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Archive for the ‘F1 Drivers’ Category

I know it’s only the start of May, but the rumours about who will drive where next year have already begun, probably because there are going to be some big seats up for grabs – at least in theory. The rumblings concern Ferrari, Williams and McLaren, with a change also likely at Red Bull Racing.

Despite the best efforts of Bernie Ecclestone, F1 is becoming more corporate and so advanced planning is much more the order of the day, so some decisions may already have been made and are being kept secret, to keep the current drivers motivated. Certainly this has happened in the past but we shall see.

The strongest rumour is that Max Verstappen will be replacing Daniil Kvyat at Red Bull, having proved his worth, as the Russian previously did, at Scuderia Toro Rosso. Kvyat has done a very decent job, but Red Bull recognises that Max Verstappen is a bit special and have him under contract for one more year. It does not look like there will be a seat at Mercedes just yet, and Ferrari seems to be looking for status quo, so Verstappen’s only sensible choice is to move to Red Bull to continue his apprenticeship, hoping no doubt that the team gets a more competitive power unit.

Ferrari’s choices are interesting. The team wants a stable situation with drivers and so keeping Kimi Raikkonen has some logic. It really depends on whether the team thinks that Sebastian Vettel is susceptible to pressure. It is usually best in a top team not to have drivers being too comfortable because they then tend not to deliver their very best. One can argue the Ferrari could use a young charger to energise the place, because Kimi these days rarely looks like a man who will win races, while Vettel generally looks better. Ferrari has some interesting options available: notably (in no particular order) Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo and Romain Grosjean. Ricciardo is a race winner and so would probably be seen as the best bet, but Vettel and Ricciardo were team-mates at Red Bull in 2014 and you may recall Sebastian had a bad year and finished fifth in the World Championship, while Ricciardo finished third. Some might think that this was because Seb was demotivated with the engine situation at the time, and there are even some who claim that he deliberately under performed because he wanted to get out of his contract, which was possible only if he failed to finish above a certain position (fourth) in the Drivers’ Championship. They say that Ricciardo is contracted to Red Bull for next year, but I suspect that his contract is similar to that of Vettel and uses lock-in clauses that keep him there only if he achieves certain things. So maybe Kvyat needs just to watch and wait and see what happens with Ricciardo.

Much speculation will surround Williams because both drivers are out of contract at the end of the year. There is speculation that Williams might go for Jenson Button, which is a nice idea, but not the decision of a winning team. Williams would normally replace its drivers from within, but that will probably depend on how Alex Lynn does in GP2 and in the Williams simulator. Paul di Resta is there too, but he’s 30 and has been and gone from F1. Still, experience is valuable. The other man to watch for, I think, is Pascal Wehrlein, a Mercedes man who needs front-running experience if he is to one day step into the shoes of Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg.

All of this assumes that one or both Williams drivers will depart and that is by no means certain. Felipe Massa is 35 but still doing well enough to be ahead of Bottas in the championship. Bottas is still only 26 and is ready to start winning if he has the right car. The question is: how is he going to get one? The most likely answer is that he came close to a Ferrari deal last year and might still have some chances there.

McLaren would be mad not to take Stoffel Vandoorne and if it comes to choosing whether to drop Jenson Button or Fernando Alonso, the choice would seem to be pretty clear. Most of the other drives in F1 these days are money-related, but one can imagine Renault being keen to get a big name, or to build up Kevin Magnussen’s career. Renault’s decision to use Sergey Sirotkin as a test driver (along with various others) indicates that the team is not as flush with cash as the factory status suggests. I should think that Romain Grosjean is still a good possibility there as he is popular with Total. Having said that Romain may still want to snuggle up with Ferrari and Fiat. I think there’s a strong possibility that Haas and Alfa Romeo might get together at some point and so a little patience might be useful if Ferrari doesn’t want him right now.

Scuderia Toro Rosso would presumably take on Pierre Gasly to replace Verstappen.

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Who are those guys?

The F1 decision-making process is incredibly complicated and, to a large extent, it is also secret. Try to find an official explanation of how the F1 Commission works and you will struggle. The Strategy Group, we know, consists of eight members, who have 18 votes between them. The FIA (Jean Todt) has six votes, the Formula One group, the commercial rights holder of F1, (Bernie Ecclestone) has six votes and five F1 teams have permanent voting rights for various historic and publicly-undefined reasons, while a sixth team get a seat for being the best-placed team which does not have permanent membership in the previous Constructors’ World Championship. The five permanent teams are Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull Racing and Williams, while the current sixth team is Force India.

This body takes votes and decisions are made by a simple majority. That decision then goes on to the Formula 1 Commission, which is basically a rubber-stamping body.

The F1 Commission either accepts or rejects proposals put to it by the Strategy Group. Its dealings are rarely made public and so it is difficult to know how often it rejects anything, but usually, it seems, decisions are nodded through. There was a recent rejection of a rule in respect of tyre usage in F1. This was rejected by an alliance of Ecclestone, the eight race promoters and the sponsor Rolex. Cynics suggest that this may have been done so that there will be evidence that the F1 Commission does have some power, just in case the European Commission asks to see the voting history of the body.

In theory there are 26 members of the F1 Commission. This consists of 12 teams, eight promoters, two sponsors, a representative of the engine manufacturers (who is chosen by all of them and is supposed to represent all of them), a representative of the tyre supplier, plus a member from the FIA and a representative of the Formula One group. In order for a vote to carry it requires 18 votes. The voting is complicated by the fact that there are only 11 F1 teams at the moment. Each has one vote, but if there no 12th team, that vote is added to the score of the teams which gain the majority amongst themselves. Thus, for example, if there is a motion and six teams vote for it and five vote against, the 6-5 vote becomes as 7-5 vote.

The chairman of the F1 Commission is the representative of the Formula One group (Ecclestone). The FIA is represented by Todt. The Formula One group has the right to nominate six of the eight race promoters (three from Europe and three from outside Europe). The teams are allowed to nominate the other two promoters (one from Europe and the other from outside), but promoters generally vote with the Commercial Rights Holder if called upon to do so, because it is not in their interest to vote against him. The current representatives are Federico Bendinelli (Monza), André Maes (Belgium), Michel Ferry (Monaco) and Peter Gerstl (Hungary) for Europe, and Abdullah Al-Khalifa (Bahrain), Richard Cregan (Russia), Tamas Rohonyi (Brazil) and Ron Walker (Australia) from outside Europe. It is not clear who picked whom. The two sponsor representatives (chosen by the teams) are Arnaud Boetsch (Rolex) and Antonio Ramazzotti (Philip Morris), with the engine manufacturer’s representative being Cyril Abiteboul (Renault) and Pirelli being represented by Paul Hembery.

The team representatives are as follows: Ferrari (Maurizio Arrivabene), Force India (Vijay Mallya/Bob Fernley), Haas F1 (Gunther Steiner), McLaren (Ron Dennis/Eric Boullier), Mercedes (Toto Wolff), Manor Racing MRT (Stephen Fitzpatrick/Dave Ryan), Red Bull Racing (Christian Horner), Renault Sport F1 (Rob White), Sauber (Monisha Kaltenborn), Scuderia Toro Rosso (Franz Tost) amd Williams F1 Team (Claire Williams). Others may be involved if they are available, notably Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne.

The only other nuances that are known is that the sponsor representatives cannot be sponsors of the company that provides that the manufacturer representative, nor can the two sponsors be in the same business.

There is no representation for the other major stakeholder in the F1 business, the media. That is probably not a bad idea because any broadcaster would be beholden to the Commercial Rights Holder.

The next step after the F1 Commission is the FIA World Motor Sport Council, which consists of the FIA President, the Deputy President for Sport, seven FIA Vice-Presidents, 14 titular members and 4 members by right.

The current members are as follows: Todt, Deputy President Graham Stoker (GB), Vice-Presidents Jose Abed (MEX), Nasser Khalifa Al-Atya (QAT), Michel Boeri (Monaco), Morrie Chandler (NZ), Carlos Gracia Fuertes (E), Hugo Mersan (PRY) and Surinder Thatthi (ZA). The 14 titular members are Garry Connelly (AUS), Nicolas Dechaux (F), Zrinko Gregurek (HRV), Yoshimi Hiyama (J), Victor Kiryanov (RUS), Vijay Mallya (IND), Radovan Novak (CZE), Lars Osterlind (SWE), Cleyton Pinteiro (BR), Enzo Spano (VEN), Angelo Sticchi Damiani (I), Teng Lip Tan (SGP), Hermann Tomcyzk (D) and Heping Wan (CHN).

The members by right are: CIK President Abdullah Al-Khalifa (Bahrain), Ecclestone (Formula One group), Tom Kristensen (President of the Drivers’ Commission) and Belgium’s Francois Cornelis (the head of the manufacturers commission). Cornelis does not have a vote when F1 matters are discussed, and the seat goes to a representative from Ferrari, usually Arrivabene or Marchionne.

There you have it… Clearer than mud.

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Last autumn Mercedes launched a new initiative to attract female car buyers, who apparently now make up around 40 percent of the market. The goal is to create a better kind of customer service, aimed more at selling more cars to women. This policy includes the recruitment of many more women in dealerships and better training for the men. The plan was to use more women as spokespeople, plus a new magazine and website called She’s Mercedes. As part of this the company name up with a “lifestyle configurator” which helps buyers get through the complex range of different cars to find the one that best suits their needs… Susie Wolff has now been named as a brand ambassador for She’s Mercedes.

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Sergio Marchionne has been nominated as Ferrari CEO, in addition to his position as chairman. He replaces the retiring Amedeo Felisa. The announcement came as Ferrari announced its first-quarter earnings which revealed profits of $89.5 million, a 19 percent leap compared to last year. Marchionne remains intent on pushing Ferrari into the luxury goods markets. He is not giving details of the plans for the moment. Ferrari has also revealed its intention to build a theme park in China, following on from the parks in Abu Dhabi and another in Spain that is under development. The number of cars being delivered is up 15 percent with close to 8,000 sales expected this year. The company relies heavily on success in Formula 1 and at the moment there isn’t much to report in that respect, as the team continues to be drubbed by Mercedes. The promises of better performance this year have yet to be fulfilled.

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Matters of the day…

Today Pirelli started work on its 2017 development programme, although the tyres are 2016-sized, although they contain “prototype elements” for the new tyres. The work is being carried out by Ferrari test driver Jean-Eric Vergne, using a 2014 Ferrari F14-T. It is only right that the tyre company is allowed to test its products so that they are right when they are used. This is safer and much more logical.

Safety remains something under discussion, particularly with regard to the cockpit protection that is being discussed at the moment. It is interesting to see that the older people in F1 believe, very strongly, that the sport must retain danger because this is one of the reasons that people watch racing. People like to watch people taking risks. It is ironic that Red Bull Racing is advocating the cockpit protection given that the Red Bull company deliberately uses risk-taking as a way to draw people into its universe. People don’t want to watch racing drivers being killed, but they do want to see spectacular action and big crashes. If you think I am being simplistic, you need to look at the TV viewing figures for F1 after the death of Senna or at the NASCAR viewing figures after the death of Dale Earnhardt, and you will see dramatic hikes in the viewing figures. Now, I am not advocating that we should make the sport more dangerous, but what I am saying is that there is a balance that needs to be kept because otherwise the sport loses its thrill. I understand that the FIA has to worry about insurance and that it is always risking being sued because if its engineers examine something that brings more safety and reject it, there is a question of liability. Drivers know what they are doing. When they sit in their cars they know that they could get hurt. They accept that risk. no-one forces them to race.

Over the weekend Fernando Alonso said something that I thought was very very wrong. H said that F1 doesn’t need heroes. I absolutely disagree with that. We need heroes more than ever. We need swashbuckling youngsters, we need cars and circuits where courage makes difference. We need the best possible safety as well, but there has to be a balance because otherwise people will not watch. We need characters who are happy to say what they think, but who are enjoying life. We don’t need monosyllabic nerds. It was good to see Sebastian Vettel getting upset in Sochi. It was good to see Daniil Kvyat arguing back, saying that he is not Superman and cannot react in the time available if someone in front of him slows unexpectedly.

We need more characters on the track than off it. At the moment there is sometimes more mileage in stories about the pitman folk than there are about the men themselves.

As an illustration of that, Force India boss Vijay Mallya is in the news more than his own drivers as a result of his misadventures with the Indian authorities. He is now reported to have resigned as a member of India’s upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha. This seems to have happened just before a committee recommended that he be expelled from the house. In his letter of resignation he said that accusations against him are false, but he has done nothing to return to India to face up to the charges. He has been in England for more than two months and has failed to return to India to answer various charges against him, relating to the $1.4 billion owed by his failed Kingfisher Airlines and to other business practices.

Mallya has not been seen in F1 since last year but remains not only team principal of Force India, but also chairman of the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI), and a member of the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council. One wonders whether it is appropriate for these roles to continue but as he has yet to be convicted of any offence, there is probably no-one willing to raise the question. Mind you, what happens in the unlikely event of him running away and never being convicted of anything? Does this make him the right kind of person to be making decisions about the sport?

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Notebook from Sochi

IMG_0051After the race in Sochi, we banged out GP+ in just over five hours. We get complaints these days that we are now too fast because the magazine comes out before free-to-air footage is aired and people don’t want to know the result until they have seen it on TV. It’s ironic isn’t it? The written word is not supposed to beat TV…

Anyway, we departed the media centre at about 10pm, snuck in a much-needed beer and a schnitzel and then departed for the airport at midnight. We are used to doing some crazy hours, but Sochi is a tough one because after a short Saturday night and a day of racing and some high-pressure magazine-creation, the biorhythms are not at their best when there is a 02.50 flight involved in the process. The problem is that this flight is not a solid eight hours when one can catch up on sleep, but rather a skip and a jump on a plane designed for commuters. You have to wake up and deal with Moscow’s Unpronounceable airport (there are three of them, all unpronounceable). There was (inevitably) a hefty queue, but I recognized the place and knew a short cut, so I left my incredulous and unbelieving colleagues, with the words “I know a quick way” and they all decided not to follow.

Oh, ye of little faith. I was through into the terminal half an hour before most of them, which was good as I had to finish off the JSBM newsletter. Then there was another three-hour flight…

Still, there were blue skies and sunshine in Paris, which is never a bad thing. I tried to make it through the afternoon, but failed ingloriously, napping through the afternoon before failing to write this article before dinner time.

The first note in the notebook from Sochi was just two words: “Media Numbers”. That may sound a little dull, but it is important. The Russian Grand exists for five reasons that I can think of, the relative importance of each reason is open to discussions, but here they are, in no particular order.

1) the Formula 1 sponsors and car manufacturers are interested in the Russian Federation’s 142 million people, where GDP per capita is $23,700.

2) The Formula One group is interested in the high fees that Russia was willing to pay.

3) The Russians needed to use the wildly expensive facilities that were created for the Olympic Games.

4) They wanted to show Russia to the world in a good light, using sport to do so.

5) The race has proved to be part of the never-ending campaign to make President Vladimir Putin look good in front of the Russian public.

Now, here’s the thing: the international F1 press corps who attended the event at the weekend was the smallest I can remember. It is hard to be exact about these things, but there are around 150 FIA-accredited permanent “hard card” holders. And usually there are about 100 race-by-race passes allowed, mainly for locals. There is also one VIP pass (supplied by the Formula One group, rather than the FIA) that is used by someone claiming to be a journalist, who operates without access to the media centre, without the necessary visas and without any cumbersome journalistic ethics.

These numbers do not include photographers, nor TV people. Thus the normal F1 press corps is a body of around 250 journalists. I didn’t do the sums exactly, but there were fewer than 75 F1 media present in Sochi. I suspect from the spacious Media Centre that there were less than 20 race-by-race types and under 50 hard card holders. This is not healthy.

And it is sad. The track in Sochi is fine, the people are helpful, the hotel is near the track. It’s a foreign environment with a very different culture, much more brusque than in other countries, but it’s fine. We can handle that.

So why is no one going? There is no doubting that there are some conscientious objectors, who do not go to Russia because they don’t like the idea of helping Putin with Point 5 above.

To explain how obvious this is, I should relate a conversation that took place as we were watching the race, taking notes, lap-charting, throwing comments about between us, having fun and looking for insights. There are a few laps to go. Someone says: “about now the TV cameras will cut to Vladimir Putin arriving with Bernie ushering him in”.

A minute later (no kidding), the TVs cut to exactly this scene. It’s that predictable. It is clear Putin is no race fan. He turns up, sits in the grandstand for a few minutes and then appears in the Cool Down Room and on the podium. His Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev had already had his moment of glory, standing next to Charlie Whiting on the starting gantry.

And this is the thing. Where else is anyone allowed stand on the starting gantry or in the Cool Down Room? Why is there an exception made in Russia? Does someone ask Formula One to let that happen, or is it offered?

I don’t have a problem with politicians on podiums, that’s normal, but why are these two individuals given special treatment? And what does F1 gain from appearing to embrace them? The fact that these things happen as they happen always gives the impression that the sport is being used, although no-one with any say in the sport ever seems to think this is a bad thing. But we don’t see a lot of Russian sponsorship on the cars, so perhaps it would be wise to stop this sort of thing and see if money can be found elsewhere.

The other reason the race is not popular is because you have to jump through hoops to get a media visa (admittedly it is far more difficult in some countries than in others). Whatever the details, the paddock in Sochi always feels rather empty. People were only there if they have to be there. This year there was a bit of a dearth of Team Principals as well as media, with no sign of Force India bosses Vijay Mallya nor Bob Fernley, Monisha Kaltenborn of Sauber was absent (although this was caused by her son having appendicitis). Neither Frank nor Claire Williams was present. Nor was McLaren’s Ron Dennis, Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul or Manor’s Stephen Fitzpatrick.

There were, however, quite a lot of Russians in suits with bodyguards and blondes, but there was little else to suggest that VIP hospitality sales were was heaving. Still, I hear it is doing better than Baku, where the international guest count is going to be very low.

One man who was much in evidence (even if a lot of people did not know who he was) was Russian billionaire Dmitry Mazepin, who has made a vast fortune in the chemical business. He was spotted with Bernie Ecclestone rather a lot, leading to rumours that perhaps Mr E was lining him up to take over Force India from Vijay Mallya. The reason for these stories appears to be the fact that his 16-year-old son Nikita is currently moving up the racing ladder and has a development deal with the said Force India. Nikita seems like a very nice, polite young man and so I asked him why it was that he got banned from a race recently for punching one of his fellow competitors. He said that it had been a mistake and that he was sorry he had done it and had even apologised.

The suggestion that Mazepin will take over Force India is jumping the gun rather (not that the media has ever been accused of that before). It is by no means clear whether that this would be a good idea. If you are mega-wealthy and have a son talented enough not to be embarrassing, then getting him to F1 is not that difficult. Running a team is a big commitment. Having said that, many in F1 believe that the teams will one day be worth a lot of money, if one looks at the average franchise in the big leagues in other sports, so it might be worth investing because change must one day come.

The media can be annoying, but most of the teams find that the biggest problems are created by the hundreds of wannabes out there, rather than those who are actually present. This boils over occasionally and that happened on Sunday night when there were suggestions that Mercedes had deliberately delayed Lewis Hamilton.

“I think it is very difficult to take people seriously out there when they are lying on their beds with their laptops on their chests, and they are sending out those abusive messages,” said an annoyed team boss Toto Wolff. “Of course we don’t do it deliberately. The team has been abused in some of the social media and conspiracy theories are out there. My response to this is that I don’t want to ignore this bunch of lunatics who think that we would harm a driver who has been a double World Champion for us.”

Conspiracy theories, in my experience, are generally due to screw-ups that people then try to disguise. This was a screw-up that no-one is disguising.

Similarly all the fuss about Daniil Kvyat was largely a waste of energy. He misjudged the levels of grip and slid into Sebastian Vettel, that punted Vettel into Daniel Ricciardo. This caused Vettel to lift off on the next section of track and poor Kvyat was taken by surprise and ran into him again. I think poor Daniil got more abuse than he deserved. Having said that the incident is not good for him. He’s clearly a very talented guy but Red Bull seems to be looking for a way to hold on to Max Verstappen in the longer term and offering him a Red Bull seat in 2017, with options beyond that, may be a good move. Ferrari seems to be pondering sticking with Raikkonen again (which is a bit of a mystery) and there is no reason why Mercedes would want to change anything. Red Bull has shown itself to be utterly ruthless in the past when it comes to drivers and has ruined more careers than they have made.

Still, it is nice to see so many talented youngsters starting to break through in F1 with the likes of Verstappen, Stoffel Vandoorne, Pascal Wehrlein, Kevin Magnussen and others beginning to make the old guard nervous. Sadly, not all great talents can make it and often it is just down to luck. One thinks of young Jules Bianchi, for example. I was reminded of another great talent when someone suggested I look at a film called Gonchi, the story of Gonzalo Rodriguez, who I first met back in 1999 when he was team-mate to Justin Wilson with Astromega in Formula 3000. He seemed poised for an F1 career when he decided to take up the offer of a chance to race in CART…

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The Russian Grand Prix in Sochi was less exciting than some of the races we have seen this year, but as a demonstration of total dominance it was impressive. Nico Rosberg is on a huge high at the moment and won the race from pole position – his seventh consecutive victory. He also set the fastest lap of the race, on the penultimate lap, to keep himself sharp. It was 0.649s faster than anyone else, and a full second faster than the best lap Kimi Raikkonen could manage in his Ferrari. Nico was fortunate that his major rivals were in trouble. Lewis Hamilton suffered engine troubles in qualifying and was 10th on the grid. he worked his way through to second and was closing on Rosberg when the engine began to misbehave again. Then it cleared itself, but by that point it was too late to make a difference. The Ferrari challenge wilted again, with Sebastian Vettel having a grid penalty and then being punted out by Daniil Kvyat. Vettel was very upset because the local hero ran into him not once, but twice, although the second looked as though the Russian youngster was caught out by Vettel going more slowly than expected. There was further bashing and crashing behind all of this which meant various cars were out or delayed. One of them was Daniel Ricciardo and so Red Bull’s day was a total disaster. Kimi Raikkonen finished a drab third, but made a couple of passes to get there. Williams had  good day with forth and fifth, while Fernando Alonso was sixth and Jenson Button 10th, giving McLaren a bit of much-needed oxygen. Kevin Magnussen took seventh to get Renault on the scoreboard, while Romain Grosjean gave Haas more points. Max Verstappen would have picked up points but for an engine problem. The result gives Nico a 43-point lead in the World Championship after four races. If the two cars finish 1-2 with Lewis ahead, it will be Hungary before will be able to pass Nico. We will have to see if the luck changes as we head to Spain…

Also in GP+ this week…

– Alex Lynn
– How to track down an engine problem…
– Getting things ready in Sochi
– A look at Formula E
– When Enzo Ferrari kept a gun in his desk…
– JS talks about F1’s need to be positive
– DT wants more heroics in F1
– The Hack gives his opinion on electric racing
– Plus the usual fabulous photography from Peter Nygaard

GP+ is the fastest F1 magazine. It comes out before some of the teams have even managed to get a press release out. It is an e-magazine that you can download and keep on your own devices and it works on computers, tablets and even smartphones. And it’s a magazine written by real F1 journalists not virtual wannabes… Our team have attended more than 2,000 Grands Prix between us.

GP+ is an amazing bargain – and it is designed to be, so that fans will sign up and share the passion that we have for the sport. We don’t want to exploit you, we want you to join the fun. You get 23 issues for £32.99, covering the entire 2016 Formula 1 season.

For more information, go to www.grandprixplus.com.

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