Archive for the ‘F1 Drivers’ Category

A successful presentation?

I have just been reading a report about “a highly-successful presentation” between Renault and the Lotus F1 board, which is supposed to have taken place today. This is great stuff, except for one small point. I have just checked with my spies in the Lotus camp and the meeting – a teleconference – has yet to actually take place. It would be truly remarkable, therefore, if it had been highly successful before actually happening. This would seem to underline the fact that the media is being led a dance around Lotus at the moment.

The only conclusion I can reach in all this is that while everyone is being told that Renault is the only game in town, there has to be reason for all the leaks… and the only logical conclusion is that there are other bidders in the process.

The Lotus board of directors is keen to hear what Renault has to say – which tends to confirm my earlier story which suggested that the team has NOT received any offer from Renault prior to the presentation to be made today. Once the details of the offer are made clear (and most of them seem to be out there in the public domain already) there will not be any snap decision-making. The board will meet properly on Friday to have a proper discussion about what to do in the future. Although I expect you will be able to read the outcome of that meeting on other websites on Thursday.

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Are you going to be in Singapore for the Grand Prix? Are you intrigued by the sport and want to know more? Do you want to hear some of F1’s secrets? Do you want to meet more F1 fans in Singapore and spend a pleasant evening at the celebrated Singapore Polo Club?

Joe has not missed a single Grand Prix since 1988 and keeps up to date with all the latest news and so it is a great opportunity for F1 fans to learn more. The fans set the agenda. Joe simply answers questions. Any question.

It’s a great opportunity for you to learn some of the stories behind the headlines in a convivial atmosphere, with other fans of the sport. The audience is limited in number to allow everyone the chance to ask questions. So book now if you want to be sure of getting a ticket. It’s a bargain at S$60 per head for an evening of fun, information, food and a few drinks.

The Singapore Audience will take place on Thursday, September 17, at the Singapore Polo Club, which is located at 80 Mount Pleasant Rd. This is close to the Caldecott MRT Station or an easy taxi ride from downtown.

The Audience will run from 7pm-11.00pm and there will be a buffet dinner served mid way through the evening. Drinks will be available at normal bar rates.

Click here for more information.

Chukka bar_1_1

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As predicted after Spa, Nico Hulkenberg has signed a new two-year deal with the Force India team. This indicates a number of things. Firstly, Hulkenberg saw no better alternative for the future, which means that Williams is not available and that means that the Grove team is going to keep both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas; secondly, it indicates that The Hulk was probably worried about finding himself booted out of his current situation because another driver might come along with money, or the support of engine supplier Mercedes. Thirdly, it shows that despite his Le Mans victory this year and rumours of a switch to Porsche, Nico is still not finished with F1. The other thing that it may indicate is that Hulkenberg was once again worried that Pastor Maldonado might pop up and take his seat, as happened at Williams.

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More on the Lotus situation

More details are emerging about the Lotus F1 team situation, with further media pressure being added to the mix, presumably in an effort to get the current owners to agree to sell the business. I am told by several people who know these things that Lotus has yet to receive an actual offer from Renault, but the terms that will be offered have been leaked in the media, one presumes that this is designed to quieten any political questions that might be raised by Renault buying the team, given that the company is controlled by the French government (which has the right to block any big decision) and this does not want to be seen to be throwing money into such things when it has plenty of other problems to deal with. The government needs all the money it can get because it is in the process of offering tax breaks to businesses and to the French middle classes, in an effort to improve the economy (and to get re-elected).

There is a report in The Times today quoting Bernie Ecclestone, saying that he paid the salaries of the team last month. Making this public is clearly not something that Ecclestone would usually do (he loans money to teams on a fairly regularly basis), so there is clearly a desire to use the media to move things along rapidly.

At the same time I have been sent a document that indicates that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has an administration hearing scheduled for September 9 (the Wednesday after Monza). This documents lists a large number of debts that the team has collected and asks for the team to be administered by Geoffrey Carton-Kelly and Geoff Rowley of FRP Advisory, the company that recently oversaw the Marussia F1 Team administration. HMRC has also asked that the court dismiss three pending winding-up orders, arguing that liquidation would destroy the value in the company as it would constitute what is known as “a cessation event”, as detailed in the secret commercial agreements that exist between the teams, the Formula One group and the FIA. That would mean the team’s entry would disappear and the creditors would only get what value could be derived from selling off the remaining assets. The primary asset is the entry.

The pressure is clearly on for the current owners but it is not clear why, that being the case, the Renault offer has not been made. One must assume that the French company is now waiting for an administration order and will then swoop in and try to do a quick deal with the parties involved. This would mean that most of the small creditors would get their money (or at least a percentage of it), but the big losers would be the owners, who have loaned the team money, or who own the shares. Obviously the situation can be resolved if there is an injection of cash into the team from the current owner, or from a buyer. What is clear is that the team is worth more than the money that is on offer for it, as long as it remains solvent. Logically, this should mean that those with the ambition to own an F1 team would be queueing up to make offers. The problem, as always, is not so much the purchase price, but rather the costs involved in running the team on a monthly basis, as this costs several million to be available every month. The bigger the company buying the team, the better the situation is, which is presumably why there has been so much press about Renault.

Another reason that Ecclestone is keen to have Renault take over the team is that this would mean that the French company would put its own engines in the Enstone cars and that would free up a supply of Mercedes engines. Red Bull is talking about leaving F1 if it cannot find a competitive engine and obviously the best choice would for them would be Mercedes, although it is hard to see why this makes sense to Mercedes, which would prefer to go on winning with its own factory team.


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The DTM world is not that exciting for the folk in Formula 1, but in recent days there have been some goings-on that could have some impact in Grand Prix racing. These relate to an incident a month ago when the DTM visited the Red Bull Ring. Mercedes driver Robert Wickens was running in sixth place and was busy blocking Audi’s Timo Scheider, in an effort to allow his own team-mate Pascal Wehrlein to catch up with them. Wickens then engineered a manoeuvre that resulted in Wehrlein being able to sneak through and pass both of them at the same time, leaving Scheider behind the two Mercs. At this point a voice came on Scheider’s radio and said “Schrieb ihn raus!”, which when translated from German means “Take him off!” The driver obeyed the order, presumably recognising the voice on the other end of the radio as being someone who should be obeyed. He duly bumped into Wickens and punted him into Wehrlein and the two Mercedes went off, Scheider took the place… However, this was rather an upsetting thing for Mercedes and there were duly complaints and the stewards investigated and it emerged that the words had been spoken by Audi motorsport boss Wolfgang Ullrich. This was not cricket. Ullrich eventually confirmed that he had said the words, but used the unlikely defence that he was unaware that his radio was transmitting to the drivers and that he had said the words in a passionate moment, never for one minute ever dreaming that such a dastardly act would come to pass. It was a pretty lame defence and the stewards recognised this and passed the incident on to the DMSB, Germany’s national sporting authority, asking them to look into the behaviour of those involved. Audi was found guilty of “unsportsmanlike behaviour”, fined €200,000 and has had its manufacturer points from the race taken away. Scheider was banned from competing in the Moscow DTM race, while Ullrich has been banned from the DTM pitlane for the rest of the season.
So what does all of this have to do with Formula 1?
Well, on the surface, not a lot. Wehrlein is the blue-eyed boy at Mercedes and there is talk that he will go to a Mercedes-engined team in F1 next year, but this is not the point of interest.
Ullrich was 65 years old last week (and probably had a rotten birthday). Sixty-five is retirement age in lots of countries and the Red Bull Ring incident casts a dark shadow over the achievements during his 21 and a half years in charge of Audi Sport. This has included 13 Le Mans victories. Now, with a rampant Porsche in WEC, a new boss at the top of the Volkswagen Group, Audi’s sporting future is anything but settled. The departure of Ullrich – which would be entirely understandable in the circumstances – would open the way for new ideas and there are more than a few people at Audi who have watched the Mercedes efforts in F1 and think that their company should be in Grand Prix racing, reviving the old rivalry between Mercedes and AutoUnion (Audi’s forefather). If Ullrich is shovelled out of the way as a result of this faux pas in DTM, things could change in Ingolstadt.

Let us not forget that while all this is going on, Red Bull Racing is whining and griping about having to go on using Renault F1 engines for 2016. There is a contract in place, but it is clear that Red Bull does not think Renault is going to improve much next year and Dietrich Mateschitz is grumbling that F1 is no fun at all when you are not winning. Bernie Ecclestone and the suits who follow in his wake are worried that Red Bull might walk away and so is busy trying to talk Mercedes into giving Red Bull its race-winning engines. In the longer term that makes little sense. Some argue that the people who drink Red Bull will all instantly be convinced that Mercedes is cool and will hang up their skateboards, turn their caps the right way round and go and buy themselves a $75,000 Mercedes. The downside is a little more realistic. If someone sticks a Mercedes engine in a Red Bull, there is a serious worry that Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg might get beaten and that would make whoever agreed to the deal look like a real drongo. Whereupon the Great Moustache from Stuttgart will descend, boots flailing, because it will obviously not have been his idea.

The option is for someone to sneak in to Audi and point out the patently obvious: there is a topline F1 team begging for engines, who will help finance engine development. Audi might like doing things in-house, but this is a gift horse and you don’t need to be a dentist to see the potential. Later on, when they have found their feet, perhaps they can launch an Audi factory team, but the key thing now would be to gain a foothold. Audi is certainly in a position to handle such a project. They have plenty of hybrid experience and it would be amazing if the company had not played around a little with some of the F1 ideas in recent years. They also have a chap called Stefano Domenicali working at Ingolstadt and he knows a thing or two about making F1 teams work. He has a very useful contact book and could easily manage an Audi F1 engine programme. Could it be done in time for 2017? Possibly… that rather depends on what machinery they have at Ingolstadt. It is the kind of brave move that a man close to retirement would not embark upon, but if the man close to retirement is no longer there and there is a 52-year-old Audi boss who might one day want to run the whole VW empire, one can see that nothing is impossible.

This is all speculation, of course, but someone in Ingolstadt must be thinking along these lines…

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The position at Lotus F1

It was expected after the Belgian Grand Prix that there would be a swift solution to the problems of Lotus F1 Team, with Renault rumoured to be moving in to take over the team. It now seems that the stories were moving rather faster than the reality, although it is clear that Renault has not been doing anything to dampen the speculation. However, the suggestion that Renault is the only option for the team may not be the whole truth. What is interesting is that there have been some fairly detailed leaks to the media, which seem to be coming from Renault and from the Formula One group. One can understand why both would want the deal to go ahead as rapidly as possible. The Formula 1 group wants stability and wants to be able to exert pressure on Mercedes to supply Red Bull Racing, to solve the problems there. From the Renault point of view, if the deal is not agreed soon, it will be too late for the team to switch to Renault power in 2016. Renault has few choices at the moment. It might be possible to acquire Force India, but this is less attractive a team than Lotus. Beyond that, the French firm does not have the money to spend, even given the fact that it is effectively controlled by the French government.

Our sources suggest that the details of the Renault deal that have been leaked to the media are broadly correct, with the company offering a total of $100 million in order to acquire 65 percent of the team. This values the team at slightly more than $150 million. This is not expensive, particularly when one considers that Renault is only willing to commit to an immediate payment of $11.5 million. This would then be followed by annual payments of $8.8 million for a period of 10 years. After that the French firm would commit to finding the money required to cover the annual costs of running an F1 team. The 10 percent of the team that is currently owned by the Russians who were involved with Yotaphone (which has since been swallowed up by Megafon) would be passed over to Alain Prost and he would take on the role of chairman and front man for the team, along similar lines to the role that Niki Lauda enjoys with Mercedes.

The discordant note in all of this is that Renault seems to be content to include Gérard Lopez in the deal, with the suggestion being that he will retain 25 percent of the shares in the company after a Renault takeover. This looks like a face-saving exercise. Lopez and Genii Capital partner Eric Lux did invest some money into the team but, by all accounts, British real estate developer Andrew Ruhan invested more and this resulted in Ruhan turning his loans into equity and taking control of the company, at the start of 2014. He then put his associate Matthew Carter in to run operations at Enstone and has funded the team ever since. There is a limit, however, to the amount of money that any investor will put into a Formula 1 team and it seems that this limit has now been reached. The team is up to its neck in debt, with creditors more and more nervous about the future.

However, the fact that the Renault rescue deal has not gone through confirms the belief that Lopez does not have the power necessary to get the deal done and, it is safe to assume that Ruhan has little interest, presumably on the basis that he feels that he could do better, or that he does not want to work with Lopez any longer. Or both. Given the amounts of money that has been put into Lotus in recent years – probably in the region of $200 million – it is not hard to understand why Ruhan would not be happy with the Renault offer and, as the majority shareholder in the team, he does not have to agree to any takeover, even if others are trying to use the media to put pressure on him, which seems to be what is going on.

This suggests that Ruhan probably has an alternative project, the only other option being to put the team into administration, which would likely end up with Renault buying the assets, if the company survives without being deemed insolvent, as that would mean instant cancellation of all of its rights and benefits under F1’s complicated (and secret) commercial deals. If this is the case, there is clearly something holding it up and one must suppose that something is getting in the way of a deal. One might speculate that this is because Lopez still wants to be involved, even if he has not had much to do with the team in recent months, having begun a new business in oil trading.

As reported last week if the Renault project does get the go-ahead (if, for example, more money appears) then it is anticipated that Bob Bell would be drafted in as the managing-director, with Prost as the Team Principal, to give it the French flavour that would be required. Romain Grosjean would be retained as the lead driver but it is thought unlikely that Pastor Maldonado would stay on. It is not thought likely that the company would go for two Frenchmen (although it has happened in the past), but rather will get the best drivers available.

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You’ll see what I mean…

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