An explanation

One day, if I ever find myself with time on my hands, I think I might write a book entitled “How not to die”. It is a pretty catchy title – and might even guarantee selling a copy to Mr E.

Alas, such a publication would not give away the secret of eternal life, but rather it would tell the story of how one can make life difficult for one’s offspring when the time comes to rendezvous with St Peter at the Pearly Gates. I rather think that given the tragi-comedy elements involved, it might do for death what Peter Mayle did for the Luberon… It would involve all manner of high jinks that occur when one’s parent passes away in a foreign hotel in the back of beyond in Switzerland, while on a holiday designed to enjoy the scenic magnificence of Swiss railways and their mighty feats of engineering. It would involve contrary Swiss bureaucracy, missing death certificates and the complications involved in having to be buried in a world-famous cathedral. And one can add sub plots of broken down paperless cars and literally tons of beautifully labelled but utterly mixed up paperwork, dating back 75 years.

Trying to put this all in order has kept me fully employed for almost a month, during which time Formula 1 has ploughed its furrow without too much drama. The Barcelona testing has been as clear as mud (as ever) with the major excitement being a crash from which Fernando Alonso emerged shaken but unscathed. The conspiracy theories are pretty lurid, but there are lots of questions about the accident. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that the first rule of PR is never tell lies because you will be found out. McLaren knows this and so a lengthy explanation from the team about what happened is to be respected because they have nothing to gain from lies.

Hopefully I will be able to get up to full speed again in the coming days, although Chapter 14 of the aforementioned book is still writing itself. Onward…

Time to sign up…

The new season is nearly on us and there is much anticipation in the F1 world. What does the testing mean? What will happen in Australia? And will that be the pattern for the season? It is a time of questions and excitement. It is time for GP+ subscribers to renew for the season ahead. If you haven’t signed up already, it is a good moment so you don’t miss the season preview.

If you are not a subscriber, then have a think about it.We publish GP+ as the mechanics are stripping down their cars after each race, while the winner is still celebrating his victory. There is no quicker way to know what happened. GP+ is the same as a paper magazine. E-magazines get to an audience quickly and economically – without needing to spend fortunes on printing, distribution and so on. It is no different to an old-fashioned paper magazine and in the case of GP+ you get to keep it as well. The magazine is in Portable Document Format (PDF), which means that you can download it and store it in your own devices.You need Internet access to download the magazine, but you don’t need to be online to read them.

Thanks to new technology, we can blow the socks off paper magazines and GP+ is ready for reading about six hours after the chequered flag at every Grand Prix. This is possible because we are at every race.It is in many ways an old-fashioned magazine. It is written and illustrated by three full-time F1 reporters and one part-timer. Between us we have attended more than 2,000 Grands Prix (which means that we have more than 100 years of F1 experience between us). We are passionate, we are knowledgeable and we are sufficiently well-connected to get to the people who matter, in order to bring you real insight into the sport.

We don’t think there is another magazine anywhere in the world with that kind of history. We keep it simple. We report the qualifying and the races, we analyse the news, give insights into the people and organisations involved and, because we believe that history is important and helps us to understand the present and mould a successful future, we usually include historical features as well

A subscription for 2015 includes the 120-page season review of the 2014 season, so you will be bang up to date straight away. We also have the entire archive of the magazine (160 magazines) which are available for just £30. That means everything from mid-2007 to now.

GP+ is an amazing bargain. You get the whole year for £29.99. That includes 23 magazines: the 2014 Season Review, the 2015 Preview, 20 race issues and the 2015 season review.

Give it a try, click below…

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This is what our readers think…

“Haven’t missed an issue yet, and have just signed up for 2015. Easily the most interesting and best value insight into F1 around IMHO”.

“You never mention this, but the “+” part of GP+ – the F1 articles, not just the GP weekend stuff, are often my favourite part, especially if the GP itself was uneventful. The historical ones are always worth a read.”

Joe Cowan
“I can recommend this magazine to anyone considering. The race reports are exceptional.”

Peter Tabmow
“I cannot recommend the magazine enough to anyone thinking of subscribing. If you can’t watch the race (often the case for me) it’s a terrific same-day alternative, and the features can’t be matched anywhere else. All this and a bargain as well…”

Michael Grib
“What better way to get back in touch with the heart and soul of F 1 than reading GP+…”

Robin Chamberlain
“I’ve stopped buying Autosport. I’ve stopped buying Motorsport magazine, I’ve stopped everything, apart from GP+. What more do you need?”

David Hodge
“It’s worthwhile to have access to the archive too – I was lucky enough to get it earlier but it is still comparatively cheap. Always interesting to go back and read old magazines.”

Lids and skids

There is a minor kerfuffling about helmets, with the drivers rankling at being told that they might not be allowed to changed their helmet designs willy-nilly. What is required here is a little subtlety. If they were told that in the spirit of cooperation and fan engagement it would be a good idea to try to keep the same helmets, then they probably would not care much about it. It makes sense to stay with the same helmet design. However if you scream orders at anyone, they tend to object to it and argue that it is freedom of expression etc etc blah-di-blah. Keeping the same helmet is both a mark of respect for fans and a good branding exercise, which drivers would understand if they asked someone who understands these things. Beyond that there is testing in Barcelona and Felipe Nasr and Susie Wolff had a collision.

Sorry but for the next few days I am going to be low profile as I need to focus on clearing up stuff in the UK before the season begins and we all get swept away in on the magic carpet that is F1.

A narrow escape

Thank goodness the F1 team bosses have had the good sense to step away from doing something really stupid and have voted not to make their lives more difficult with significant technical rule changes in 2017.

Formula 1 is struggling to keep up with itself and more change would have simply added to the problem. The idea that change is a good idea to rebuild the crumbling F1 audience is one that I believe is fundamentally flawed. Change for the sake of change is plain daft. There is nothing wrong with the sport that some good promotion will not fix. Of course that would require the promoter to actually promote, and as the owners of the business do not understand the concept of investing for the future there is little chance of that happening.

If you want evidence of this you need only to look at the other “big” story of the day in F1 circles: the toppling of Ferrari by Lego as the world’s most powerful brand. Admittedly, this is pretty nebulous, designed as a way to promote Brand Finance plc, a company that values brands. Founded in 1996, the firm calculates a list of “brand strength” by determining the value that a company would be willing to pay to license its brand if it did not own it. This involves a murky methodology of future revenue estimates and calculations of imagined royalty fees.

In any case, it makes headlines for some reason and the conclusion is that Lego is a stronger brand than Ferrari, which has tumbled to eighth on the list, behind such brands as PwC, Red Bull, McKinsey, Unilever and L’Oréal. The survey even suggests Rolex is bigger than Ferrari these days. I am not quite sure what has happened to giants such as Coca-Cola, Apple and McDonalds but “strength” is not the same as value.

Explaining the result, the company points to the importance of The Lego Movie, an animated feature film which came out last year, featuring talking Lego “people” which encouraged back-to-basics creativity. The story is the usual ordinary guy versus evil tyrannical Lord Business (read David and Goliath). This may be entertainment, but it is also promotion and evidence that Ferrari and F1 should do more to encourage interest from the cinema. F1 has a habit of producing stupidly high fees whenever anyone with an cinematic idea comes along.

According to Brand Finance, Ferrari’s drop is due in part to its poor performance on the race tracks and to the plan to relax the production cap to sell more cars. Brand Finance’s communications director Robert Haigh rather impertinently says that “people don’t see it as being so exclusive anymore.”

He’s clearly not living in the real world…

I firmly believe that the F1 product is great, but that it lacks promotion and its avoidance of social media is just plain Luddite. Kids still love racing cars and only drift away from them when access to the Internet take them off into virtual galaxies where F1 is utterly invisible. If you want evidence to back that up, look at the financial bonanza that the Cars franchise has been. F1’s gaming efforts are pathetic when compared to products such as Grand Theft Auto and its engagement with future customers is worse than zero. Its focus on profit at any cost is deeply unattractive. The problems are more fundamental than bodywork and horsepower. The FIA seems to understand this but has sold its power and so has little real voice, and what it does do is poorly orchestrated from a PR perspective.

For me the most interesting story of the day was that the federation engaged McKinsey to study how F1 costs can be cut without the sport being materially affected. The conclusion was that half the cost could evaporate without any drama.

The consulting firm studied the finances of the nine F1 teams and proposed cost-cutting measures that could help the small teams to survive on TV money alone, without the need for sponsors or pay-drivers. The study reportedly shows that a 25 percentage reduction in budget is possible even with engine fees being astronomical. It also concludes that 35 percent could be saved in the design and production process, 15 percent could be cut from racing activities and 20 percent from testing.

This has only come to light thanks to a leak to a friendly news outlet, rather than being out into the public eye in a more forceful manner – by means of an FIA press release. It hardly seems worth the McKinsey fees to have so little actual coverage from such a useful exercise, but it is sadly typical of the bunker-like thinking in FIA circles.

Perhaps it would have been smart to have asked McKinsey to compare the promoter’s share of the profits to other sports and the damage that has been done by the outflow of money that the sport should be using to keep its customers happy.

The structural problems in F1 are what drives away business. Fans don’t like being fleeced to go to races, nor to watch the sport on TV. They don’t like the fact that no one seems to care about them, beyond some token gestures now and then. And they don’t like the financial structures that make F1 an unfair playing field. Fix those problems and fans will watch any shape of car, with any kind of engine.

Perhaps you might like to consider a product that I have been (quietly) producing for 20 years. It is called JSBM (Joe Saward’s Business of Motorsport) and is a weekly newsletter with the stories behind the stories behind the stories, plus new ideas, new trends and innovation. And it is not just about Formula 1. It covers NASCAR, IndyCar, WEC, WRC, WTCC, WRX and even raid rallying and NHRA drag racing. It is read by the decision-makers of global motorsport: manufacturers, regulatory bodies, rights-holders, sponsors, teams and circuit executives. The award-winning publication comes out at 0900 GMT every Monday If you are interested, take a look here

A great big red herring

Smart work by Ferrari to give their sponsors some coverage at the moment when the F1 bosses meet to discuss whether there should be a if change in F1 design. Big change in F1 = bigger budget, and it makes no real sense to stick a few extra wings here and there to make the cars look different. Extra wings mean extra downforce and almost all F1 aerodynamics is of no use to anyone apart from the wild-haired folk who spend too much time in their wind tunnels. The rules have developed because of the needs of the sport and the only thing wrong in recent years has been the ugly noses. As far as I am concerned his is a great big red herring… A creek to drift up without a paddle. Similarly the 1,000 hp engines. These would require big changes to the cars because they would need huge fuel tanks or put stops would need to come back. It is all expensive. It is far cheaper to spend a small amount of money in promoting the amazing engines that we have today. Tell people that these are brilliant and they will be brilliant…

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How Manor can survive

Despite the best efforts of Force India, the Manor F1 team is still hoping to be in action in 2015, although the team obviously cannot now use modified 2014 cars. This is a setback, but in reality the 2015 car was always going to be something of a carry over from last year’s MR03, with changes made to tidy up problem areas and to meet the new rules. The team is believed to have retained the design data for the car, despite some of its computers having been sold at auction and it always had access to the original Dinnington facility, so losing Banbury was not as big a setback as one imagine. The Ferrari-powered MNR1 has to go through all the manufacturing and crash-testing phases and that is not going to be easy in the time available, even if there is money in place. The team can increase its staff fairly rapidly, but it will need to pay over the odds to get suppliers back on side and willing to do the work in a hurry. Many suppliers were not paid last year and are going to be asking for cash up front and all of them are likely to favour the big teams over the smaller operations, an inevitable problem, which is one of the things that has been holding Force India back in recent weeks.
The team has the right to miss three races in a season without losing its benefits and so the focus is getting the cars to Shanghai on April 12. The choice of race is rather dictated by the logistics as the freight from Shanghai would go directly to Bahrain, which the first race that the team MUST attend. The team can go on building its cars in China if that is required and it may also be possible to stretch that a little further as the definition of the word “participate” in the secret bilateral agreements that currently govern the sport, allows a certain of leeway. In order to be deemed to have participated in an event a team must make the cars available for scrutineering and make “all reasonable endeavours” to ensure that they are ready to race. If completed cars are presented, but for example cannot race because they still have to pass crash tests the team would have a decent argument for “reasonable endeavours”. If scrutineering is deemed to be participation, the team will be fine as this would win it another three weeks and the racing could begin in Spain on May 10. It is unlikely after such a start that Manor would challenge for points but reliability is key in a place like Monaco and so nothing is impossible. In any case the team will remain in the top 10 teams in 2015 and 2016 because of the way the prize funds work. Haas F1 will turn up in 2016 and so there is a danger that Manor might lose its benefits in 2017 or 2018 but new teams don’t tend to just wander in and be competitive straight away so the Manor business plan is strong enough. By then, the investors hope, F1 will have changed enough to give the teams value and more chances for success. Lunatic spending cannot go on forever…


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