Since the blog closed for the holiday there have been a few stories come to light, although most relate to the F1 Strategy Group meeting more than two weeks ago. The decisions made at that meeting included the removal of the notional Korean GP from the calendar published a fortnight earlier, the revelation of a rule-making cluster-f*#k regarding the date of 2015 engine homologation (or rather the lack of one) and the idea that there will be a working group discussing engines in the future.
Sending bad policy ideas to obscure committees is an age-old political way to kill the concept and this latest decision smacks of that.
Elsewhere it was revealed that Bernie Ecclestone is facing a $400 million plus legal action from Bayern LB over the sale of the F1 group to CVC Capital Partners 10 years ago. The claim is that Ecclestone bribed a bank official and came up with the deal he wanted which undervalued the asset. Good luck to them on that one, but Ecclestone is likely to get bored being asked to go to Germany a lot (been there, done that) and so will probably settle out of court at some point for a percentage of the claim. Bernie hates parting with money so the faster the settlement, the cheaper the legal bills and the less hassle and bad press.
Elsewhere we have had a number of extraordinary happenings relating to the FIA, in addition to the engine rule mess. There has been the Franck Montagny cocaine question and the new Superlicence requirements. The good news is that the FIA is letting go its head of communications Pierre Regent. This means that there is at least some chance that things will improve as Regent’s only apparent involvement at the FIA related to trying to use his political prowess to get Jean Todt appointed to a position relating to road safety at the United Nations. The departure of Regent underlines that this strategy has not been successful and so Todt now has the chance to make a more sensible appointment of someone who understands the importance of the sport to the FIA.
Todt may still be yearning to turn the FIA position into a springboard to greater fame, but it would be wise to focus on the job he has rather than on one he will never get, lest he loses what he has at the next election. The FIA members are political by nature and few will say anything too loudly, but it is very clear that the sport needs some serious sorting out and the governance needs to be be polished up (the European Commission will likely do it if the federation does not) or else there will be a candidate against Todt at the next election and in the finest tradition of these things, the minute there is a viable alternative, the incumbent needs to watch out. If Todt senses that he will lose he will probably decide not to stand because people in these positions don’t like losing and so they find ways to dress up defeat in other ways.
The governance question is important because the FIA voting structure gives the mobility clubs the power to decide as they outnumber the sporting clubs 93 to 63, with a further 74 doing both sport and mobility. This means that mobility is key when it comes to winning elections and that the money that the sport generates is largely spent on mobility projects. With the sport always short of cash, the sporting clubs will one day work this out and demand their rightful share, while the mobility clubs will shy away from controversy. Remember, the powerful mobility clubs are basically in the insurance business and do not want scandals over governance nor a lack of transparency.
The Montagny Affair is a good example of how not to do things. On New Year’s Day Frenchman Franck Montagny announced in the French sports newspaper L’Equipe that he had tested positive to using a derivative of cocaine after the Formula E race in Putrajaya at the end of November. He told the newspaper that he had received a notification from the FIA that the test was positive and is suspended pending a penalty.
This mea culpa was put out on a day when most people are recovering from hangovers rather than reading the news and one can suggest with some confidence that this was an attempt to bury the news. It would be reckless in the extreme for Montagny to have done this without first consulting the FIA and as the theme of the article was his passion for the sport, it is hard to believe he would be stupid enough to risk whatever chance he has left without conferring with the Feds. Thus one must assume that the federation, or at least some of those involved, were aware of the L’Equipe story. The fact that this might not reflect well on the organisation appears to have been missed. Thus far there has been no mention of anything related to Montagny from the FIA or from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), to which the FIA adheres. This makes no sense at all. Catching a drug-taker is a victory for any sport and yet here is the story being shoveled away under a big carpet. Why?
Is it because Montagny is French and this would be embarrassing for the French FIA President? Is it because Franck was a leading light in Formula E, Todt’s pet championship and did not want people suggesting that Montagny was taking coke to try to speed up the racing? Who knows? But is it good management and good communication? Assuredly not.
Even if it is all perfectly innocent, it smacks of dodgy dealings. And that’s crazy.
It would be wise for the FIA to say something sensible on the subject, as quickly as possible – and not in a press release late on a Friday afternoon. In an effort to bury the story once again. The media is wise to such tricks.
Elsewhere, the new Superlicence qualifications are a good idea, but the execution of the idea is a mess. Having drivers earn points to get their F1 licence is not stupid, but the distribution of points must reflect the relative importance of the championships being used to qualify for the licence.
Thus making the yet-to-be invented new Formula 2 the easiest way to get to F1 is plain bonkers. And giving the FIA Formula 3 Championship a higher value than the Renault World Series and the Superformula in Japan is nonsensical. The issuing of a licence is supposed to be about a driver’s ability to handle the demands of F1, but by favouring the FIA championships in so unsubtle a fashion is asking for a complaint to the European Commission from one or more of the other promoters, who will see this as an anti-competitive measure, designed to drive youngsters to the FIA series and damage the opposition.
Formula 3 has 225hp, the World Series is 480hp, the Superformula is more than 550 horsepower, the AutoGP Series is also 550hp, while GP2 and GP3 are 600hp and 300hp respectively. F1 is 700-800hp. I just cannot see any serious argument that F3 rates as a better qualification than the Renault Series, particularly when one considers how many of the current F1 drivers came by that route.
I believe that the FIA should play an important role in the sport, but to be respected, it must run a tight and fair ship. I think that regulation of the sport should be taken away from the competitors – as they are incapable of doing it – although they should be allowed to make suggestions. What is going on at the moment is undermining the FIA’s credibility – and that is not healthy.
Elsewhere, it was no surprise to see Sauber announce that Raffaele Marciello as its test and reserve driver for 2015. The 20-year-old Italian is a Ferrari protégé and is clearly being trained up by the Scuderia for the future.
It is entirely sensible for Gene Haas to acquire Marussia assets to build up his European operations, so the news that he is going to buy the Banbury factory makes perfect sense. If he can buy chassis IP as well, it would be logical. The demise of Marussia has highlighted just how much some people have lost. The team owes a total of $54.86 million in cash with a further $42.45 million in loans, secured with fixed and floating charges on the assets. This means that only the secured creditors will get any money and there will be nothing for the unsecured creditors. This is going to mean big financial hits for Ferrari, which was owed $25.28 million for the team’s drivetrain. McLaren will lose $10.7 million, which was owed for providing simulator and wind tunnel services and Pirelli is owed $1.5 million for tyres. Other big creditors include Freeman’s Hospitality, which is owed $1 million, and a similar amount is still owed to Timo Glock. In addition Capsicum, the Chilton family-owned business, is claiming $4.75 million. The firm was contracted to pay the team $10.7 million per season to allow Max Chilton to drive.
Elsewhere Bernie Ecclestone has been talking again about South Africa, which probably means he is negotiating with Morocco or Angola and needs some leverage. Having a pet lion cub in the media (without any pride around him) means that Mr E can deliver whatever stories he likes and they sound vaguely credible. They are not. South Africa has been talking F1 for 20 years and it is not happening. Note also that the city of Durban burned its fingers with A1 GP a few years back and so politicians in ZA are wary of motor racing. Also note that the South African economy is stagnant and the other African countries have much more dynamic and promising economies.
Vijay Mallya is in the Indian newspapers on a daily basis with the latest moves by his many creditors to strip him of all he has to repay them.
Finally there was sad news with the death of Jean Pierre Beltoise, one of the first stars in France’s racing revival in the 1960s. The former motorcycle champion switched to four wheels in 1963 with a René Bonnet sports car. When that firm was taken over by Matra Beltoise became the star driver in Formula 3 then F2 and ultimately in F1 and sports cars. He was always competitive, but won only one Grand Prix, in the pouring rain at Monaco on 1972, at the wheel of a BRM. He competed successfully with the Matra sportscar team but was blamed for the accident which killed Ignazio Giunti in Buenos Aires in 1971 and had his international racing license suspended for some time. In later racing he was successful in French Touring Cars, winning the title twice (against some quality opposition) and once winning the French Rallycross championship as well. He was also a regular ice racer. He married Francois Cevert’s sister Jacqueline and they had two sons Anthony and Julien, both of whom race professionally. Beltoise ran various racing related businesses and there is today a kart circuit named in his honour at Trappes, near Versailles.
Beltoise was 77.