I have spent the last week travelling, which is not unusual as an F1 reporter, although I do prefer to try and stay at home as much as possible in the winter months. I was in Los Angeles for the first few days for a speaking event, at which I met Simona de Silvestro. The interview will appear in the GP+ e-magazine preview of the year, which will be out in the next 10 days. While I think about it, it is a good moment perhaps to suggest that you sign up or renew your subscriptions (www.grandprixplus.com).
Anyway, I was impressed. I have a hunch that Simona will become the first woman since the 1970s to actually race in a World Championship event. I have followed her career for some time and I think she has the skill and commitment required and I think she will do well if given the opportunity. She is now busy doing all the necessary fitness training for F1 and will be doing a lot of testing with 2012 cars this year. If all goes to plan she will qualify for a Superlicence in a couple of months from now and will start doing free practice sessions later in the year. The onus is on Simona to prove she has what it takes to get a Sauber seat next year. I see that Susie Wolff is going to get a couple of free practice sessions later this year with Williams. It will be interesting to see how she does. Susie does a good job for Williams, but I do not see her as a serious racing prospect, as is being reported by some of the drum-banging British media. Her track record is not as good as Simona’s and she is a lot older. Having said that, I am a great believer in having as many women racing in F1 as possible – as long as they are there entirely on merit. I have absolutely no time for women being promoted because they are women. In fact, such things do the cause of equality more harm than good in the long term.
I was with Simona for an event at an Aladdin’s Cave in Beverly Hills. This was a private automobile collection (or at least a part of one), with no indication at all that it exists as you wander down what seems to be a shopping street, not far from Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive. Imagine our surprise when we were ushered into this “man cave” and discovered some amazing automotive gems. The garage was built in 1926 and was the very first parking garage built in Beverly Hills. It went on to become a warehouse until 1968 when the owner acquired it and it served as an office for his first business. Three years ago he decided to turn it back into a garage. But the cars… wow! There’s the Le Mans 1979-winning Porsche 935 raced by the Whittington Brothers and Klaus Ludwig. There was an alloy-bodied Ferrari 250 GT SWB, which won the GT class at Le Mans in 1961, driven by Pierre Noblet and Jean Guichet (Quote from owner: “I turned down an offer of $25 million last week”). This stood next to the first production Shelby Cobra, dating from 1962 and a Briggs Cunnningham Corvette which raced at Le Mans in 1960. Elsewhere in the room there is a real 1929 4/5-litre Bentley (not one of the many replicas), the ex-Clark Gable Mercedes-Benz 300 SC Cabriolet and a immaculate Ferrari 625 TRC Spider, plus various hot-rods, hydroplanes and motorcycles… Simply extraordinary.
I was then off to London for an Audience on Friday and spent yesterday returning home to Paris, in no great hurry. It has been pretty quiet in F1 circles, apart from the Bahrain testing, with a few minor announcements and, obviously, the Bernie Ecclestone legal action in England. This was widely reported as a victory in the motorsport media. However, given the remarks of Mr Justice Newey in his 115-page judgement, it was anything but that.
I have now read the entire judgement and it is packed with interesting information about F1. Mr Justice Justice Newey concluded that “the payments were a bribe. They were made because Mr Ecclestone had entered into a corrupt agreement with Dr Gribkowsky in May 2005 under which Dr
Gribkowsky was to be rewarded for facilitating the sale of BLB’s shares in the Formula One group to a buyer acceptable to Mr Ecclestone. Mr Mullens was complicit in the corrupt arrangement, but Bambino was not.”
One would suppose that the FIA will read this judgement at some point, given that on its website the FIA says that it “bears a special responsibility to safeguard the integrity and reputation of motor sport”.
Taking on organisations with armies of high-paid lawyers is obviously not an idea which appeals to the federation, but if it does nothing it runs the risk of being seen to be an utterly irrelevant body, unwilling to act on its own claims that it “is constantly striving to protect the image of motorsport… from jeopardy or harm as a result of immoral or unethical methods and practices”. Last time I looked it up, bribery and corrupt agreements were still deemed to be immoral and unethical, although there may be some differences in the translation of these concepts into French.
The rules of the FIA’s Ethics Committee require someone to make a complaint about alleged breaches of the federation’s Code of Ethics and I would guess that no-one wants to do anything to upset the applecart. If there is an investigation then a report would go to the FIA President who “may” decide to take any further action. There does not appear to be any mechanism for further action if the President decides it is not a good idea to make a fuss. For all we know this has already happened because the FIA does not publicise all meetings of the Ethics Committee, to avoid airing of its dirty linen in public, but when the stories are outside the FIA’s control it is not wise to sit there with one’s fingers in one’s ears, going “la-la-la” very loudly in the hope that you will not hear what is going on.
Jean Todt’s presidency has been utterly risk-averse in relation to Formula 1. Some translate this as the FIA having done nothing at all, apart from an agreement that fills its coffers with cash allowing Todt and his troops to do stuff in road safety and think about constructing a fancy new headquarters somewhere other than in France. That is not entirely fair, but it would be a wise idea for Todt and his people to show the world that they are “constantly thriving to protect the image of motorsport” in a situation which even CVC’s Donald Mackenzie described during the court case as being “a successful investment apart from the adverse publicity”. They might argue that they are keeping their powder dry, waiting to see what happens in Bavaria in the next few months, but if this is the case, perhaps it would be wise to be communicating such things in whispers. In the days of Max Mosley one was constantly being whispered to by the federation, trying to make sure that the message going out was the one that was wanted. The current attitude seems to be be that media should be treated more like mushrooms…
If one does a Google search for news about the FIA, there is quite a lot about Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency, the Federation of Indian Airlines and even the La Fia restaurant in Wilmington, Delaware. It would be nice if there was a little more about the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile as headlines such as “Promotions in FIA on hold, thanks to go-slow by bureaucrats” and “Human trafficking: FIA arrest two wanted men” are rather less exciting than the headlines suggest.