Mallya and hype

Vijay Mallya responded to the reports of his arrest with the following Tweet: “Usual Indian media hype. Extradition hearing in Court started today as expected”.

The Metropolitan Police, however, did issue a statement as follows:

“Officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Extradition Unit have this morning, Tuesday 18 April, arrested a man on an extradition warrant,” it said. “Vijay Mallya, 61 (18/12/1955), was arrested on behalf of the Indian authorities in relation to accusations of fraud. He was arrested after attending a central London police station, and will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court later today, 18 April”.

So Vijay Mallya was arrested this morning. There was no police chase, nor a raid on his house, nonetheless he was place under arrest.

So where’s the hype in that?

Mallya arrested

Force India F1 boss (and India’s representative on the FIA World Motor Sport Council) Vijay Mallya was arrested this morning in England and will soon appear in Westminster Magistrates’ court.

In February India’s Ministry of External Affairs sent an extradition request to the British Home Office and this was endorsed by the Home Secretary and sent on to Westminster Magistrates’ Court. It is believed that Mallay’s name was one of
nearly 20 on a list that the Indians requested as part of discussions over possible future trade deals, in the wake of Brexit. The British are desperate to find some big trading partners and so handing over a few fugitives is a small price to pay in the circumstances.

The charges against Mallya in India relate to his defaulting on loans of $1.4
billion. Mallya is currently stuck in the UK without a passport as his Indian passport has been cancelled and he is unableto hold another unless he revokes his Indian citizenship. He must also find a country willing to issue him a new passport. He was recently removed as the chairman of the Federation of
Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI) but continues to be India’s representative
on the FIA World Motor Sport Council, although he cannot attend meetings.

Force India is a team that effectively runs itself these days but Mallya has been required to raise money when that is required. His arrest, if confirmed, will be an embarrassment for the sport. The word is that the team is for sale but that the owners (Mallya and his trouble partner Subrata Roy of Sahara) want $250 million for the business. It is highly unlikely that anyone will pay that price. The adverse publicity will make it harder for the team to be sold and to find sponsorship. The team is funded largely with prize money, but recently sold a $15 million sponsorship deal to Austrian water treatment company BWT.

Screen Shot 2017-04-16 at 21.25.44.pngThe Bahrain Grand Prix was another finely-balanced fight between Ferrari and Mercedes – and between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Pole man Valtteri Bottas led from the start with Vettel chasing, but the Mercedes could not get away and the Ferrari was clearly being held back and decided to pit earlier than his rivals. He stopped after 10 laps and fell back to 11th. It looked like a drastic move, but he quickly made up ground. Three laps later a Safety Car was sent out after a clash between Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll. Bottas and the chasing Lewis Hamilton both came into the pits. They were stacked and Lewis slowed a little too much before coming in, holding up Daniel Ricciardo, earning himself a five-second penalty. Both Merc men were also delayed slightly. Vettel found hismelf ahead and he never looked back… Hamilton charged back, the team asking Bottas to move out of his way as Lewis was clearly quicker, but the gap was too much to close. Bottas help on to third, although Kimi Raikkonen  recovered from a poor start to finish just behind him.

– Jean Todt talks about F1 and the FIA

– Fernando Alonso heads for Indianapolis

– We analyse the Ferrari-Mercedes battle

– We look back at Louis Catalan – a bit of a cheat…

– DT looks at the up-side of Alonso at Indy

– JS says why he loves the Bahrain GP

– The Hack looks at the down-side of Alonso at Indy

– Plus we have the fabulous photography of Peter Nygaard and his fellow artists

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We thought that Jenson Button was done and dusted as an F1 driver – and it seems that had similar thoughts, but McLaren Honda did the obvious thing and convinced him to make a one-off comeback for Monaco, replacing Fernando Alonso, who will be busy in Indianapolis.

“Although the McLaren-Honda MCL32 hasn’t begun the season well, I think it may be more suited to Monaco than to the faster circuits that Fernando [Alonso] and Stoffel [Vandoorne] have raced it on so far this season,” Button said. “I realise we won’t have a realistic chance of repeating my 2009 victory, but I think we’ll have a opportunity to score world championship points, which will be very valuable to the team in terms of constructors’ rankings.”

Further to the previous post about McLaren, I have been in touch with Michael Andretti to check that he has sufficient engineering staff to run six cars competitively at Indianapolis. His reply was short and sweet: “We have it handled.” I am now off to the McLaren press conference, which is being held in a hotel near the circuit in Bahrain.

Magicians often use diversion to direct the attention of an audience away from wherever they want to do something and towards something irrelevant. One wonders whether this is one of those moments in F1.

In recent days there has been a lot of talk about Honda’s disastrous F1 programme and how they intend to fix the problem and now, suddenly out of the blue, comes the announcement that the team is allowing Fernando Alonso to go to the United States to race in the Indy 500, missing the Monaco Grand Prix, the biggest race of the F1 season.

OK, so Alonso is fed up with F1 at the moment because his engine is not very good and he has an ambition to race at Indianapolis, but is this really all there is to the story – or is there another flash-bang coming? McLaren’s Zak Brown is a big picture guy and letting Alonso go may simply be the way to cheer the Spaniard up, but you can be sure that Brown will not waste the free seat at Monaco. One can imagine that a driver swap could be a good way to create interest in both championships. It would certainly be an idea that would be embraced by the Formula One group as it seeks to promote Formula 1 in the United States.

A McLaren return to Indy after 38 years, albeit with a Dallara-Honda, driven by Fernando Alonso is a good story and will do much to sweep away all the negativity that has been floating around the McLaren-Honda situation for the last few weeks. Alonso’s car will be run by Andretti Autosport, which already has five other entries planned, driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Alex Rossi, Takuma Sato and rookie Jack Harvey. The team will need to pick up more staff if it intends to run them all. But then, maybe one of them will stand down and go to Monaco instead…

The obvious choice as the Alonso replacement would be Jenson Button, the team’s reserve driver, but does Jenson really want to come back to do just one race? Or perhaps the reserve driver gig was always a cosmetic deal and JB is enjoying his retirement and not really keen on a one-off appearance that offers no real chance of winning the race. If it did, Alonso wouldn’t be going to America…

So perhaps we are going to see another announcement to get interest going in Monaco. And what better way than having an American star standing in for Alonso. The problem with this is that the Andretti drivers have only one superlicence between them: this belongs to last year’s Indy 500 winner Alex Rossi. He hasn’t raced in F1 at Monaco, but he has taken part in nine races in the Renault World Series and in GP2, so he knows the track. This would be a driver swap that both F1 and Indy would probably be happy to see, as it would promote both events. Having said that Alexander has a crack at winning a second 500 and so he might think staying in the US was a better chance, despite the fact that he still harbours F1 ambitions. We will have to see, but there is a McLaren press conference in a few hours in Bahrain and that may cast some light on the plans.

McLaren has a very limited number of choices. There are only about 40 drivers who are qualified for superlicences in 2017 and most of them are not at all suitable for F1. Twenty-one of them are F1 drivers (if one includes Pascal Wehrlein and Antonio Giovinazzi). There are some test drivers, such as Sergey Sirotkin and Pierre Gasly and McLaren’s Young Driver Nyck de Vries, but he does not seem to be a likely choice at the moment. There are some Formula E drivers and a string of sports car stars, plus the retired Mark Webber.

There are six Indycar drivers on the list: four Penske drivers: Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya. Chip Ganassi’s Scott Dixon. He’s a Honda driver, but it is unlikely that Ganassi would let him wander off, as he is after a third Indy 500 win. That leaves Rossi.

It is fairly likely that whoever drives the McLaren at Monaco will appear in a McLaren next week in the Bahrain test…

Pascal Wehrlein will be back in action with Sauber this weekend, having missed the first two races of the season because of a back injury he suffered in an accident in the Race of Champions in Miami in January. There has been some speculation that the move was political, but this is not the case at all.

Wehrlein did not break any vertebrae, despite what has been said. He suffered a number of hairline fractures in a number of thoracic vertebrae (in effect, cracks) in the middle segment of the spine, below the cervical vertebrae of the neck and above those in the lumbar area at the bottom of the spine. The primary problem has not been the fractures, but rather the intervertebral discs, which are the spongy pads that are situated between each vertebra and act as shock absorbers for the human body. When these are compressed they take time to recover, particularly in the thoracic section because they are thinner than the other discs.

This means that training is a problem because one wants to avoid both further compression (not to mention pain) and so Wehrlein has been making a sensible but necessarily slow recovery. He tried to get back into action in Australia but realised that he was not sufficiently fit to compete and so withdrew, and so was replaced by Antonio Giovinazzi.

Now, it seems that he is confident that he can go the distance.