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Jean Todt will stand again for the presidency of the FIA. Todt wrote a letter to the ASN Presidents today announcing his intention to stand for a third four-year teams as FIA President. Todt says that his team will be slightly different as the President of the FIA Senate Nick Craw will not be continuing. Potential candidates must be under 75 years of age on the day of the election or of the re‐election. Although he is still incredibly active, Craw is now 80 and so cannot continue. His place on Todt’s ticket will be taken by Brian Gibbons, who is the Deputy President of Mobility at the moment. His role will be taken by 63-year-old Belgian Thierry Willemarck, who is currently President of the FIA Region 1, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Gibbons is 66 and Todt 71. This means that this will be Todt’s last election as he will be 75 in February 2021.

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It is not yet clear whether there will be any other candidates for the election, which will take place at the end of the year.

Some whispers

The word is that the return of Formula 1 to Europe will see some fairly major changes in the cars that have been raced in the first four events this year. Up to now the score has been Ferrari two, Mercedes two, with Sebastian Vettel winning twice and Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas once apiece. Vettel leads the World Championship by 13 points, but Mercedes is ahead in the Constructors’ by one point. It’s certainly tight.

Red Bull is reported to have done a huge amount of work in recent weeks, trying to close the gap on the other leading teams and Renault too is expected to bring some significant updates to Barcelona. But that does not mean that the two tops teams have been standing still. Clearly, there is work going on at Brackley, Brixworth and in Maranello. One can see this given that the pattern before Russia was that Mercedes qualified better than Ferrari, but was not as good in the race. In Sochi, it was the opposite, which seems to suggest that both teams were focussed on their weaknesses.

Ferrari continues to show very little ability to communicate and the only insight into its preparations for the Spanish GP appear to be that “prior to this race, the cars return to the team’s headquarters for the first time since the start of the season. There, they will be prepared and repainted before heading off”. One hopes that there has been some mnore incisive technical input than this… The philosophy of allowing results to speak for themselves is dumb thinking in a sport that is supposed to be about communication… and at some point Ferrari’s sponsors will presumably cotton on to the fact.

Meanwhile in Brackley, where they understand these things a little bit better, the question is how much gain there is going to be from the recent drive to improve the F1 W08 EQ Power+. The word is that a large amount of weight has been shaved off the car in recent weeks and this means that the team will once again be able to use ballast. The wheelbase has also been shortened, which should help with the problems that the team has seen with tyres at the early races.

Now that the Formula One group is listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange in New York, there is a solid argument that all of its financial dealings should be made public. The payments made to the teams are a key part of the system but until recently it has been very difficult to figure it all out because teams were so terrified of revealing anything. They have, after all, agreed to impressive confidentiality agreements as part of their contracts, but nowadays it seems they are less worried about retribution and so the numbers have become easier to find. This is not to say it’s easy and having someone to help is still essential, but there is less paranoia now. Once you know the system (and its many quirks) and the overall figure in the pot, one can calculate the revenue splits – as has been done in recent days. This information being made public is clearly something that is in the interest of the teams which think the system is unfair, and so they have revealed how the system works.

The thing about news leaks is that they are almost always done for a reason and the journalists involved need to understand why they are being manipulated and what impact the news is intended to have. Most don’t care. A story is a story and the impact not deemed relevant. ‘Exclusives’ drive traffic and are good for those who need recognition.

In this case, the leaks have clearly come from the disadvantaged because they want the world to see the system is unfair and for it to be changed. The big teams may be able to hide the numbers in their own accounts, but this is now useless. Will the press coverage change the situation? Or will it disillusion fans? The system has been unfair for many years, but it has not changed and unless someone rules it to be illegal then it will continue until the end of the contract, in December 2020.

The discussion now is what to do after that and obviously there is pressure for Ferrari (the Longest Standing Team) to give up its five percent ‘off the top’ share of the revenues, and for the other big teams to give up their pay-offs, which were disguised in various ways to justify them.
There is nothing wrong with the Column 1 and 2 prize money, which are basically percentage scales of payment for attendance and for results. Other funds are more dubious, such as the Constructors’ Championship Bonus, which gives the three teams which have won most races over a four-year period a big financial boost ($37 million, $33 million and $30 million). The Double Championship bonus of $35 million per year is arguable, but it would be wiser for the sport to do away with all these anachronisms and simply divide the money on an equitable basis, allowing for a small element of performance advantage.

The venerable old teams get more sponsorship, more merchandising and so in. They have innate advantages from their brand-building over the years. They don’t need more. The fact that they were given additional money was because they traded their political support for cash.

It is completely wrong that companies like Ferrari and Mercedes should have most of their F1 bills paid when their smaller opposition is fighting to survive. They will not agree to change that – turkeys don’t vote for Christmas – but a fair system, with budgets capped, would be so much better for the sport, not only in terms of finances, but also because it would probably improve the racing as well – and make it easier to promote. It would also make it more likely that other manufacturers would come. An even playing field is always attractive…

An odd move

Christian Estrosi, the President of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region, the man who has led the efforts to revive the French Grand Prix, has resigned following France’s presidential election. Estrosi says that his desire is to return to being mayor of Nice and has no ambition to serve in Emmanuel Macron’s government.

There have been rumours for some time that Estrosi was supporting Macron in order to get an important job in the government. His resignation should not affect the French GP deal that has been done with the Formula One group, which involves funding from different levels of government at local, départemental and regional level. It is nonetheless an odd decision and is probably related to the forthcoming parliamentary elections that will be disputed between June 11-18. This will decide all 577 seats of the Assemblée Nationale and Macron’s En Marche movement is hoping to establish a strong presence, or at least get enough support from moderates in order to begin the reforms that Macron has promised.

PACA is a stronghold of the National Front, with the party’s two current députés coming from the region: one being Marion Maréchal-Le Pen (representing the Vaucluse) and Gilbert Collard (in the Gard). Maréchal-Le Pen is the niece of Marine Le Pen, who was beaten by Macron in the presidential election. There is a fear that the FN will make big gains in the parliamentary elections and Estrosi’s move may be designed to strengthen the Republican position in the region. Estrosi and his supporters beat Maréchal-Le Pen in the regional elections in 2015, resulting in him becoming president of PACA. If the FN is beaten in Nice Estrosi may then be in a position to reconsider a role at national level in what will be a centrist government.

There have been a few attempts over the years to bring back great names that have disappeared from the sport. The most obvious example of this has been Team Lotus. Some believe that if a team dies, it should be left dead and that trying to revive legendary names is not such a good idea. I’m not sure about that but I know that there are some brands that have a magic about them that the sport can use. It is quite difficult to explain why Ferrari means so much to so many people, but one feels a little the same with Bugatti in France, or with Aston Martin and Jaguar in the UK. They are just sexy brands and sexy brands help drive the sport forwards. I guess I would call it brand magic because I don’t know how else to explain it. When I started watching the sport, back in the 1970s, Brabham was a big name. So were Ferrari, Lotus, Williams, McLaren and Ligier. Things change. Mercedes did not compete in those days because it was felt that motorsport was bad because it would revive the bad memories of Le Mans 1955. Red Bull was only a concept in the head of a Blendax toothpaste salesman. Today, Ferrari, Williams and McLaren survive. Lotus, Brabham and Ligier have faded from F1. Is it a good idea to revive the brand? Why not? If there is value to be had from a brand and someone with the motivation to get it done, then I see no harm in the idea. Brabham, which was sold to Bernie Ecclestone back in 1972. He sold it in 1988 and attempts to revive it died out in 1992. In 2009 there was a flutter of reporting when Franz Hilmer used the Brabham name to lodge an entry for the 2010 World Championship. The Brabham family were not involved and began legal action afterwards to obtain legal recognition of their exclusive right to use the brand. This was achieved in 2013 and since 2014 David Brabham has been working on something called Project Brabham, to take the name back into racing and to one day get back to F1. David is Sir Jack’s youngest son and enjoyed a pretty impressive career outside F1. He did race F1 cars but never had a competitive opportunity. Later he would win Bathurst and the Le Mans 24 Hours and two American Le Mans Series titles. Now his goal is to rebuild the Brabham brand.

The current stories relate to a project that ought to have legs. The idea is to follow the business model of McLaren and create a super car company, advertised by a Formula 1 team. It is a long-term plan and needs to be funded, but if there is money found and the right people run it, then it has to be possible. The only way to find out is to try it.

Equality

Writing about female involvement in Formula 1 is a complete minefield and many people simply avoid doing it because they know that whatever they write, someone is going to misconstrue it. However, I believe it is important to report things that one sees and what I see (and have seen for nearly three decades in the sport) is an extreme form of meritocracy. I truly believe and most of those who work in the sport – who actually know how it works – tend to agree. If you are good at what you do, better than the rest, then you will find nothing in your way in F1. You might find jealousy and tough competition, but you will not be written off because of your sex, creed or colour. This is not to say that everyone in F1 is the best possible person for the job they have… but a potter can only work with the available clay.

Most of the women in F1 will tell you that, in a world filled with men, they get asked out a lot, but very few will tell you that they have been victims of sexism. There are treated with skepticism when they first arrive, but then so are the men. They have to prove their worth, but once they have, they are accepted without any real fanfare. Formula 1 just wants good people – and they really don’t care whether they come from Abkhazia or Merthyr Tydfil, whether they have brown or pink skin, or whether they believe in pixies. It is all about the job.

Women play a much bigger role in F1 than many people think, as much of the legal, marketing and administrative work is done by women, but increasingly one is seeing more engineers and race team members as well. There are, in effect, two female team principals for 10 teams. There is still scope to improve on that but given that the sport has traditionally been a masculine activity, it is making good progress, but only if there are female staff good enough to do the job.

One of my many roles is to be an occasional lecturer at Cranfield University and each year I look at the intake in the motorsport engineering course and see only one or two women out of a group of around 30. These are the people who are going to be engineers at a high level in the sport and so it is fair to say that the supply available is limited. Susie Wolff set out to try to change attitudes with her Dare to be Different campaign, but her target was not the sport and trying to make it change, but rather targeting young women and getting them to decide to have a go at motorsport, rather than opting out. The FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission also concluded that this was the primary problem and is trying to do much the same as Susie, because the problem largely lies not in the attitudes within the sport, but rather the pressures on females who want to go racing.

Helping Wolff as an Ambassador for Dare to be Different is British engineer Ruth Buscombe, who calls the strategy for Sauber. Before you jump to conclusions and say that this is because Monisha Kaltenborn is Team Principal, you should perhaps reflect on the fact that Ruth graduated with a Masters from the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge. She studied Aerospace and Aerothermal Engineering and her thesis was on the effect of the Drag Reduction System in improving the spectacle of Formula 1 by increasing overtaking. Her tutor was Tony Purnell, the former Jaguar and Red Bull team principal, who made a fortune with the electronics firm Pi before moving into motorsport management. More recently he has been helping the British cycling efforts at the Olympic Games. Ruth’s abilities helped her to get a job as a strategist at Ferrari and she then moved on to become head of strategy at Haas, before taking the Sauber role.

“It’s so important that we fight the archaic stereotype that women and motor sport ‘don’t go together’ to prevent misinformation and dogma prescribing a subset of career choices for girls,” she says. “I’m proud to be a part of an initiative that will showcase the fantastic opportunities available within motorsport; where what counts is what you can do – not what gender you are.”

The bottom line is that anyone who wants to work in F1 has to be able to get results. It is not a world for passengers.

“To have someone like Ruth as an Ambassador for Dare To Be Different is brilliant,” Wolff says. “She’s absolutely at the top level of her profession, and an inspiration to women who want to forge a career in engineering and race strategy. We really want to shine the spotlight on women like Ruth who have made such an incredible success in motor sport, and as time goes on we will be bringing more and more amazing women to the forefront.”

When it comes to drivers, Formula 1 has a difficult problem. It is easier for women to raise money but what is really required is an extraordinary talent. The people who drive F1 cars all have astonishing ability and it is difficult to find such talent when the drop out rate of girls after karting is a serious problem. We thought that Sauber had found a bona fide female competitor when it announced a development deal with Simona de Silvestro a few years back, but she failed to break through, largely because she could not raise the money required. In a way, that is comforting because she was treated just the same as men with the same level of ability. They have to find ways to make F1 happen and most of them fail. One can look at Simona as a failure for F1 if that is the way that one wants to look at it, but at the same time one can see it as a success because Simona was never judged on her ability, nor on whether she was female. She was judged on getting the cash.

I have no doubt that there will come a day when there will be a woman driver in F1. It may take years before the right women comes along, with the right ability, the right training, the right mentality and the right funding, but it is a target that is there for any young woman who thinks she has what it takes.

Buscombe has shown what is possible in her chosen field.

While Fernando Alonso pounds around Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar boss Mark Miles pounds around media events in Europe, the other news in F1 circles is that France’s Canal Plus has agree to extend its TV rights deal from 2018 to 2020. The deal includes Formula 2 and GP3. The new contract extends the previous arrangement, which began in 2013. The previous deal was with about $40 million a year, but there are no details of the new deal. Canal Plus has, however, cut back on its coverage in the last 18 months, which seems to confirm that the network has been struggling to attract viewers. The switch to pay-TV was a big blow for F1 in France, with viewer numbers tumbling dramatically and thus it is likely that the new deal will be valued differently, with more rights available to Canal Plus in its efforts to balance the books and turn a profit. This will include using the Dailymotion website, which streams videos, which has belonged to the Canal Plus group since the end of 2015. It is believed that the rights deal also includes deals over gaming and music.

The group is owned by Vivendi, controlled by billionaire Vincent Bollore, who is pushing to win back some of the audience lost to competition such as beIN Sports, Netflix and the phone company SFR. It is believed that SFR was also bidding for the deal.

Interest in F1 in France should grow in the course of the next few years, with the return of Renault as a factory team, the revived French GP and the exploits of Romain Grosjean and rising star Esteban Ocon. Grosjean was the only one of the previous generation to make it in F1 with the F1 careers of Jean-Eric Vergne and Charles Pic fizzling out and with the death of Jules Bianchi.