A change in Argentina

Mauricio Macri has been elected President of Argentina – and that is good news for the motorsport world as Macri has plans to revive the Autódromo in Buenos Aires, in an effort to increase the country’s tourist trade. The election ends 12 years of rule by the Peronist Party. Macri has been mayor of Buenos Aires since 2007 and during that time his economic development department has analysed what to do with the facility. Elsewhere in the country provincial governments had built new circuits but the Buenos Aires facility has largely faded away. The analysis concluded that the Autódromo should remain a motor racing facility and should be revamped with new businesses to help make it more sustainable. These will include a racing school, a motorsport museum, a hotel and car show rooms. The city’s ultimate goal is for a return of Formula 1, but it has long been clear that this will only happen if there is backing from the federal government. Macri is reported to have met Bernie Ecclestone some years ago to discuss the possibilities, but Argentina’s economic problems have made a race impossible, although Hermann Tilke is understood to have designed a new layout, including a suitable pit and paddock complex that will need to be built. Macri has pledged to change the country’s economic policies in an effort to boost growth and stop the inflation that has crippled the country. If the money can be found, it would take around 18 months to rebuild the race track and so the earliest time we would see a race would be at the end of 2017, presumably linked to the Brazilian Grand Prix, as always used to be the case. However it is more realistic to look at 2018 and beyond, as there is a lot to do.

Over the weekend

Lewis Hamilton turned up in Miami yesterday to watch the final race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup. He visited specifically to be present at Jeff Gordon’s last race. Also there for the event was Mario Andretti and a number of Indycar drivers, wanting to see the fun. Gordon was in the running for the championship, but that went to Kyle Busch, an odd situation given that he missed a third of the races because of leg injuries he suffered in Daytona. The system is such that anyone who won a race gained entry to what is known as The Chase, a knockout competition that leaves four drivers fighting for the title. The man with the most wins this season – Joey Logano – was not one of them. It’s a different world over there… In London Sebastian Vettel was the winner of the Race of Champions, another knockout competition, while in Bahrain Mark Webber finally won a World Championship, along with this Porsche team-mates Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard. The top finished second in the closing round of the World Endurance Championship but that was enough to secure the title.

Over in India it was a bad weekend for Vijay Mallya with the State Bank of India finally declaring Mallya and his United Breweries Holdings (UBH) to be “wilful defaulters”. This means that Mallya is no longer able to borrow any money. At the same time the Enforcement Directorate is reportedly set to launch a money laundering probe into Mallya and Kingfisher Airlines, adding to the string of legal actions that he is fighting. This week there is expected to be further bad news as the Diageo-owned United Spirits Ltd is due to have an annual general meeting in order to decide how to deal with Makkya, who owns a small percentage of the business but refuses to resign as chairman, despite Diageo demanding he stand down. The word is that Mallya will settle with Diageo, rather than being removed from office. Diageo want to get rid of him as quickly as possible as there has been a string of problems since they took over the business from him. Most of his outstanding shares are pledged to banks but Disgeo might take them over and then find settlements with the banks in order to get control of the business. There is also speculation that Diageo could take control of the Force India F1 team because of money that Mallya owes them. If that happens the team could be rebadged as Aston Martin, with Diageo sponsoring the cars and the budget being topped up with other sponsorships and TV money. If Diageo does not sponsor the team next year, it may be be difficult for Mallya to keep it going. There is a lot of enthusiasm for the team being branded as Aston Martin, as it will add to the glitz of F1. If Diageo does take over the team it would largely be to recoup value because of a debt that was not repaid. The company already sponsors F1 in various ways so will likely build up the team and then sell it for maximum profit. The value of F1 teams is likely to soar in the next five years by which time the structure of the sport will most likely be changed and the franchises will have more value. Taking over the team might not cost anything which would make it a solid business move for the firm.

Who are these masked men?

It was good to read, from the Race of Champions, a few words from Sebastian Vettel about his life away from the Formula 1 world – not that he was giving much away. It is one of the frustrating elements of the modern F1 era that we know so little about Sebastian. He’s a smart, funny, fast and super-talented individual, but his following is relatively small because he makes no effort at all to engage with fans. He doesn’t need to, of course, because he’s paid wild sums of money and wants his private life to be private. He does not seem to feel any responsibility to put himself out there to help promote the sport, but then again that’s quite understandable when the official promoter does next to no promotion. What’s the sport needs is character and you have to figure something is wrong when we have three top German drivers and yet the German GP is skating along on very thin ice. Vettel does not use social media and so what fans he has are based on TV viewing and newspapers. He lives a quiet life in the Swiss countryside with his wife and kids.

Most of the other F1 stars these days (with the inevitable exception of Kimi Raikkonen) use social media to give fans the chance to have a glimpse into their lifestyle. It is a question of balance, of course, but Lewis Hamilton seems to be doing it pretty well. He has three million followers with his tweets about music he likes, promotional stuff, pictures of where he is and what he is up to.

But let’s put this into perspective shall we, F1 claims huge TV figures, but Lewis is nowhere close to the big sports stars on Twitter: Cristiano Ronaldo has 34.5 million, Kaka 22.3 million and basketball’s LeBron James has 19.9 million. F1 may be bigger on TV, but golf’s Tiger Woods has 5 million followers, tennis’s Novak Djokovic has 4.5 million, and MotoGP’s Valentino Rossi has 4.1 miilion. Even Andy Murray has more followers that Lewis.

And the rest of the F1 grid are pretty much also-rans. Fernando Alonso has 2.3 million followers, Jenson Button 2.2 million, so the argument that the figures are based solely on success do not really stand up to scrutiny. Behind the big three is a huge gap back to Nico Rosberg (1.1 million), and then another drop to Sergio Perez (830,000), Pastor Maldonado (794,000) and Felipe Massa (767,000). They are followed by Daniel Ricciardo (595,000) and Romain Grosjean (513,000), Nico Hulkenberg (455,000) and Valtteri Bottas (236,000) with Sainz, Verstappen and the rest giving chase.

In other words, F1 is not very good at social media. People relate to people and if this sport is to make more progress we must encourage characters to express themselves, promote the drivers much more and let people see a little more of the faces behind the masks…

The motor racing season is winding down now. The traditional end-of-season race at Macau is this weekend, along with the Race of Champions and the last round of the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Formula 1 ends a weekend later in Abu Dhabi. But, this post is going to have nothing to do with motor racing, so if you have no interest in life beyond the walls of F1, you might as well give up now. Having said that, there is some useful advice at the end of it all, regarding the danger of loaning things to your friends.

In the last hours, the French authorities have confirmed that the Brigades de Recherche et d’Intervention (BRI) and Recherche Assistance Intervention Dissuasion (RAID) have sent Abdelhamid Abaaoud to what he no doubt believed was a better place than Saint-Denis (a lot of places are). The French nation (and those who live in their great country) can rest a little easier in their beds, knowing that the architect of last Friday’s murders is gone. In a few days we won’t remember his name, just as very few people today could tell you who Marwan al-Shehhi was or what Shehzad Tanweer did on his way to meet Allah.

They are just faceless bad guys.

Abaaoud was caught because one of his gang threw a mobile phone into a dustbin outside the Bataclan Theatre last Friday night, just before entering the building with his Kalashnikov blazing. The mobile was found by investigators and the details were analysed. The GPS data led them to two addresses, one of which was Abaaoud’s hideout, which was raided yesterday morning.

It was the latest in a long history of crime-fighting using radio devices. The very first such event was 105 years ago, in the summer of 1910, when a man called Hawley Harvey Crippen, usually known as Dr. Crippen, was captured as a result of wireless messages sent to Scotland Yard by Captain Henry Kendall of the SS Montrose, the ship on which Crippen was travelling to Canada. The result of these cables was that a detective called Inspector Walter Dew rushed to Liverpool by express train, boarded a faster liner and was able to arrive in Canada before the Montrose got there.

end-of-the-atlantic-chase-dr-crippen-who-was-arrested-at-father-point-canada-yesterdayIt was a terrific newspaper story at the time, because the whole world knew of the chase and followed it each day, but the people aboard the Montrose knew nothing of what was going on.

Dr Crippen remains a name that is known in the UK because of this dramatic capture and because of the nasty nature of his crime. He had poisoned his wife and filleted her. Police found some of her flesh buried under a brick floor in the basement of their house, but her head, limbs, and skeleton were never recovered. It was altogether a very unpleasant story, not quite as demented as Jack the Ripper, but clearly the act of a warped human being. Crippen confessed and was later hanged.

So why am I writing about this? Well, because last Friday, before the shooting began in Paris, I spent much of the day exchanging messages with an auction house in Wiltshire, which was selling the famous Crippen Cables. Why? Because I believe that they should belong to me. The captain of the Montrose was my great-grandfather Henry Kendall, who identified the fugitives and sent the radio messages. After the event, he kept all the original cables of which he was the author. He lived to be a very old man and in his late eighties, back in the early 1960s, he loaned a bundle of cables to his friend Sir Norman Vernon.

The Vernon Family were a wealthy bunch, the family fortune having been built on flour-milling, which led to William Vernon becoming a baronet in 1914, apparently for providing sustenance to the British Army in the early part of the war. In the 1920s the Vernons joined forces with other millers to create the Spillers empire and the business diversified into dog food, with the celebrated Winalot brand. Sir Norman Verson was managing director of Spillers between 1929 and 1949. His son Sir Nigel later joined the business and stayed until he inherited his father’s title in 1967.

Kendall had died two years earlier and the family, so I am told, were mystified not to be able to find the Crippen cables.

They reappeared in 1974 when Sir Nigel Vernon put them up for sale. My grandmother then remembered that they had been loaned to the Vernons, and my father wrote a polite letter to Vernon and to the auction house Bonham’s, explaining that the cables were part of the family history and should be returned to their rightful owners. Sir Nigel replied with an unpleasantly dismissive “the contents of your letter are noted”. Vernon had no proof of ownership nor any reason to have another family’s heritage, but as my father, a clergyman, could not afford a legal challenge, the sale went ahead. Sir Nigel made £1,600 but my family was left with the impression that he was a dishonourable, arrogant and greedy man. Perhaps he needed the money, who knows? In any case, he knowingly deprived my family of its heritage. The buyer requested anonymity and we never did find out who it was. For 41 years we have waited for the cables to reappear, in order to make our case again. My grandmother and father both left statements claiming ownership before they died. We agreed a few years ago that if the cables ever did come to light we would try to reclaim them, but only in order to put them into a suitable museum, so that they would be properly looked after. We agreed that the family would give up all claims of ownership after my death.

As I was setting off to Brazil, one of the commenters on this blog alerted me to the fact that the cables had come up for sale. I immediately contacted the auction house. We exchanged documentation and it emerged that the law does not protect you, unless you have things specifically written down. If something has been in someone’s hands for more than six years, it becomes their property, even if it was stolen and they bought it in good faith. I find that scandalous, but I think it is something people should know.

Don’t ever lend anyone anything valuable because while they might be your friend, their children may be greedy and dishonest.

Anyway, when I was in Brazil, the sale went ahead and the cables raised £12,000. The auctioneer, a sympathetic fellow, said that he would send me high-quality scans of the cables, so that we at least had a record of them. These arrived today and I was saddened to see that the previous anonymous owner had used self-adhesive photo albums to store them. They were all permanently damaged and appear to be not only stained indelibly, but also stuck to the album, making it impossible to remove without further damage, particularly given that the original telegraph paper was very delicate.

This was absolutely the sort of thing that I feared would happen if the cables were in the wrong hands, which clearly they have been.

I live in hope that one day, someone will stop trading these pieces or paper and give them to the nation, in recognition of their importance…

If you are interested in Kendall, you can buy the biography I wrote about him a few year’s ago. Click here. It’s an amazing story, a great Christmas present, and a few more sales will cheer me up after what has been a pretty rotten week, in a lot of different ways…

And if you have read the book already, why not leave a comment and tell everyone what you think of it.

Notebook from Interlagos

IMG_0771I won’t tell you all the things that were written in my green notebook in Brazil, because some of the words I used to describe the FIA President are not expressions that he would want to see in print. I was not alone in my assessment, as I heard the President described by a lot of people in a lot of colourful ways and I don’t recall a single one of them being in any way positive. The most polite was “completely out of touch with reality”.

Jean Todt’s fixation on hosting his commemoration for road accident victims, to the exclusion of any form of recognition of the Paris massacres, was extraordinary. Everyone makes mistakes and had it been just one ridiculously insensitive statement, then perhaps one could forgive him this transgression, but he simply compounded the error by refusing to back down. As this process went on, it multiplied my anger because this is the man who is supposed to represent F1 to the world at large. The fans and those involved in the sport did not vote for him in that role and I find it deeply disquieting that he does not appear to comprehend that it was not the moment to be pursuing his own agenda. Quite a few people felt Jean’s actions were so misguided that they were worthy of resignation (although no-one would say it out loud), but Todt is not the resigning type. No-one at the FIA has big enough shoulders to attempt an overthrow.

What makes this whole thing all the more astonishing is that Paris is Todt’s home town. This is where he grew up,  in the pleasant-enough suburb of Bezons, just a couple of miles from where I live. He was the son of the village doctor, a background that one would imagine would provide a solid grounding in human sensitivity. How can Todt not realise that Paris is a sufficiently small city that almost everyone knows someone, or knows someone who knows someone, who was killed or injured on Friday night? This was traumatic stuff, yet all Jean saw was an opportunity to promote his road safety agenda. That is not normal.

It may be true that more people are killed every day in road accidents than were killed in Paris, but that is not the point. Lots of people die for lots of different reasons each day, but most of these are deaths are not caused by an assault on everything that is dear to us in the democratic world. It was an attack on the freedom to go out for dinner; to go to a football match; or to go to a concert, without fear of being murdered by ill-educated fanatics who have been manipulated by twisted people who claim that they speak for some God or other.

When the world is in shock, it is not the moment to do anything other than provide support and compassion, and perhaps even a little moderation. The rest of the F1 community managed very well to hit the right note, with suitable messages of condolence and support to the French nation and the families of those killed and injured in the attacks. Others at the FIA obviously realised what Todt’s disastrous interview with Canal+ had done and rushed out a statement that sounded like a statement rushed out to cover for a PR disaster. It was too little, too late. Then within hours, out came a new statement detailing how the road safety commemoration would go ahead on Sunday and how a moment of remembrance for Paris would be shoved into the driver’s parade. This was wholly inappropriate as the drivers are supposed to go around waving and smiling at the crowds. All this did was to make them uncomfortable because they did not know what to do. It compounded the original problem and was utterly wrong on pretty much every level.

I have no problem with remembering road accident victims, but the timing was wrong and insensitive and it was really hard to understand how sensitivity would not come naturally to someone who espouses a humanitarian cause. Campaigning about road deaths implies a deep-rooted sense of caring for humankind, but how can someone feel for road victims and yet be so completely insensitive to the victims of a horrendous terrorist attack? There is a disconnect here that inevitably leads to questions. Not everyone is born with great communication skills, but if one does not have them and one wants to deal in a high profile world, it is best to surround yourself with people who do know how to communicate – and to listen to them.

I don’t know how it happened, but on the grid we heard the announcement that the commemoration was for both events. We did not know this until it happened. I wonder if Todt knew… So, we ended up with Todt with a picture board of road accident victims and some of the drivers with a French flag. It was awkward and confusing.

This made me very angry and keen to get out of Brazil and get home to Paris. The logic of air travel is sometimes weird and meant that my tickets included a 12-hour stopover in Miami. Having spent the same sort of time in a lounge in Mexico City recently, I decided I would use my time in Miami in a more constructive fashion and so I rented a car and drove south to Key Largo and then down the archipelago known as the Florida Keys. My goal was to not think about the F1 world or Todt, but to have simpler thoughts and a more relaxed life: I wanted to see a bit more of the world, and find some conch chowder and Key lime pie for lunch. I did not want to waste any further mental energy on motorsport. It is a long drive to Key West and the trip was slow and the weather bad, but I achieved my goal, albeit with a little too much driving. I didn’t really have time to properly explore Key West, which was frustrating. The return journey was easier and so I found that I had a spare 10 minutes when I reached the signs to Homestead-Miami Speedway. It was a 10-minute detour on the way back to the airport.

Next weekend, Homestead will be the venue for the finale of the NASCAR Sprint Cup and the NASCAR big rigs were already rolling in and everyone was getting ready for the race. They will have a decent showdown because the rules dictate that the last race will always have four championship contenders – and thus a decent story. The F1 circus goes to Abu Dhabi the weekend after with all the titles settled and, frankly, little interest left beyond whether or not Lewis or Nico will be on pole and thus will win the race. We can only hope for something better.

Most likely NASCAR’s finale will be a raucous affair with current champion Kevin Harvick, retiring legend Jeff Gordon, the comeback king Kyle Busch and the outsider Martin Truex Jr battling for the title. Whoever wins the title this year will not be able to match Joey Logano’s total of six race victories. The scoring system is complicated but the last dozen or so races are basically knock-out competitions. Logano was literally knocked out by Matt Kenseth, a move that resulted in the latter being suspended for two races. Personally, I think it should have been more than that. Kenseth has won five victories this year, as has Jimmie Johnson, but the latter’s chances disappeared with a mechanical problem at a key moment.

The title challenger with the most victories is Busch, who has won four times, but he did so having competed in only 24 of the 35 races, having broken a leg and a foot at Daytona at the start of the season. Kevin Harvick has won three times, while Gordon and Truex have had only one victory apiece. So, come what may, the champion will not be able to equal Logano’s score of wins. Is that fair? Not really, but it is good show business.

Sometimes one wonders whether the show business route taken by NASCAR might not be better option than F1’s more sophisticated balance between business and sport. Personally, I prefer F1 because of its relevance to the world. It is amazing that while Jean Todt will seemingly do anything to be seen to be a big banana in road safety, he has completely missed the opportunity to promote himself as a man who has done much to save the world with the brilliant 1.6-litre hybrid turbo formula that has raised thermal efficiency from around 30 percent to 45 percent, an astonishing and completely unpublicized achievement. Even if it was someone else’s idea, he made it happen. He is in the process of ruining that achievement as well having now agreed to allow some cheap and basic 2.2-litre twin turbo engines to race against the fabulous hybrids. If that happens it will mean the complete surrender of the FIA’s strategy of making the sport relevant to the world.

Elsewhere, the US was much in the news in Brazil because the Texas state government seems to have decided to cut the subsidies for the United States GP, which may result in the Austin race dropping off the calendar. Tavo Hellmund is working on plans for an alternative race, rumours suggesting in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is also busy talking up his desire to buy into an F1 team. You have got to give him credit, he’s a proper old school promoter and has got tongues wagging in the US by suggesting that he would offer the drive to NASCAR’s biggest star, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hellmund’s primary target has been to buy Manor F1 but there does not seem to be much substance to get owner Stephen Fitzpatrick interested. Fitzpatrick has just named that former McLaren Sporting Director Dave Ryan will be Racing Director and would like to see Alexander Wurz as his team principal. I am assured that this will NOT happen. Elsewhere, Pastor Maldonado’s continued grip on the PDVSA sponsorship took a hit with a scandal surrounding the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Two members of Maduro’s family have been arrested in Haiti and indicted in the US on charges of drug trafficking conspiracy. They were alleged to be in the final stages of a deal to import 800 kgs of drugs into the US. This makes it rather more difficult for Maduro to survive in office and there is no guarantee that his successor will agree to give Maldonado the huge sums he gets today…

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 16.26.14

The Brazilian Grand Prix was another Mercedes victory for Nico Rosberg, guaranteeing the German second place in the World Championship. There was an element of predictability about the event, and while Lewis Hamilton was never very far behind his team-mate there was never an opportunity to overtake. After the race, Lewis made the point that this is one of the great race tracks on the calendar and yet there was nothing he could do against a car with similar performance. Sebastian Vettel did all he could with the lead Ferrari and was happy with third, while his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was fourth, more than half a minute behind. Further back there was a little more action with Max Verstappen once again showing himself to a magician when it comes to passing his rivals. The weekend was however rather downbeat, despite the usual Brazilian enthusiasm, because many people were appalled by the sport’s reaction to the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Also in GP+ this week…

– We talk to Bob Fernley about CanAm and eel-farming
– Alex Wurz and Susie Wolff retire
– We look at the circuits that might pop up in F1
– If you think F1 is political and the drivers earn too much, you need to look at
chariot racing in Ancient Rome
– JS discusses how people should not react to real world tragedy
– DT frowns at Ferrari
– The Hack discusses women, horse racing and sporting politicians
– And Peter Nygaard has a great weekend in Sao Paulo

GP+ is the ultimate magazine for Formula 1 fans. If you want to know more about the sport this is the magazine to find out. The staff of GP+ are part of the furniture of F1. We go to all the races and we want to share our love for the sport with the fans. We are happy to fight for it and we don’t hold back. The magazine is packed full of good stories, great features, fun and a taste of what it is like to be part of the F1 circus. The magazine – usually around 90 pages – is published a few hours after each race. It is in PDF format, so you can download it and keep it in your computer, tablet or even your smartphone. There is nothing like it, and it’s a great bargain.

For more information, go to http://www.grandprixplus.com.

Ryan to join Manor

Dave Ryan is the new Racing Director of Manor Racing.


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