The following is a summary of the rumours and stories that were circulating over the weekend in the Singapore paddock. There were a lot of stories, but a lot of them were rather inaccurate, notably the supposed agreement of the Strategy Group to ban wind tunnels. This never happened. It might be a good idea, but the teams with wind tunnels are opposed to it (oddly enough). They do not wish to see the logic of spending money on computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to aid their design on the basis that the computer modelling can be used in hundreds of different industries, while F1 aerodynamics is fundamentally useless in every respect apart from trying to differentiate between a bunch of teams involved in an expensive arms race to create cars that are nice to watch but have little value to the world when it comes to aerodynamics. There was a discussion on the matter, but no vote was taken.
However, a vote was taken on the subject of supplying cheaper engines to the customer teams, with the FIA and FOM voting together (12 of the 18 votes) for a two-tier system with price tags of €12 million and €8 million. The latter would be for year-old engines. This was supported by three team on the Strategy Group: Williams, Red Bull and Force India. McLaren abstained and Ferrari and Mercedes voted against the idea. However, within a day or so some of those involved were busy telling people that no vote was ever taken. This was bizarre, but it seems that the following happened: after the meeting, there was pressure brought to bear and now it seems some folk do not want the vote to appear in the minutes (bonkers, but true). This is a very good indication of why the teams and the commercial rights holder should not be involved in the rule-making process, beyond being in a consultative role. Do soccer team managers sit down with FIFA and vote on whether the goalposts should be bigger, wider or taller, or that the football should be twice as large? The interesting point is that Mercedes has been trying to convince Ferrari to use its controversial veto, as laid down in various confidential agreements that we are not allowed to know about. In other words, Ferrari can take the FIA and FOM behind the bike sheds at football grounds and tell them that they cannot have bigger goalposts or bigger balls (if you see what I mean) even if everyone else thinks it is a great idea.
The exact wording of this secret document is (of course) secret but I believe it says something like a right of veto “in respect of the introduction/modification of any technical or sporting regulations (except for safety requirements)”, but Ferrari can only use this veto if the exercise of the right of veto is not prejudicial to the traditional values of the Championship and/or the image of the FIA, and the fabulously nebulous condition that Ferrari must reasonably consider that the new regulations are “likely to have a substantial impact on its legitimate interest”. Whatever the hell that means!
It would all be so much easier, if all of this rubbish was transparent and in the public domain. The same is obviously true about the prize money. If it was all public information, no-one would worry about it. Why is it a secret among the teams? No-one seems to have have an explanation for this except that F1 things always have to be secret, because it is part of the culture. It is not really a commercial secret when everyone involved knows, is it?
Transparency and sensible explanations in F1 would stop a great deal of arguing… and energy-wasting.
Anyway, there is much talk also of the 2016 calendar with stories that the first draft is going to be changed considerably when the next appears. Thus far the latest schedule has not appeared in the World Council dossier, but there are lots of different stories whizzing around about Malaysia moving to the autumn (because of the weather), Australia moving back to its traditional mid-March date (because the current date makes no sense at all), plus suggestions that some want a three-week gap at Easter (because Mr Ecclestone is trying to take away part of the summer break), a triple-header at the end of the year and so on. There were lots of race promoters present in Singapore, but they all looked a bit lost as Ecclestone did not himself show up – which was unusual and led to rumours about why he was missing the big event in Asia.
The paddock was full of interesting people, although most were fairly low profile. A key figure was Renault’s Chief Competitive Officer Thierry Bolloré, who was there with Alain Prost, ostensibly trying to sort out the purchase of the Lotus team. Gérard Lopez – on paper the Lotus “team principal” – turned up in the F1 Paddock for the first time in recent memory and it was all rather odd, as the whole lot of them had been in Paris a few days earlier and going to Singapore was probably more of a PR exercise than anything. The negotiations continue over the purchase of the team, but the fact that Andrew Ruhan was not there made it all seem rather pointless, as he is the primary shareholder. One cannot prove this because it is all done with bits of paper that are not filed with regulatory bodies, but this is clearly the case and has been for some time. As to who is allied to whom in all these discussions, it is hard to know and one gets the impression that some of the players are not sure themselves… Anyway, the sword of Damocles (in the form of a High Court judge) is hanging over the team at the moment and they all need to get things sorted quickly, because otherwise the whole mess will descend into Administration. The team might be saved by that, but it seems to me that negotiation between the various parties is a much better option and they really need to avoid doing anything that might break the contracts of the employees because if that happens one can imagine that it would be a little like a flock of birds when a gun goes off. They will all take to the sky and most will fly to perches that are waiting from them in other bird houses… The word is that a pigeon coop belonging to a Mr Haas is a likely destination for many of them. Having said that, I did bump into Ferrari technical director James Allison wandering around at the back end of the grid on Sunday, my presumption being that he was looking to whisper into the ears of some engineers about the pots of gold that exist in Maranello. Another man with a keen understanding of the talent available is Mr Boullier at McLaren, who used to be in charge at Enstone…
Elsewhere on the grid there was the Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. I did spot the President of Rwanda Paul Kagame at one point in the weekend and wondered if perhaps his country’s desire to promote its tourist sector might lead to a race track in Kigali. The country has around 90 percent of its people employed in subsistence farming, and its international reputation was destroyed by the 1994 genocide. However, it has made substantial progress in stabilizing and rehabilitating its economy and the economy is growing at about eight percent a year. The government has adopted an expansionary fiscal policy to reduce poverty by improving education, infrastructure, and foreign and domestic investment and by pursuing market-oriented reforms. It hopes to develop a stronger tourist industry and become a regional leader in information and communication technologies. The country is now stable. It holds regular elections and has joined the Commonwealth in late 2009 and even had a seat on the UN Security Council in 2013-14. Tourism offers much potential as the country boasts spectacular volcanoes and colonies of rare animals, notably the mountain gorillas made famous by Dian Fossey. Whether this was anything more than a look at F1 remains to be seen, but the sport would love to be in Africa in a safe and stable country.
The announcement of Pastor Maldonado as a Lotus driver in 2016, made public in the early hours of the morning on Monday (Singapore time) was more significant in what it did not say than what it actually said. Pastor has loads of money behind him from Venezuela, although no-one is really sure how one can get that sort of cash when the country is in a state of economic disrepair. However, clearly Lotus is confident that he will pay up and so he has been signed. This will help whoever gets control of the team. But why not an announcement about Grosjean as well? Probably because Romain is off to join Haas next year, where he will be joined by Esteban Gutierrez. That all has to be announced, but it means that there is a drive at Lotus that might still go to Sergio Perez (who has a pile of money) but he needs to be sure that the team is a better bet than Force India. Jolyon Palmer is still in with a shot at Lotus, but that will largely depend on what Perez does, while the Mexican needs to watch out because Kevin Magnussen might be knocking on Vijay’s door. The trouble is that Kevin will need cash.
Having said that, Mercedes is pondering what to do with Pascal Wehrlein next year and this would be a good place for him. The other option for Wehrlein is Manor where Alexander Rossi’s confident F1 debut (which left Will Stevens looking a little breathless) will put him on the list for a drive next year. Money may need to be involved, but if the team has Mercedes engines (which it will) then there should be potential for selling some sponsorship, particularly in the American market, as the arrival of Haas is good for all things US-related in the F1 world. I did hear some rumours that Mercedes might buy into Manor to create a junior team structure (a la Red Bull), but the sourcing was not particularly solid.
Ron Dennis showed up on Sunday, still looking pretty happy, which means that good things are going on at McLaren, which may not be immediately obvious from what we see on the race tracks.
There was loads more going on as well, but the rest of the chatter is reserved for the Joe Saward Business of Motorsport weekly newsletter, which you can sign up for if you really want to know what is happening in the F1 Paddock. I can only give so much away for free… To do so, you click here