It seems like there are never enough hours in the day at the moment, but as the F1 teams get into the packing up stage and prepare to head out to Melbourne, the talk in F1 circles remains that of money – or rather the lack of it.
To be fair, motor racing has always been about money. From the very start of the sport the field was made up of barons and industrialists, either because racing cars were “good sport” or because it gave them the chance to show off their wealth. It did not take long for the automobile companies to realise that the sport was good for their business and so began to search for the fastest drivers, often mechanics who were in the right place at the right time, or bicycle racers who had proved they could handle speed. From then on speed remained the key, unless money was in short supply. That is still true today and while I am appalled by the appointment of Carmen Jorda as the development driver at Lotus F1 Team, I fully understand how and why it has happened. Jorda had cash, the team needed cash. End of story.
What is sad about the whole business is that it really is a step backwards for the cause of female racing drivers, which is bad news for the sport. F1 would love to have a competitive woman racer, but just as nations new to the sport yearn for their own F1 driver, but struggle to find the right person, the female world must wait for the right woman to come along. I think we came close last year with Simona de Silvestro. She has a very decent pedigree in IndyCar and did some useful F1 tests and I believe would have made a perfectly decent F1 driver – although perhaps not a winner. That would have made her the Danica Patrick of F1 and would have served the sport well. Sadly, Simona did not have the money behind her and now she has given up and is aiming to re-establish herself in IndyCar. She is struggling to find the cash to do even that but one must hope that money can be found and she will get a fourth Andretti car. If I believed that Jorda would develop into a useful driver then there would be some hope, but I just don’t see how that is going to happen. She will be useful for the team to wow its VIP guests and she might attract some more money, but she is never going to sit in the top 10 of the F1 grid. Thus to see her so promoted is galling and to see poor Simona having to stay in the limelight by driving a Formula E around the streets of Geneva feels wrong.
The sport, as we know, never invests in anything, but if the people at CVC Capital Partners had any imagination (or a hint of strategic ability) they would pay some cash and get de Silvestro into an F1 drive. That would create some buzz and bring some new fans to the table. A little demographic engineering would be smart. Formula 1 is currently suffering from a nasty case of Fifty Shades of Grey as its audience grows ever older and older.
It looks from testing that the season will be silver/grey again, with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg leading the pack in their Mercedes. You can say that is no good, but it is something we have often seen in the past. New rules lead to one dominant force and then the rest catch up. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…
When one looks closely at the pre-season testing one sees that Mercedes is comfortably ahead of the game. Perhaps the others are a little closer but the lap times in Barcelona make it fairly clear that we should not expect too many miracles.
Nico Rosberg’s 1m22.792s was set on the second day of the final test, using soft tyres. Lewis Hamilton set the second best time overall on the third day was a 1m23.022s, using soft tyres. Valtteri Bottas’s best in his Williams-Mercedes was a 1m23.063s, but that was achieved on supersoft tyres on the final day of running. This was slightly better than Felipe Massa’s 1m23.262s (also on supersofts the previous day) and ahead of the Ferraris. Kimi Raikkonen set a best of 1m23.276s (supersofts), while Sebastian Vettel’s best was a 1m23.469s also on supersofts. So the Mercs are ahead and have a bit in hand as well. We still have to get a better picture about the Red Bull-Renaults.
It is good to hear that Bernie has advanced some prize money to the smaller teams to keep their cash-flow going. One cannot blame the suppliers to be asking for cash, given that they have been rogered senseless in recent years with teams going out of business and being slow in paying.
Elsewhere Manor seem like they are going to make it this year (more good news) although we have to see if they can do it in time for Australia. Will Stevens has been named as one driver and the other drive will probably go to a Giedo Van der Garde, or someone like that. He will do a decent job. The fact that Max Chilton has given up and signed to race for the Nissan LMP1 team is pretty significant in that respect. He has been priced out of the market. It is also noticeable that Alexander Rossi has signed to race once more in GP2 because there are no options open in F1.
Now is the time of anticipation and muted excitement. A new season is always like that. It will be good to see some sunshine down in Australia (hopefully), but for a lot of us the first few weeks of the year are going to be tough, flying backwards and forwards to Europe, rather than lolling around on beaches between events.
One positive element, I think, is that American healthcare magnate Brad Hollinger has upped his stake in Williams F1 by exercising his option to buy more of Toto Wolff’s shares.
Hollinger now owns 10 percent of the team. This makes him the second largest shareholder in the business, ahead of Patrick Head (9.3 percent), Wolff with 4.2 percent, with the staff holding one percent and the remaining 24.10 percent being held by the public, through trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Sir Frank still has control. Hollinger says he is involved to make money in F1 and believes that the sport is on the verge of a big leap forward.
One presumes that this is a five-year plan and he seems some changes taking place in that period… Actually I think that is pretty sound thinking.
We are now busy getting the preview edition of GP+ ready for publication at the weekend so those of you who have not renewed your subscriptions would be wise to do so in order not to miss the first magazine. Click here to do so. And if you are going to Melbourne and would like to attend the Audience with Joe, you can sign up here.