Lawrence Stroll’s dream comes true

The launch of Aston Martin Cognizant F1, which is he revamped version of Racing Point, was an interesting affair. I’m all for F1 teams doing things differently for launches – not the same old thing a la Alfa Romeo – but this one was a funny old mixture. Let us put things into perspective here. This is the old Jordan team – 30 years on. It has always had good people behind the owners, and it was an act of genius (Well done, Otmar Szafnauer and Andy Green) to work out that one could legally copy the 2019 Mercedes and, with Sergio Perez driving and Mercedes falling over its bootlaces, it was possible to win a race last year in Bahrain.

This is the team that was once owned by the Midland Group, the Dutch car company Spyker (whatever happened to them?) and, of course, Vijay Mallya, who continues his fight to avoid being sent home to India, where presumably the full force of India will mean that he goes to jail. It is five years since he fled his home country and although he has lost one court battle after another, he is still in England and appealing – although I cannot say I find him appealing at all…

The team became Racing Point under new owner Lawrence Stroll although, to be quite honest,  I never really understand the Point. It sounded like a holding pattern until the man came up with a plan. It was always going to happen.

Stroll’s billions came from being “a branding guy” and so we waited to see what the team would become. Nasty folk said that it was all just a vehicle for his son Lance, but Lawrence has bigger ambitions than that.  Lance has some talent, but is still working to create the full package, but Lawrence has now bought himself the sexy Aston Martin brand and is aiming to do with it what he did with Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors etc.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but I think it is fair to say that I was not waiting for Santan Dave to say “We’re gonna tell you a story…”

If it sounds like I have heard of Santan Dave, I apologise, because I did not have a clue who he was, which I put down to the fact that I have lived in France since long before Santan was even conceived. Thankfully, that nice Mr Google helped me out and I discovered that he is a 22-year-old relevant rapper from Brixton, who I suspect might not necessarily appeal to the average Aston Martin buyer. That segment was a bit odd and an indication that perhaps Santan wasn’t fully aware of Aston Martin’s history in F1. He talked a lot about that rosy place called history, but I guess no-one told him that it might be best to avoid talking about Aston Martin and F1 in the same sentence, as the story does not glow in any golden way…

With that segment finished (happily), we were presented with a presenter. I know that face, I thought. She’s not an Sky F1 presenter doing some freelance. She’s a proper film star. Actually, I’m very fond of Gemma Arterton because she made a film called Gemma Bovery some years ago which was shot in my local village. The result of this was that the fountain that the film-makers installed is still there and it adds to the charm, fake though it may be.

Sadly, poor Gemma Bovery choked to death on bread from the very boulangerie where I often buy my bread, although I continue to buy it, based on the principle that the film was fiction and they won’t kill me with their baguettes…

Anyway Gemma Arterton was involved with Aston Martin even before then because she was a Bond girl, having played Strawberry Fields in “Quantum of Solace” in 2008. She has since gone on to enjoy success in films such as Tamara Drewe, while also doing work prize-winning work in the theatre.

But there was more to come. We had James Bond himself – or at least Daniel Craig – and the American football legend Tom Brady.

And, to cut a long story short, we ended up with questions from fans about whether Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel prefer cats or dogs. Both said that they prefer dogs (as does Gemma), but I would have answered the question with: “Fried or boiled?” – just to throw the cat among the pigeons.

This, however, was all colourful confetti around the happy couple: Lawrence Stroll and Aston Martin.

“I’ve dreamed about this day for a very long time. I’ve always been a car guy, since I was a child,” the bridegroom said. “I’ve always loved racing, too. My first dream was to own a Formula 1  team. My second dream was to acquire a majority shareholding in Aston Martin Lagonda. Today is about the merging of those two dreams. So, as I say, today is all about dreams, and it shows that dreams really can come true, in the shape of our new AMR21.

“Aston Martin returning to Formula 1 after an absence of 61 years will have a powerful effect on the sport, the media and the fans, commanding global attention. 

“The team who designed and built our new Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 car – the 500 men and women who conceive, manufacture, build and prepare our cars so that we can go racing at the pinnacle of global motorsport – has always punched above its weight. Now, as the Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 Team, it has the power with which to punch even harder. This is just the beginning. The team is pushing forward, and our ambitions are limitless. We now have the pieces in place, the people and the partners, to make real progress.

“The Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 car is our group’s highest expression of performance, innovation, engineering quality, attention to detail, and teamwork. I have great confidence in Otmar [Szafnauer], Andrew [Green] and all who work for them. I firmly believe we have the perfect blend of experience and youth in Sebastian [Vettel] and Lance [Stroll]. An ethos of fierce ambition and unshakeable dedication is shared by every single team member. It is exhilarating to see – and to feel.”

Andrew Green, who was one of the original Jordan Grand Prix design team, back in 1990 summed things up well, I thought.

“When I was a young boy, my first toy car was the James Bond Aston Martin DB5 – with the ejector seat,” he said. “I still have it and had always dreamt of owning one, so Aston Martin has always been a big part of my childhood. Cut to where I am now, and every day I walk into a factory with the Aston Martin logo over the door. To be the Technical Director of the Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 team, it’s the dream come true, it sends shivers down my spine.”

Mine too…

One hopes that Aston Martin F1 will be a success and will drive huge success for the car company. But it should perhaps be noted that last week Aston Martin Lagonda reported its financial figures for 2020, during which the firm sold 4,150 cars, 32 percent down on 2019. The company is hoping to sell 6,000 cars in 2021 and wants to get to 10,000 by 2024 or 2025.

Aston Martin booked a loss of £466 million before tax for 2020, compared to a £120 million loss in 2019. Revenues were down by 38 percent. There are high hopes for the DBX SUV and from F1 and James Bond is expected to help out in September with the launch of the much-delayed new film “No time to Die” in September…

F1, the NFL, jaw surgery and fiction

The shift to electronic communication in Formula 1, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to further erosion of media access to the people who matter in the sport, with no possibility these days of quiet chats in the F1 paddock and PR people controlling most of the available output.

This might deliver the right corporate message – which is, of course, what they are paid to do – but it does mean that questions that they don’t want asked, do not get asked. In any case, all answers end up going to everyone and so basically it is all syndicated content, which means that many of the F1 journalists don’t ask the questions they want to ask, unless they wish to grandstand and promote themselves – or their publications (which some do).

This can be quite frustrating for those trying to dig out the real stories in F1, but we must accept that things change and so we must do what we can.

In the past I have sometimes described some of the PR people in F1 as being like offensive tackles in American football, their job being to protect the player charging forwards with the ball, by taking out the opposing defence before they can tackle him.

They are like anti-missile missiles, aimed at the journalists who are aimed at the team people.

To illustrate this, today was the Alpine launch. The big question for me with regard to Fernando Alonso was why was the Spanish driver not able to take part in a virtual car launch. It was clear that not everyone involved was in the same country, so why was Alonso not joining in from his home in Switzerland?

For me this was extremely odd and got me asking whether perhaps Alonso could not take part because of the need to heal his damaged jaw. Ask a doctor to tell you how long it takes to mend a fractured jaw that required surgery and they will generally say “six weeks”. Fernando crashed his bicycle on February 11 and had surgery in Bern the following day. That means that there is less than a month between the operation and the Bahrain test.

Can jaw bones heal that quickly?

And if they can, why was Alonso not taking part in the launch? The only real explanation that made any sense was that the technique of repairing jaws involves wiring them together while they heal. That would mean that Alonso could not easily take part in the launch as the treatment would then be obvious and that would inevitably create speculation about whether he would be ready in time for the first race, six weeks after the crash.

So I tried to ask the electronic question: “Has the FIA agreed to allow Alonso to test in Bahrain, as his recovery after jaw surgery has been far more rapid than is usually the case?” This was ignored the first time I asked. The second time I deliberately added a second non-controversial question. And what happened? The hard question was skipped over and the easy one was answered, which highlighted the fact that the asking of questions what not being done on a first-come-first-served basis.

There was not much point in the circumstances in asking: Why could Alonso not take part in a virtual launch? So I didn’t bother, but it was interesting to see that the team has opted for Dany Kvyat as the reserve driver. He’s right up to speed with current F1 cars and is available. The team said that his inclusion in the team was a very recent decision, but added that there was no plan for him to test in Bahrain. But plans are not realities – and they have built-in deniability.

There is a disconnect here somewhere. A minor jaw injury can heal without the need for medical intervention, but a more severe break will often require not only surgery but also supportive medical devices around the jaw. The recovery time can be longer if the jaw is used too much. Alonso had surgery and yet everyone is saying that he will be back in time for the test, having been cured in  four weeks, rather than the usual six.

We will see. F1 drivers are fit and recover quickly, but the fact that the team wants to avoid such questions serves to underline the suspicion that we could end up with Ocon and Kvyat doing the testing – and Alonso on the back foot from the start of the season.

Alonso did post a video a few days ago that suggested that he can talk normally, but if that is indeed the case, why was he not doing the virtual launch?

Call in Miss Marple, Jules Maigret, Sherlock or Hercule Poirot…




Eighth title is not Lewis’s priority

Sir Lewis Hamilton (although he has yet to tapped on the shoulder with a royal sword) says that winning a record-breaking eighth Formula 1 World Championship is not his priority.

“I still love what I do,” he said. “I am in the fortunate position that I don’t have to commit to multiple years and I chose to have a one-year deal. It doesn’t mean I am not committed. What I am really focussed on is the diversity issue. It is not going to change overnight and what is really important is that we are actually delivering and taking action. That’s my driving force this year. On top of that hopefully I can deliver some good performances.

I don’t want the record to be the deciding factor. I got into racing because I loved racing and that has to be at the core of what I do. Winning an eighth title is the ultimate dream, but I am not going to make it the deciding factor if I stay. When I put the helmet on I still have that smile when I leave the garage.”

Hamilton admitted that he is not very keen on the simulator and has done only about 30 laps with the new car.

“The problem with the sim is that we have a new tyre. It can give an idea of what the tyres model is, but right now it’s guestimate of what the tyre might feel like. The aero package has shifted and we have lost rear downforce and that can play a significant role. The tyres are probably about eight-tenths off last year’s tyres. That might lead to more thermal degradation and you might see more stops. But that’s all guessing.”

Hamilton said that he had had a quiet winter.

“I kept to myself,” he said. “I was focussed on my recovery and getting myself back to full strength. Getting my deal done and working on personal relationships I have.”

Mercedes not shopping for drivers

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says that the team is not worried about the fact that Lewis Hamilton has only signed for one year and says that he remains fully committed to the sport.

“There is no doubt about his commitment,” Wolff says. “He enjoys racing a lot. We enjoy working with each other and we discussed that a lot, but he is absolutely right that times change and there are new priorities for all of us in terms of the way we live, our health. He’s very passionate about his initiatives against racism and inequality. And then we have the massive changes in F1 in 2022 that is going to reshape what F1 is going to be in the next few years. I think it is fair enough to give himself the flexibility in his mind to decide what he wants to do in the future whether in racing or outside.

“We have agreed we want to pick up the discussion much earlier this year to avoid a situation like we had in 2020 and run out of  and be in the uncomfortable position that there is not time left before the beginning of the season. That is why we did a one-year contract. We have decided to discuss tings much earlier.”

Wolff said that the team will consider the two current drivers before making any other moves.

“We are not flirting outside before we have a clear understanding with our drivers.”

A nice touch

I know that no-one uses snail mail much these days, but now and then things turn up in the mailbox or the doorbell rings if the post lady cannot fit something in the mailbox. I don’t know if it is the pandemic or perhaps Brexit, but the last few weeks have seen post from Britain to France taking up to a month to get across the English Channel. So it was pure serendipity that as I was sorting out the first pictures of the new Mercedes, the doorbell went and I scrambled about trying to find a mask, while quietly cursing the timing.

But, in the end I was happy, as the package came from Brackley, and included a Mercedes cap signed by Valtteri, a Lewis Hamilton limited edition scale model helmet, a pen, a bottle of Ineos sanitiser and a card that said: “As we weren’t able to see each other as much as we’d have liked in 2020, we thought we’d send you some mementoes from our special year. We hope the new season will bring us all together again at some point this year and we look forward to seeing you virtually at our launch on March 2.”

How to guarantee Ferrari podiums…

Giulio Ferrari and Enzo Ferrari were not related – but both were entrepreneurs who built their separate companies: Giulio in the world of sparkling wine and Enzo with his celebrated luxury sports cars.

Scuderia Ferrari might be struggling to get on the podium in Formula 1 at the moment, but a new partnership between the Formula 1 group and the Ferrari Trento company, means that the Ferrari name will be seen on most podiums, although not in countries where no alcohol is permitted. The first spraying of sparking wine will take place in Imola. It is a big moment for the world’s sparkling wine producers, the first time that champagne, a brand name that is strictly controlled, will be replaced by sparkling wine.

It will be interesting to see how the drivers representing other car companies behave with the bottles as they might get instructions about how they hold their bottles, to avoid promoting the Ferrari name…

Ferrari Trento has been named the “Official Toast”and the “Official Sparkling Wine”of Formula 1, replacing Moet et Chandon champagne. The French brand stopped in last year after F1’s relationship with Carbon came to a premature end. The Carbon brand, owned by the Spanish drinks company Qantima, has been the official supplier since 2017.

Ferrari Trento is hoping to use F1 to support international growth, aiming to double its international sales, and to increase brand recognition. The deal is for three years.

“When a driver wins they want to celebrate and release their energy by opening a bottle,” says Stefano Domenicali, F1 President and CEO. “They are unforgettable moments for those lucky enough to be there. It is the apex of all the hard work and effort that we put into what we do every day. Moving from champagne to sparkling wine is because of the quality of the product, the quality of the company, which is why the relationship has developed. The values of F1 are mirrored by Ferrari Trento. We share the same values.”

Ferrari Trento is a brand owned today by the Lunelli Group, which markets wine, bottled water, grappa and owns a number of restaurants. In 1952 Giulio Ferrari handed the company on to Bruno Lunelli, the owner of a wine shop in the city of Trento. Lunelli’s family have run the business ever since, with the company now bing run by the founder’s grandchildren.

Ferrari Trento has previously sponsored a number of sports the Italian America’s Cup campaign, Alpine ski events and the Emmy award ceremony.