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Austria 2017 cover.pngThe Austrian Grand Prix was one of those races that slowly bubbled up and ended with excitement as Valtteri Bottas held off Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari by six-tenths of a second after 71 laps of the Red Bull Ring. Behind them, Daniel Ricciardo claimed third by holding off Lewis Hamilton, who had been forced to make up for a five-place grid penalty. The result means that Vettel moves to 20 points ahead.

The race began with excitement after Bottas made an impressive start. It was so impressive that Vettel said that he believed it was a jumped start. Given that these things are all regulated by sensors and computers, it is hard to consider Vettel’s complaint to be anything other than sour grapes. Of course, he needs to be careful to avoid suggestions that the authorities are against him… The first corner saw Max Verstappen taken out by a chain reaction accident caused by Daniil Kvyat, who ran into Fernando Alonso putting the McLaren into the Red Bull. Bottas led all the way to his pit stop on lap 41, but on the second set of tyres, the Ferrari was stronger than the Mercedes and Vettel chipped away at Valtteri’s lead, although he was aware that Bottas was controlling the pace. His hope was that the Mercedes would use its rubber more and he would be able to pounce at the end. That was basically what happened. The two ducked and weaved through the traffic but Bottas stayed ahead.

– We look at an interesting new F1 survey

– We look at McLaren without Ron Dennis

– We take a look at the Copenhagen Grand Prix concept

– DT explains why Vettel should have been punished more after Baku

– JS looks at the way things are changing in F1

– The Hack is exasperated by Eddie Jordan

– Plus we have the fabulous photography of Peter Nygaard from Austria.

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It’s off to Austria today, on the longest road trip of the year. I’m heading for Germany and will spent the evening eating schnitzel (no doubt) and then motor on tomorrow to Austria. The Vettel business is now fading and we will have to see whether Vettel has learned his lesson or whether he will do something daft again when next the red mists descend. As for the rest of the teams they will be noting the decision and filing it away for future reference if their drivers get into trouble. The FIA may in future get rather tired of the “Vettel Defence”, but sympathy will be hard to find in the F1 world. Very few movers and shakers in F1 respect the soft touch. To control them it is often only rough justice that works.

Elsewhere, there is still no team principal at Sauber after two weeks of hiatus, which underlines the point about Sauber being a team that is different to all the others and difficult to recruit for. The only way it can be done is if there is a leader with sufficient passion and drive to convince people to move. Money is not enough. The other key, of course, is stability so it would be wise for the team to get some really quickly. It strikes me that the situation at Hinwil will be watched very closely at Ingolstadt, where the big cheeses of Audi know the value of Sauber (the two parties work together a lot with DTM development) so if one day they are considering an F1 assault, the idea of buying Sauber is not such a stupid one (as BMW found out). There would be a certain amount of irony if that were to happen, of course, because Sauber was established in F1 with Mercedes money, was used by BMW and could one day end up in the hands of Audi. But the Audi folk are clever. They will wait until the team’s value has shrunk sufficiently before jumping in to buy it.

We will see how things develop now, but as a fan of architecture I do know that when the keystone of a building is removed, the roof tends to fall in.

Elsewhere, I’m watching McLaren to see if we are going to get a new Dennis-level boss. The wait to sort out the settlement made this impossible but that hurdle is now out of the way.

So what next? F1’s endless soap opera rolls onwards. I guess the British GP will be the big talking point in the next 10 days. I also expect more chatter about Copenhagen, as this is clearly a serious project for the future. 

To the autoroute!

The decision not to take further action against Sebastian Vettel from his deliberate collision with Lewis Hamilton behind the Safety Car in Baku is a very poor one, as I have expressed. I accept that some people disagree with me and think that it is acceptable (or unimportant) that we see such things from top F1 drivers, but I cannot agree with them because a sport has to have rules or else there is chaos, and rules should be applied in a sensible and even-handed way and not in way that weakens the rule of law, or favours one party over another.

I entirely agree with a statement made in the FIA press release (the real one) by FIA President Jean Todt.

“Top level sport is an intense environment in which tempers can flare,” he said. “However, it is the role of top sportsmen to deal with that pressure calmly and to conduct themselves in a manner that not only respects the regulations of the sport but which befits the elevated status they enjoy. Sportsmen must be cognisant of the impact their behaviour can have on those who look up to them. They are heroes and role models and to millions of fans worldwide and must conduct themselves accordingly.”

The word ‘must’ implies an obligation and the real question is what should happen when they fail to do what they must do. Vettel has gone off the rails in this respect twice in the last year but there been no comeback on either occasion. Is that really the best way to handle the situation, or is discipline necessary in order to teach Vettel that there are natural and logical consequences of his actions. Discipline is meant to be a positive thing. The world cannot change if we only have carrots. We need carrots and sticks.

And this is where I struggle to understand. There are implications of this decision that Jean Todt must understand. He was a Formula 1 team principal for years. He knows how F1 is. He knows that teams will exploit everything that might give them an advantage. If drivers only get a slap on the wrist if they drive into one another deliberately, will we not see it happening more often because they no longer fear punishment? And how can the FIA argue against this when they have set such a precedent? A new FIA President can set new standards, but as long as Jean Todt remains in office he will suffer from this decision because he has created a rod for his own back.

It seems that there is, hidden away in the rules, the provision for a disciplinary inquiry which the the President of the FIA may conduct into any actions or conduct, whether or not a decision has already been taken by the Stewards. The President may choose who is involved in this process and can decide to close the matter, forward it to the International Tribunal (a process that takes months) or conclude a settlement to put an end to the procedure. Todt took the third option. This body does not seem to have powers to add or delete penalties.

The press release is also a real high-wire act with Todt wobbling one way and then another. It says that the FIA is “deeply concerned by the wider implications of the incident, firstly through the impact such behaviour may have on fans and young competitors worldwide and secondly due to the damage such behaviour may cause to the FIA’s image and reputation of the sport” and notes “the severity of the offence and its potential negative consequences” but it (or he, depending on how you consider it) chose to do nothing.

The press release also mentions that Scuderia Ferrari is “aligned with the values and objectives of the FIA”. If you read the rules, Ferrari has to be. When it enters the World Championship one accepts that one will abide by the rules. So why does this need to be stated? What is it trying to achieve?

Fake news in F1

The Vettel penalty has created a new phenomenon in Formula 1 – a fake FIA ruling. This was sent to me by someone within the FIA asking me why I had not mentioned that Vettel had been docked his points from Baku. I replied with the actual press release. The instant conclusion was that the decision had been overruled, but I saw the same document a few hours ago and concluded at the time that it could not be trusted because the style looked wrong and there were clear signs in its appearance that it might have been cobbled together by a forger, notably the slight shading around the words.

But why on earth would someone want to produce a fake FIA decision? And what possible value does this have? A bit of a laugh? I will leave you to decide on that one.

Here it is:

 

FIA-Vettel-Azerbaijan.jpg

I have taken a little time before writing about the FIA decision not to punish Sebastian Vettel for his actions against Lewis Hamilton in Baku – because I wanted to make sure that I tried to keep my emotions out of it.

Why? Because I am appalled, even if I am not surprised.

Firstly, I believe that there is a key role for the FIA to play and believe that we should respect the federation’s decisions –  as long as they are sensible. Most of the stewards’ decisions these days are pretty decent and the FIA is not interferring in the sport in the way that it used to do. This is a good thing that Jean Todt has done. However, when intervention is required, one expects the federation to act decisively with appropriate force. If this does not happen, the FIA opens itself up to trouble in the future.

It is disappointing to have to report that this appears to be what has happened. FIA President Jean Todt has spent recent years banging the drum about his road safety campaigns and yet he has allowed what was the equivalent of an automotive head-butt to go unpunished, and this is simply incomprehensible. Where is the consistency?

This is the second time in less than a year that Vettel has escaped penalty for appalling non-sporting behaviour. Given Todt’s past with Ferrari, it is inevitable that questions are going to be asked about this, because if the FIA is this weak with Ferrari, it can only be  similarly weak if there are problems with other teams. If it acts more forcefully against other teams there will be loud accusations that the FIA is once again favouring Ferrari – something which we had all hoped would not be heard again in the sport.

Vettel and Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene went to the FIA in Paris today and reviewed the incident with a panel comprised of FIA Deputy President for Sport Graham Stoker, FIA General Secretary for Sport Peter Bayer, FIA Formula One World Championship Race Director Charlie Whiting and FIA Formula One World Championship Deputy Race Director and FIA Safety Director Laurent Mekies.

The FIA says in its statement that it is “deeply concerned by the wider implications of the incident, firstly through the impact such behaviour may have on fans and young competitors worldwide and secondly due to the damage such behaviour may cause to the FIA’s image and reputation of the sport”.

But it is not deeply concerned enough to do anything about it…

Vettel admitted responsibility for everything that happened (apologists please take note) and he extended his apologies and committed to devote personal time over the next 12 months to educational activities across a variety of FIA championships, to be defined at an FIA Stewards’ seminar. President Jean Todt instructed that Vettel should not endorse any road safety activities this year – which is sensible because his presence would undermine any such campaign.

Todt said that given “the severity of the offence and its potential negative consequences”, should there be any repetition of such behaviour, the matter would immediately be referred to the FIA International Tribunal for further investigation.

When all is said and done, the only conclusion one can reach is that this is an incredibly weak ruling – and a terrible precedent.  If the reference about repetition applies to drivers other than Vettel (it is not clear from the wording), then it is clearly an unfair ruling. Why would Vettel be allowed to get away with something outrageous while other drivers are not allowed to? If the repetition reference applies only to Vettel, then any other driver who commits any such offence will be able to argue that there is a precedent for there to be no punishment – beyond some nebulous comunity service.

There may even be legal implications beyond the sport because punishing any future driver when Vettel was not punished in this case would not be fair and that brings into question whether this is good governance. In the Statement of Good Governance Principles, issued by the FIA in 2000, the federation commited itself to ensuring that procedures should be “fair, transparent, accessible and efficient”. In order to be fair to other drivers, the FIA cannot now punish them harshly – because of what it has done with Vettel. And if it does take action, it could open itself to civil action, and perhaps even claims that the federation has not properly upheld its role in the sport.

And all of this is happening in an election year. Todt may recall that a long time ago Max Mosley decided to stand for office because of what he saw his predecessor Jean-Marie Balestre doing. Excessive strength and excessive weakness are as bad as one another.

The FIA is ruled by club-style politics. No-one says anything bad to the face of the incumbent, but they all bitch about him behind his back. At a certain moment a tipping point is reached and the opponents feel that they have sufficient support to stage a coup d’état – and then rapidly all the president’s allies switch sides.

 

Monday ruminations

Everyone is watching Paris today to see if the FIA decides to take any further action against Sebastian Vettel, but more important things are happening elsewhere. Sources at Silverstone have tipped off Britain’s biggest vaguely-serious newspaper that Silverstone is going to action the break clause in its British GP contract and bring the race to an end after 2019. Well, that’s the theory. The reality is that this is a negotiating ploy to bring the Formula One group to the table. Given that there are three years before a new British GP promoter is needed, I doubt this will have much impact, indeed it gives the Formula One group the option to shop around. The folks at Silverstone think that they are the only game in town and, to some extent this is true. The Circuit of Wales has blown up in the last few days and I doubt it will ever happen. There is no interest from Donington Park, but there are some possibilities in the London Docklands and I see this being the most likely route for Chase Carey and his gang, with Silverstone as a back-up plan for 2020. That might upset the traditionalists, but imagine a Singapore-style event in stodgy old London. Silverstone is a great event and attracts a big crowd, but it cannot compete with F1 fees as they now are, unless the government helps. Does it make sense for Carey to lower the fees? It is an interesting question. But it will not come to this for a while yet as the British GP remains until at least July (or late June) 2019.

Elsewhere, as expected, there is still no new team principal for Sauber, evidence that F1 is not as easy as some financial types might think.

And there is the question of Jolyon Palmer. For some time there have been rumours that Britain’s other F1 driver may be in danger of losing his seat at Renault, having failed to get close to Nico Hulkenberg on most occasions this year. The implication has long been that the team would stick with Jolyon until the British GP at least, and that still seems to be the case. However the race in Baku was a big setback for the Enstone team, with all its rivals scoring and its goal of being fifth in the Constructors’ Championship beginning to fade. Williams now has twice as many points as Renault and while there are still a lot of races to go, it is clear that the team needs two drivers both capable of scoring points at all races if it is going to beat Team Willy. Chucking out Palmer makes no sense unless there is a clear improvement, so there is little logic to have a Sergey Sirotkin, for example. There’s no time to teach new boys how to do things. The team says Robert Kubica is not a possibility and it is hard to get excited about any of the other options with suitable F1 experience.

So the best option would seem to be to go after a driver from a rival team. There are a few who are unhappy and would like to move on, but who could actually move? McLaren wants to hold on to Fernando Alonso and are not about to give him away, but if offered money might they part with Stoffel Vandoorne? It all seems pretty unlikely. Romain Grosjean could be of interest, but does Haas want to release him? Why would they?

The best option would probably be Carlos Sainz, for a number of reasons. Toro Rosso can always use money (or a reduction in its engine bills). Carlos has been there for three seasons and he has done well, but Red Bull has nowhere to take him, unless Max Verstappen or Daniel Ricciardo departs – and neither is showing any sign of being able to do that. Red Bull has a hungry replacement for Sainz in Pierre Gasly, who is waiting for his F1 chance. Gasly might be an option for Renault, except he has no F1 racing experience and so the only really sensible conclusion is for Renault to go after Sainz. A Renault deal offers him a solid future (which Red Bull cannot) and Toro Rosso/Red Bull has things to gain from letting him go… That, surely, offers the basis for a negotiation.

The option is to leave things as they are and hope they improve, but in this age of team principals as football managers, it might not be wise for Renault’s folk to do that…

We will see.

It has now been confirmed that Ron Dennis is leaving McLaren and selling his shares in the McLaren Technology Group (25 percent) and in McLaren Automotive (10.3 percent). It is being suggested that the sale of the shares will raise $350 million, which would value the combined companies at close to $2 billion.

McLaren Automotive and the McLaren Technology Group are being brought together under one corporate structure to be called the McLaren Group. The announcement unifies all activities under a single coordinated strategy and brand, allowing the exceptional reputation of each business for technological excellence to be used across the entire Group for the benefit of all its customers, partners and employees.

The Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company and TAG Group become the McLaren Group’s long-term majority shareholders. Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa will be McLaren Group’s Executive Chairman, Mansour Ojjeh its Executive Committee Principal. Mike Flewitt continues to lead McLaren Automotive as Chief Executive Officer while McLaren Technology Group Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Neale and McLaren Technology Group Executive Director Zak Brown also continue in their current roles.

The McLaren Group employs 3400 people located largely at its iconic McLaren Technology Centre headquarters in Woking, UK, and in 2016 had a combined turnover of $1.1 billion. The Group has secured long-term financing to pay for the acquisition of Dennis’s shares, working with J.P. Morgan.

Dennis, who turned 70 recently,  has run McLaren for 37 years and has spent 51 years in top-level motorsport, primarily Formula 1. He led McLaren to 158 Grand Prix victories and 17 Formula 1 World Championships, as well as victory in the the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1995.