engine plus energy recovery systems, transmission and all associated ancillary systems under the new regulations for 2014.

“It is a significant milestone to announce our first long-term agreement for powertrain supply under the 2014 regulations,” said Toto Wolff. “Sahara Force India was our first genuine customer in Formula 1 back in 2009 and we are delighted to enter an expanded, long-term relationship with them from 2014 onwards. This long-term agreement offers excellent value in terms of the balance between price and performance. We hope it will mean Mercedes-Benz and Sahara Force India working together for the entire life cycle of the new powertrain generation.”

Vijay Mallya, who is struggling to keep his various companies afloat in India, said that the new agreement “is the most significant in the history of Sahara Force India” and added that the agreement gives the team the long-term stability required to het to the front of the F1 grid. So long as there is money enough for the deal, all will be well.

It is worth noting that hopes of saving Kingfisher Airlines have suffered yet another hit in recent days with the Indian government-run Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) telling lessors with unpaid Kingfisher debt to confiscate 15 aircraft. Most of the planes have been deregistered and others have been sold for parts. The government is taking the action because it is worried that international leasing companies will not want to do business in India if they cannot reclaim their planes if an airline fails. Mallya still owes staff for several months of salary.

There is more than a little irony in the fact that AirAsia is now beginning to hire staff for its new Indian operation, that is a joint venture with Tata and another local company, and it is likely that many of them will come from Kingfisher. AirAsia is owned by rival F1 team boss Tony Fernandes.

Thailand planning for 2015

Ratchadamnoen Avenue is likely to be the main route for Thailand’s first Formula One race, officials said yesterday.

BangkokOfficials from the Sports Authority of Thailand, motorsport’s governing body FIA, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and Royal Automobile Association of Thailand have met to discuss the possibility of a night Grand Prix on the streets of Bangkok in 2015. The route agreed includes the main Ratchadamnoen Avenue, with the track using Din So Road to the Giant Swing and Wat Suthat Temple and then down to the Grand Palace and the Navy Club, with a run close to the Chao Phraya River. The paddock and grandstands would be located principally in the Sanam Luang park. The plan will be put to the Thai cabinet in the next few weeks. The

Concerned parties will draw a master plan and seek Cabinet approval within six weeks.

Sports Authority of Thailand governor Kanokphand Chulakasem said that contracts have yet to be signed but the plan is for the event for a night race, similar to the event in Singapore.

Giancarlo Martini 1947 – 2013

Giancarlo Martini has died at the age of 65. He was one of the nearly men in Formula 1 and a close friend of Giancarlo Minardi. Martini grew up near to Faenza and began racing in the Formula Italia series in 1972 in a Fiat-Abarth single-seater prepared by Giancarlo Minardi’s Scuderia Passatore, a new team started by the scion of a celebrated Fiat dealership. They finished runners-up in 1972 and won the title in 1973 and while Martini went on to Formula 2 with Trivellato Racing, Minardi stayed in Formula Italia for another year before embarking on an F2 project in 1975 with two March-BMW 752s for Martini and Lamberto Leoni.

This led to support being found from Angelo Gallignani, the boss of Gruppo Everest, a rubber company that manufactured floor mats and other rubber items for Fiat. Gallignani had five factories and 1,200 employees, while also being the head of the ACI Ravenna, Minardi’s local automobile club. As a result the team became Scuderia Everest in 1976 and Minardi struck a deal with Enzo Ferrari to act as a junior team and was loaned a new 312T for Martini in the non-championship F1 races of 1976 – with a longer term deal to run Ferrari engines in Formula 2 from 1977 onwards. The two F1 races would be Minardi’s first F1 experience but things began badly when Martini crashed on the warm-up lap for the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch. He finished in the midfield at the International Trophy at Silverstone but then the focus went back to Formula 2. The team scored several podiums and Martini ended the year seventh in the European Formula 2 Championship. The team also entered cars for Gianfranco Brancatelli in the European Formula 3 Championship. As planned in 1977 Minardi ran Ralt-Ferraris for Leoni and Brancatelli and a Martini-Renault for Martini. It was a bad season, however, and after that Martini faded from racing, while Minardi went from strength to strength, starting his own Minardi team in 1980, in league with Florence businessman Piero Mancini and former Ferrari designer Giacomo Caliri. The first Minardi F2 cars followed and for the next five years the team was competitive in F2.

In 1985 Minardi entered F1 with Pierluigi Martini, Giancarlo’s nephew as its driver.

A little background on team orders

Motor racing is both a team sport and a sport for individuals. There are, in consequence, two World Championships: one for the drivers and one for the constructors. The Drivers’World Championship is important to the drivers and tends to be prioritised by the fans and the media; but it is the Constructors’ World Championship that dictates the financial returns for a team and thus it is the most important thing for them. Thus, it is logical and acceptable that a team be allowed to protect its investment in the sport by deciding its on-track strategies.

Some fans complain and say that this is not fair, but that is a rather simplistic and naive attitude. Team bosses will always do what is best for the team and that cannot be changed. It is simply logic. If the rules try to impose freedom on the drivers, the teams will find ways around it. In the end, the only logical solution is to let teams decide. If drivers do not want to race for a team that uses team orders, then they should not sign for that organisation.

Team orders have been part of the sport of motor racing since long before anyone dreamed of a World Championship. Originally they were based on the very simple principle that he who pays the piper calls the tune. The men who owned the racing cars in the early years of the sport were wealthy men. Sometimes they loaned cars to others, but they did not want to be beaten and so the men in the other cars accepted that they would give way if the owner wanted to win.

As the sport developed and teams grew bigger and more professional, team orders remained. In the 1930s the Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix team had all kinds of problems as a result. Luigi Fagioli was so frustrated by having to finish behind Rudi Caracciola in one event that he quit the team and moved to AutoUnion. Caracciola and Manfred Von Brauchitsch were also allowed to beat Hermann Lang and Dick Seaman despite the fact that the latter two drivers were quicker.

After World War II the dominant Alfa Romeo factory team was famous for its team orders with Achille Varzi, Nino Farina and Count Felice Trossi being allowed to win, despite the fact that Jean-Pierre Wimille was much faster. This went on for two years and then Wimille became team leader and, until his death, was virtually unbeatable.

It was not always junior drivers giving way to the seniors. Other elements were included in the decision-making. In 1955, for example, it is said that the Mercedes team asked Juan Manuel Fangio to allow his teammate Stirling Moss to win the British Grand Prix at Aintree, because that would be a more popular result and would help promote Mercedes-Benz sales in what was at the time a rather difficult market. Fangio sat behind Moss all the way to the flag, but never admitted what had happened. A year later Peter Collins famously allowed Juan Manuel Fangio to win the 1956 World Championship for Ferrari, telling team boss Enzo Ferrari that “I never thought that a 25-year-old guy like me could take on such a big responsibility. I have lots of time ahead of me. Fangio should stay World Champion for another year. He deserves it.” Collins died two years later at the Nurburgring and never did win the title he so richly deserved.

In 1961 there were team orders at Ferrari at the French GP where Wolfgang Von Trips was ordered into the lead ahead of Ritchie Ginther and Giancarlo Baghetti, but when Von Trips and Ginther retired, Baghetti became the first and only man to win on his F1 debut. Again, in 1964 Lorenzo Bandini moved over for John Surtees during the Mexican Grand Prix, allowing Surtees to get the necessary points to beat Graham Hill to the World Championship.

In 1967 Ford used team orders at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, with Graham Hill winning a coin toss with Jim Clark. But Hill ran into gearbox trouble and finally Clark passed him to avoid an embarrassing spectacle of a healthy car trolling around behind a sick one. In the 1970s there were several cases of team orders being obeyed with Ronnie Peterson sitting behind Mario Andretti in several races, but accepting the position because he said Andretti had done the development work on the Lotus and because he had signed a contract to be the team’s number two driver. Gilles Villeneuve had a similar deal with Ferrari in 1979, which allowed Jody Scheckter to win the title, although Villeneuve could have won it if he had been racing as hard as he was able to do.

In the 1980s, attitudes changed as more money came into the sport, and the first major examples of breaking team orders were seen. Alan Jones was Williams team leader in 1979. At the German GP Clay Regazzoni was instructed by the Williams team not to challenge Jones for the lead, despite Clay being ahead of the Australian in the World Championship. In 1981 Carlos Reutemann decided not to accept an order to let Jones win in Brazil. After that the Australian refused to help Reutemann and this allowed Nelson Piquet to win the World Championship in the final race at Las Vegas, a race that Jones won. By the end of the season both men were so disenchanted with the sport that they both retired, although Jones did later make a comeback. Thereafter Williams decided not to use team orders, unless it was deemed to be absolutely essential. In 1985 this philosophy resulted in Piquet and Nigel Mansell taking points from one another to such an extent that Alain Prost was able to snatch the title for McLaren.

Being sporting hurt Williams.

Famously, in 1982 the problem struck Ferrari when Didier Pironi ignored team orders and beat Gilles Villeneuve at Imola. Villeneuve died two weeks later, still furious at what had happened. That same year Rene Arnoux won the French GP despite team orders that victory should go to Alain Prost and that resulted in Arnoux leaving the team at the end of the year. In the 1983 South African Grand Prix, Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham-BMW team asked Riccardo Patrese to allow Piquet to win if that would be required to get Piquet the title. In the end, however, Piquet was third and clinched the title, while Patrese was allowed to win.

McLaren generally avoided team orders but this hurt in 1989 when team mates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost collided at Suzuka while fighting over the World Championship. In the end it did not matter which driver won because the two were so far ahead in the title race.

Two years later at Suzuka Gerhard Berger sacrificed his race to help Ayrton Senna win the title, by forcing the pace early on, ruining his tires but snaring Nigel Mansell into giving chase. Mansell went off. Senna won the title, but at the finish of the race he pulled over and let Berger win. In 1992 Patrese was asked to help Nigel Mansell at the French GP and blatantly waved his Williams team-mate ahead to victory. At the end of the year Mansell, already champion, pulled over in the Japanese GP and let Patrese into the lead to say thanks. In 1994 and 1996 Williams used team orders to help wrap up World Championships with David Coulthard moving out of the way of Damon Hill at Monza in 1994 and Jacques Villeneuve letting Hill through in 1996.

At the start of 1998 some excitement in Melbourne when Coulthard moved over to let his McLaren team-mate Mika Hakkinen win the Australian GP. This was a decision based on the fact that the team had made a mistake and penalised Hakkinen and that team boss Ron Dennis was keen to encourage Hakkinen who was, at that time, still recovering from his accident in Adelaide in 1995. He felt it was the right thing to do. The FIA declared that “any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition” should in future be penalized severely, but accepted that team orders were not prohibited. The World Council ruled that “it is perfectly legitimate for a team to decide that one of its drivers is its Championship contender and that the other will support him. What is not acceptable, in the World Council’s view, is any arrangement which interferes with a race and cannot be justified by the relevant team’s interest in the championship.” In 1999, after Schumacher was injured, Ferrari used team orders several times to help Eddie Irvine in his efforts to win the World Championship: Mika Salo handed Irvine victory in Germany and Schumacher helped Irvine to win in Malaysia. That year in Belgium the two Jordans of Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher found themselves unexpectedly in the lead and Schumacher was ordered not to overtake Hill, to assure Jordan of a 1-2 finish.

In the years that followed there were multiple occasions when Rubens Barrichello helped Schumacher win races for Ferrari, but things blew up in 2002 when Barrichello allowed Schumacher to pass at the finish line in Austria. The crowd reaction was very negative and the FIA, in an attempt at crowd-pleasing, attempted to ban team orders. The practice continued but was disguised until finally in 2010 the regulation was scratched from the rulebook, after Felipe Massa blatantly slowed for Ferrari team-mate Fernando Alonso in the German GP. The team incurred a $100,000 fine, but it was clear that coded messages were being used all the time.

What is of key importance in any team is trust and respect between the team members. This is why a driver who breaks team orders is so castigated because he is, in effect, betraying the team and creating mistrust within the organisation.

Claire Williams moves up the ladder

The Williams F1 team has named Claire Williams Deputy Team Principal of the Williams F1 Team. The new position will see Claire working alongside her father, the team founder and team principal Sir Frank Williams, to develop the team. The team says that the announcement creates “a clear succession path” for Williams. The team had planned to announce this new appointment before the start of the 2013 season, but the death of Lady Virginia Williams led to the decision to delay the announcement. Claire will take up her new position with immediate effect. She will also retain her Commercial Director, a role she has held for a year. Claire has been with the team since joining as a press officer in 2002. In 2010 she was promoted to Head of Communications and after Williams floated on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in 2011, she took on the position of Head of Investor Relations.

“Over the past decade Claire has worked tirelessly for Williams,” Sir Frank says. “Her knowledge of the sport and passion for the team is unquestionable and I’m proud to say that during her time here she has proven herself to be one of our most valuable assets. With Claire being appointed Deputy Team Principal, I know the future of Williams is in extremely safe hands. This appointment also had Ginny’s blessing who I know would have been incredibly proud to have seen Claire taking on this position by my side.”

Visas and the F1 mentality

So here I am, wasting more of my life, trying to sort out visas. It is never easy with the Chinese Embassy in Paris but I have never really understood why. It seems that other embassies are more efficient. The thing is that once they have worked out what we do then the visa comes very quickly but the foot soldiers in the visa departments do not understand that F1 is good for the image of China. They look only at paperwork, which is something I am happy to admit I am lousy at. When you are used to F1 levels of enthusiasm and efficiency it is very hard to understand why it takes other people so long to get things done. For me this is F1’s greatest strength. It makes people super-efficient and that is why car companies like to send their best and brightest through F1 to see how it can be done.

What Sebastian Vettel might learn from Shakespeare…

I have been travelling since just a few hours after the Malaysian GP. That allowed some decent sleep after a heavy race weekend in physically-draininhg conditions. Now, en route between Dubai and Paris, it has provided some time to think about the implications of the bad blood in KL between the Red Bull team-mates.

Sebastian Vettel has probably not read much of William Shakespeare. Perhaps he should have done. If he had, he might have known about Mark Anthony’s celebrated speech at Julius Caesar’s funeral, which relates that “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”.

So let it be with Vettel. Sebastian is a highly intelligent and hugely talented racer and until Sunday the worst one could say about him was that he did not give enough away much about his real character, and thus came across as rather bland, despite the odd petulant outburst. He has made some mistakes in his career, but he was never really unsporting in his behaviour. He seemed an honourable man. After Malaysia there is no doubt at all that he is willing to go beyond the acceptable to win races.

After the race he said that he was sorry and had done wrong, but the admission of guilt does not change the implications: Vettel has the World Championship points and his apology, while half-decent PR, is irrelevant. Let’s not be silly here. Vettel knew exactly what he was doing. He knew he was going against team orders; he knew that Webber would be furious and he was bargaining on the fact that Red Bull Racing would allow him to get away with it.

He is probably right. Webber made no bones of the fact that he did not expect anything from the team. Vettel, he said, in his anger, would “be protected as usual”.

That one phrase let the genie out of the bottle and placed the question firmly in the public domain. The “as usual” hints at stresses and strains within the team which risk blowing the dynamics apart. Perhaps Mark will continue to fight for a team that he does not believe is really behind him. Perhaps not. If he truly believes that Vettel is favoured, then it is hard not to argue that Mark is in the wrong place.

The incident in Malaysia will have other implications as well: it will show whether or not the Red Bull Racing management is running the team, or whether Sebastian Vettel can do as he pleases. If a driver is allowed to call the shots then the team management loses all of its authority. Christian Horner said that Vettel had done the wrong thing, but said that he could see no point in calling up the German and ordering him to give back the place. One team boss I spoke to after the race said that if Vettel had been his driver, he would have called him into the pits just to make the point that it is the team, rather than the driver, who calls the shots. The other thing I heard was that Red Bull’s F1 consultant Dr Helmut Marko was very unhappy about what happened, perhaps because he realises that the team’s credibility (and his own) is being undermined. Perhaps in time this will be seen as the first point at which the Vettel-Red Bull relationship began to break down because Vettel got too big for his boots. Perhaps not. But whatever the case there is a lot at stake.

Unless Sebastian can do something to right the wrong he has done in more than nominal fashion he is now forever going to be seen as unscrupulous. He has done the very thing that has blighted Michael Schumacher’s reputation in the sport. Yes, Michael won a lot of titles, but on several occasions he proved that his moral compass was flawed and so people always tended to see the bad in him. That was fair enough. It looked for a long time that Vettel was smarter than his idol and that he had a little more integrity and sportsmanship than Schumacher. It is rather sad that he has proved himself to be wanting.

There are some who argue that a racing driver’s job is to win and that there should not be team orders. I think that is naïve. Teams need to have such structures in order to keep things under control.

The other thing Malaysia has done is something positive. It has given the F1 world a story to tell with good guys and bad guys. It will produce large amounts of copy and loads of sound bites, and that will create more interest in F1. In this respect it is good. There are bound to be a lot of red herrings thrown into the arguments as well. We saw that with Webber when he had begun to calm down. He proved himself to be a real team player by using the incident between the drivers as a justification for Red Bull’s arguments about the Pirelli tyres spoiling the show. He said that if the tyres were different this situation would not have arisen. Red Bull says that the tyres are not good for the sport. Rivals teams say that Red Bull is simply trying to get the rules changed because the cars were not as competitive as they might be. Campaigning for rule changes has often been used by Red Bull Racing in the past when things are not going its way. It uses its financial and political clout in order to try to sway the F1 powerbrokers. I hope that they remain steadfast… and do the right thing.

And I hope that Vettel does likewise.