The paddock in Barcelona was busy with a lot of folk making their first appearances of the year. There was a meeting of the F1 race promoters involving all but two of the current crop. Having said that, the most important race promoter was missing because the Automobile Club de Monaco was hosting its annual historic event (at which, incidentally, one of the most important F1 cars of all time was crashed and damaged. The car in question was Jim Clark’s Lotus 49, the actual chassis that used a Cosworth DFV for the first time). Monaco is a bit like Ferrari in that it is impossible to imagine the Formula 1 World Championship without them, while all other races and F1 teams seem to be expendable, if necessary. Monaco and Ferrari define Formula 1 and so without Monaco leading them, the promoters have no real voice. The meeting was headed by Ron Walker of Melbourne, a close associate of Bernie Ecclestone, so it is impossible to imagine the organisation ever becoming powerful despite the fact that on paper the TV rights for any event are held by the person on whose land the event is taking place. In theory, if all the promoters got together and agreed not to do business with the Formula One group, they might be able to form a new entity and take over the business although they would have to force the FIA to break its 100-year agreement with the Formula One group. That might be possible if it could not deliver the big races but there are always going to be circuits that will break away from the others. A union of circuits is also a bad idea in that those involved would never agree not to be on the calendar and so there would always be discord when new players wanted to join. It is all irrelevant anyway as the Automobile Club de Monaco is anything but dynamic and does not want to cause trouble as it is rumoured to have a special deal with the Formula One group.
The big story of the Barcelona weekend was Renault complaining that some of its teams have not been paying their bills. Elsewhere McLaren quietly secured the services of Guillaume Cattelani, a former Peugeot Sport and Dallara engineer who has been working at Lotus F1 Team in recent years. He will be joined by Tony Salter, who spent much of his early career with Williams before moving to Sauber. The word is that the Swiss team has also lost its head of vehicle dynamics Britain’s Ben Waterhouse.
There is a lot of talk in the newspapers about Adrian Newey going to Ferrari. This is interesting because Newey has turned down offers on many occasions in the past. Adrian is currently being paid about $10 million a year to work at Red Bull and consequently he enjoys a nice lifestyle and every toy one can imagine. Yet he remains focussed and head-down trying to win. The stories all suggest that all Ferrari needs to do is to pay Newey an inordinate amount of money and he will go to Italy, but this is not really the case. It is way more complicated than that. When Red Bull Racing’s Christian Horner signed Newey he looked for ways to make sure that the latter would stay for the long term. I’m told that there are clauses in contracts that tie Newey and Horner together so, for example, if Newey leaves, Horner can as well (and vice versa). This means that both are protected and the loss of one or the other would be disastrous for Red Bull and so it is best to make sure that both are happy. If that involves paying more money then more money will likely be paid. It is possible that such a deal might impact on any attempt to recruit Newey because while the Italian might be happy to get Newey, they might not want Horner in a team principal role… Newey likes life at Red Bull and has no real need to change, particularly if it means going to a foreign team. His successes thus far at Williams, McLaren and Red Bull have all been achieved in the UK.
The other argument against such a deal is that Ferrari has only had James Allison on its books since last autumn which means that he has still to produce his first Ferrari design, this year’s car having been the fruits of the previous technical director. To bring in Newey now would make little sense as Allison’s car could be much better (particularly if the engines improve) and that would be a much more cost-effective way to get to the front.
Hiring Newey would certainly not make it easy for Ferrari to agree to a budget cap and the FIA President Jean Todt told the media in Spain that the proposals he has seen so far are “a joke” as they do nothing to reduce budgets in any significant way.
“We know the budgets are between $100 million and $400 million,” said Todt. “When we speak about costs we must speak about reducing it by 30-40 per cent. What costs money is head counts. They are big. I gave some input, and I want to see what the teams say. We will meet with all the people and hopefully they come with some sensible suggestions.”
Elsewhere the F1 world is still watching Bernie Ecclestone’s adventures in court with interest. Ecclestone’s Parrot Press tried to make out that last Friday was a good day for Mr E, but the truth was rather different as Gerhard Gribkowsky told the Munich court that he was offered money by Ecclestone only two occasions prior to the contentious one. He said that he was offered $10 million bribe in 2004 to give up a legal fight. Gribkowsky told the court that he informed his bosses at BayernLB and told the police about the offer, but there was never any investigation. he also claimed that he was offered a second payment worth $80 million at a meeting in Singapore. The context of these claims is interesting as there was a fight between the Formula One group and its shareholder Speed Investments after the banks claimed the shares that had belonged to Kirch Media before it went bust in 2002. Control of the board of directors was grabbed by Ecclestone and the Bambino Trust, the Ecclestone Family trust fund. The banks were not happy when they discovered this and legal actions began to win back management control of the Formula One companies. After a number of attempts to prolong the delay, including a lawsuit over the question of jurisdiction, the case came to court in December 2004. It was an embarrassing defeat for Bambino with Mr Justice Park giving a summary judgment in favour of the banks, making it clear that Bambino had no case at all. He called one of the Bambino’s arguments “un-maintainable” and rejected another as “bordering on the hopeless”. He refused the right to appeal the decision. A further action was launched against Bambino and Ecclestone personally to win control of FOA but in March 2005 Ecclestone agreed to settle.
The other point of note was that there has been a major change in the structure of the Paddock Club, the VIP hospitality service that is owned by the Formula One group. It has been decided to sub-contract the entire business, presumably in exchange for an annual fee and/or a percentage of the profits. This used to be case when it was run by Allsport Management but after that business was acquired by the Formula One group it became an in-house operation. It is understood that the Paddock Club will now be operated by Do & Co, the events catering firm that is listed on the Vienna stock exchange, which previously provided the catering. The remaining staff from the original operation will transfer to Do & Co in order to maintain continuity. The Paddock Club has suffered badly since the economic meltdown in 2008 but has steadfastly refused to lower its prices. That can now happen as the Formula One group will likely be getting a set amount of money each year, without needing to organise anything.