Notebook from Abu Dhabi

NotebookIt was a busy weekend in Abu Dhabi with little time to mess around, although a lot of what I have seen written has little basis in reality, notably the Toto-versus-Niki stories, which were a good example of the increasingly poor standards of journalism in the Internet Age. Click-bait headlines rule the roost. Another example of this was the story that the Formula One group had paid for the Lotus F1 team to get there. It is true that two teams (Lotus and Sauber) asked for advances on their earnings to help them through the winter, but on the other hand, behind the scenes, the Formula One group was blocking a Renault takeover of the Lotus F1 team, which effectively deprived the team of money. It is a long story, but back in September the Formula One group agreed to a deal to pay Renault $136 million in historical money over a nine-year period. This was fair when compared to other big team deals, but of course there remains the question of whether the entire concept is fair, particularly when long-standing teams such as Sauber and Force India get no historical benefits. The system developed as a way of buying off successful teams in order to get their support for the status quo, which allowed the Formula One group to continue ripping money out of the sport. People involved did not like it, but as the old saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them. Let us not forget who was the architect of this system, although no doubt if the Eurocrats come knocking at his door, they will be told that the Formula One group had no choice.

Anyway, Renault was looking at an investment of about a billion over 10 years and so it was right and fair that they should ask to be treated like the others, given their stellar history in the sport. This all looked fine until a week or two ago when someone decided not to ink the verbal agreement. At this point all hell broke loose and Renault boss Carlos Ghosn, who has bigger problems in the real world outside F1, told the Formula One group exactly where to stick Renault’s involvement in the sport.

This created problems: firstly, Lotus would die almost instantly if it was not protected by the Renault option to buy the team; secondly, Red Bull would be without engines, unless the team did something such as buying Manor F1. In effect, this would wipe out two teams. When the man from CVC Capital Partners, a rather supercilious individual who may not have read Bonfire of the Vanities, told the F1 teams that he needed to find engines for Red Bull if Renault would not be there. He received a polite “Go twiddle your thumbs” from Mercedes and Ferrari and then made the mistake of trying to attack McLaren for not allowing Honda to supply a second team. The response, by all accounts, was a polite but very firm discourse from Ron Dennis on the fact that CVC Capital Partners is a greedy and uncaring organisation that is simply exploiting the sport, and that it is time for the takers to give something back. It may have come as a shock to the F1 equivalent of Mr Sherman McCoy (you need to read Bonfire of the Vanities if you don’t understand the reference), but the message was clear…

This is something that has been needed to be said for some time. It is time for them to stop milking the sport. The GP weekend thus consisted of a series of meetings between “Mr McCoy” and the Renault F1 president, who is also a hard-nosed Renault exec, who sitteth on the right hand of Ghosn, to find a suitable number to keep Renault in the game. I believe the number was found on Sunday morning, but while a deal may have been struck, the question of trust will remain a problem…

The original deal was heavily back-loaded so that the majority of the money would arrive after 2020, to avoid upsetting the other beneficiaries of historical money, who have a deal until then, but it would give Renault a commitment that would allow it to borrow money, secured on future revenues. There are various explanations about why the verbal agreement was rejected, one of which suggested that Renault might have been trying to get more than planned because the original deal included the revenue from a Red Bull engine deal (thus $100 million, plus $35 million from Red Bull) and Renault’s idea was to take that and ask Red Bull for cash as well. It is difficult to discern what is true and not true in this scenario.

If it all sorts itself out, Red Bull should soon announce a deal that will use Renault engines, badged as something different in 2016 and probably 2017. One rumour doing the rounds is that we might see a Red Bull-TAG. I don’t know if that one is true, but it is an interesting idea. The story presumably comes following the decision by TAG-Heuer to switch from McLaren to Red Bull. It sounds a little fanciful, as the TAG brand is not owned by the luxury firm LVMH, which has owned the TAG-Heuer brand since 1999, but rather by Techniques d’Avant Garde itself, which is primarily an aviation business. However TAG boss Mansour Ojjeh is in the process of selling his McLaren shares and so he might be convinced to do such an engine deal to highlight the change, and to underline the technological nature of the company – as the original TAG-badged Porsche deal did back in the 1980s when McLaren-TAG was so successful.

Name-changing is in fashion at the moment with continued talk about Force India becoming Aston Martin. It is by no means a done deal, but it’s a smart idea and two things have added to the story in recent days: the first was Vijay Mallya suggesting he might retire when he gets to 60.

He did not say that this happens on December 18…

The other was the presence of an Aston Martin big cheese being a very low profile visitor in the Paddock in Abu Dhabi, with a Force India pass around his neck.

The other name-change story is with regard to Marussia Manor. The team has applied to change the name of the car and that should be going through the necessary processes in the next few days. Team owner Stephen Fitzpatrick is not saying the name he has chosen, but it is not Ovo, the name of his energy company.

It is hoped that the question of an equivalency formula is now dead, but when asked about the idea in Abu Dhabi, Mercedes and Renault both said that this was not at all their cup of tea, while the man from Ferrari, who is often rather incoherent in his public statements, mentioned the word IndyCar. No one ever falls for the idea that Ferrari is dumb enough (or proud enough) to leave F1, but it sounded ever so like a threat, albeit one that was so mangled in the delivery that it was not really clear. Still, the same gent also suggested during the weekend that he would chop the head off a TV cameraman, which was probably not the smartest thing to have said for a man in his position. All of this underlines a fundamental fact about modern F1: there is no school for team principals.

The other big political event of the Abu Dhabi weekend was a very complicated question of Ferrari and Haas sharing wind tunnel work. The FIA finally put out a long and complex statement about an hour before the race, which meant that no-one had time to digest the details. The bottom line seems to be that Ferrari and Haas exploited a loophole that has now been closed, but apart from the costs involved in getting rid of some aerodynamicist, both parties have got away with it because the wording of the rules was ambiguous. If the ruling had been that it was all OK all the big teams would have developed relationships with small teams… so this is a good solution.

FullSizeRenderThis week the F1 microscope will move to Paris, where the FIA is gathering for its annual General Assembly and other meetings. There is a huge international conference going on about climate change, which was very effective on Monday morning because a lot of major roads were closed and half of Paris decided to stay at home, thus reducing emissions for a day… There has been no sign that the FIA is involved in this at all (I have certainly not received any press statements about it), although this seems to be part of the federation’s remit as much as road safety is. The UN Secretary General did not attend the recent conference on road safety (which was similar in concept to the current conference on the environment), but he did show up in Paris and make his own speech. What was interesting about this is that all over Paris fake corporate advertisements appeared on bus stops attacking corporate sponsorship of climate change. Unfortunately for F1 it has been lumped in with the bad guys in the fake ad on the left. It is also worth noting that the latest emissions statistics show that the UAE now leads the world in emissions-per-capita. The sad things is that F1 is doing great things with its technology but still being tarred as a bad guy – clearly something that the FIA communication people should be addressing.Co2-1990-2012.svg

The FIA meetings will be interesting because after Jean Todt’s blooper in Interlagos – and his invisibility at the subsequent conference in Brasilia – there is now more chance that the FIA President will be sticking around the federation in the longer term. There were some in F1 circles who were hoping that JT’s road safety work would be successful and get him out of their way so that there could be a new FIA President in 2017 (strange logic, but true). Much will now depend on whether or not he can raise a lot of money for the UN. Right now the world of international sport is under intense scrutiny because of the hideous goings-on at FIFA and the IAAF. Sporting federations needs to be transparent and the FIA, while not being anything like the others, still has things that cause upset for those who believe in transparency and open governance. F1 pays the FIA’s bills but the deals are all secret and complicated. There are, it seems, two parallel FIA corporate structures: one in France and one in Switzerland. But who knows who does what and what money goes where?

The key point is that the majority of the FIA clubs are related to motoring rather than the sport and many of these are run as commercial enterprises, often involving insurance and such things. They want everything to be transparent – and so it would be wise for the powers-that-be to listen.

Anyway, by Friday night they will all be at the Lido on the Champs Elysées for the prize giving. Presumably the topless dancing girls will get the night off… or the FIA will insist on topless dancing boys as well.

The remainder of the good stuff is reserved for my Joe Saward Business of Motorsport weekly newsletter, for which you can sign up if you really want to know the ins and outs of the F1 Paddock. Check it out here.

68 thoughts on “Notebook from Abu Dhabi

      1. Haven’t been for years have they with Mr Dennis and Ojjeh? Wasn’t Mansour the only reason Ron couldn’t get rid of Martin Whitmarsh for a couple of years?

  1. Horner on the bbc said, regarding the engine branding “Ron will not like it”. This was a clear unambiguous response to questioning from Eddie Jordan. I read this to be TAG.

      1. Clearly you have not bought a Tag recently. Under LVMH the quality has plummete and the after sales service, if you can call it that, shicking.

        1. Wrong TAG. You are referring to TAG Heuer. I was referring to Mansour Ojjeh’s Techiques d’Avant Garde, ex of Williams, McLaren shareholder and financier of the V6 turbo built by Porsche for McLaren in the 80’s.

  2. Brilliant Joe.

    I look forward to your notebook almost as much as a race. At least I have you weekly Newsletter to look forward to until the Australian GP.

  3. Bernie may be the big fish in the F1 pond, but in the Ecclestone vs Ghosn (Jalinier) stakes the smart money was always on the Nissan man. I’m glad that CVC have a bloodied nose, and hopefully they will exit as gracefully as possible in the near future…

      1. Ooops – just looked it up and its Stoll! Regardless, Ghosn and his proxies did well. Any idea Joe about what the other engine manufacturers though of this saga? I assume that they would have seen a Renault departure as a disaster for the sport? I also can’t imagine there is much love for CVC! Would they have done anything to help? Ie pressuring CVC & Bernie?

  4. Joe the best money I spent on F1 this year was the GP+ magazine. Does your “Joe Saward Business of Motorsport weekly newsletter” run throughout the entire year including the off season?

  5. It’s funny but from the distance of a TV screen the Ferrari team Principal would have been my F1 man of the year award. Despite my early scepticism, the team now seem to have a similar air of confidence that has not been there since Ross Brawn left.

    BTW when I arrived at CDG on Monday the queues at border control had reached US proportions, but with only a passport check.

    I noticed that the Emirates plane looked as though it had been parked-up for a while. Some guys have all the luck. Presumably you were first to the door again?

  6. Am I completely “Barking Mad” to even suggest there is a possibility that Ron in the not too distant future may get rid of the F1 team side of the business?

      1. Agreed – I was not suggesting he would do it right now or make no attempt to to meet challenge. My view is that whilst he would prefer to wait to see if their is a vast improvement he will do it in say a couple of years or so whether or not there is.
        Also if or when he does the F1 team that remains will no longer be called McLaren.
        I might be wrong but I doubt whether those that buy a McLaren road car are greatly influenced by success or otherwise in F1

  7. Surely there is a school for team principals — out behind the Piranha Club’s bike sheds, isn’t? That little fellow may not look too tough, but he’ll slit you up a treat…

  8. Yes, “Mr McCoy” turned sharp right when approached by David Coulthard on the grid on Sunday – quite a funny moment. Not least DC’s ever so slightly sarcastic comment muttered under his breath.

    On this note Joe, you probably will not see what viewers see (at least in the same manner) when drivers (and particularly drivers although not limited to them) routinely blank DC and others on the grid walks. I get quite angry about this. I realise it’s a stressful moment but there’s no excuse when they are effectively giving two fingers to the viewers. There are obvious culprits like Kimi but, much as I like Lewis, he never gives grid interviews. Nico isn’t bad but favours German reporters in the main even though he’s multi-lingual. Jenson, of course, does his best as always. Fernando is more available these days as he has nothing better to do! About time team principals and drivers went on a few courses on how to deal with public or get reprimanded. Poor show all round.

    1. According to Martin Brundle Lewis (and I think Kimi) will not do grid interviews with anyone anymore and I think Seb and Rosberg only do the German TV ones (if Seb does any at all).
      With all the drivers having to get to the front of the grid for the national anthem or face the wrath of Bernie it’s surprising that anyone does interviews anymore. It’s no surprise that MB spent most of Sunday’s grid walk talking to JYS and Mika Hakkinen.

      1. Yes, and DC has the same problem Mike. He also did interviews with JYS and MH. DC said he’d been trying to get Kimi to do a quick ‘hello’ to his daughter all weekend but he obviously refused. How petty is that? – I hope you’re reading this, all you Kimi fans. McLaren are hopeless now Martin Whitmarsh has gone – Bob Fernely is always open for a view though and ditto Nico Hulkenberg who comes to mind on the driver side. You wait, the moment Verstappen moves we’ll not hear another interview that’s not controlled by minders – and as to interviews on the grid………!

    2. I raised a similar query in another comment thread about mirrored specs.

      When I was in short trousers, a family friend wrote to World Champion Jackie Stewart afore my birthday. On my birthday, I received a card from JYS. Thanks, Jackie.

      Jackie struts in 2015 on the F1 grid as well as anyone of his age might present himself. He allowed Polanski to film at home and on the circuit in the 1970s.

      Stewart wore and wears sun glasses, and he allows an interviewer to look him in the face. Mostly, Jackie knows that it is polite to take them off.

    3. I personally could do without grid interviews. The drivers should be able to concentrate on the task ahead. Politicians and ‘celebrities’ should stay off the grid altogether. Whenever I watch on catch up I skip the grid walk; it’s pointless.

      1. Honestly, I now try and time it so I tune in as the cars come off the jacks. In the internet age the preamble is largely redundant. The only exception is the (very) few impressive VTs both the BBC and Sky occasionally excel on in the pre-shows.

        1. I think you and BenK are missing, if I may suggest, the spontaneity that I like when the personalities concerned are effectively ‘cornered’ under pressure. The drivers are usually with their engineers, not PR minders – and how often does BE grant interviews? If time is a problem then the grid could formed earlier. After all, there’s no warm up now – maybe there should be? For me, and many others I’m guessing, the grid walk is part of the build-up to the race.

  9. Joe, without a sponsor for years now (though I’m sure Honda is writing cheques) and now with a back of the field finish, how much more can McLaren endure? Their trajectory looks like Williams’ post-BMW.

      1. If they don’t turn things around within the next two seasons, their trajectory will be more akin to the original Team Lotus’s back in the late 80s/early 90s.

  10. Joe,

    With regards to the Ferrari and Haas, is it the 2016 Ferrari in the tunnel using Haas time or are Ferrari people just seeing what works and what doesn’t on the new teams car as a test bed for their own?

      1. There no way I would believe that Ferrari didn’t have access to all of the Haas wind tunnel and CFD data. And I can see why other teams would want that “loophole” closed.

        What I am curious about is that the FIA allegedly closed the loophole that allowed Haas the unlimited testing before they hit the grid.

        Personally, I wouldn’t want to enter as a new team unless I also got unlimited CFD, wind tunnel and potential testing time like Haas, before the first tests.

        It is the only way a new team has a chance of starting out on the right foot.

        I am very curious to see how Haas will do at the start of the year. Especially if they got to use an aerospace grade CFD system to make their car and not the crippleware F1 teams are forced to use.

        I certainly expect Haas to make their share of new team gaffs.

        But If Haas start scoring points more or less right out of the gate, I wonder how that would be received by the paddock, in light of the past efforts by caterham and manor…

    1. Read, “No Angel – The Secret Life of BE”. It would appear that F1 was built on verbal agreements. Easier to deny if it all goes Bristols up!

          1. Terry Lovell and Susan Watkins both have interesting sections in them, but as a whole no-one has told the whole story

            1. Thank you. I guess a more complete story may come about once the man himself decides he wants to tell it or is not around to stop it.

            2. I read the Watkins book, more hagiography than biography but still worth a read. Conspicuously absent was any insight re the deal that sold F1 rights to Bernie for 100 years. We may never know…

            3. Off to the library for me tomorrow then. One day I’ll make sense of this F1 business/sport. I’m 51 now, just hope I’ve got enough time left!

    2. I am sure that is the lawyer’s view. Mine is rather the opposite – contracts, whilst maybe enforceable, usually fall apart as a result of having to be enforced – only trust can make a partnership work with contracts being at best an aide memoire to what might have been our common intention once upon a time.

  11. I suspect that the depiction of David Cameron in racing overalls is an extension of similar semi-humorous comments made about political funding over a number of years by various (mainly left wing) activists. For instance, this policy proposal from “The People’s Manifesto”, a stand up show then book by comedian/columnist/campaigner Mark Thomas :

    “Politicians should have to wear tabards displaying the names and logos of the companies with whom they have a financial relationship, like a racing driver”.

    To my understanding the concept has been bouncing around in various forms for years now. I’m not sure how many people would really think about the association with F1.

  12. Ferrari have been using the IndyCar threat for decades. In the 1980’s they actually built an IndyCar!bthey never ran it, but the engine was rebadged as an Alfa Romeo, then, with technology stolen from Pat Patrick’s Illmor Chevrolet engines ( from that point on, IndyCar engines were leased and no longer sold) ran in the series for several years with no success. These days all Ferrari could do in IndyCar is build an engine, transmission, and run their own body work. The monocoque and suspension is all Dallera. Ferrari these days saying “IndyCar” should be met with a wry eye with a single reply of “Seriously?”

    1. Ferrari threats go much futher than that, basically since the early 1950s. Arrivabene was definitely channelling the ghost of Enzo Ferrari there.

  13. Having watched Arrivebene in action over the past year I have started to wonder if anyone has actually seen Marco Mattiacci recently…

    1. My understaning is that he’s working in New York City, in the finance and investment sector. I believe his wife is American.

      Mattiacci was reportedly on the way out of Ferrari when he got the call to go to the Scuderia. He was given the kind of offer he couldn’t refuse; if he had, his career at Ferrari would have been over. If he succeded, which was unlikely so long as Montezemolo was still in the picture, perhaps he could have saved himself or gained enough time to move eventually elsewhere within FCA. If he failed, which was likely considering the mess Montezemolo’s meddling had created, he was going to end up exactly where he did end up. Arrivabene’s working out because a) he’s an insider both with the Agnellis and BE and b) Marchionne took care of Montezemolo.

      Basically, Mattiacci was asked to drink from a poisoned chalice.

  14. Last time IndyCar could have sounded like a threat to F1 was over 15 years ago. WEC could be a more viable alternative nowadays with all the factory competition going on in P1 there and I sort of remember Ferrari toying with that idea in the last couple of years.

  15. This dual nationality structure is an interesting thing, I wonder if Todt and his henchmen have motorbikes hidden near the border for a Steve McQueen type escape from the EU Commission.

  16. You crack me up! So much “between the lines” to decipher… We can only pray that Mr. McCoy’s message to the FIA et al gets across.
    If Renault is going to supply Red Bull, then why all the press then alluding to Honda and Red Bull? The “silt” flowing downstream again? Hehehe

    1. I think Joe has been to see the Mole personally 🙂 Obv had decamped Mole Manor for sunnier climates for the winter!

  17. I wish I had a transcript of what Ron Dennis told Donald Mackenzie. This is the first time in a while that I haven’t been irritated by Dennis’ F1 dealings.

  18. Joe, do you think there is a chance that F1 is not exploiting the advancements in current power technology due to pressure from oil companies involved in the sport? This might sound like a far-fetched conspiracy theory to some, but one doesn’t need to be a genius to figure out that oil companies would like to prolong the inevitable in automotive technology, and they seem like the last guaranteed industry to stick around F1 (now that tobacco is banned and alcohol will eventually follow). Just a thought as I can’t think of any other reason why it shouldn’t be mentioned during every race weekend.

    1. Don’t worry the oil companies will find a way to charge you more when their volumes go down. Does the current price of petrol/gasoline reflect the commodities market? There are reasons why it doesnt such as blah, blah, blah. Don’t worry the poor oil companies will find a way to survive. Perhaps it will be “stick to it ive ness” good ol’ yankee know how or maybe they just know how to bone the consumer the old fall back.

  19. Methinks Ghosn is a bit of an old school dealmaker himself that doesn’t feel like being pushed around by the F1 man. The global new car salesman vs. the used car/motorcycle salesman, the persona that humble Bernie likes to rope a dope his opponents with. Renault have some serious leverage, engine supply, a prominent upper tier team in need of a life line and Christian Me so Horny’s power plant debacle. How badly would Renault the car company be hurt by walking away from F1 for a few years? The Grand prix presence in France was allowed to die and business continues.

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