Archive for the ‘F1 Drivers’ Category

Calendar rumours

Creating Formula 1 calendars is anything but easy. Some of the race promoters have clauses in their contracts giving them certain rights, such as being the first or the last race, or not being held too soon after another race in their region. In addition the calendar must avoid major clashes such as the Olympic Games or the FIFA World Cup and there are also local events to be avoided, if possible. On top of this there is the weather in different regions, the need for sensible TV scheduling to maximise the viewing figures and on top of all of this are the agreements with the teams and the FIA to have certain races included each year and certain ratios that much be respected. There must be a certain length of time between the last race of one year and the first race of the year. There must be an August break. There is believed to be a list of 12 events, six of which must be included in any calendar. No individual race has absolute protection, which is why we have seen the disappearance of the French GP and why there is no German race this year. In the future we may lose Italy and Belgium if they cannot meet the required financial demands. The other important element is that the calendar must be balanced between Europe and the United States (that are treated as one unit) and the rest of the world. Half the races must be in Europe and the US, unless the teams agree otherwise. As the teams cannot generally agree on the day of the week, this is virtually impossible. At the same time, the commercial rights holder must taken into consideration the logistics of moving the F1 circus from one place to another, bearing in mind that import and export activities are rarely the work of a moment, particularly in countries where permissions are seen as currency. On top of all of this, the Formula One group is trying to convince the teams that there can be more races a year. They are resisting further growth, arguing that this will require major restructuring because their personnel are already at the limit and there would need to be duplication of personnel if the sport expands further.

In recent years the Formula One policy appears to have been to put races in awkward places to get the teams arguing in favour of more back-to-back events (and thus the potential for more races). That has not been a success so a leaked 2016 calendar that was doing the rounds last week seems to have adopted a new approach by pushing back the start of the season into April, but still managing to include 20 events before the end of November. The only logical explanation for this is that it is designed to prove that more races could be added in March and to make it hard for the teams to argue otherwise.

Anyway, the calendar that appeared last week was rather more sensible than it has been in recent years in relation to twinning races. The series might began late – on April 3 – but the second race would be just a week later in Shanghai. Malaysia would be pushed back in the calendar to September, where it would be twinned with Singapore, thus creating another back-to-back. The Malaysians might not be overly keen given that a percentage of their audience comes from Singapore. There are drawbacks to the late start in Melbourne, notably the weather and the fact that the local football season will have begun.

The second foray from Europe would be for a double-header with Bahrain on April 24 and Russia on May 1. This makes sense. Then the European season would begin with the traditional Spain and Monaco and then a trip to Canada (a stand-alone event) and then a Britain-Austria double-header on June 26-July 3. It would then be back to intercontinental flying to Azerbaijan, although as predicted the event would be billed as a European GP, in order to keep the required balance. It seems that when it comes to this event, if the Azerbaijanis are willing to pay enough, F1 is willing to accept that it is a European country, just as the Eurovision people did and as the European Olympic Committees will shortly do with the European Games to be held in Baku in June. The GP will be held on July 17 and then the cars would go back to Europe for the revived German GP at Hockenheim. It is not clear what will happen with the German event in the longer term. The race has alternated between the Nürburgring and Hockenheim since 2008, with the contract due to run until 2018. The races planned are at Hockenheim in 2016 and 2018, with Nürburgring scheduled for 2017, unless FOM decides to ditch that contract as the race will not happen this year. A week later the race will be in Hungary and then there will be the two weekend break before the circus reconvenes at Spa on August 28, rushing straight from there to Italy the following weekend. There is then the Singapore-Malaysia double-header and then a stand-alone Japanese GP on October 9. This will be followed by an Austin-Mexico double-header on October 23-30 and then a weekend off before the stand-alone Brazilian GP, with the season coming to a close on November 27 in Abu Dhabi.

All things considered it is a lot more sensible than recent calendars but the late start makes no real sense at all.

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Todt’s new job

So FIA President Jean Todt has managed to get himself named as a “special envoy” for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. That in itself is interesting in that it is not an official United Nations job, which I believe was the original plan. The other key point is that Ban will only be the UN Secretary-General until the end of 2016 and so Todt will need to keep working on his contacts if he is to keep a UN-linked role.

The job he has been given was described as being “to assist the UN Secretary General in mobilizing sustained political commitment towards road safety” and to “advocate and raise awareness about the United Nations road safety legal instruments, and share established road safety good practices, through his participations in global and regional conferences on road safety” and to “generate funding for advocacy efforts through strategic partnerships between the public, private and non-governmental sectors”. Cutting through the waffle, Todt is to tell people that the UN is doing things about road safety and – this is perhaps the key – to raise money for the programmes. This will take time and the FIA must therefore consider whether or not this will impact on his ability to run the federation as it should be run. The FIA’s statutes say that the organisation should work towards “affordable, safe, and clean motoring” and promote “the fair and equitable running of motor sport competitions”. It is no secret that in the summer of 2013 Todt signed away the FIA’s rights to make unilateral decisions in F1, handing this over to a body called the F1 Strategy Group, on which the FIA has six votes, compared to six votes for the commercial rights holder (read Bernie Ecclestone) and six votes for a selection of teams. Since then the FIA has been virtually invisible in F1 and the sport has descended into a mess because no-one can change anything of note.

In my opinion, in the end, Todt’s FIA presidency will be defined by this agreement. He obviously has bigger ambitions outside the sport, but he seems to forget that when it comes to the image of the FIA, its only real impact on the general public is in relation to Formula 1. Its other functions are basically invisible to all but a few worthies in motor clubs around the world. In addition the sport provides the federation with more than 90 percent of its revenues, yet at the same time when it comes to voting, the mobility clubs (many of them very rich organisations) outnumber the sporting clubs by a considerable margin, which means that candidates for the FIA Presidency in the future are much more likely to come from the mobility clubs than from the sport. This creates a real problem because the sporting clubs are, in effect, powerless and when it comes to the next negotiation over money (whenever that may be) the federation will be in a much weaker position when it comes to demanding money. The only real hope for the future is an investigation by the European Commission which could order these arrangements to be scrapped. It remains to be seen whether this will happen, but there have been rumours to that effect for months. The last time the FIA found itself in such a position was back in 1978 when Jean-Marie Balestre led a campaign to create the FISA, in order to re-establish the authority of the FIA over the sport. This ended up with full sporting, financial, administrative and judicial independence and that remained the case until 1993 when Max Mosley rolled the two organisations back together again.

Could the same happen again? Club politics is generally conducted behind closed doors but there is clearly a lot of unhappiness with the way things have been going.

Todt is up for re-election at the end of 2017.

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Read around the Internet headlines, one gets a very negative view of Formula 1. Yes, the sport has to face some challenges and make some important changes in the way it is run, but the picture is nowhere near as negative as all the stories suggest. F1 is still a great show and a great advertisement for brilliant automotive technology. The primary problem, when you boil it all down, is that the sport is without proper leadership. The commercial side has been tied down by its many side deals, the regulatory body has (disgracefully) sold its ability to govern and the teams cannot agree whether today is Wednesday, because on an obscure  Pacific Island, it’s already Thursday. What is required is for two of the three parties to get together and get fixing the mess that has been created.

In the meantime, two of the three parties do nothing to promote the sport and instead lets the negative voices run through the corridors, screaming whatever they want to scream. Some of it is just over-excited fans, some deliberate stirring of trouble and some because the people writing the stories have not the faintest clue about the sport, but can claim to be F1 writers if they write about it… Is it a surprise that people forget the good things in all of this? It is true that most news is negative by nature. Good news is always outnumbered by bad but F1 does nothing to help itself.

The teams and manufacturers do what they can to highlight the good elements in the story, but the media in general does not care and writes whatever appears elsewhere. The Formula One group does nothing and the FIA sends out press releases about road safety. 

I heard the other day that the Formula One group has hired a press officer, but we’ll have to see if that is effective. The FIA meanwhile, which used to employ the aforementioned PR man, has done itself enormous damage in the last 18 months by abdicating its position in F1 – and it is so lost in its logic that it has yet to realize what it has done. It still does the organisational stuff but otherwise it is utterly invisible. The big FIA news in recent days was that the President and various hangers-on were not killed in the Kathmandhu earthquake. They were gathered there for a motorsport conference. Motorsport in Nepal? I couldn’t even find a hillclimb championship. What are they thinking when the federation’s flagship series is under constant attack? The FIA has its name on the series and it provides all but a sliver of media coverage (not to mention money) about the organization. What has got into these people? If F1 is seen to fail, the FIA is seen to be incompetent. Right now, it seems that the tail is wagging the dog to such an extent that the beast is utterly confused and wandering around in circles, organizing motorsport conferences in places where motorsport will never be on the international radar, while back home in Europe, the talk is of Monza being ditched from the World Championship.
I’m all for promoting global growth in the sport, but you don’t promote long-distance raid rallying in Gibraltar, do you?

You play to your strengths. Things are not going to change until we get new leadership, so here’s hoping Jean Todt is made an ambassador for road safety… And then someone can get a grip on what really matters in the FIA world.

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An interesting idea

Back at the start of motor racing, before anyone had dreamed up the idea of a race called the Grand Prix, there was a big debate: what did the future hold? Would these horseless carriages be powered by steam, electricity or by some other sort of fuel. It was solved, of course, by the passage of time and the use of new technology. To create steam you needed four things: time, fuel, water and a spark. Electricity had to be created or stored. And so it was that the petrol-powered internal combustion engine won the day. One hundred and 20 years later, we have similar discussions about the internal combustion engine, electricity and hydrogen fuel cells. Conventional engines are still amazingly inefficient when one considers the development that has gone into them, but they still win at the moment, although the fuel is running out, so ways must be found to eke out what we have left, until some bright spark figures out the next step. Thus, I think Max Mosley’s idea about freeing up F1 but imposing a budget cap is an idea with much merit. Mosley may be an ex-FIA President but as the current incumbent is failing to do the job, he’s the best we’ve got at the moment. And while he only has the power to throw out ideas, these ideas are pretty smart and people may pick them up and run with them. If Jean Todt has any ideas, they are well-hidden. If this goes on, one might imagine the sporting clubs at the FIA deciding to try to create a separate federation for motorsport, as was the case 25 years ago, when the FIA dealt with its stuff and FISA dealt with the sport. The problem with that is that the sport (read F1) funds the FIA, so the motoring clubs (which benefit from the money) will be opposed to the idea. Many of these clubs are big businesses but they don’t invest in the FIA because it doesn’t really do much that is not being done by other bodies, such as the United Nations or the World Health Organisation. Small wonder Todt wants a bigger and better job…

Mosley says that his one big regret is that he was not able to push through a budget cap proposal when he was FIA President. There are ways of doing this that have been demonstrated in other sports where costs have got out of control. It is the only way to go. Mosley’s new wizard wheeze is to offer teams that agree to a budget cap, freedom to do whatever they want to do.

“I can imagine that very soon all the teams would fall into the camp of the budget limit,” he said. “They would realise that you can also do great motor sport and build technically advanced cars with 100 million.”
The car industry is all about cost-efficiency and it is odd that motor racing has escaped that philosophy. Instead, the companies that want to spend, spend and those who do not want to, stay away. Better, surely, to have more involved all spending sensible money.

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My first thought when I hear that the F1 season would start in April, was to check to see what was happening in March 2016. Remember, 2016 is an Olympic year so in theory races should be moved away from the Games to avoid clashes in August, but this seems to be the opposite. The IAFF World Indoor Athletics Championship from Portland, Oregon, is hardly worth shifting an F1 calendar. And if F1 is worried about figure skating, the sport is in deep trouble. So what is it all about?

Shoving the Australian GP back to the start of April is on odd thing to do. The race has a contract to be the first of the season and usually there are other races keen to get that position – and these pay more money than do the Australians. So the best way to convince the Aussies to move on that (or to pay more to keep it) is to get them to want a different date. Putting the race back into the Australian autumn, into the Aussie Rules Football season, will likely achieve that. The crowd will be smaller, the critics noisier and yadda, yadda, yadda… So that is probably one motivation behind the April start in 2016. It also shows that with the retirement of Ron Walker – Bernie’s big mate in the Antipodes – the Australians are no longer going to have a special relationship with FOM.
But with Bernie Ecclestone nothing is ever simple. There are always multiple reasons why things happen. Lopping a fortnight off at the start of the year will not necessarily push everything back by a fortnight, but rather we may see one of the other early season races shoved to the other end of the year. China is coming up for a negotiation and this may be part of that process. China may be heading to an autumn date. At the same time, Ecclestone is always pushing for more races. The bizarre spacing of the calendar in recent years has been designed to get the teams arguing in favour of back-to-back races which would make it easier to get them to accept a 21st or 22nd race. Compressing the season is another way to try to do that.

A late start also probably means a later start for payments and as we saw this year, teams struggle with cash flow at the start of the year and so become more manageable…

And, of course, there is one other key point. FOM’s hands are tied in lots of ways, but it still decides the dates. This reminds everyone that FOM can still do as it pleases in some areas of the sport.

Which of these reasons is the primary one for the change? Who knows? Is any of this thinking for the long-term good of the sport? Hmmm… Different question.

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Melbourne has announced that it will be the opening round of the 2016 FIA Formula One World Championship on April 3. This means that the calendar is going to have to be condensed to get in the expected 20 races, while also preserving the August break. There is no obvious sporting activity to be avoided in March and one wonders why this is happening, as it means that the rest of the season will be busier. The only logical conclusion is that the Formula One group is still trying to convince the teams to accept more races. The motivation for this, of course, is money. The teams do not have to agree…

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People are getting a little ahead of themselves about Volkswagen and Formula 1. Just because Ferdinand Piech has resigned does not mean that the company will instantly be planning an F1 programme next week. The top management may have similar reservations to Piech about the sport, but whatever the case, it will take time before things begin to move and the first step in that process is to decide who will take over as head of the supervisory board. That decision may mean that there is a need for a new chairman of the management board. It seems that Piech was trying to lobby for Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller to replace Martin Winterkorn in this job and that this did not go down well with the board members and they held a second meeting and then informed Piech that he must either stand down or face being fired by the company. No-one is admitting that this is what happened, but that would make sense as the resignation was not expected at all.

It remains to be seen what the supervisory board now does with regard to the role of chairman. Winterkorn (67) is one possibility as he seems to be have solid support from the board, but there is talk too of Ulrich Hackenberg (65), the company’s head of technical development, who could be a compromise candidate. Given that Piech was 78, age does not appear to be a problem for the role of supervisory chairman. The chairmanship of the management board may stay with Winterkorn, but there are plenty of others who are considered possible for the job, including Muller (61), Andreas Renschler (56), the head of VW commercial vehicles, Wolfgang Dürheimer (56), the boss of Bentley and Bugatti, and Rupert Stadler (51), the man in charge of Audi. There is also 50-year-old Stephan Winkelmann, head of Lamborghini, although he has been with the Italian firm for 10 years and may not be deemed to have sufficient experience for the bigger job. Another man who may play a role in the years ahead is Herbert Diess (58) who is joining as head of the Volkswagen brand in July. He comes from BMW. Before any big decisions are made about the sport the firm must go through a number of other decision-making processes, so don’t expect too much too soon.

In 2012 Durheimer publicly proposed an F1 programme. Another man who may be pushing for the idea is Wolfgang Hatz, Porsche’s head of research and development, who was involved in F1 with BMW in the glory years of the early 1980s and then was involved with Porsche’s ill-fated V12 in the early 1990s. He later became head of motorsport at Opel before returning to VW in 2001.

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