French GP confirmed

  Christian Estrosi, the President of the Conseil Régionale de Provence Côté d’Azur, has confirmed that the French GP will return to the F1 calendar in 2018. the announcement made at the glitzy Automobile Club de France in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

“I can confirm definitively that the French Grand Prix will return in the summer of 2018 at Paul Ricard,” he said.

The contract is for five years.

FIA president Jean Todt was not present, being away in the United States, but recorded a message.

The event was attended by some of the leading lights of the French racing world, notably McLaren’s sporting director Eric Boullier, who played a key role in negotiations with Bernie Ecclestone, the top men of Renault Sport F1, chairman Jerome Stoll and CEO Cyril Abiteboul, former F1 racers Jacques Laffite, Patrick Tambay, Yannick Dalmas, GP2 Champion Pierre Gasly and ORECA boss Hugues de Chaunac, not to mention a wide array of local politicians.

As we know clickbait is all the rage these days, with a screaming headline backed up with whatever drivel the person writing has managed to shovel together into some kind of a story. A very good example of this was an article over the weekend in which Bernie Ecclestone said he did not know whether Liberty Media has the funding with which to complete its purchase of the Formula One group of companies.

“I can’t say no and I can’t say yes. I’ve never counted their money,” Bernie said. ” I don’t know their company, so I have no idea.”

On the face of it, there is no obvious story here. Ecclestone is the CEO of the group being sold but is only a very minor shareholder, although an Ecclestone Family trust company, over which he is not allowed to have any control, owns a few more shares. The controlling shareholder – CVC Capital Partners – clearly believes that the buyer has the money required, otherwise the transaction would not have gone ahead.

However, this comment was then turned into a question about Liberty’s ability to pay. Perhaps that was what Ecclestone wanted. Perhaps not. Whatever the case, he can always blame the press for the resulting story. Perhaps it would have been wise for the writer to ask Liberty, in order to get a balanced story. In fact, that was not really necessary because Greg Maffei, the CEO of Liberty Media, answered the question a couple of weeks ago when the subject came up, when he was discussing the F1 teams buying shares in the business. Maffei explained that some of the teams had agreed deals with CVC to buy stock at $21. The shares are now trading at $30.67.

“To be clear, we’re not in any way dependent upon selling equity to the teams,” he said. “The teams have expressed desire to be equity investors, and we think that’s interesting, but they will be buying stock that’s secondary stock of CVC, its in no way primary stock. Our financing is not contingent upon it. We agreed to pay $1.1 billion of cash, we’ve already paid $800m-ish of that. And with another $300m to go. We’re fully financed for that incremental $300m, and we will issue the stock – $3.3 billion at the $21 price – which will now clear up to about $4 billion to CVC and its fellow shareholders at the second close.”

So cash is not the issue. CVC is accepting Liberty shares in payment and will then do with these shares as they wish. If they are put on sale (when all the various lock-up periods are finished), will people be willing to buy them? Firstly, it does not really matter because the sale will have been completed and thus CVC will take any loss that results. Secondly, Liberty has a terrific record in these kind of transactions and has made a lot of people a lot of money. And thirdly, a little negative talk about the sport is not going to make much difference when the investors and analysts look at the potential that is there to be developed in the Formula One group.

Liberty Media continues to quietly push ahead with its work to get the clearances required from the different parties who must agree to the deal. The key one remains the FIA, as most of the others will be dependent on the structure that Liberty and the FIA come up with after their discussions. This will need to be acceptable to the competition authorities – and everyone involved knows this.

So, will it all go ahead? There is no reason to suggest there are any real problems ahead.

On Nico’s retirement

Anyone who knows what it is like to have a tiny bundle of humanity run up to you with a huge smile on a fresh little face, can understand Nico Rosberg’s desire to retire. Money, fame and glory are fine, but for those who achieve such things, the world becomes a rather different place. Partners and kids become more important.

Nico’s decision to quit F1 at the early age of 31 is a reminder, for those who need it, that there is more to life than motor racing.

And it is not really new. It’s been done before. Britain’s first Formula 1 World Champion Mike Hawthorn quit immediately after he won the title in 1958. He was 29. OK, it was different then and Hawthorn had been deeply shaken by the death of his team-mate and friend Peter Collins earlier that year, but he planned to get married. Secretly, he was suffering from a kidney problem and had been told he would not live beyond 30. That turned out to be true, although his death, soon after his retirement, came at the wheel of his road car, while racing Rob Walker on the Guildford bypass.

Sir Jackie Stewart retired relatively young, at 34, after winning his third title. He had lost too many friends. James Hunt quit at 32, having lost interest in taking risks. His great rival Niki Lauda (now chairman of Mercedes AMG Petronas) did it too, at 30, after two titles, fed up with “driving round in circles”. He went off and built an airline, but then returned to F1 to win another title years later.

The 1979 World Champion Jody Scheckter quit at 30 and never came back. He founded a company designing and manufacturing firearms training simulators and made a second fortune, before turning to organic farming having acquired Laverstoke Park Farm in Hampshire.

Mika Hakkinen stopped at 33 after two titles and a near-death experience, while Kimi Raikkonen seemed lost after his title in 2007 and, at the age of 30, went off to spend several fruitless years in rallying before returning to F1.

Finding the desire to keep going after one has achieved one’s goals is not a given. F1 may not be as dangerous as once it was in earlier times, and danger was often the reason for drivers to retire young, but time waits for no man and let us not forget that Nico has seen his old team-mate Michael Schumacher end up where he now is, by an awful twist of fate. Such things make one appreciate that the one thing over which we never have control is time.

Most of us spend our lives on the treadmill, running along like hamsters in their wheels, keeping the banks happy. We cannot just walk away and live happily ever after. We dream about it.

We also know that very few can drift along doing nothing. We need goals and targets, just as we need families. One can survive with greed, ambition and party girls, but they feel like pretty hollow motivations when you watch your children grow up and when you share your life with a special partner. Nico is a man who knows what he wants and also understands his limitations. He has achieved his goal and once is enough. Doing it again is of little interest. He’s not running away. He’s not a coward, nor frightened. He just doesn’t need it any more and we should respect that and respect his desire to enjoy time with his wife, Vivian, and their young daughter Alaïa. 

Nico is a very quick driver who worked closely with his engineers to find more speed from the car. He never had the same natural talent as Lewis Hamilton, but he worked at it, he had steely determination and he bounced back from crushing defeats. He was never able to hold a candle to Lewis in uncertain conditions, as we saw recently in Brazil. Nico understood this, but never accepted that this made success impossible.  Winning can also come from hard work and determination. There is a school of thought – and plenty of evidence to back it up – that Michael Schumacher knew deep down that he wasn’t as gifted as Mika Hakkinen and so he strove to be successful by working harder, testing more and being fitter.

Stardom is not easy and one always had a sense that Nico was never really comfortable with it. He tended to come across as someone playing a role rather than being totally himself. It is not unusual. I suspect that, as and when he comes back to visit F1 – if he ever does – Nico will be more relaxed and able to engage more. I hope so. 


So now what?

Nico Rosberg admitted in his retirement statement that his departure would be difficult for the Mercedes team – and he wasn’t kidding. Finding a driver who is ready to step into such a drive, and is free, is going to be a real struggle. The first thing that Mercedes will likely do is to ring around and chat to all the obvious candidates to ascertain their contractual status and whether there are any top team get-out clauses. Obviously, drivers in top teams will not have these, which means that one can pretty exclude Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne from the drive.

Renault is unlikely to want to let Nico Hulkenberg go, although he would be a good choice for Mercedes if there was a way out. It is doubtful that there is. The option would be to look at the recently retired Jenson Button and Felipe Massa, but neither was very competitive by the end of the year and so it is much more likely that Mercedes would look to the future. Williams would not let Valtteri Bottas go to Renault and so there is no reason to suppose that it would let the Finn go to Mercedes, except that it uses Mercedes-Benz engines and might be offered more assistance by Stuttgart if it was to allow Bottas to move up. With Pascal Wehrlein available, the team would be a little short on experience, but Wehrlein is clearly good and has a lot to prove. Force India has Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon under contract and Ocon is there because it was felt he would need more time to develop. He was picked over Wehrlein. Thus Mercedes might consider the Frenchman as a possible candidate, but it is a bit too early for him to be stepping into such a drive.

The one thing that this may do, when the dominoes have all fallen is to make a space for Felipe Nasr to find a driver. But that is a long way off at the moment…


Here are some photos from Abu Dhabi, by Paul Ripke.

Nico Rosberg 2016 World Championship Victory Behind-the-Scenes ImageryNico Rosberg 2016 World Championship Victory Behind-the-Scenes ImageryNico Rosberg 2016 World Championship Victory Behind-the-Scenes ImageryNico Rosberg 2016 World Championship Victory Behind-the-Scenes Imagery

Toto’s reaction…

Toto Wolff has been commenting on Nico Rosberg’s shock decision to quit F1.

“This is a brave decision by Nico and testament to the strength of his character,” he said. “He has chosen to leave at the pinnacle of his career, as World Champion, having achieved his childhood dream. The clarity of his judgement meant I accepted his decision straight away when he told me. It’s impossible to capture the essence of a person in a few short words. But Nico has a special combination of natural talent and fighting spirit that have brought him to where he is today.

“Throughout his career, people have thought he was on a golden path to success just because his father was a World Champion; in fact, I think in some ways that made the challenge greater – and meant he had to fight even harder with the weight of expectation on his shoulders. With Mercedes, Nico has been a relentless competitor, bouncing back from tough times in an inspirational way, and he earned the respect of the sport with his tenacity, his fighting spirit and his grace under pressure.

“Since 2010, he has poured competitive energy into our team and we have grown stronger because of it. We simply say ‘thank you’ for the incredible contribution he has made to our success, alongside two of the all-time great drivers, Michael and Lewis. For the team, this is an unexpected situation but also an exciting one. We are going into a new era of technical regulations and there is a free Mercedes cockpit for the seasons ahead. We will take the necessary time to evaluate our options and then find the right path for our future.”

Rosberg retires!

New World Champion Nico Rosberg has announced his retirement from Formula 1. The 31-year-old German has stunned the F1 world and it will be interesting to see what the Mercedes AMG Petronas team does now…

“Since 25 years in racing, it has been my dream, my ‘one thing’ to become Formula 1 World Champion,” Rosberg said in a statement. “Through the hard work, the pain, the sacrifices, this has been my target. And now I’ve made it. I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right. My strongest emotion right now is deep gratitude to everybody who supported me to make that dream happen.

“This season, I tell you, it was so damn tough. I pushed like crazy in every area after the disappointments of the last two years; they fuelled my motivation to levels I had never experienced before. And of course that had an impact on the ones I love, too – it was a whole family effort of sacrifice, putting everything behind our target. I cannot find enough words to thank my wife Vivian; she has been incredible. She understood that this year was the big one, our opportunity to do it, and created the space for me to get full recovery between every race, looking after our daughter each night, taking over when things got tough and putting ourchampionship first.

“When I won the race in Suzuka, from the moment when the destiny of the title was in my own hands, the big pressure started and I began to think about ending my racing career if I became World Champion. On Sunday morning in Abu Dhabi, I knew that it could be my last race and that feeling cleared my head before the start. I wanted to enjoy every part of the experience, knowing it might be the last time… and then the lights went out and I had the most intense 55 laps of my life. I took my decision on Monday evening. After reflecting for a day, the first people I told were Vivian and Georg  (Nolte, from Nico’s management team), followed by Toto.

“The only thing that makes this decision in any way difficult for me is because I am putting my racing family into a tough situation. But Toto understood. He knew straight away that I was completely convinced and that reassured me. My proudest achievement in racing will always be to have won the world championship with this incredible team of people,the Silver Arrows.

“Now, I’m just here to enjoy the moment. There is time tosavour the next weeks, to reflect on the season and to enjoy every experience that comes my way. After that, I will turn the next corner in my life and see what it has in store for me…”

The news will likely cause upheaval in the driver market as Mercedes looks for a replacement driver. The obvious choices might be the two drivers who retired this season, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa, both of whom have had relationships with Mercedes in the past. Jenson is, in theory, under contract to McLaren. However, Mercedes might prefer a different route and could push for others to replace Nico. The drivers who are currently in Mercedes teams are Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Perez, Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon. Bottas is under contract to Williams, but the Grove team might be convinced to let him go with sufficient financial incentive. It could replace him with Wehrlein. Mercedes might have bigger ambitions and might want to go after Fernando Alonso or Sebastian Vettel, but extracting them from their contracts would likely be a complicated and expensive business.

Nico Hulkenberg will probably be kicking himself…

Whatever the case, things will be humming in the days ahead.