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Ferrari rumourings

When a man of 62 has tens of millions of dollars and can live happily on the interest he earns, after a very successful career, during which he has achieved all he can achieve – as his own boss – it is hard to imagine that he wants to go back to work in a stressful environment, employed by someone else. Yes, there is ego, but there is also the risk of failure and with a couple of beautiful houses to enjoy and plenty to do with a car collection, fishing and other peaceful pursuits, it is easy to see why one might think there is nothing left to prove. The man himself – Ross Brawn – says that he does not want to live his work 24/7 as he has done in the past.

“I’m quite content doing what I’m doing and nothing has come along that I would be motivated and interested in,” he said. But, and this is where the rumours leap in, he added that “you can never say never”.

So the possibility is left open and, it being the summer season, when there is not much real news about, there are instantly stories suggesting that Brawn could return to Ferrari, to work miracles and lift the team from the lacklustre performances of the F1 season to date. Down in Italy, they are scratching their heads (again), why is it that the team cannot win? It’s been nearly nine years since Ferrari last won a Formula 1 Constructors’ World Championship (2008) and coming up to a decade since Kimi Raikkonen took the last Drivers’ title (2007). It’s not the team’s worst run ever, but five Grand Prix wins in four years is none too spectacular for the team that gets paid $90 million more than everyone else because it is important. The lack of on-track success hasn’t, by the way, affected the company’s ability to sell its supercars, but it is not like the good old days when Michael Schumacher swept all before him. Ferrari tried a phase when everything was run by Italians and that did not work, so now it is back to having technical control in the hands of an Englishman, James Allison.

Outside Italy, we all know that, if given enough time and sufficient tools, James will do the job, but in Italy there is a tradition of shovelling out people if they do not perform but, lest we forget, Todt took over Ferrari on 1 July 1993. The team did not win a World Championship until 1999. Six years. During that time, Todt was given whatever was required to build a winning team, and he was protected by Ferrari chairman Luca Montezemolo. In turn, he protected Brawn and his engineers. The result was a team that won five consecutive titles between 2000 and 2004.

Brawn himself says that Allison is “excellent” and says that “if they give him the resources and give him the time and put the infrastructure around him, with great drivers, they’ll get results”.

Allison has been at Ferrari since August 2013. Much has changed since then and the team has moved forward, but there has still been a lot going on in the background. In April 2014 Stefano Domenicali, the boss of Ferrari’s sporting department, resigned and was replaced by Marco Mattiacci. In September Montezemolo was ousted as chairman and replaced by Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne. Two months later Mattiacci was kicked out and replaced by Maurizio Arrivabene. Ferrari was then floated and it was only in May this year that Marchionne became CEO as well as chairman.

This is hardly a stable environment, and suggestions that there have been crisis talks at Maranello in recent days, adds to the feeling that it is all still a bit too unstable. That may not be the case, but the team’s public relations has been dreadful since Mattiacci departed. There seems to be little understanding that working with the media is better than treating it as an adversary. All this will ultimately do is add to the pressure on the team.

The problem, of course, is not that Ferrari is doing a bad job. It is that Mercedes is doing a better job. Red Bull is also now back in the hunt as Renault’s engines get more competitive and so Ferrari appears to be struggling. The optimistic noises that we have heard from Ferrari have a hollow ring to them. But is that a reason to change everything? It would be far wiser for Ferrari to underplay everything and not throw scraps of hope to the fans. “We are working hard but F1 is tough” is much better than “We think we can win”…

The Italian GP

Stories about Imola signing a deal Bernie Ecclestone to run the Italian Grand Prix from 2017 can be believed… and have been circulating for several months.

But there is a catch…

The Imola race promoter does not have the money to do it, unless the Automobile Club d’Italia (ACI) agrees to provide funding – and the ACI says that the race must stay at the Autodromo Nazionale at Monza. It is not really surprising given that Monza has hosted the Italian Grand Prix on all but a handful of occasions since 1921. Imola has held the race just once, in 1980, when Monza was undergoing upgrading work. There was a separate deal for a San Marino GP at Imola, but that disappeared long ago because there was no money available.

So, in reality, the fact that Imola has a provisional contract with FOM is fairly irrelevant. Having said that Imola does have some financial support from a regional development consortium called Con.Ami which has said that it would help fund the race if the ACI provides it with the same funding that it is planning to spend at Monza. The ACI is able to do this because it it looks after car registrations for the government, and earns a fee from every car sale in Italy. Bernie Ecclestone, the boss of FOM, wants €22 million a year for race fees. The ACI is willing to pay more than half of that money to secure the race for Monza, with the Automobile Club de Milano paying about half that sum and the remainder coming from ticket sales. There is additional funding from the Lombardia region, but this is for upgrading work at Monza. The first tranche of this money has been paid, according to the regional president Roberto Maroni. He is blaming the problems on the Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, of the Democratic Party. Lombardi is ruled by the Lega Nord party, which advocates the transformation of Italy into a federal state, with fiscal federalism and greater regional autonomy. The Lega Nord argues that this is an attempt to damage the economy of the region.

The ACI is a federation of automobile clubs and is independent of the government, although it must work through the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) when it comes to sporting matters. It is in a position where it can be influenced by politicians in Rome, because of its car registration role.

Angelo Damiani Sticchi, the ACI President, says that he has a mandate from the Italian government and from CONI to save the Grand Prix and says that he will do what is required. He believes that Monza is the only realistic choice and that a new deal with Monza is required under the terms of the Stability Law that was agreed at the end of last year to allow the ACI to provide the funding required.

Sticchi Damiani says that Imola has never been considered as a viable alternative and requires money to get up to F1 standards. He also says that the track could do nothing without the ACI money, but adds that he cannot give the money to Imola because he is legally bound to fund Monza. He says that he expects the deal with Ecclestone to be completed soon and a probably announcement at this year’s Grand Prix in September.

The suggestion last week that Apple may be discussing the acquisition of the Formula One group has led to a lot of interest and a lot of opinion. Traditional technology people argue it would never happen because it’s not the way Apple works. The company buys small clever companies and use the technology under the Apple brand. They don’t need the kind of advertising that F1 provides. So why would they buy it? The answer, it seems, is not to do with advertising, but rather with sales. Apple has built its empire on the iPhone and the iPad. The company has sold 800 million iPhones and, as a result, is now the biggest company in the world. But sales are slowing gradually and competition is increasing and Apple is following the Steve Jobs philosophy and looking for new ideas which reinvent the way we live.

The Apple car is definitely in the pipeline, but probably not until 2020, and there is still much to be done. At the same time, AppleTV, which was launched at the same time as the iPhone, has not enjoyed anything like the same success, with only around 25 million sales. However, the global TV markets are changing now and “over the top” services, delivered by the Internet, have opened up a lot of new possibilities in the TV world. Companies are rushing into this market because the idea of direct-to-consumer a la carte television is much more attractive to the public than expensive bundles of content and premium priced payTV.

PayTV is not really working for F1 because although revenues are creeping up, numbers of viewers are dropping and that is not good for the sport.

Eddy Cue, the Senior Vice President of Apple, says that there are “huge opportunities” to make it easier for customers to consume TV content. Apple does not want to get into the content business, unless it is tied to the company’s products and prefers to focus on what it knows how to do, rather than diversifying into businesses it knows nothing about.

But that does not mean that owning content is a bad thing for Apple, if that content involves little effort and massive payback. CVC Capital Partners knows nothing about F1, but has made a fortune from it. Apple has plenty of money for investment and $8 billion for the Formula One group would not be a huge deal. The sport currently generates $900 million a year for its owners, although most of this now goes to debt repayment because CVC has already taken the money. Switching the sport to AppleTV could generate big revenues. Heineken recently entered F1 believing the sport will bring it 200 million new customers. OK, it’s beer, but if Apple saw similar potential, the impact could be dramatic. AppleTVs cost $200 each, but selling 200 million of them could generate   $40 billion. With such vast numbers, one could imagine Apple being willing to perhaps even consider broadcasting the sport free-to-air, and generating money only from the sale of the devices. To put that into perspective, if only 10 percent of the world’s F1 viewers bought an AppleTV it would generate $8 billion, which would pay for the purchase of the company. Apple would then also be able to generate revenues from the new customers with its other services. The company would also be able to use the connection with the sport/technology of F1 to alert more people to the company’s long-term plans in the automotive world.

None of this is more than speculation, but one can see a solid business case for making such a move.

Having said that, there are still other bidders in the market, notably the consortium led by US real estate developer Steven Ross. I hear too that John Malone of Liberty Media is back in the ring, although much will depend on what CVC and/or its chairman Donald Mackenzie wants to do. He will retire next year and may see a role in F1 as being a good idea, as he seems to have developed a taste for the F1 lifestyle, although few in the sport have taken to him.

Right now, it is unclear whether an Apple-F1 deal is a serious possibility, but it is clear that discussions have been taking place. Logic is often the wrong way to look at F1 because decisions tend to be driven by the enthusiasm of the decision-makers, who then argue for F1 within the companies involved. In this respect, Apple should be watched because Cue is a petrolhead – not to mention a member of the board of Ferrari SpA.

Today is another sad day for France (and for the world), and it pains me to see how many people are reacting with hatred on social media. To defeat terrorism one must first understand it and then address the problem, in an appropriate way. Voting for extremists and retaliation is absolutely not the answer. Revenge begets revenge, and the problem then goes on for generations.

Alas, I feel we are in one of those dangerous phases when the world becomes more extreme. History never repeats itself, but the patterns do and I think it is important to say it. Some point out that I’m just a Formula 1 journalist and that my opinions on anything else don’t matter. Does this mean that butchers can talk only of meat? Or paper-pushers should care only about red tape? No, we all have a right to an opinion, whether it is stupid or not. In theory, we elect intelligent people to make sure the right decisions are made. Often we are disappointed, as I am currently over the Brexit disaster.

Ironically, today, the head of the regional council of Nice, the former mayor of the city, Christian Estrosi, is playing a lead role following the attack. He used to be a racing driver, competing in  a Mike Rowe Racing Ralt in the European Formula 3 Championship against the likes of Gerhard Berger, Johnny Dumfries, Davy Jones, Adrian Campos and other well known names in the sport. I knew him and wrote about him. He wasn’t a good enough racer, but then he went into politics and has held roles as important as France’s minister of industry.

Against a background like Nice last night, the world of motor racing may seem frivolous, but the sport is just as powerful a weapon as a truck or a gun. How? Because the fact that racing goes on  is important. It is a middle finger to terrorism, telling them to go screw themselves and that we will not give in to their disgusting tactics. The best response to terrorists is normal life.

Thus, on we should go with the our silly rumours and quibbling over rules or whatever… And if we can bring some happiness to the world, then good. Let’s do it!

Running

So an F1 driver’s car breaks down and he runs to the finish.?Would he be given the position? Novel idea. It seems that running is now allowed on the Tour de France bicycle race. I guess it is environmentally-friendly… but did he complete the race on a bike?

IMG_0051There have been earthquakes in England, figuratively-speaking, in recent weeks and this has meant that everyone has been talking about Brexit, Boris and “that twat Farage”, but an English summer is a lively business and so as the country is left in the hands of its second woman Prime Minister, life will return to normal a bit and everyone can go back to talking about the weather. I have often wondered why it is that the English love the weather so much and the conclusion is that it is a story that has never-ending permutations and is thus always a topic of conversation so Englishmen and women are never short of opening lines and thus are at ease with the world. Whether it be “lovely weather we’re having” or “Can you believe this rain?” the English have something to say. Back in 1995 (which I am amazed to calculate is now 21 years ago) I wrote a column about the British GP, which I think says pretty much all you need to know.

“There are times when England can be a wonderful place,” I wrote. “Early in the morning, with the sun shining brightly on the mottled countryside and the early morning mist rising gently from the hedgerows, you can cruise into the Silverstone track and meet the local wildlife: a deer, a rabbit or perhaps even a fox. This is a green and pleasant land in mid-July, probably because the usual summer rain makes sure that the landscape does not turn brown and gold. Silverstone has a special place in the hearts of all British racing fans and they are often surprised when they find out that many of the visiting continentals don’t really like their annual visit. They reckon the food is like British women: white, lumpy and miserable. They think that the hotels are quaint, but have creaky floors and dodgy plumbing. The beer is served warm and disgusting to drink and you cannot buy decent wine in a British pub. The English drive on the wrong side of the road – and to make matters worse it almost always rains…”

The green notebook was rather soggy after the downpour that hit the grid on Sunday and the paper has now dried and is rather crinkled, but it was a typical British GP weekend. Silverstone is always a big event in terms of numbers and this year’s spectator total over four-days was 350,000, with no real sign of any decline in interest. Britain still loves F1 even if other countries are flagging a little.

The British GP was the fourth F1 race in five weekends and, with many of the F1 fraternity had spent the fifth weekend at Goodwood, people were tired. The mad dash between Austria and Silverstone was reckoned to have been the worst ever F1 back-to-back because it did not involve planes. It was more than 300 miles further than any previous ground-based double-header and involved the crossing of the English Channel. The story of how all this was achieved has been told in detail in this week’s GP+ magazine, but to give you an idea, and to be true to my notebook, here are some numbers that are jotted down therein. My aim was to calculate the number of 40-ft semi-trailer trucks involved in the process. The idea came from my journey on the Monday after the Spielberg race, when I drove past convoys of F1 transporters, all heading for the UK. It was impressive and I wondered how many vehicles were actually involved in this mass exodus.

The biggest construction in the F1 Paddock is the Red Bull “motorhome”, which they call the Energy Station. This is a home for the two Red Bull teams and most of the paddock people who have nowhere else to go. It has to be bolted together by crews of riggers and requires several cranes, in addition to a fleet of trucks. I was taken aback to discover when you add up the team trucks and the Energy Station vehicles, the total of Red Bull transporters is an impressive 50. When I began asking around about other teams, I discovered that this is not as crazy a number as I imagined. McLaren’s fleet is 27 trucks, with Mercedes (26), Ferrari (25), Williams (19), Renault F1 (16), Force India (12) and Sauber (12) following on. Haas F1 added a further 10 and Manor nine, while there were also three Honda transporters, bringing the total of team trucks to over 200. The Formula One group’s TV production facility added 21 transporters plus a motorhome for Bernie Ecclestone and its own support truck. In addition there was a fleet of 15 DHL trucks for the Paddock Club VIP hospitality equipment, plus another 12 provided by a German company called Wagner GmbH & Co. KG Sport Signage, which not only transports all the F1-related vehicles, such as safety and medical cars and VIP minibuses, but also moves everything relating to the trackside signage. Then one must also add Pirelli’s fleet of trucks, which fluctuates between 10 and 15 trucks, depending on the races taking place. The FIA had a total of eight transporters for its people and there were six fuel tankers.

After Austria there were also a number of sleeping coaches following the convoys, in order to provide rest for the off-duty drivers. In addition to all of this there were 35 transporters for the GP2, GP3 and the Porsche Supercup teams, plus around 20 trucks used by the TV companies that broadcast the sport.

The grand total is hard to establish because of random diamond screen transporters, merchandising and so on, but the number seems to be around 340 in total…

One hell of a circus.

There are lots of good stories about the adventures along the way, and the routes taken. When I reached Silverstone everyone was talking about one of the Ferrari transporters having been stoned by migrants in Calais. Given that it clearly had happened, it was slightly daft of the team’s logistics head to deny it. He also told me that they had only 14 trucks when there were 16 lined up on one of Silverstone’s runways and other people who know these things told me that the team’s total is always 25 because they have a non-branded deal with DHL Italy for half their gear. I never understand why any organisation thinks it will gain anything from telling bald-faced lies, but that seems to be the culture at Ferrari under the current management.

The scrawls relating to F1 news were somewhat limited over the Silverstone weekend because there had not been much time between the races, but there is one that says that there are whispers from Princes Gate, home of the Formula One group, that there is another round of intensive due diligence going on, which suggests that there is another serious bidder emerging in the process of selling the sport. The whisper is that the latest bidder is Apple Inc., which is a company with $161 billion in net cash at the moment, despite having spent $117 billion on share repurchases and $46 billion on dividends in recent years. Apple doesn’t typically make big purchases but usually buys small business and incorporates the technology into its products but the viewing habits of the world are changing, with traditional broadcasters, cable and satellite networks under threat from “over-the-top” content providers. This basically means the delivery of content via the Internet, without requiring users to subscribe to a traditional cable or satellite pay-TV service. This has led to a gold rush of companies moving into streaming and looking for the most attractive content to bring in customers. Apple TV is one of the most popular streaming devices around and has Sling TV, a content-driven hub for sports fans and television viewers, providing consumers with the opportunity to watch their favourite shows and channels live and on-demand, with one simple registration at a nice low price. There is also the possibility of what is called a la carte television, where you pay for what you order. Going direct to consumer is a way to multiply revenues by cutting out the middle men (i.e. the TV channels) and owning the content is thus desirable. It should also be remembered that Apple is on the verge of launching into the world’s automotive markets, with an electric car that remains a secret, although it is hard to hide such a project when you hire more than a thousand engineers to work on it. The Apple car is expected to appear by 2020. Thus, there are three elements that would make the purchase of F1 a logical step for Apple. It can afford it, it can boost sales of Apple TVs and get people thinking about Apple in relation to cars. Strangely enough, no-one is willing to confirm or deny the stories.

Formula 1 continues to move slowly towards new technologies, but Formula E is much more active in this respect. The electric car championship has just announced its new calendar for 2016-2017 and there are a number of races that will annoy the F1 people. Formula E will return to Mexico City and Monaco, but will now add Montreal and New York. There has also been talk of a race in Singapore, but that has not been confirmed. The New York race will take place at Port Imperial, where F1 was going to race if it had not wanted too much money. Formula E has now lost its London venue in Battersea Park, but is trying to do a deal to use parts of the St James’s district, perhaps even including The Mall. It remains to be seen if this will happen.

Silverstone marked the first appearance this year (and probably the last) of Force India owner Vijay Mallya, who is stuck in the UK at the moment because the Indian government has cancelled his passport because he will not return to his home country to answer questions about his business activities, notably the collapse of Kingfisher Airlines, but also a string of other dealings which are under investigation. Mallya owes around $1.5 billion to Indian banks and made the mistake of having an overly-ostentatious birthday party while many are suffering because of his failure to pay his bills. Mallya says that there is a witch-hunt against him and said at Silverstone that he does not think that his behaviour is bad for the sport, although beneath the surface questions are being asked, not only because he is a high profile team owner, but also because he is the Indian representative on the FIA World Motor Sport Council. Despite all his adventures (and those of Subrata Roy, his partner in the business, who has spent the last two years in jail) Force India is doing a terrific job, despite the fact that money is tight.

The Renault team is spending money at the moment, but not really producing the goods and so CEO Cyril Abiteboul, the MD of Renault Sport Racing is relocating full-time to the UK to look at ways to make the team more successful in the long term, while team principal Frederic Vasseur will continue to run the team at events, while also overseeing other Renault sporting activities.

Elsewhere, two former F1 team principals Ross Brawn and Adam Parr have joined forces to create a book called Total Competition, in which they promise to reveal some of the secrets that Brawn used to win a string of World Championships with Benetton, Ferrari and Brawn F1. It’s an odd idea, but will probably make interesting reading.

Another interesting idea is Damon Hill’s Professional Racing Drivers’ Association, which is still be be formally announced but has come to light as a result of a company registration made in the UK in March. Professional Racing Drivers’ Association Ltd has been incorporated as a private company limited by guarantee, this is a form of incorporation that is primarily used for non-profit organisations which exist not as purely commercial entities, but require a structure to allow them to operate in a commercial manner. It remains to be seen if there is demand for such an organisation, which Hill believes would be useful to give drivers more of a voice in an industry that is dominated by promoters and teams.

Money is always a topic for discussion in Formula 1 and so it is worth noting that billionaire’s son Lance Stroll is continuing to build up his credentials to become an F1 driver with a plan to conduct a programme of private F1 tests all over the world, using a 2014 car to avoid political troubles. The word is that he will have 15 days of testing at tracks that he has never visited. This will cost a fortune but will help him be more attractive for teams in the future and help him be competitive if he does get an F1 break.

Elsewhere, there was the sad news from the United States that Carl Haas has died at the age of 86. Haas is no relation to Gene Haas, who is currently running his own F1 team, but – bizarrely – was the last US team owner in F1, back in the 1980s when he launched the Beatrice-funded Formula One Race Car Engineering Ltd team. FORCE was generally known as Haas Lola, with drivers Alan Jones and Patrick Tambay, and Ford factory engines, but the Beatrice money ran out after the company was taken over and the team closed after just two seasons. The team was where the young Adrian Newey and the young Ross Brawn learned the ropes. Haas also ran a very successful CART team in league with actor Paul Newman, Newman Haas racing winning titles in 1984 with Mario Andretti, in 1991 with Michael Andretti, in 1993 with Nigel Mansell and in 2002 with Cristiano da Matta. Later they would win four consecutive titles with Sebastian Bourdais in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.

On that note, it is worth noting that FORCE still exists today, the company being owned (privately) by a BC Ecclestone.

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There was never very much doubt about this one… but that didn’t make it an easy run for Lewis Hamilton. The British Grand Prix was the typical story of an English summer. There was torrential rain as the cars lined up on the grid, but by the end of the race, it was a pleasant afternoon. Conditions were treacherous to begin with as the field set off being the Safety Car. That was dull. After five laps, the race got underway but two laps later Pascal Wehrlein went off and so there was a Virtual Safety Car. By then the track was OK for intermediates and so there was a rush into the pits. The order settled down with Hamilton just short of five seconds ahead of Rosberg, who sometimes seems less confident in the damp than his team-mate. he came under pressure from Max Verstappen and on lap 16, the Dutchman moved ahead with a great move around the outside of Rosberg in Chapel. The gap behind the three leaders was huge, with the chasers led by Sergio Perez and Dan Ricciardo. Kimi Raikkonen was there too, but Ferrari was nowhere. Vettel had various adventures and ended up with a five-second time penalty for rudely shoving Felipe Massa off the road. That was pretty lenient.As the track dried so Rosberg became more sure-footed and gave chase and duly began to put Max under pressure. It took Nico eight laps to find a way past Verstappen. Further back Ricciardo passed Perez for fourth and later the Mexican fell behind Raikkonen as well. So it ended up a Mercedes 1-2 with Verstappen third although after the race the FIA Stewards were looking at whether to punish Nico because the team radioed him to make an important change to his settings as the gearbox was about to blow… The team took the risk because the alternative was not great. It was an awful day for Ferrari with Kimi fifth and Vettel ninth. Red Bull has thus closed to within nine points of Ferrari for second in the Constructors’ Championship.

Also in GP+ this week…

– We look at Charles Leclerc’s first run in an F1 car
– We remember Carl Haas, a former F1 team owner from the 1980s
– We look at how the F1 circus raced from Austria to Britain
– We look back at the career of Herbie Blash
– We remember the controversial British GP of 1976.
– JS tells unlikely tales about Silverstone
– DT discusses team orders
– The Hack remembers Wattie and the first composite McLaren
– Plus the usual fabulous photography from Peter and Lise 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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