Notebook from Styria

IMG_0051The first notes that I have in the notebook from the Red Bull Ring concern driver movements for 2017. The first note says “Sainz – STR 2017 deal”, the second “Perez-Ferrari”, the third “Wehrlein-Force India”. There are other random notes on the same pages which say “NR=will be done”.

The Sainz deal is confirmed, but all the other chatter remains dependent on decision that have yet to be taken. Ferrari, for example, has hinted that Kimi Raikkonen needs to up his game, although it is not really clear whether that is serious as Kimi and Sebastian Vettel make a drama-less combination. However, if someone (Sergio Marchionne)decides that paying Kimi Raikkonen is not as good a deal as hiring Sergio Perez, who has around $20 million from Mexico and the source is not very different from the Mexican sponsorship that Ferrari has, thanks to Esteban Gutierrez’s testing deal last year. Perez is certainly fast and has matured a lot since his abortive adventures at McLaren. The alternative choices for Ferrari, given that the Red Bull drivers are all locked into contracts, would be Valtteri Bottas and, perhaps, Romain Grosjean, but it seems to me that the team needs a reason to get rid of Kimi and I am not entirely sure if they have one as yet. Right now, they are equal on points although to be fair Vettel seems to have a lot less luck this year. Kimi is very popular with the fans, which always makes sponsors happy. If Perez was to go to Ferrari, then Mercedes would move Wehrlein to Force India, on the basis that the team owes it money and this would be a good way to settle at least some of that debt. Still, Toto Wolff will have the opportunity to see Vijay Mallya at Silverstone, as the embattled Indian is planning to show up at race for the first time this season. This is possibly because it is the only race he can go to, given some troubles relating to passports. The investigation into alleged fraud at the defunct Kingfisher Airlineshas run into some unfortunate problems of late as the Serious Fraud Investigation Office has been informed that the company’s accounts have all disappeared – and there is no back-up. They have also probably been told that a cow had landed on the moon, but they may not believe that.

Another man who is going to be spending a lot of time in England in the days ahead is Renault F1 boss Cyril Abiteboul, who is relocate to the UK from Paris. Cynics say that this is because it is a great idea to be paid in Euros and live in the UK while all this Brexit chaos is going on, but Cyril says it is because there is a lot to be done to me the team competitive and he has finished the restructuring of the engine division in Viry-Chatillon. Given the current performance of the team, it is fairly clear that he’s not wrong, but clearly the problem is more to do with money than with a lack of talent at Enstone.

I have a note that says Praga because I keep seeing representatives of the Czech company in F1 places. The company is owned by racer Petr Ptáček, who manufactures cars, karts and planes. His son Petr Ptáček Jr is now involved in karting.

There is a page filled with things Toto Wolff said after the crash between his two drivers at the end of the race, which triggered this week’s chatter about team orders.

There is just one other word, by itself, on a page: “Button”. This was designed to remind me to think about Jenson’s future. I’ve been watching Jenson recently and I don’t get the impression that this is a man who is about to leave F1. He seems rather assured and, while he’s not one to engage much with the media, beyond being jovial, I sense that he knows where he is going – which is an odd thing to be when one is in his situation. When you are 36 and only Kimi Raikkonen is older, and in a situation like Jenson is at McLaren, with Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne, clearly waiting to take his seat, one does not expect a driver to be unworried about the future. Yet Jenson seems relaxed and able to produce some remarkable performances. And I cannot help thinking that perhaps this is because he has a deal elsewhere. Racing teams rarely tell the media what is going on, until they want to do it, but I can see the former World Champion, a major star in the UK, as being a man who may well be in the mix at Williams, where he started his F1 career 16 years ago. When you look at Williams at the moment, it is clear that the car could be better (Force India has the same engine and is doing a better job with it). This may be because the team has switched to the 2017 car already. At the same team one also sees a requirement for more budget and with a driver like Button, it might be possible to extract more funds from companies like Unilever’s Rexona, Martini and BP (among others). Jenson is a proper high profile celeb in addition to being a very good racing driver and I can see that working for them. Felipe Massa is likely to be the man left out as Brazil’s economic problems are not helping his situation, although to be fair he is usually a match for Bottas. Publicity value is an important thing in racing these days and that is why the BRDC has enlisted the help of Prince Harry as the patron of Silverstone Heritage Ltd, a registered charity which is in the process of creating a permanent exhibition to celebrate the history of the Silverstone and British motor racing in general, with a collections and research centre which they hope will pull in 500,000 visitors a year and generate some business for the club. Half the funding is coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund,while the remaining money is being raised by former F1 team principal and commercial director (not to mention former journalistic colleague of mine) Ian Phillips.

It may be that we will get an announcement at Silverstone regarding Sauber, but it is not 100 percent certain as yet. The word is that Peter Sauber will be selling his shareholding in the team (believed to be 70 percent) to someone else. There are lots of rumours about Swedish people but I get the impression it may be billed as a management buyout, with Monisha Kaltenborn remaining CEO and with her 30 percent shareholding and other investors supporting her in that role. From what I can pick up, the investment will keep Marcus Ericsson in the team, hence the Swedish rumours, but will be more of a long-term investment, rather than having a specific marketing aim, as a lot of people believe that the F1 franchises will one day have great value, which is not the case at the moment.

The sport is changing and it is clear to me that we are in for some lively times ahead as the four groups involved: the Formula One group, the FIA, the big teams and the little teams try to sort out what F1 is going to be in the future. It is clear that Bernie Ecclestone and CVC are not getting what they want, either from a buyer, or from the manufacturers, and now Bernie is making noises about sharing revenues equally, which will please the smaller teams and the European Commission, but is going to make Sergio Marchionne and Dieter Zetsche hrmph in their board rooms. The FIA is to a great extent irrelevant politically because it sold its rights in F1 for a pound of silver. Perhaps the FIA folks ought to have considered that Bernie doesn’t like paying pounds of silver when he’s not getting much for it. Thus I was very interested to discover, while pottering trough a trademark application by one of the Formula One group’s lesser-known entities, the poetically-named GP2 Trade Marks Limited, that curious things are happening. GP2TML already owns trademarks for “GP1” and “GP1 Series”, but back in March it made an application for the trademark for something called “Sports Technical Services”, although no such company exists in the UK. This in itself is not wildly interesting until you look at the categories in which it is applying for trademarks, notably for “regulatory services to motor racing events” including the provision and appointment of technical delegates to interpret and enforce rules for sporting events; scrutineering services; advising; managing event access, event personnel, event facilities, event timetables; provision of information and “appointing officials, stewards, clerks, secretaries, adjudicators, scrutineers and medical officers; provision of medical facilities and equipment” at racing events.

These are all things that the FIA does.

I personally don’t see it being a great idea for a self-administered GP1-style breakaway series, but I do see it as being something that entrepreneurs with no respect for the sport and his heritage might do in a world where TV revenues can be multiplied with new generation OTT services for all manner of viewing devices, and pick-and-play pricing.

There are lots of secret contracts binding everyone to one another in the F1 world, but if a new company called GP1 was to have its own sanctioning body and its own rules and some of the big F1 races, I can see quite a lot of the teams jumping straight into bed with the idea if they were offered a better financial deal than is currently the case. I doubt that they would all want it, but beggars cannot be choosers. I would imagine that one way to keep the big names involved would be offer one of them the contract to supply everyone with cars, or to provide engines, but only the terms offered by the series. The ethos of such a series would then shift from being technology-led racing we see today (which is unsustainable in the long term) to becoming all about TV and star driver appeal. With many of the F1 teams lured away to this by the promise of big money, could there be enough support for the continuation of the World Championship as we know it? Or would the manufacturers walk away and try to do something else? If no-one really cares about official “World Championship” status then the FIA has no value at all. In any case, when push comes to shove, the federation would probably beg to be involved if a new series took off. It would be a Premier League scenario, pulled off not by the teams themselves, but by the commercial rights holder. The best that the manufacturers could do would be DTM-style single-seater racing, but if F1 already had the venues sewn up and big F1 team names involved, it is hard to imagine the manufacturers would do that for long. How it all develops remains to be seen. All I can say is that this trademark application is being considered at the moment.

It was good to see Alexander Rossi back in the F1 Paddock for the first time since his Indianapolis 500 win. The American hopes to be able to return to F1 soon, but there is no doubt that he is getting offers to race in the US. His ambition remains F1, and his presence in F1 would obviously help the sport to grow stronger in America, but I can see the sport losing that potential by letting Rossi go.

The crowd at the Red Bull Ring was small, much smaller than in previous years, which is not good news (even if Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz does not have to worry about calls from the bank manager). There is talk of expanding the current point-and-squirt track by reintegrating the old western section of the circuit with the brilliant Hella Licht and Dr Tiroch’s Kurve sections. The real aim of this would be to have a longer track so as to be able to attract other racing series, but it could mean F1 returning to the original track design, although hopefully F1’s track designer Hermann Tilke would not be allowed to fiddle with it to make it more camera-friendly. The good thing is that big races bring money to the region, which is not wealthy, the bad thing is that some of the residents of the village of Flatschach might make this rather difficult.

54 thoughts on “Notebook from Styria

  1. Could Button be so chilled because he’s staying at Mclaren because Alonso is leaving? He has been looking very miserable of late.

  2. “The crowd at the Red Bull Ring was small, much smaller than in previous years, which is not good news.”

    Yeah, I noticed that. Not good.

  3. On the subject of Ferrari’s lack of options to replace Kimi, why is Button not being talked about?

    Alonso’s previous engineers at Ferrari cannot have failed to notice how close Jenson can run with him and on that grounds could make a formidable, relatively affordable, and drama less team mate for Vettel.

    1. What would Button provide for Ferrari? A steady, consistent performer capable of putting in occasional top drawer performances. A low drama team mate for Vettel who shouldn’t cause the German too much trouble. An ageing star who will have question marks every year over how long he can continue.

      Might as well keep Kimi.

  4. Bottas was interviewed by Sky F1 and was asked about next year and whilst he gave the usual no comment, too early to say, committed to Williams, blah blah answer he had a definite smirk and a twinkle in his eye. The kind of twinkle that a man who knows he has a bright future next year…

  5. Joe, can you tell us what the paddock is saying about the pecking order for next year? Should we expect more of the status quo or are Ferrari, Red Bull, and McLaren (fingers crossed) going to be regularly fighting for wins?

  6. Thanks for (yet another) great article – Still cant believe that this content is free of charge. Thanks, really!

  7. Hear what you say about lots of secret contracts in F1 and it is, presumably those that stop the teams starting their own series but I would love it in all the major teams – and top drivers and circuits – managed to find a way to cut CVC out of the loop.

    1. I would too. I think though that f Sports Technical Services were to progress in the direction Joe has pointed, that would undoubtedly end F1. That’s not end it as we know it; it is finish. Full stop.

      1. The end of F1 as we know it has happened before. The FIA twice ran the Championship to F2 regs (1952 – 1953 on cost grounds, and 1961 to 1965 on the basis that performance under the existing formula was getting out of hand). Notwithstanding Dallara’s effective monopoly on the formula, the FIA could easily run the Championship to F3 regs, just as F2 provided the regs in the ’50s and ’60s. Arguably, things are as they are because the FIA hasn’t had the traditional F2 fallback position available in earlier times.

    1. Massa moving over to Williams has not been good for Bottas’ reputation. The gap between Alonso and Massa was much greater.

  8. BE steering F1 away from the traditional circuits…has this been a long-term plan to let a new “GP1” series use them?

  9. You forgot to note what bothered me the most. It was noted that Mercedes added extra composite wet layup on their suspension parts after NR’s suspension failure. This is akin to putting lipstick on a pig: it’s still just a pig wearing cosmetics. Adding layers to an already cured part is worthless and is never acceptable for high strength composite parts. I assume Mercedes did this to try to get the stewards to change the curbs however it seems silly way to go about it.

    I watched most of the race having breakfast and getting ready for church however with three to five laps to go I turned it off even though I knew the two idiots could crash. The TV production was so dull that even the idea they could crash was not enough to keep me watching. NBC commentators are so dull and boring it’s incredible. With all the money being spent on these races you would think the TV production would be first rate. I used to love watching these races intently however now they have become background noise while I do something else.

    Were there any spectators there? I swear I only saw a lot of green grass. (This could be part of the TV production problem).

    1. No, I did not forget to mention it. I did not mention it because it was not mentioned in my notebook. This is what the notebook article is about.

  10. Interesting thoughts Joe. Early days but, whilst there may be some musical chairs, in contrast to recent years, I don’t really see anyone smashing the door down to get a drive in F1 for 2017 – with the exception of Vandoorne who seems a done deal.

    Nobody is offering any signs of domination in GP2 and, from looking at results alone, Ocon doesn’t seem to be building a compelling case in the DTM.

    Possibly a little OTT but it’s almost as if the best are cherry picked so early and thrown straight into F1, that, sadly, the official feeder series has become a collection of those who are deemed ‘good’ but will never be good enough, rather than a real learning ground that creates viable candidates for drives in F1.

    Having said all that… I guess if a team is looking for a fresh option, that makes Rossi rather attractive. Perhaps no better than some of the other options in terms of pace but some F1 experience and a marketing angle for a company trying to sell in the US.

    1. I wouldn’t worry too much about Ocon’s credentials, or the DTM as any kind of significant feeder to F1. It’s just a convenient parking platz for Mercedes’ junior drivers.

      GP2 has one of it’s best line ups for years. The fact that it’s so close in the title race (10 points or so covering about 12 drivers) says as much about the quality as much as it seems that no one has yet got fully into their stride.
      Oli Rowland is doing a fine job keeping up there in an unfancied team. He is especially strong on cold tyres and in the wet. If he can stay up there he may be a dark horse for the title and ought to be on the radar for F1 teams.

      And….when was the last time there was an all British podium in a GP2/F3000/F2 level race?

  11. Joe wrote:
    “I personally don’t see it being a great idea for a self-administered GP1-style breakaway series, but I do see it as being something that entrepreneurs with no respect for the sport and his heritage might do in a world where TV revenues can be multiplied with new generation OTT services for all manner of viewing devices, and pick-and-play pricing.”

    Could this be a Bernie manipulation to rid the sport of Mfg. control and introduce the single engine source that he was championing previously? I can also see the series named as “Red Bull GP1 World Championship”, or something along those lines. Mateschitz and Bernie have been united of late, and no one is is more willing to pour money into motorsports the Herr Mateschitz.

    This could be yet another misdirection to beat the teams, large and small, into contract extension talks? When attempting to cower the big boys, it takes a big threat!


  12. Joe,
    UK maybe out of Europe, but surely the competition folks in the UK will look dimly at BE as Judge, Jury and Executioner. He may wish for it, but chances of it work have to be slim to nothing. This has to be a tool to manipulate the FIA and maybe small teams with in negotiations. Nothing more. Don’t do as I say I can Brexit F1 and you will have nothing! To which Todt might just call his bluff and we have yet another mess!

  13. If Haryanto’s money doesn’t come through, isn’t Rossi in the catbird’s seat to replace him?

    1. I don’t see any reason why he should pay Manor several million dollars just to trundle around at the back of the pack. He can make a great career for himself in the US and he should. The only team that would make sense is Haas and they are not in F1 for the benefit of America, its drivers or any other reason than to sell Haas products OUTSIDE of the US.

        1. Why would he care? It isn’t costing him anything, he’s on a free ride from Mercedes. If he were paying $10m a year I expect he’d feel differently. A back marker team is worse than a top Indycar team and that’s a chance he has next year. He didn’t turn his back on F1, F1 turned their back on him. He doesn’t owe them anything.

      1. It always makes me smile when anyone uses phrases like “trundling around at the back” or “running around a couple of laps down” – this is in a car which still does over two hundred miles an hour and accelerates from nought to 100 in the blink of an eye! Slower than a Merc or Ferrari yes but hardly trundling …

  14. I’d like to see Jenson at Ferrari to pair with Vettel. See if his record is as good as against Lewis and Alonso.

  15. Joe, thank you for your insight, it is always a valuable and interesting read.

    One of your blogs earlier this year said (citing from memory) that TV broadcast can make someone interested in F1, but fans are made at the circuits. So, after 17 years of absence, I bought weekend tickets and took my 9yo son to the race.

    He was completely in awe! Like with many kids of his generation, with the urge for instant gratification, I thought it would be impossible for him to sit through practice sessions, but he just stood on the grandstand and kept asking questions about the drivers, about the cars, about the history of the sport. Pit walk on Thursday was another thing that made him ask a million questions, but left me without many answers as well 🙂 There we met Jacques Villeneuve what brought up the Jerez 1997 story, we met Felipe Massa on the track and he was almost in tears after he heard how close to the championship Felipe was in 2008.

    But two things stood out. Autograph session with Mercedes, where we waited in line for more than two hours and I was not allowed to give up until Lewis signed his cap 😀 Grin on the boys’ face as Lewis leaned to take a joint photo with him can only be compared with his surprise when he unwittingly stumbled upon the Eiffel Tower out of Trocadero subway station couple of years ago. What struck me is how different Nico and Lewis were in person than the impression I formed of them through media (Qualification results may have played the part, I admit :D) – as much as Nico felt distant and artificial, so Lewis felt friendly and patient (he remained signing autographs and taking photos with fans almost double the official time).

    The other thing were the Dutch fans – we sat just beside them on Red bull grandstand and they were fantastic. Very pleased with Max’s result for them. They were cheering him each time he passed. When the Mercedes boys collided, the grandstand erupted.

    So, Joe, sorry for a lengthy post and thank you once again for reminding me how much there is for fans to enjoy in the sport and for persuading me to show the whole new dimension of the sport to my son.

    (You don’t have to publish this, just don’t know how else to contact you)

    1. Hi Hrvoje, thanks for taking your kid along. That is indeed the way to get them interested. TV coverage can be great, but so easy to switch off. I take my daughter to selected venues and she really enjoys it too.
      Next step: take your son karting some day, he might enjoy that too. Sorry if this advice causes you to spend most of the weekends the coming years at kart tracks around your country (and who knows beyond), through rains and chilling colds. I thoroughly enjoy them. 😉

  16. There are other random notes on the same pages which say “NR=will be done”.

    Done with Mercedes f1?
    damn shame that they’re dumping the german from the german funded team. 😛

        1. Why? There is some entertainment on track this season regarding the two Mercedes cars, Barcelona, A1 Ring, might even get better in the future, seems the gloves are off.

  17. I think the Indian magistrates might well believe someone put a cow on the moon.I don’t think they are less dignified or gulible than the portuguese prime minister whose aim is to make cows fly….but then his ancestors come from Goa,India.

  18. The GP1 breakaway echoes how CART broke away from USAC. The problem is that the biggest race was – and still is- the Indy 500, and that fact allowed the IRL to gain credibility when it broke with CART. And the IRL was also meant to be a lower tech “drivers are the stars” formula.

    What’s THE race in F1, Monaco? Given where all bar a couple of teams are located, Silverstone? Both? Would GP1 be like F3, effectively a one-make formula despite officially being a “constructors’ formula?”

    I suspect GP1, like CART, will thrive for a period before it implodes. Note too that a GP1 breakaway will present opportunities for Indycar to expand and for the FIA to get back to basics. The latter should just run the World Championship to F3 specs and be done with it.

    1. indycar can’t even expand in the us. hows that gp of bostonia coming along? the 100th indy 500 would have tied the record low Nielsen rating if they hadn’t lifted the blackout in Indiana. even then, it tied for 2nd lowest. they’re damaged goods. raped beyond any reasonable persons desire to follow. only 500,000 people in 3 Midwest states make up their fanbase. they couldn’t replace formula poop.

  19. I cant bring myself to think that Herbie will be leaving F1 after all this time. I was told at the Melbourne GP that this was going to happen, so its been bubbling around for some time. The same person told me that Jean Todt was trying to move out the “Bernie” people from the FIA F1 staff for French based people.
    However, your green book note about the registering of a company for technical and scrutineering purposes have made me think that we might still see him around.
    Herbie has always been a long serving BCE person, from Lotus, Brabham, Yamaha, Activia, in fact he is the original member of the Brabham “Mafia” that Bernie has always looked after in F1, that it all seems to fit. We shall see I expect sooner rather than later.

  20. Watching the Saubers, Manors and Renaults circulate in the back of the pack in Austria and elsewhere really made me wonder why they continue to have teams in F1. Renault gets back into F1 and generates publicity, OK. But what are Sauber and Manor getting out of this hole they’re pouring money into?

    1. Could it be that they just want to be part of one of the greatest racing series in the world? You know, passion for sports and competition?
      That, and a faint hope of getting a buck or two…

    2. why?
      1. they love racing
      2. its a massive money-go-round
      BIG salaries from the cash flowing thru, doing something love they …

    3. The same question was posed to MB a few years ago as they floundered around in mediocrity.
      Passion I suppose

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