19 October 2018

Game of Thrones... and other stories

This weekend in Austin will be all about the World Championship and while I’d love to see Mercedes wrap things up - because they deserve the titles - I would also like to see a Ferrari fight back to give the team the chance to answer some of the negative and brutal coverage it has had to endure in recent weeks. Yes, Ferrari has fallen short, but as Lewis Hamilton has said, it’s not easy winning in F1 and Ferrari (and Sebastian Vettel) deserve more respect for what they have achieved, even if ultimately they have failed in the task of winning the title. At this level of competition, mistakes get made because everyone is pushing so hard. In any case, it’s not good for the sport to have things wrapped up too early. The media centres will be a bit echoey for the remaining races if the destinations of the crowns are already known.

I spent yesterday at the fascinating F1 Extreme Innovation Series event in Austin, at which professors from the celebrated Massachusetts Institute of Technology and some F1 folk joined with business leaders, to provide attendees with some thought-provoking ideas about how to make their businesses more successful. The keynote speaker was Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who kicked off the event with some fascinating lateral thinking about the future of technology, which was not at all mainstream thinking on matters such as automatic cars and artificial intelligence. Amusingly, he pointed out that if we don’t even know how the human brain works, it’s impossible to replicate it with machinery. He added that he and colleagues had nonetheless worked out how to replicate the human brain, in a process that takes only nine months...

He said he wasn’t a Formula 1 fan, but admitted that he was intrigued by the technology and impressed by the machines he had been shown during his very brief visit, not least how small they were, which as an engineer he appreciated as efficiency.

The rest of the day was spent listening to some wonderfully clever people explaining about how innovation works (or not) and some spectacular networking with a very clever audience. In a world where sometimes we feel that we are drowning as ignorance and stupidity seems to be at the controls of a runaway train, it was a genuinely uplifting experience and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s a great concept and F1 is doing it really well. It’s been tried before but this time it’s being done properly and I hear that it’s achieving its goals in creating B2B opportunities for the sport. I went away with my head filled with ideas and looking at my own business through different eyes.

Outside the weather was miserable and the internet was filled with the latest inanities from the political world, but I felt a sense of optimism that while dumbing everything down is all the rage at the moment, there are still fabulous brains out there to help find a better equilibrium and to nudge the world towards more intelligent solutions. The first step in this, from a US perspective, is the upcoming mid-term elections...

The F1 world is filled with smart people but it is always good when those who have always been the smartest people in the room get together and try to solve problems.

In comparison, the day-to-day analysis of F1 seems perhaps a little mundane, but it remains what people want to know about (bread and circuses) and while there wasn’t much time to chat to many F1 folk, things continue to move onwards.

Sergio Perez was confirmed by Force India (by any other name) but Lance Stroll was not, which was a truly odd thing. If a team knows its two drivers for next year, then why not come out and say it? And why announce Perez a week before Mexico, rather than in the run-up to the big event. I guess that the theory is to get separate coverage for the two drivers, which makes sense from a communications standpoint, and that maybe Stroll’s switch to the team will not be announced until the season is over. The other possible interpretation is that there are still discussions over the settlement with Williams, although I was told that it was all done.

There was a big clue about Scuderia Toro Rosso’s future over in Spain where the Formula E teams are testing and where the Nissan team (read the cheesy e.DAMS operation) did not run Alexander Albon as has been planned. Oliver Rowland was drafted in instead, which was tantamount to confirming that Alex has something else he is planning to do... which can only be the second Toro Rosso seat. To give up a factory drive in Formula E (for three years) requires some strong incentive...

Over in Austin there has still been no confirmation of any plans for Fernando Alonso to run an IndyCar programme and, given that there are Christmas trees in the shops and Silent Night in the air, it’s now way too late for any full programme, so one can discount the endless dreamweaver of the IndyCar world. Perhaps it is still not too late from the Spaniard to do a one-off at Indy - if someone will pay for it, but it seems to me that his target in early 2019 will be to win the WEC title and perhaps a second Le Mans or a Daytona 24 Hours to add to his legacy, with Indy away in the future. There’s some jibber jabber about Fernando trying some NASCAR at Daytona, and I’d love to see that - and it could be doable given his links with Toyota...

Elsewhere McLaren announced a small sponsorship with a Coca Cola-owned water company but the press release seemed rather overstated given the details. Will it lead to bigger things or is it a sign of desperation? Time will tell.

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