A round-up of bits and bobs

This week the FIA will gather in Doha, Qatar, for its annual General Assembly and prizegiving gala and you be sure that the blazer brigade will not be staying at the Holiday Inn and will be treated very well by their hosts. Qatar has a bit of a tradition of heaping hospitality on visiting sporting delegates. This has got them into hot water of late with the FIFA investigations into the bidding process for the 2022 World Cup and some suggestions from other sports that the Qataris may have been overly generous. Let us hope that the FIA members are not spoilt during their visit.

The country has been in isolation of late in the region because of its dabbling in international affairs, not least its failure to do anything about a number of its citizens who have been identified as al-Qaeda financiers. As the FIA folk get together in Doha, the Daily Mail on London reports that FIA Vice President Nasser bin Khalifa al-Attiyah, the president of the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation, general manager of the Losail circuit and a VP of the Federation of International Motorcycling, has a rather suspect brother called Abdulaziz bin Khalifa al-Attiyah, a member of the Qatar Olympic Committee, who in June was sentenced in absentia to seven years in prison by a Lebanese military court, for his association with an al-Qaeda cell in Lebanon. The judge had asked for al-Attiyah to appear in court but this was not possible because he has diplomatic immunity.

One cannot help one’s siblings, but such associations (particularly when accepted by the authorities) are not really the sort of thing that a sport needs. This sort of thing has never seemed to bother Bernie Ecclestone who goes where the money is and says that sport is above politics. One cannot measure the impact these things have on a sport, but it cannot be positive, except for the suited wunderkinds in the business world who look the other way and whistle when it is pointed out with whom business is being done on their behalf.

There are measures of these things for floated companies, which FIA delegate, F1 team boss and troubled entrepreneur Vijay Mallya may have spotted this week after shares of Mangalore Chemicals & Fertilisers in India surged 20 per cent in a day after the company announced that he had resigned from the board. And before you write in saying I am mean to Mallya, I am simply reporting facts that are all over the Indian media.

Anyway, the stories that Mr E is negotiating for a Grand Prix in Qatar have been going on for years. Negotiations with Qataris tend to do that. Williams F1 was chasing sponsorship there for years and even set up a nice technology facility before deciding that it had been led a dance and closing the whole thing down and pulling out.

Mr E’s personal copytaker reports that Qatar will pay the highest price ever paid for a race fee (you would want to negotiate downwards if you were a Qatari reading such things, wouldn’t you?) Perhaps it will, but don’t forget that Bahrain is currently negotiating a new deal for 2017 – 2021, so perhaps the sudden appearance of an atmospheric bid from Qatar might be more than meets the eye. It amazes me that some supposed experts in this sport do not see the big picture as they run around their little wheels like hamsters, chasing uncatchable carrots.

There are also suggestions that Mr E can expand the calendar as much as he likes because of deals he has with the big teams. This rather overlooks the fact that he also has deals with smaller teams that are just as valid legal documents and which restrict the number of races. There are clauses that might allow for more races, but there are also complex terms and conditions because no one sensible wants more than 20 races a year.

As an aside, this is why there is a push for the race in Azerbaijan to be called the European GP because there is a balance that must be struck between the number of races in Europe and the rest of the world.

There is some good news in F1 circles nonetheless with US television viewing figures revealing significant gains this year. The numbers are up 30 percent, although one should perhaps add that an average of 477,000 viewers per race is not massive in a country with 300 million people. Even the great NASCAR averages only single digit millions, so much work is still required if the sport is to hit it big in the world’s biggest consumer economy. This, of course, would require promotion and F1 seems averse to such logical a concept. Money is for keeping, not for spending on future growth.

50 thoughts on “A round-up of bits and bobs

  1. It’s very hard to argue that sport should be above politics when a sporting event is paid for or otherwise facilitated by the government and/or individuals close to a ruling family!

    Racing is very popular but I don’t think the roots of its popularity go as deep as is the case for (say) football. I don’t think its popularity will dissapear overnight but there’s an awful lot of chipping away going on….

  2. “Money is for keeping, not for spending on future growth.” The first priority is to replenish that $100,000,000.00 check that was stroked in Bavaria. Not forgetting attorney’s fees on top of that. After that, it’s frivolity.

  3. Joe, do you believe Qatar is wrong for F1?

    IMHO, fwiw, can’t imagine the Qatari authorities want to support AlQaeda or have anything to gain from that quarter. Someone saying ‘xyz’ about persons domiciled there, does not mean xyz is necessarily true.

    But there again, I can’t pretend to know the first thing about these matters.

    Read somewhere that their prince, or crown prince, has been a strong F1 supporter many years. Seems a more logical place for Bernie to make friends than some of the upcoming venues that will host our happy “sport” 2015.

  4. my understanding is that F1 leaves promotion to the locals, so F1/CVC is not going to spend its own money promoting its self? If it is to grow in a region, its up to the local promoter to spend/make money?

  5. The ethics of faking things in order to boost the value of other things always makes me wonder if some power will come along at a (much) later date and say “illegal”. Doubt I’d trust someone who employed those tactics though.

    Suspecting that the custodians of the worlds wealth are gullible enough to be taken in by crude, repeated and obvious business tactics must give hope to “Nigerians” * everywhere! (* The scams, not the people)

    I’d be tempted to add “money is for taking” to your last sentence….

    A lovely piece of journalism, btw!

  6. Obviously the “actual rules” the ones we plebs are allowed to see, called the “Sporting regulations for 2015” currently say:
    “5.4 The maximum number of Events in the Championship is 20, the minimum is 8.”

    6.4 Ends with “At the final Event of the Championship points for both titles will be doubled”
    No doubt a new version will be published soon that just says “Whatever Bernie wants will be the rues, the FIA abdicate all responsibility for governance of F1.”
    (Which in fact is a serious point, the FIA have put themselves in an untenable position having given away their power to govern F1, by subordinating it to the F1PG. The existence of secret agreements which in some cases are contrary to the regulations, is itself obviously
    a breach of the teams adherence to the Sporting Code and the Sporting regs)

    (If I get you to sign a document saying you will rob a bank for me when that is against the prevailing law, that agreement is an “unfair contract”)

    Reading the Code Sportif International I see that Bernie needs a Super Licence, does he have one?

    Presumably Qatar will become a “South Europe” race.

  7. Hi Joe,

    When did Williams F1 shut the technology centre down? They still have it on their website:

    I only ask as I assume you know and I was looking at roles there given our likely move there at the end of the year.

  8. “Mr E’s personal copytaker…” I’m amused at how many different ways you find to describe this person.
    The whole thing smells bad. Eventually there will come a time when people may not feel safe in that part of the world. Then what?

  9. The FIA seem to have a new website designer, vote for your favourite video. But wow! a preview of the prizegiving, the Annual FIA Assembly. The social calendar for the assembly including dress code, the spouse program. (how do the FIA WAGs get on with each other?)
    There are times when I am thankful I never reached any kind of high office. Five days of incredible boredom, the most exciting part of which is “A demonstration of horses” for the WAGS.
    I am reminded of the famous episode of “Yes Prime minister” where a communications room was set up next door to the reception, “A Mr Haigh for you Prime Minister” or Gordon, J Walker etc.

    Actually there are a good selection of videos to vote for even including a F1 overtake.

  10. Just to pour some more troubles on Mr.Mallya. It seems shareholders in USL which own the kingfisher brand and sponsors Force India have voted to reject the sponsorship arrangements.

  11. If you only could experience how bad the TV coverage is here in the US, you’d be astonished that anybody watches at all. NBC Sports could not do a worse job of it. Endless commercials interrupt the racing action, the commentary is worse than banal and what little “reporting” is done could easily be cribbed from a twitter feed or two. Pathetic.

    Maybe if NBC wanted to attract more eyeballs, they’d pay some attention to other overseas networks an attempt to emulate them. Perhaps invest some money in it and send a team of presenters, not one guy with a producer and a microphone.

    Then again, what my countrymen really want to see is a good pit lane fistfight, so NASCAR will always dominate here.

      1. NBCsn showed the races in a box during the commercials for the most part. Even had races on network TV..amazing that their programing competed with Premier League and Tour de France coverage..all euro sports..As a side issue..my son is in Afghanistan at a FOB and I asked him if they watched the NASCAR race? “No dad, most here are into Formula One “

      2. I don’t know, I tend to agree with Dollar-oso apart from the last paragraph.

        I do think NBC’s hands are tied but the endless commercials and the whole “welcome back I’m so and so and they’re so and so and there’s a baseball game tomorrow and now back to the race” is incredibly frustrating.

        As I said I think their hands are tired because of ridiculous network / cable wars of the US but if certainly pay $500-800 a year for no commercials and lovely HD quality. For now I’ll stick with streams until F1 and U.S. networks wake up.

      3. Hardly “garbage” (unless you’re referring to NBC’s coverage?).

        Watch one full GP weekend via SkysportsF1(HD) and then compare it to the joke that’s NBC’s laughable trio of in-studio schmucks…Will B. at his best can’t make up for the failings of the in-studio team and the lack of sufficient on-site reporting…

    1. I too am sick of the constant breaks and montages, reports during the race. Just at the last race I discovered that the entire race is broadcast on Desportives channel (Spanish). Also download an app that plays bbc 5 live and your sorted!! F1 app has improved also so I use that too. Looking forward to 2015 now with uninterrupted coverage.

  12. Hey Joe, any truth to rumours that the TATA’s buying out Mallya’s Force India, and entering as JLR ? this would be good for formula 1 and Indian motorsport, If it EVER happens.
    They’ve supported Narain through his motorsport career and are known to do things the right way.

  13. Yes, sadly F1 seems only for us old buzzards in the US who have been following it since Watkins Glen (I first attended as a 10 year old in 1967) . Although I did bring my 11 year old grandson to his first F1 race this year in Austin. I hope he catches the F1 addiction too (sorry Bernie if I screw up your demographics some!)

    1. Ah Wes, you are bad man. Taking your grandson to a Grand Prix without buying him a Rolex surely must constitute child abuse. Oh wait, you can’t buy a Rolex at a GP and F1 doesn’t do online shopping so you are excused. Ask Bernie for one of his for the lad. Next time can you take your grandson’s friend too. That way should there be a GP in 8 years time and should he still fancy going, he has someone to talk to.

      It’s a fine thing you have done. I hope he enjoyed it. Maybe he’ll take YOU in 8 years (you’ll still have to pay but that’s ok)

  14. The news on American tv viewers makes my stomach turn because it’s the worst coverage we’ve had in years and there’s been almost nothing in the way of promotion. I know I’m not alone in my viewing habits – most of the time I wait for a nice copy of the sky broadcasts, GP+ is usually out before I’ve had a chance to catch the race uninterrupted by a solid hour of commercials. There’s barely any pre-show and forget about practice. You can’t blame American companies for not getting interested in a sport that rarely sees the light of day in any media. As you point out, Joe, there doesn’t seem to be much interest on the part of anyone else involved in F1 to share the virtues and the glory with the American public so most of them are literally clueless about this thing we enjoy.

    1. If it was not for NBC promoting it, there would be no promotion at all. FOM sure as hell is not going to promote it.

      This year has been better than the year before, and both have been better than the coverage we got on Speed by a long shot. I do not ever recall seeing advertisements for a race during primetime with Speed… but I have with NBC.

      I agree that it is nowhere near what viewers get in Europe, but it makes sense that way. Until the audience grows in the US, no network is going to provide coverage on par with Sky. And why should NBC bear the burden of being the sole promoter of Formula One. FOM needs to spend some money on it too.

  15. Its not all over indian news…I only found out about it from your blog but I grant you are right that if you dig through newspaper pages you will find one snippet on mallya that he lost the board membership from one of the mentioned companies.although this news is not on HT but there was an article on ndtv!

    1. I found it in three places without looking hard. Obviously I use a more efficient clipping service than you do

        1. Clearly there’s a lesson here for CVC… Asset value in the dumps? Flotation prospects not as buoyant as you’d like? Just jettison your Burdensome Chief Executive and watch the pricing shoot higher and higher…

  16. @DollarOSO & IAJeff:

    Sure, TV coverage in the US sucks, but is no different than in years before when SpeedTV and Fox were the broadcasters. NBC took over wholesale and didn’t change a thing, as far as I can tell.

    1. Most races were on the NBC Sports Network, which is not a broadcast channel, nor part of basic cable in many markets, so to say that NBC carries F1 races is a bit misleading.

  17. Great article as always, but as usual i got the feeling that you know and want to say more but hold back, i’d imagine as to not make too many enemies and keep regular sources of information.

    So on that note, what i would love to see is an F1 version of The Secret Footballer, where the writer would just be able to say what they know and suspect, without the fear of damaging their careers.

    Just an off tangent thought i had, that i wish i really knew what was going on in the at times seemingly murky world of F1.

    1. Ron flies to Japan via Amsterdam to do a deal with a major consumer electronics brand headquartered in Konan Minato-ku Tokyo.
      (Just need to reduce the rate card Ron!)

  18. It blows my mind that one can get azerbaijan to contractually be a “european” GP just by branding it “european grand prix”… Let alone convince people that this has anything to do with Europe

  19. Another great analysis Joe, and kudos for bringing up the shenanigans.

    But I’d like to comment on your last point… 477,000 average viewers watching the HORRIBLE coverage in the US? F1 viewership will be in the millions in no time if NBC would get its act together and do HALF as good of a program as Sky or BBC.

    Instead, they have 3 clowns who liretally know nothing about F1. They are stuck in a windowless closet half-way around the world from where the action is and follow it on an 11″ screen. The only thing they have going for them is their British accent. I’m sure their producers find that sound authoritative and knowledgeable. How pathetic. This isn’t soccer!

    In reality there are quite a few of us who find alternative ways to follow the action and stay informed. The vast majority of us would be more than happy to pay for decent F1 coverage here, sadly it is not being offered. Legally.

    1. Viewership in the U S. will not go ANY WHERE until there is an American interest to focus on. Sad to say it but viewership will not do much until Haas fields his team with an American driver. THAT will give broadcasters something worth promoting and creating programming around.

      Regarding the quality of NBCSN it is identical to the programming SPEED utilized. It’s all I’ve known and maybe sad to say but it, it works for me.

      1. As Ilko suggests, there are other ways to watch; give Sky a try next year and you will never be able to stomach the NBC ‘coverage’ again.

        It’s too bad things are this way; FOM could have me pay them to watch via the interwebs, but …………..

  20. #18. Auto racing, F1 Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying, Sat, TSN: 108,000

    The one Canadian ratings numbers I found (above & below) show that weekend ratings for F1 Qual (Hungry) being 18th most popular of all sports broadcasts on the day with 108,000 viewers with the race listed as 12th most popular the next day.

    #12. Auto racing, F1 Hungarian Grand Prix, Sunday, TSN: 216,000

    Both broadcasts start at 7:55AM for a 34M population base, (no info on how many households). I couldn’t find the overall season numbers. Hungary wouldn’t be the most popular race due to time of year, (everyone outdoors).
    Races such as Monaco, SPA or the Canadian GP have better numbers.

    FYI: NASCAR Brickyard 400 did 236,000 in overnight ratings on TSN as a comparison.

    1. And it would probably grow somewhat if TSN didn’t do such an atrocious job of rebroadcasting the British feed. How many times this year did we have no sound or commentary that didn’t match the pictures or they cut away before the post race interviews. I do like the 7:55 start time. It doesn’t cut into our weekends.

  21. Thank you Joe

    I wonder what it is about the small state of Qatar and its current desire to be punching above its profile weight. I think there are times when all publicity is not necessarily good publicity. As for Azerbaijan, if its primarily for ‘balance’ it seems unfortunate. Not a place, allegedly, known for any commitment to the democratic process. I hope we dont get another high wall rather tight street type circuit with limited overtaking opportunities and too many right angle turns to impact the flow.

    In the circumstances, I’m sad that Mr Haas was not ready to enter F1 next year. An additional two well funded cars on the grid would have been most welcome, plus the added interest for US fans.

    I look forward news to from Caterham, the awaited drivers announcement from McLaren and insights into developments at the Scuderia. At the time it seemed very odd that the official appointment announcement stated that Signor Arrivabene would be Team Principal in addition to his other duties heading up the two businesses. Apparently well qualified for certain activities but clearly having no experience for the TP/Racing Director role. I wonder if he remains a Philip Morris employee paid by the company and on secondment to Maranello much as Chloride’s Michael Edwardes was when parachuted in to restructure British Leyland ?

    I still puzzle over the Philip Morris/Scuderia relationship. Why each party still remains so keen to want the other …. years after the ban on tobacco advertising ? That this has resulted in the primary sponsor in effect placing one of its own at the head of these businesses must appear quite bizarre to many. Sergio Marchionne is clearly a very high achiever in his field; he must know what he’s doing, mustn’t he ! And I guess the pay-offs to SD LM and MM will have consumed a useful percentage of the monies received from Philip Morris.

    One tries to be pragmatic but now and again I think its good to be a traditionalist too. Amidst the talk of new venues here and there….Denmark !, I would be rather pleased to see F1 return to France; dont really understand all the barriers to this ?

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