Green Notebook from the kitchen

I hope that the freezing weather conditions across the northern hemisphere will not impact on the reader’s ability to take in complex information because this column will require a certain amount of neural electricity. My apologies, but I don’t make the rules…

F1 is all about freezing conditions his week – and not just when it comes to the weather forecast. The F1 Commission meets on Thursday and there is much discussion about the delicate question of the engine freeze. Oh, and I dare say there will also be some discussion about how to deal with the pandemic…

The voting structures are all secret (and decidedly) arcane, but we are just relying on leaks of information about it all works.

There are 12 members of the commission (on most occasions), but this can be expanded to 16 with the addition of one representative of each of the four engine manufacturer, when the vote relates to power units. In reality, this means the same 12 people, but some of them gain extra votes. Thus, for example, Toto Wolff will have two votes: one for the Mercedes team, and one for the Mercedes engine. So you would think that 12 plus four equals 16… and so a majority would be eight votes. Ah, no…

If only life was so simple. A simple majority does not actually mean a simple majority because while each of the teams gets one vote the FIA and Formula 1 each get 10 votes apiece thus creating a total of 34 votes. 

So 17 is a majority? Ah… no. Because the simple majority refers only to the 10 votes of the teams. Thus to win a vote one must win 27 of the 34 votes. Are you still following?

Of course this does not take into account the practical politics involved which means that it would be unwise for a customer to go against the engine supplier, on whom they rely for their horsepower. So in practical – but not absolute – terms the aforementioned Big Bad Wolff can really call on five votes, while Renault can scrape together just two. Ferrari effectively has four and Honda three.

Anyway, all of this is fun and games but does not take into account sensible realities. An engine freeze is a good thing for Formula 1 because it means that car companies can spend their money on developing new engines for the cheaper engine formula in the future, rather than on the expensive power units of today. And if they agree to the freeze, these new engines can come a year earlier than planned. If Ferrari and others think this is unfair, it is because they are not competitive and one can only say that if they had done a better job in the past they would not be in this mess.

For those who might not know why engine freezing is important, one should add that the two Red Bull teams will take over the Honda engine project at the end of 2021, if the engine development is frozen from the start of 2022. If not, there is a chance (and how big a chance one cannot say) that Red Bull will fold up its teepees and take its sponsorship off to a hovercraft racing or bicycling on mountain ledges. And F1 really needs Red Bull to stick around. So, for the good of the sport we need an engine freeze.

Now some might leap in at this point and say: “Ah, but Ferrari has a veto” which is true, but the terms of this veto (which are even more secret) have certain conditions that make it difficult to use. The veto can only be exercised if it is not “prejudicial to the traditional values of the championship and/or the image of the FIA” and that the new regulations were “likely to have a substantial impact” on Ferrari’s “legitimate interest”.

Given the secret deal between Ferrari and the FIA last year over what Ferrari did with its engines in 2019, I think the word “legitimate” might create some arguments.

The best solution would appear to be to freeze the engines in 2022, 2023 and 2024 and let everyone have another go wit the new engines in 2025.  This, aligned with a change in chassis regulations at the same time, would be far more likely to create a new pecking order than any expensive development race between now and then.

The plan is for the new engines to be considerably cheaper as well and that will impact of the decision-making, as it will mean a much more cost-effective F1.

Anyhow, that is the thing of the moment. 

My apologies for the quiet period before the recent TV viewing figures and the announcement that Lewis Hamilton is staying where he is for another year. To be honest neither is a great surprise. I was having some time off.

The thing that all fans should be waiting for is Liberty Media’s announcement of its 2020 Q4 figures on Friday, February 26. Once we have the Q4 figures, we have the Full Year figures and once we have those we will know the scale of the disaster that the COVID-19 pandemic will have wrought on the sport.

Why is this important? Because all the financial calculations for team revenues from the commercial rights holder are based on the annual revenue figures of the previous year. Once we know that number then calculators can start fizzing and teams can work out how much they are going to get. The signs are that it could be as much as 50 percent less than last year. But we don’t know for sure.

Generally-speaking, stock market listed companies tend not to play with their numbers too much and work to what are called Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) standards, but that does not mean that firms cannot work hard to make their numbers look better in order to keep their share price up.

Of course, there are other occasions when one might want to make the numbers look worse and so they pile all the bad things into a mediocre year and then they will very look good when they bounce back a year from now. And you really have to know about accounting to see what they do. There are lots of ways to overstate and understate assets and liabilities, using such things as contingent liabilities, revenue acceleration and using subsidiaries, ownership investments, and joint ventures to boost assets. Usually this is done to give the appearance of a solid business so that credit can be obtained at low interest rates or better terms for debt financing. This may all sound a bit dodgy, but most of it is entirely legal.

This was all explained to me many years by a very clever forensic accountant, who said that it was a waste of time for non-financial journalists (and wannabes) to try to figure out what is really happening with companies based on the income statements and balance sheets, because if one does not know the what the accountant was trying to achieve, it is very hard to spot the tricks that they can use.

So I don’t waste too much energy on analysing cooked books each winter, but rather I enjoy the delights of cookbooks.

In the summer months we F1 types don’t get much time for delightful things such as families, gardens, cooking and pastimes that do not involve noisy cars. So when there is a lull in the action, it is a great chance to fill the days with such pleasures and not worry too much about the number of page views that one is generating (or not).

February is troublesome in some respects as gardens are generally hibernating at this time of year; and spending afternoons sketching waterlilies at Giverny is not really an option in driving rain. And having the little ones round requires bidding against rival relatives…

Sitting in front of a fire reading books might sound like a good project, but if one is catching up on sleep there is an inevitable conclusion before the end of each chapter and so one needs something that involves a bit of action, warmth and enjoyment. My conclusion, many years ago, was that cooking was the best answer and so in the winter months I cook a lot.

My own library of cookbooks is quite extensive and multilingual, including tomes on pies, crumbles and chowders, on the goodness of garlic and, of course, the chronicles of St Delia. There are even books about how to cook Chinese and Indian food because I have lived in remote spots where getting a takeaway meant hours of driving. In amongst all this are two automobile-related recipe books: the first called Racey Recipes and the second Manifold Destiny.

The latter is a cult publication – and a work of genius – which tells you how to cook using the engine in your car: where to place a dish (wrapped in aluminium foil of course) and how far to drive (and at what speed) before the meal is ready to be eaten. This is utterly splendid, all the more so because it certainly doesn’t work with electric cars, which have all the culinary romance of microwave ovens. My favourite recipe is Upper Class Roadkill, which begins with the most splendid sentence ever seen in a recipe book: “First run over a small deer…”, although it is rather American in its culinary tastes, and I am not sure that Alain Ducasse, Raymond Blanc or Guy Savoy would be very interested in “corned beef donuts”, not least because the spelling is horrid…

To my twisted brain, Racey Recipes sounded to me a little like some advanced form of cannibalism probably because it was clumsily billed as “The Ultimate Motorsport Celebrity Cook Book” which I took to mean ways to prepare motorsport celebrities. You know, Lewis and Lentil Pie, Daniel Avocado, Fried Grosjean Brains and Toto Wolff Waffles. That sort of thing.

However it turned out to be a compilation of the favourite meals of people in F1 (back in about 2000). So it is clearly a little out of date.

However Eliza Acton and Isabella Beeton are still selling so it is clear that while recipes go in and out of fashion (I mean, who eats jugged hare these days?), they don’t really age.

I was idly pondering if in the post-Netflix era of F1 whether the new demographics of the sport would mean that thousands of fans (male, female, non-binary transgender androgyne and all the rest of them) would like to buy an F1-themed cookbook. Perhaps, I argued, there is a gap in the market. I am sure these things are very difficult but when you boil it all down (or perhaps I should say reduce) all you need is a publisher and an iPhone for photography (right). It honestly doesn’t matter if the recipes are disgusting because who buys a cookbook twice? If a recipe goes wrong people generally blame themselves, as it is assumed that the author has some clue what they are talking about. One thing I have noticed is that there are an awful lot more cookbooks in bookshops (and online) than there are titles about motorsport, particularly in the run-up to Christmas, when everyone is agonising about what to buy for relatives.

It struck me that Grand Prix Grub (the name of the book, not the description of the author) would sit very comfortably on the shelves between The Poacher’s Guide to Vegetarian Cuisine, Fiddly Finger Food for Fulham, Pretentious Aussie Tucker and The Use of Tofu in DIY.

I am not sure which is my favourite cookbook, but The Jungle Hiker comes close. Published by the Royal Air Force in Ceylon in 1944 it has everything you need to know about surviving in a jungle after being shot down. (“First cut yourself from the wreckage…”). This includes the splendid recipe for “Fricassee of Lizard”, which I am keen to try if I can ever find a non-lounge lizard…

Onward to the kitchen…

Hamilton leaves his options open

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have announced a deal for 2021 – but not beyond that.

It will be Hamilton’s ninth season with the team, during which time he has won six World Championships. The deal includes a joint commitment to diversity will take the form of a joint charitable foundation, which will support greater diversity and inclusion in all its forms in motorsport. 

“I am excited to be heading into my ninth season with my Mercedes teammates,” Hamilton said. “Our team has achieved incredible things together and we look forward to building on our success even further, while continuously looking to improve, both on and off the track. 

“I’m equally determined to continue the journey we started to make motorsport more diverse for future generations and I am grateful that Mercedes has been extremely supportive of my call to address this issue. I’m proud to say we are taking that effort further this year by launching a foundation dedicated to diversity and inclusion in the sport. I am inspired by all that we can build together and can’t wait to get back on the track in March.”

What is interesting is that the deal is just for one season, which was not expected. It had been thought that Lewis would agree to another three years. Having said that, there is no real need for him to commit in the longer term as the team will obviously still want him in 2022 and so year-by-year deals make sense for him. This will allow him to set a new record for F1 World Championships, if he can win again, with eight, compared to Michael Schumacher’s seven. If he then chooses to retire to do other things this allows him that possibility. Mercedes will not be short of replacement candidates if that happens…

The only odd things is that the 2022 season will be a new formula with new cars and it might have been logical for Lewis to commit to the first season and then decide whether to stay on move on, if Mercedes is no longer dominant.

“We have always been aligned with Lewis that we would continue,” said Toto Wolff, “but the very unusual year we had in 2020 meant it took some time to finish the process. Together, we have decided to extend the sporting relationship for another season and to begin a longer-term project to take the next step in our shared commitment to greater diversity within our sport. Lewis’s competitive record stands alongside the best the sports world has ever seen, and he is a valued ambassador for our brand and our partners. The story of Mercedes and Lewis has written itself into the history books of our sport over the past eight seasons, and we are hungry to compete and to add more chapters to it.” 

Decent viewing figures from F1

Formula 1 had a decent year in terms of viewing figures in 2020, with 433 million unique viewers, down eight percent on 2019, largely due to the fact that there were only 17 races compared to 21 in 2019.

The cumulative audience for the year was reckoned to be 1.5 billion, down from 1.9 billion.

The highest audience figure for a race last year was 103.7 million for the Hungarian Grand Prix, which was up seven percent compared to 2019 and there were strong result from the new races in Portugal (100.5 million) and the short Bahrain track (98.1 million). The average audience was 87.4 million. This was down 4.5 percent on the average in 2019 but similar to the figure in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and better than the averages in 2015 (80 million) and 2014 (83 million). The numbers in 2020 were obviously impacted by the fact that most of the races were in Europe which meant that the start times did not work in some markets and with no local races in many countries there was also an impact. Despite this the Chinese viewer numbers were up 43 percent, the Netherlands saw an increase of 28 percent and the UK rose 10 percent, although the latter is behind a pay-wall and so there is clearly room from growth as the total is a fraction of what it used to be. There was a modest one percent rise in the US, where clearly much work is still to be done.

According to Shareablee, which is the market leader in online platform audience intelligence and benchmarking, F1 was the second fastest growing major sports league, with a growth in engagement of 99 percent. There is still plenty of potential for growth across the social media platforms, although total video views across F1.com, the F1 app and social media were up 46 percent to 4.9 billion, while the number of unique users his 70.5 million, up 26 percent. These results show that Formula 1 is now strongly outperforming other major sports in the digital arena including La Liga, NBA, PGA tour and the Premier League. 

The Esports story has also been a success with 11.4 million live stream views, an increase of 98 percent compared to 2019.

 “Last year was an unprecedented time for everyone and Formula 1 had to adapt to the challenges presented by the pandemic,” said Stefano Domeniclai, the F1 CEO. “We delivered 17 races, something many thought impossible earlier in the year. We did it safely and brought excitement and new races to our fans around the world. The audience figures for 2020 show the strength and resilience of our sport, with average audience figures in 2020 at 87.4m and a total season cumulative audience of 1.5bn. We had strong growth figures in China, the UK, Netherlands, Germany, and the USA, combined with the huge boost in our digital figures. We saw only a marginal reduction in TV audiences, caused by multiple reasons but clearly driven but a shortened and limited geographical calendar compared to 2019, but something every major sport has experienced in 2020. We are proud of what we delivered in 2020 and know we have an incredibly strong fan base and audience platform to grow in the coming years.”

Overall, therefore, F1 did well, but clearly there is still much potential for growth…

Adrian Campos 1960-2021

Adrian Campos Suner has died at the age of 60. People tend to think of him as a team owner, but Adrian was also a Formula 1 driver and always wanted to run his own F1 team.

And he came close.

He started out with many advantages, being born into a very wealthy family, the fortune being based in frozen foods: ice cream and chickens. We knew this in F3 days because his truck was the place to go if you wanted ice cream on a hot day.

The fortune came at a price. His maternal grandfather was an industrialist called Luis Suner who in 1981 was kidnapped and held hostage for three months by the Basque separatist movement ETA. In the end a ransom was paid and Suner was released.

When Adrian decided that he would go racing he was accompanied wherever he went by an armed bodyguard.

As a youngster he had raced radio-controlled cars, winning the 1980 Spanish national championship, but his move into car racing showed an unusual approach. Rather than pay for a ride with a top team the Campos commissioned the Barcelona chassis-builder Miguel Molons to build him an Avidesa Formula 3 car for the European Formula 3 Championship. This was a decent car, but Campos had no experience and results were limited.

In 1984 the strategy changed and Adrian bought himself a drive with Volkswagen Motorsport, one of the top teams in the series. To his credit Campos managed to win a heat at the Monza Lotteria that year. After the European series was cancelled he moved to Germany and raced F3 again, finishing third in the 1985 German F3 Championship and then tried Formula 3000 in 1986, at the same time doing some testing work for Tyrrell. That year he also raced a Porsche 962C for John Fitzpatrick at Jerez.

After landing sponsorship from the Valencia-based Saez Merino textile group, the manufacturer of the Lois and Cimarron jeans, and was able to buy himself a seat at Minardi in 1987 and for half of 1988. In the end lack of results forced Minardi to drop him in favour of Pierluigi Martini.

In 1989 the family sold its shares in Avidesa and Campos turned his attention to the racing business, keen to put Spain on the motorsport map. In 1990 he did some racing in the Spanish Touring Car Championship and in 1994 won the Spanish title. He then retired and started running Adrian Campos Motorsport in the new Open Fortuna by Nissan series. His first driver was Marc Gene who won the Nissan title, landed a drive with Minardi.

He was followed by Fernando Alonso. After that the team had many young Spanish hopefuls. The team won in GP2 and GP3 series, winning the 2008 GP teams’ title.

Campos had a brief adventure in Formula 1, lodging an entry for the 2010 championship, but the money was not there. Before the first race the team passed to new owners.

Campos went back to helping youngsters – and living his passion for the sport. Adrian was a quiet individual and is often overlooked but he did a huge amount to put Spanish motorsport on the map.

Keep an eye on Aston…

While F1 folk are getting excited about Sebastian Vettel paying his first visit to Aston Martin Racing (formerly known as Racing Point), with a short haircut, the main company’s financial situation remains difficult. Lawrence Stroll and his fellow investors own stakes in both companies and the racing team has been rebranded to promote Aston Martin – but they are separate entities. 

For those who are watching these things, the Aston Martin share price is pretty volatile. It is not long ago that the shares were trading at £19, which put the market cap at £4.3 billion. But in the course of 2019 they fell gradually to £10 and then dropped sharply in the autumn, when the company issued a profit warning. Then in 2020 COVID-19 arrived and things got even worse. Today the shares are worth £1.85, although the issuing of new shares has meant that the market cap of the firm is £2.13 billion. The company also has considerable debt (around £1.2 billion) although when it comes to the enterprise value, with debt and cash added to the share value, it is still reckoned to be worth around £4 billion, which is what someone will need to pay to acquire it.

This morning there was an interesting story from China’s East Money, a website that watches the financial markets, which suggested that the China’s BYD Auto Company is preparing to acquire the Aston Martin car company, in a deal that would value the British firm at £4.1 billion. 

BYD (which stands for Build Your Dreams) started out as a company producing rechargeable electric batteries. Today it is the largest supplier of rechargeable batteries in the world. It bought the Tsinchuan Automobile Company in 2002 and while its current range includes electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and petrol-engined vehicles, it has always been a company that aims to build electric cars. Last May the firm announced plans to expand into Europe with an SUV and a range of commercial vehicles.

It also has a joint venture with Daimler to produce luxury electric cars using the Denza brand. It should be remembered, of course, that Daimler will have a 20 percent of Aston Martin by 2023 in exchange for an engine supply deal.

It should also be remembered that at the start of 2020 Geely and the battery manufacturer CATL both looked at acquiring Aston Martin, but lost out to the Stroll consortium. However since then it has not been an easy ride for the car company, although much depends on the sales of the Aston Martin DBX, the company’s first SUV. 

Things have also been changed somewhat by the British government’s announcement in October that it plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030, forcing car manufacturers to develop electric models. Some hybrids will be allowed to be sold until 2035, but that’s it. This may kill the British car industry in its current form.

Of course, if Aston Martin is switched over to producing high-end electric cars, its involvement in Formula 1 would make very little sense in the long term, although no doubt the sport will move towards more hybridisation in 2025 and perhaps to full electricity in 2030 or 2035.

What happens to Formula E at that point is not clear…

But, who knows? Maybe East Money isn’t right.

Did F1’s COVID-19 protocols work?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services, has issued a report called “Implementation and Evolution of Mitigation Measures, Testing, and Contact Tracing in the National Football League, August 9–November 21, 2020”, which charts how the NFL coped with the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is interesting is that the research  carried out by the teams found that within the sport the transmission of the virus occurred with only 15 minutes of interaction between individuals. The league’s research showed that there were four key factors which determined the spread of the disease: whether they were wearing masks, how well the room was ventilated, how long the interaction was for and the physical distance between the subjects.

The league conducted around 623,000 tests on 11,400 players and staff in the period studied and around three percent of these returned positive results.

This is interesting when compared to Formula 1’s figures, which saw 76,000 tests and only 78 confirmed cases, which works out at about 0.10 percent. The numbers are skewed somewhat by various different factors, including the fact that some of the teams carried out their own testing regimes and so were not included in the figures. If the overall figures have been tabulated the numbers have not been made public. The other difference, of course, is that the NFL was operating just in the United States, while F1 visited 12 different countries. The F1 tests often included local contractors and F1’s Ross Brawn said some time ago that “quite a number” of the positive tests came from the locals. Brawn also said that the worst outbreak was caused by a local translator who had been working with one of the teams.

F1 changed its testing protocols after the Eifel Grand Prix  which meant that everyone had to test within 24 hours of their arrival, rather than having pre-event tests as had previously been the case. This followed  Lance Stroll testing positive in Germany.

Even in the autumn Brawn said that it was curious that three of the 20 F1 drivers had tested positive, which he said was “disproportionate” and F1 was curious to know why this had happened. That number has now risen to five, which means that 25 percent of last year’s F1 drivers have tested positive.

Outbreaks within the teams were very low and the media (which was not allowed into the paddock) had only one case all season and that was a photographer who caught the disease in his home country but was only identified as being positive on arrival in Bahrain.

It is interesting that some of the most diligent people were the drivers, notably Lewis Hamilton, who limited all social activity until after he had won the World Championship. He tested positive after that had happened.

It is also interesting to note that the International Olympic Committee is looking to try to have all of the Olympic Games athletes vaccinated as soon as the high risk sectors and key workers have received jabs. Whether this would be possible for F1 is a question that will be being asked at the moment. Given that the season is supposed to kick off in March and there is not much time, it is unlikely that this would be a requirement as it would require government agreement in a string of different countries of those involved in F1, unless F1 could secure sufficient vaccine for those working in the business. Even then, it is not clear that all the countries with F1 races would accept people without testing, even if they had been vaccinated.

The art of inspiration

Being around Formula 1 is fascinating but it can make one a little distrustful of people. Some F1 folk are extraordinary human others, some are not very nice people. They are there for their own gratification or to make a quick buck. They will trample over others to get what they want, they will cheat and they will lie like Donald Trump.

But then there the others who make the sport so special. The people who are more genuine, who do it because they love doing it. They like to win, of course, but it is not a question of winning at any cost. They know that winning unfairly is merely self-delusion. There are also a few people who believe that part of what they do is to encourage others to do the same: to inspire and to give something back. I remember with a smile each time I think of how Ron Dennis would light up when he talked about inspiring new generations, about what a thrill it was to see the spark lit in a youngster. It is perhaps the most rewarding thing in teaching, but one must put up with a lot of drudge for every little spark.

Yesterday I read the news Jean Graton had died at the age of 97. The name probably means little to the Anglo-Saxon world, but in France Graton was a man who inspired many others. And he did it with pen and paper. Graton was a cartoonist, who was a passionate motor racing fan. It started in the 1930s when he was a child, seeing racing cars and loving what he saw. It continued for the rest of his life. His special gift was an ability to draw and he went off to Belgium and found work, illustrating for Tintin magazine, a weekly Franco-Belgian comic for “youth from seven to 77”. At one point in its glory days it was selling 600,000 copies a week. Graton had bigger ambitions, however, and he began to draw his own cartoon series about a racing driver called Michel Vaillant. What he did that was unusual is that he inserted his characters into real life situations and mixed them with cartoon versions of the stars, allowing the readers to imagine themselves in the same situation.

Cartoons catch the eye, engage the reader, and incorporate narrative in ways that can make them useful tools for teaching, rather than forcing youngsters to plough through traditional texts. Looking back I remember how much easier it was to study Marx and Lenin when I had cartoon versions of their theories, and how a cartoon version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth was much more inspiring than the traditional text. Cartoons inspire. Graton understood that and he built an empire from that knowledge. Vaillant never grew old and even starred in films but he was always a real life hero, not a superhero with powers beyond humankind.

And there is no doubt that for the Francophones, Vaillant inspired youngsters to go racing…

Wintry thoughts

January is a quiet time for Formula 1 writers. The regulars take a break and hibernate before March comes along and we start haring madly around the world. This leaves the field open for ambitious youngsters to fill the gaps. Good for them, we will one day need a new generation of proper, experienced F1 journalists.

Or maybe we won’t. The world is changing and perhaps what we think is doing it properly is not important any longer – and the future is video, emoticons and the neo-puritans of social media, tut-tutting and passing judgement. The problem for all F1 journalists in January is that the ground is barren. Nothing much is happening, except some activity in factories as teams build up their new cars, although this year things are rather less busy than usual as a lot of the structures in the cars will not be changing. This was deliberate, to help everyone save money. It is, therefore, a very sensible thing in the circumstances.

In the meantime, teams based in the UK are finding themselves involved in rather more form-filling than they are used to doing. This is the result of Britain’s exit from the European Union, otherwise known as Brexit (although in reality it should always of been called UKexit as it relates to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, although Northern Ireland joined Scotland in voting to remain in Europe but has been dragged out of the EU by the English and Welsh).

Ah well, it is what the people wanted (four years ago) and so if we believe in democracy we must let it play out, rather than trying to overthrow the government if we don’t get our way.

I have been form-filling as well because as a consequence of the UK sailing off alone into the North Sea, I have to establish some legal status in France, which means getting an identity card. This was unnecessary before as we were all European. Now we are not. I hate to think about all the work permits that the F1 teams must be applying for at the moment. I’m sure they will all be granted (eventually) but it makes freedom of movement and working abroad (in both directions) a much more complicated business. And I have no doubt that the carnets required to move racing equipment around will complicate matters as well.

This is not aiming to be a screed about the wisdom of the new situation, but rather a way to ask a pertinent question: Will any of this have any long-term impact on the UK motorsport industry? As we know – and are very proud of – Britain leads the world in F1. It used to lead the world in racing car manufacturing as well, but the days of March, Lola, Reynard and Ralt (and all the others) are gone. Today racing car chassis manufacturing – outside F1 – has moved to Italy, and specifically to Dallara. I know there are some series that use open-wheeler cars that are not built by Dallara, but I struggle to think of them at the moment. How did that happen when Britannia ruled the waves for so long?

I know it isn’t fashionable to learn from the lessons of history but I think it is worth considering why Britain leads the way in Grand Prix racing. It wasn’t always the case. Before the late 1950s Britain was utterly irrelevant in the sport – except in terms of land speed records. There was Brooklands but the big racing teams came from France, then Italy and then Germany. After the war it was back to the Italians again. The British industry took off for a number of reasons, the primary one being that the country had more race tracks – thanks to the many deserted wartime airfields – than other nations. And it had people who wanted to use them. There were young engineers who had been involved in fascinating engineering in the war years, who craved excitement and so began building racing cars. It was this human resource that was the key element of success, with the circuits providing venues and the success of the best cars creating the commercial opportunities that built the industry.

Maintaining the supply of bright young engineers is therefore the primary key to success. A knowledge cluster is powered by knowledge and ambition. In the old days when someone said “I can do better than that” they often set up a new business and went into competition with the existing companies. It is harder to do nowadays because people who say “I can do better than that” need to find a lot of money to embark on a new adventure and so the best and the brightest tend to join existing teams and use their brilliance to make these teams better.

Brilliant engineering thus still exists in the cluster but these days the ownership of the teams has really ceased to be British. We don’t really know who owns Williams but legally it is a US-entity (although this is probably a front for a British owner). Mercedes is a third-owned by a Monaco-based Brit. McLaren is owned by Arabs and Americans. Aston Martin is owned by a Canadian. Renault is owned by France. Red Bull and Toro Rosso are owned by an Austrian. Alfa Romeo Racing is (currently) owned by a Swede. Ferrari is Ferrari. And Haas is owned by an American. Those based in the UK are there because that is where the good people are and where there is infrastructure to support the business.

Europeans wanting to study on advanced motorsport courses have long been coming to Britain to learn at places like Cranfield, which have fed engineers into the F1 system for decades, but the news that Britain has suspended its involvement with the Erasmus student exchange programme means that life will become much more difficult for foreigners wanting to study in Britain in the future. The UK’s Turing scheme which is intended to fill the gap will support British students overseas – but, as far as I understand it, not vice versa.

Will the best engineering students still head for Britain when the paperwork and funding are difficult and there are other easier alternatives? The Motor Vehicle University of Emilia-Romagna (known as MUNER) offers similar Master’s courses to Cranfield – and the courses are taught in English. The Racing Car Design course is being held at the Dallara Academy. The programme is supported by the Emilia-Romagna Region, which is busy promoting its “Motor Valley” in competition to Britain’s so-called “Motorsport Valley”. Will the Italians ultimately lure away the best and brightest youngsters to learn there and then to work there? It should not be excluded as a possibility. Things change if industries are not supported or nurtured correctly. One only needs to look at the history of British shipbuilding to see that. And there are similar fears about the car industry as well.

Anyway, I am not saying it is going to happen, but I think it is reasonable to fear that it might.

Elsewhere F1 has little other news of note. An Italian has been put in charge at Enstone. The organisations are so big these days that it is sometimes difficult to say who runs what but, in principle, the 10 F1 teams are now being run by three Italians (Ferrari, Renault and Haas), two Germans (Williams and McLaren), two Austrians (Mercedes and Toro Rosso), an American (Aston Martin), a Frenchman (Alfa Romeo) and one Briton, Christian Horner. The commercial side of the sport is headed by an Italian…

In other news, we have already had the first race postponements thanks to the pandemic and that has led to lots of speculation that others will follow. Perhaps they will. Race promoters don’t want to postpone or cancel, but they have to obey their governments and if one looks at what is happening with the Australian Open tennis tournament, it is probably best not to try to push the envelope when ultimately sport doesn’t much matter. Yes, it is a business and, yes, it cheers people up and provides interest, but if it spreads the disease, or creates the wrong impressions about how things should be done, then it is best avoided. The impression one gets from the tennis situation is that the sport is filled with whining brats (whether they are or not) and that is not a good look for any sport.

It alarms me slightly that no fewer than five F1 drivers have tested positive for COVID-19, despite all the protocols. Percentage-wise this is absurdly out of kilter with the world. That is 25 percent of the field. Why is that number so high? I am pretty sure that 25 percent of the F1 circus as a whole has not tested positive, so you cannot easily blame it on the lifestyle… otherwise we’d all be more at risk than we think we are. In any case, what the sport does not need is the kind of negative publicity that tennis has thrown itself headlong into.

I am sure that in a few weeks, when the financial results of F1 in 2020 are published, there will be a flurry of stories about how the sport is finished and how it cannot survive on half the prize money that it used to have. But it will survive. It will change in order to survive. It will perhaps rid itself of such daft habits as the motorhomes and other such things, which are very nice but are simply a way to burn money. It will become leaner and more efficient.

The “I can do better than that” approach still exists… but whether that is always going to be in Britain is another question.

Brivio joins Alpine F1

Alpine F1 Team has confirmed that Davide Brivio will join the team as Racing Director

His specific role and responsibilities will be announced in the coming weeks.

He will report to the Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi.

Davide joins Alpine F1 Team with a wealth of experience and success following more than 20 years in the MotoGP World Championship, most recently sealing the World Championship crown for rider Joan Mir, and the Teams’ Championship title for his former team.

Jurgen Hubert 1939-2021

Jurgen Hubbert has died, at the age of 81. He played an important role in coaxing the Stuttgart car firm back into motorsport.

Mercedes has quit the sport after the Le Mans disaster in 1955 and showed no real interest in returning, fearful of reviving the painful memories. Hubbert watched racing at Solitude in the 1960s, he was not a racing enthusiast. He joined Mercedes in the late 1960s and moved up in the company to become head of strategy by the mid-1980s.

At the time Sauber had decided to use a modified Mercedes road car engine to power its Group C sports cars. The Mercedes factory was not involved and Sauber had to go to Heini Mader to ask for the engine to be updated. Mader added two KKK turbochargers and the resulting engine was fitted into the old C7 chassis, although the car was called the C8. Sauber then asked Mercedes-Benz if he could run the car is a Mercedes wind tunnel and this sparked interest in Stuttgart, although the company under CEO Werner Breitshwerdt was not interested in going racing. Hubbert realised that the sport was a brilliant way to market Mercedes and promote the brand, because he believed that the diversification of the company was shifting focus away from the road cars and that the company was suffering as a result.

Breitshwerdt retired in 1987 and control of Mercedes was taken over by Werner Niefer, who decided to adopt a more aggressive policy. That year Sauber had managed to secure sponsorship from the Yves Saint Laurent company, which was promoting its Kouros fragrance, although Hubbert was providing some funding. The results were not great, but at the end of the year Hubbert had convinced Niefer that motorsport was a good strategic policy and so it was announced that Mercedes-Benz would open a competition department to look after Sauber and various teams running Mercedes 190Es in Group A touring car racing. This would be headed by the racing journalist Norbert Haug.

The Sauber team name was changed to Sauber Mercedes and sponsorship was found from AEG, a Daimler-owned appliance company. The team finished second in the Sports Car World Championship in 1988 and in 1989 the cars were painted silver and the team won the title and scored a 1-2 finish in the Le Mans 24 Hours. The 1990 season was another success and so preparations began for Sauber and Mercedes to enter F1 together. Harvey Postlethwaite was hired as technical director and Mercedes funded the construction of a new factory for Sauber in Hinwil, but at the end of 1991 Niefer decided to put the project on hold because of the economic situation. This left Sauber to go it alone in F1 in its debut season in 1993, although Mercedes continued to provide some funding on an unofficial basis, with Ilmor providing V10 engines. That summer Niefer died and was replaced as head of Mercedes by Helmut Werner. He decided that for 1994 the engines would be badged Mercedes and the team became Sauber Mercedes. The season was nothing special and McLaren, which was struggling with Peugeot engines, approached Mercedes about using its engines in 1995. A deal was struck.

That year Werner and Jurgen Schrempp fought to succeed Edzard Reuter as CEO of the Daimler Benz company, with the latter winning. But when Werner opposed Schrempp’s strategy of merging with Chrysler he was replaced as head of Mercedes-Benz by Hubbert. He would remain in charge of the firm until 2004. In addition to pushing for motorsport he expanded the model range to include new premium models, including the M-Class and CLK, plus the A-Class and the Smart. The relationship with McLaren developed slowly and the partners did not win a race until 1997, but then in 1998 and 1999 Mika Hakkinen won two titles and the team remained competitive for many years. Hubbert remained in his role while also becoming head of the Grand Prix World Championship organisation, which was a negotiating ploy by the manufacturers to establish their own Grand Prix series from 2008 in competition Bernie Ecclestone. In the end a deal was struck and peace returned.

Hubbert retired in 2004 but continued to attend races from time to time for years afterwards, including the third McLaren-Mercedes World Championship title in 2008.

“Jurgen Hubbert was Mister Mercedes,” said Ola Källenius, chairman of Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz AG. “With integrity, innovative spirit and great success, he shaped Mercedes-Benz forever. Under his responsibility, a historic product offensive was launched with groundbreaking vehicles such as the A- and M-Class. As a leader, he was able to integrate and motivate his teams with a passion for technology and the highest standards for himself. He is forever assured of the appreciation of the entire Mercedes family. We mourn a great personality and a great person.”