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.