JoeBlogsF1 The real stories from inside the F1 paddock Aug, 01 2017 00:00:30 EST Niki Lauda 1949 - 2019

Niki Lauda 1949 - 2019

It is with enormous sadness that I must report the death of Niki Lauda, a giant in the world of motor racing - and in business - at the age of only 70. The Austrian underwent a lung transplant eight months ago, but struggled to recover. He had previously undergone two kidney transplants.

The sport has lost a man who truly was a living legend, a phrase that is much misused. Nicknamed The Rat because of his pragmatic ways, Niki was an inspiration to generations of race fans after his extraordinary comeback after a fiery accident during the 1976 German Grand Prix that summer, which left him permanently scarred yet unbowed. He returned to the cockpit at Monza in September that year and continued to fight James Hunt for the World Championship until the season finale in the rain in Japan, where he made the courageous decision to retire his car because he felt conditions were too dangerous to continue.

"His unique achievements as an athlete and entrepreneur are and will remain unforgettable, his tireless zest for action, his straightforwardness and his courage remain a role model and a benchmark for all of us," his family said in a statement.

Lauda was always brutally honest and forthright. If you wanted to know the truth, you asked Niki. He was never one to suffer fools but once you earned his trust, he was a firm friend and advisor, his sharp mind analysing problems in a way that often seemed brutal, but which was a key to his incredible success on the race track and in the business world.

Lauda was born into a wealthy family in Vienna but rather than going into the world of finance, he decided he wanted to race, despite opposition from his parents. With help from his grandmother he bought a Mini and started competing and gradually climbed the racing ladder, borrowing money to do so. He arrived in F1 with a March at the Austrian GP in 1971 and graduated full time in 1972. Although the team did well in F2, the F1 programme was a disaster and the team did not pay much attention to someone they saw as being a pay-driver.

He took out another loan to get a drive with BRM in 1973 where he showed his pace alongside former Ferrari driver Clay Regazzoni. When the Swiss driver went back to Ferrari in 1974 team boss Enzo Ferrari asked him what he thought of Lauda and Regazzoni’s opinion was such that Ferrari decided to sign Niki as well. Lauda repaid his debts and Ferrari’s faith in him by winning the 1975 World Championship. He was fighting for the championship again in 1976 when he crashed at the old Nürburgring in August and was trapped in his flaming car. Rescued by other drivers, notably Arturo Merzario, he had suffered terrible burns and was not expected to live. He was administered the Last Rites but he fought back, overcame his fears and fought for the title. The story was told in the 2013 Ron Howard film Rush.

Despite a strained relationship with Ferrari, Lauda showed he had lost none of his pace when he won the World Championship for a second time in 1977 but then quit Ferrari to join Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team.

He retired from F1 in true Lauda style, deciding he had had enough of “driving around in circles” at the Canadian GP in 1979 and he set about building an empire in aviation. Lauda Air was a great success, with previously unseen levels of service at reasonable prices. He worked with a catering firm called Do&Co and later introduced the company to F1 to cater for the Paddock Club VIP hospitality, a role it continues to fulfil today. 

He came out of retirement in 1982 after McLaren’s Ron Dennis convinced him to race for the Woking team, with its revolutionary carbon fibre composite car. He signed what is believed to have been the biggest driver contract at that point - at $3 million a year. He finished fifth that year and in 1984 battled Alain Prost for the World Championship, winning by half a point. It was the narrowest margin of title victory ever.

Lauda quit F1 again at the end of the 1985 season and went back to his airline. In May 1991 one his planes flying from Hong Kong to Vienna crashed in Thailand after a thrust reverser was deployed in flight without the pilots being involved. The Boeing 767 went out of control and broke up in flight, killing all 213 passengers and the 10 crew members on board. Lauda went to the site of the crash to try to understand what had happened, attended funerals of the victims and fought Boeing to get the truth. This resulted in the firm issuing a statement that the crew could not have saved the plane and modifying the thrust reverser system to prevent the same thing happening again.

Lauda was then asked by his old Ferrari boss Luca Montezemolo to act as an advisor in rebuilding Ferrari, although he departed soon after the new team manager Jean Todt took over. He sold Lauda Air to rival Austrian Airlines in 1999 and would return to F1 In 2001 working with Ford and was the boss of Jaguar Racing for a season before falling victim to political machinations within the car company. He then started a new airline called Niki in 2003, while working as an analyst on the German TV channel RTL's F1 coverage. In 2011 he sold Niki to Air Berlin but later retook control of the business under the Laudamotion name.

In September 2012, he was appointed a non-executive director of the Mercedes F1 team and played a key role in the signing of Lewis Hamilton to replace Michael Schumacher. When the ream was restructured early in 2013, he became a 10 percent shareholder in the team and was named non-executive chairman, helping Toto Wolff to build the team that has dominated the sport since 2014. It was not an easy relationship at the start as Wolff felt that Lauda was not enough of a team player and so fined him €50 whenever he said “I” instead of “we”. Lauda would eventually tell the team that his success with Mercedes meant more to him than all his own driving achievements.

In July 2018, Niki was diagnosed with a severe lung infection and underwent a double lung transplant but hoped to return to the team this year. Sadly his health remained frail and he has spent the last months in and out of hospitals with illnesses and kidney problems.

Lauda leaves his wife Birgit, their twins Max and Mia - born in 2009, two sons (Mathias and Lukas) from his first wife Marlene Knaus, and a son - Christoph - born from another relationship.

Tue, 21 May 2019 06:12:34 +0000
Welcome race fans!

Welcome race fans!

Are you coming to Montreal this year for the F1 race?

Just to get into the swing of things, why not come and meet Joe on Friday evening and ask all the questions you have about Formula 1 and the people in it? I've been covering the sport for more than 30 years and have known all the big names in that period so there is no shortage of good anecdotes, many of them that have never appeared in print! 

I limit the number of fans at each event so that everyone gets a chance to ask questions - and I'm keeping the price as it was last year to try to encourage enthusiasts to get more into the sport. It also gives you the chance to meet other F1 fans. The ticket price includes a buffet dinner midway through the event - and you can drink as much or as little as you like at normal bar prices. If you are in the mood to party, there is music downstairs after the event is finished. It's a very informal event but please try to book early as it helps to organise the event without last minute surprises. 

The event will be on Friday June 7, from 7.00pm until 10.30pm. The Pub St Paul is located in the bustling old port area of the city and is easily accessible. It's a great venue. The event will be upstairs.

The address is 124 rue St-Paul Est, Vieux-Montréal, Québec H2Y 1G2.

To book tickets, click here

Fri, 17 May 2019 16:22:23 +0000
Whatever next?

Whatever next?

I read with absolute awe a news story today about half a million TV spectators signing a petition to have HBO create a new ending for Game of Thrones, a show which I have to say I have never watched. It seems, from what I have picked up that things end badly with lots of characters being slaughtered - in one way or another - and the fans want a happier ending.

Whatever next? Will they be signing petitions to ask for Grands Prix to have different results? I guess Formula E has taken a step in that direction by having fan boost which gives a popular driver an advantage with a poll, while Formula W guarantees that a woman will win a race by not having any men involved...

I must say I prefer racing where people just race without assistance. Yes, it’s true that it is never really fair as one car or one team is better than the others but that is part of the game. The challenge is to create the best organisation and then to be in the right place at the right time.

Fri, 17 May 2019 06:50:00 +0000
Notebook from Catalonia

Notebook from Catalonia

We’re all human. Well, most of us, anyway. And, as such, we make mistakes. Thus I have to admit that the Spanish Grand Prix did not feature the usual green notebook because this was left at home after repairs needed to be made after it suffered a broken spine in Baku. Moleskin take note.

This injury is rather more dramatic for humans than it is books and a bit of rubber-solution glue will solve the problem – or wood glue come to that. The only thing is that you need to leave it to dry and so when the whirlwind of departure was upon me, at a strange and unearthly hour, the repaired book was forgotten, the assumption being that it was packed away (as normal) in the backpack that serves as the office. Thus, I was forced to acquire another, courtesy of Rhodia, purchased at Orly airport, while waiting for a strike-delayed flight to Spain. I usually drive to Barcelona but I thought I’d give flying another try after many years on the road. I was underwhelmed. It may just be a coincidence (yeah, right) but the French unions always seem to strike the day before or after a national holiday. After 28 years living in the country I have given up on the idea that this is going to change, as every politician who has tried to stop them from striking has ended up in the proverbial skip. Everyone knows that the country would be better off with a “Madame Tatcher”, but in the finest traditions of fraternité, liberté and égalité, they don’t want things to change. There is a reason that the English have adopted the expression plus ça change, because like schadenfreude, they don’t have the right words to get the point across.

Despite this traumatic start to the weekend, things went rather smoothly, despite the best efforts of some folk from Silverstone, who tried (with moderate success) to lead me astray on the Thursday. Friday marked our annual dinner for our buddies at the El Trabuc restaurant near the circuit, which alas comes to an end with the news that the Spanish Grand Prix is moving to Zandvoort (I may have mentioned that earlier). Of course, the Dutch don’t want their motor race named after the Spanish, despite the fact that historically-speaking the Spanish Netherlands is not a novel idea.The dinner was enlivened this year by the arrival of a bottle of wine which the waiter explained had been sent by a Mr Sainz, who was dining elsewhere in the many-roomed establishment. It reminded us of the time when a Mr Rosberg (of the senior variety) sent a local band to serenade us. Mr Sainz (senior, of course) is involved with a vineyard and wanted us to try some of his product and I have to say that it slipped down with ease. It was named Pegaso which, automobilists will recognise as being the name of a Spanish firm, the successor to Hispano-Suiza, which built trucks and nifty little sports cars, under the watchful eye of a man called Wifredo Ricart, an engineer who had the great distinction of being thoroughly disliked by Enzo Ferrari, on the basis that he believed Ricart was responsible for him being fired from Alfa Romeo in the late 1930s. All of this entertainment meant that not only was I a little weary by Saturday, I was also behind in the production process of the various magazines and thus there was some serious lack of sleep before Monday morning. I was so fatigued, in fact, that when I saw the headline “Clarkson To Sing National Anthem At Indianapolis 500” I wondered for a moment whether F1 crooner Tom Clarkson was branching out from his podcasts. Realising that this was a daft idea, I wondered if it might be Jeremy of that ilk, before concluding that I might need a lie down…What a talented family.

I guess you could call this race-lag.

I had a low-energy rant in my GP+ column about some team PRs. Don’t get me wrong, there are some individuals who do a truly great job, but others do their teams far more harm than good. The clever PR people understand that it is best to let people be themselves. This gives the media what it wants. Sadly, a few of them try to be policemen (and women) and stifle the characters they represent. We end up with “on message” twaddle, which fans don’t want to read, journalists don’t want to write and interviewees don’t want to trot out. So why does this happen? There are several reasons. Some do it because it is what the team bosses want (name the last team boss who was a qualified communications expert…). Some do it because they think it’s what their team bosses want. Some don’t understand the art of communication and don’t know any better. And some of them, like bank managers, pretend to be affable but are really getting off on the sense of power they get from pushing people around. These latter folk tend to suffer from a number of related symptoms, including inflated self-worth, hypersensitivity to criticism and a sense of entitlement. These charmless traits combine to turn people off, and so the communication becomes negative and one loses the desire to share the enthusiasm and passion of the team members, thus achieving exactly the opposite of what the PRs are employed to do.

Anyway, there’s been a lot of predictable negativity resulting from the recent success of Mercedes. That criticism should be directed at the teams which are underachieving. You cannot blame Mercedes for being good at what they do. Still, I remember the same kind of talk when McLaren-TAG was dominant in the 1980s, then with Williams-Honda, McLaren-Honda, Williams-Renault, Ferrari and Red Bull-Renault. It is a part of the game of Formula 1. The best seasons area always when the pecking order is changing. Having said that, Mercedes has rarely won by a big margin and if one sees the nuances one is never bored by the sport. The viewing figures and attendances are up and so one needs to take all this griping with a pinch of salt. People like complaining and most journalism is focussed on the negatives.

One of the things that I like about Liberty Media is that they are not afraid to try new things – and they have ambitions that mean that they attempt things that the world-weary old management would never even consider. There are in the sport to make money, of course, but they are doing it in a much healthier way than the previous owners who simply sucked the sport dry. Liberty wants to generate more money by turning Grands Prix into urban festivals that drive much bigger revenues for the host cities - and thus become events that the local authorities are willing to pay more for. Street racing is spectacular and, if the circuits are well-designed, they can put on terrific races (see Baku, or Montreal which for me is a street circuit without the buildings). At the Geneva Motor Show F1 CEO Chase Carey spoke about having a strategic priority for F1 to promote its technology, which has made astonishing ground-breaking advances since the start of the turbo hybrid formula in 2014. What this really meant was that the F1 company wants to be able to go into more protected urban areas and host events, which will allow the sport to hold races everywhere and achieve the goalof becoming week-long extravaganzas which captivate a city with entertainment and music and the race as the central feature. Formula E has succeeded in getting races in city centres on the basis that it is supposed to be more environmentally-friendly than F1, but the reality is that many in the car industry still see electric cars as the wrong way to go and that hybrids will continue to lead the way for at least another generation (ie 20 years). If the question of F1 sustainability is removed from the equation more can be achieved and it makes complete sense to change perceptions about the sport. The biggest sustainability issue for any event is the way in which the spectators arrive at the venue. The worse example being having vast traffic jams with cars pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. The best example is mass transportation powered by electricity. Thus a venue such as Silverstone or Paul Ricard cannot compete in terms of emissions with a race such as Monaco or Singapore. It is, of course, the ultimate irony that the sporting event which probably has the biggest impact on the global environment is the Tour de France bicycle race, which is attended by around 14 million spectators each year, the majority of them using their cars to get there.

Where F1 falls down on its carbon footprint is that it takes a fleet of around 300 trucks to move the circus from one place to another. A big percentage of these pantechnicons are there simply because the team hospitality units require dozens of them to be moved from place to place. 

The new Red Bull facility, dubbed the ‘Holzhaus’ appeared for the first time in Spain. Built from wood and with the feel of a very large ski chalet, it weighs in at an impressive 400 tons (twice the weight of the previous facility) and it takes a lot of people a lot of time to build. The word is that this has caused a few headaches as the Monaco version required a larger barge on which to float this massive load. And in several paddocks there will have to be special arrangements because at Spa, Budapest and Monza, the paddocks are not on terra firma but rather built on concrete columns and there were fears that these would crumble beneath all the Austrian timber. The new unit requires 32 trucks and is rumoured to have cost as much as $25 million and may cost as much as $5 million a year to run. More understated but still impressive was the new Racing Point facility, built at great speed (18 weeks) by a company called Werk 33, which specialises in trade fair constructions and is based near Stuttgart. The work actually involved eight different companies, working together to a design created by the Huslig Collective of Austin, Texas, which has worked with Lawrence Stroll for many years on many different projects. It is both exquisite in its detail and in its clever design, which features a much bigger kitchen than those of its rivals, public and private sections (and staircases) and a much easier modular structure, which means that it can be transported relatively quick with only 19 trucks.  The whole thing was pulled together by Racing Point’s project manager Simon Lake, a former McLaren staff member who learned what no to do with the celebrated Brand Centre.

I guess if you have money to burn these facilities are a good idea but they cost a fortune and are not easy to justify as they are now only used for one-third of the calendar. They are magnificently daft and while they are very comfortable for the teams and their guests, they are a constant source of grief. Yes, they are corporate statements of ambition (or whatever) but one can make statements in permanent facilities as well. It’s just a question of designing pit buildings more sensibly, at the concept stage. Teams need a certain amount of space at Grands Prix. There is no reason why this cannot be built into new facilities, along with clever ideas such as light wells in pit buildings so that the workers can see daylight occasionally – and so that VIP's can see what is happening in the pits without getting in the way. If the design was really smart one might also have a level at which the public can pass through (complete with gift shop etc) without getting in the way of anyone else. If well thought out, there could also be direct access for the team folk to the VIP areas to save time fighting through the crowds to get there…  This would be costly but pit buildings need to be rebuilt from time to time and over time they would be way cheaper than the white elephants of today. Still, you don’t get involved in F1 if you haven’t got money to burn. There is a note scrawled which says that Racing Point has recently paid $1.8 million to acquire the ex-Mercedes pit wall set-up. Magnificent, perhaps, but a little mad.

Years ago, I used to think it would be a great idea to create a clothing company called “Left Nipple” because that was always where the logo was located. I was delighted to see that Racing Point has actually picked up on my old idea with its new logo and, I presume, that in the fullness of time, Lawrence Stroll will finally turn my idea into a reality when he starts to merchandise team gear…

Speaking of old ideas, way back in the mists of time Autosport magazine ran a story on April 1 suggesting that there would be a London Grand Prix. And the word in F1 circles is that the negotiations over the British GP were basically concluded when things were complicated when Silverstone started to believe the stories suggesting that a London GP was actually possible. Silverstone now wants to be the only F1 race in Britain each year, to protect its audience.

However, F1 wants London. And, by all accounts, London wants F1. How, where, what, when? Well, there’s a thing called the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone and if one looks into the delivery plan for this, one finds that the 

Mayor of London is planning to invest more than £314.3 million between 2018 and 2023 to transform the Royal Docks and accelerate the delivery of commercial space, with the money being used to support transport infrastructure, connectivity, economic development, place-making, estate management and “creative projects”. The logic is that the rates that will be generated within the enterprise zone will fund the expenditure in the long term, but they will not be generated quickly enough to fund the investment and so the plan is to borrow the money to fund the development. The goal is to create a world leading showcase for sustainability – and, so I hear, F1 would provide the means to deliver this message around the world... As to the actual circuit, there is a clear loop of wide roads around the old docks... and public transportation throughout.

So don’t write it off. Clearly Silverstone is taking it seriously. And when it comes to destination cities London has a couple of advantages compared to lovely leafy Silverstone.

Another story that didn’t get much coverage – the Dutch GP (last week’s news) was getting most of it – was the fact that the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin has been saved thanks to state government action in Texas. The race was put into doubt when the promoter failed to file all the necessary paperwork to qualify for the reimbursement of tax revenues that has been used to fund the race in recent years. One page was missing and that torched a cheque for $25 million. The only solution was to pass a bill that would make it possible for COTA to reapply for the reimbursement. A certain amount of luck was involved as the Texas Legislature meets only once every two years (strange, but true) and then spends 140 days grinding through the necessary bills. One was stuck on the agenda and all should be sorted when this year’s session ends on May 27.

By then F1 will be packing up to leave Monaco. And it will be a similar story in Indianapolis. I’m really curious to see what happens over there with Fernando Alonso competing with a completely new team is a very different experience to slotting into a top team and getting the benefit of all the expertise. I’m also fascinated to see who is going to be where on race day as it is impossible to do the F1 race and the Indy 500. The IndyCar race starts about an hour after the F1 race ends so decisions have to be made and this will deliver messages about priorities in Woking.

It will also be interesting to see how Red Bull’s latest signing does over there in Indiana. The 20-year-old Mexican IndyCar driver Patricio ‘Pato’ O’Ward is doing only 13 races this year in IndyCar with Carlin. He won the Indy Lights series last year with Harding-Steinbrenner Racing and moved up to make his IndyCar debut at the end of last year but there was insufficient money to stay with the team this year, and so he did a deal for a partial programme with Carlin but says that “every racing driver has their eye on F1 and would give anything to be World Champion”. One presumes he feel that way… This will certainly bolster the Red Bull programme, which has struggled to provide sufficient drivers in the last couple of years, forcing Red Bull to shop outside its scheme. 

Renault has been busy bolstering as well with an interesting restructuring at Viry-Châtillon, where the team is busy not only trying to get things together this year, but is also building for a better challenge in 2020 and 2021. The secret, as Mercedes keeps proving, is teamwork and creating the right environment in which to allow people to push hard and take risks, without fear of coming unstuck. What was interesting about Renault’s moves for me was the background to the story. You have to follow the sport closely to know the name of Christophe Mary but his career goes back more than 30 years to when he was recruited by Jean Todt’s Peugeot Talbot Sport from Renault to work on the 905 sports car project, with a V10 engine that would become an F1 engine after dominating the World Sportscar Championship and twice winning Le Mans. When Jean Todt went off to Ferrari he wasted no time in luring the best of the Peugeot talent to Italy, hiring both Gilles Simon and Mary to work on the Ferrari V10s that took Michael Schumacher to a string of F1 titles. When the team began to fall part in 2007, he went to Mercedes for four years before returning to France to join PSA in 2012 working on competition machinery before being appointed to head the 208 Hybrid FE Concept development, using racing technology on road cars.What is most interesting, despite his obviously abilities, is that he has worked very successfully with Matt Harman, the former Mercedes head of powertrain integration who finally arrived at Renault earlier this year. The pair now take up roles as engineering directors in France and in Britain, a sign that the racing team is busy team-building and not just hiring in big names.

Meanwhile at the FIA, the word is that Australian Michael Masi will remain as the Formula 1 Race Director until at least the summer break. Masi has taken over thus far from the late Charlie Whiting and seems to be doing an excellent job.

Elsewhere, Jos Verstappen has been busy in other ways and he and his girlfriend Sandy Sijtsma are celebrating the arrival of a baby boy, Max’s half-brother. The name to watch out for in the future is Jason Jaxx Verstappen, as he will be taking to karts in about three years from now…

Thu, 16 May 2019 11:35:20 +0000
Six hours after the race...

Six hours after the race...

Formula 1 went to Catalonia expecting Ferrari to be strong on the circuit where the team had dominated pre-season testing a couple of months ago... But as the weekend unfurled, it was clear that Mercedes had taken a big step forward and Ferrari was struggling to keep up. Worse than that, Red Bull was also in the mix with the Italian team. Lewis Hamilton made the best start, as Valtteri Bottas struggled with a stuttering clutch and then had to avoid being sandwiched between Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, who tried a little too hard to get ahead at the first corner and went very wide. In the kerfuffle that followed Vettel lost momentum, Bottas had a wobble, Charles Leclerc had to lift off to avoid his team-mate and Max Verstappen emerged from the melee in third place, ahead of both Ferraris. After that it was a question of everyone avoiding mistakes and trying to work out strategies to get ahead. But the reality is that there were not many choices. Early on it was clear that Leclerc was faster than Vettel and so Sebastian moved over and let Charles into fourth place. Later, with different tyre combinations, the reverse happened and Ferrari switched the drivers again. It made no difference. Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen ran home 1-2-3, with a little excitement added when Lando Norris collided with Lance Stroll and caused a Safety Car with 20 laps to go. With the field pushed together again the final laps were exciting as the two Haas drivers battled over seventh, with the end result being a collision that probably cost the team three points as Magnussen held on to seventh but Grosjean sank to 10th. The big loser in the Safety Car interlude was Toro Rosso, which seemed to be headed for points with both cars but botched a stacked stop and slowed down both cars. Danny Kvyat managed to get ninth but Alex Albon narrowly missed out. The various incidents helped Carlos Sainz take four points in front of his home crowd, which numbered 160,000 over the course of the weekend. Once again the circuit meant that overtaking was difficult. Thus Mercedes heads to Monaco with the prospect of scoring what could be a record sixth consecutive 1-2 finish, something that has never been achieved in the history of the sport. But in F1 one can never take anything for granted... Ferrari will return home from Barcelona with a problem: what can the team do to keep up with the mighty Mercs? And can they hold off the Red Bull challenge?

- We look at the latest developments with the F1 calendar

- We remember Ayrton Senna

- We look back at the man who gave away his one chance to win a Grand Prix

- We remember Tommy Sopwith

- DT muses on the W Series

- JS wonders if PR is causing more harm than good for F1

- The Hack ruminates in different ways

- Peter Nygaard and his team bring you fabulous images of Barcelona

If you don't know GP+, we think you should check it out. It's an 80-100 page e-magazine with everything you want to known about a Grand Prix weekend - all delivered around six hours after the chequered flag. It is a magazine that is right at the centre of the sport. We attend every race and actually know and talk to the people involved. The magazine is published in electronic form in PDF format, or as a flip-book, so you can read it on whatever platform you desire: computer, tablet, cell phone or online. And you can download it and store it in your own devices. We offer more than 270 magazines, going back to 2007 for just £59.99, which is a fabulous deal. A single year subscription is a bargain too at £39.99. Subscribers can download the magazine by clicking here.

Or for more information, go to

And if you'd like to help us spread the word about the magazine, you can go to @grandprixplus and retweet and comment.

Sun, 12 May 2019 20:15:27 +0000
Brazilian GP bound for Rio

Brazilian GP bound for Rio

The Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has told local media that the Brazilian Grand Prix will move to a new circuit in Rio de Janeiro in 2020.

The announcement presumes that the circuit prospect will be paid for by the state. There have long been plans to build a circuit in the Deodoro district but the project lacked money. If the government has agreed to pay then that’s great for F1, although the neighbourhood is anything but safe. But, in São Paulo F1 people have been attacked on a regular basis and one hopes that the authorities will be a little more sensible than they have been at Interlagos.

Obviously it’s not smart to have F1 visit a city to promote its delights and then for the people involved to be mugged. But then one can understand the locals who see a bunch of rich people wandering into their turf... If the government pays for the track, it’s good news. That’s how it should be everywhere... Whether the President will still be there when the race takes place remains to be seen...

Wed, 08 May 2019 18:16:54 +0000
Formula 1 as a marketing tool

Formula 1 as a marketing tool

When it comes to marketing Formula 1 is a very powerful tool - and it seems like you don't have to win races to be able to sell your products.

Obviously, success must have some kind of impact but the glitter of F1 seems to be sufficient when it comes to selling road cars. McLaren recently reported on its 2018 sales, with the road cars being a huge success with an increase in sales of 45 percent compared to 2017. Sales leapt from 3,340 in 2017 to 4,829 last year. There was particularly impressive growth in China, which was up 141 percent, with the Asia Pacific region up 57 percent, Europe up 43 percent and North America up 42 percent.

The company had revenues of $1,643 million, compared to $1.132 million in 2017. We will not go into too much detail about the F1 side of the business except to say that the year saw revenues drop by $100 million, from $272 million to $172 million. This was caused by the loss of prize money and sponsors due in part to the poor results in 2017 and in part because of the decision to split with Honda, which brought substantial financial support, in addition to free engines.

All of this meant that despite selling off around $13 million of "heritage cars", the racing division ended up with a loss for the year of $125 million.

Down in Italy, Ferrari might not be winning World Championships but the company is selling cars. The Q1 results have just been made public and Ferrari shipped 2,610 units between January 1 and the end of March. This is up 22.7 percent compared to the same period last year and revenues were $1,052 million and pre-tax earnings of $348 million, significantly better than forecasts.

The company says that it expect to increase revenues for the year to about $3.9 billion, with pre-tax earnings of around $1.4 billion. Ferrari floated in New York in the autumn of 2015 with a share price of $52. Today the shares are worth $132... Don't you wish you had bought some?

Tue, 07 May 2019 13:25:21 +0000
Notebook from DXB

Notebook from DXB

It’s God-knows-what-o’clock here in the lounge in Dubai and my shoes are very shiny. I have been waiting for hours for the plane to Paris and I finally gave in and let the ever-cheerful shoe cleaners have their way. They were excited not to be rejected.

Going from Baku to Paris by way of Dubai may seem a strange routing, but airline logic is often bizarre. In any case, DXB (the airline code for Dubai) is something of a comfort zone for the F1 world at this time of year. This is my eighth visit in seven weeks, so it is something of a home away from home. But now the focus is on getting home and having some quiet time before the European season begins. Here in the A Lounge in Dubai, I have been working my way through some Cloudy Bay that they left lying about. It would be churlish not to. And I’ve been eating ice cream as well… It’s quiet now, but soon it will start to get busy when the planes come in from all around the world and everyone switches around and then heads off to their next destination. If all goes to plan, I’ll be back home by Tuesday lunchtime and then be able to enjoy the French national holiday on Wednesday. May 1 is a holiday in many places, call in May Day, Labor Day,

International Workers' Day, Spring Day or whatever. The French have a very particular tradition of giving each other muguet – which is what Englander would call lily of the valley. And in every town and village people set up stalls on the streets to sell these flowers to passers-by. Of course, in the world of Formula 1, May 1 is a significant date for other reasons, as it is the day on which Ayrton Senna died at Imola. It is amazing to think that it is now 25 years ago. A quarter of a century. It feels like only yesterday.

The primary scrawl in the green notebook this week was “GB GP”, which is the story that the British GP has been saved for three more years. It came from an impeccable source, was confirmed by a second impeccable source and I noted on the day after I wrote in in the JSBM, the story also appeared elsewhere from what I would call a reputable journalist, so I am not quite sure what is going on. One thing is certain is that it is absolutely not “fake news”, as some idiot at Silverstone suggested in a tweet (later withdrawn). It was a properly researched and cross-checked story and so the denials are rather odd, suggesting that perhaps an agreement was in place but paperwork was still needed to be done; or an agreement was not inked and new negotiations have begun for some reason. The most likely explanation is that there was some kind of agreement in principle and that is now under discussion because Silverstone doesn’t want a second GP in the UK, as there are clearly discussions going on about a race in London. This is not to replace Silverstone but the Northamptonshire track is probably worried that it will lose some of its spectators if there is an alternative which is not out in the sticks.

We will see what happens, but unless Silverstone throw the toys out of the pram, I believe that there is an agreement for a three-year deal in one form or another. Anyway, this appears to be contentious stuff in some circles, although beyond the shores of the UK, it is not massive news. Another note in the book says “Dutch GP” with another note saying “May 14 announcement” and a separate scribble that says May 10. All of this translates to the fact that there will be a Dutch GP at Zandvoort on May 10 next year, which will be announced in Holland on May 14 this year. My understanding is that it will go ahead on the basis that the Dutch will do some work on the paddock. How much work, I do not know. The word is that the Dutch GP will replace Spain as the opening European race, with Spain unlikely to keep a race. Germany too looks like its involvement in F1 is coming to an end as the calendar is now becoming very busy, as teams don’t want more than 21 races in 2020 and we already have the new Vietnamese GP confirmed. There are several other new races in the pipeline, which means that either the calendar must expand, or promoters must agree to pay more – or both. It is important to point out that F1 races are not all treated the same: there are, effectively, three divisions: the high-payers, the strategically-important and the traditional races. There is huge pressure in the first of these divisions as governments compete for F1 races, the strategic races are those deemed to be important to grow the sport, some of which will require different financial models, and the traditional races that old fans want to see continue but cannot pay a huge amount, without government help. The skill is to balance these different elements to produce an annual increase in revenues, even if some of them pay less…

Those who look for negative stories about F1 are joyously reporting that the Miami GP is dead and extrapolating that into some kind of failure on the part of the new owners, but the reality is that the Miami project has a Plan B, which sounds pretty plausible, with a track being laid out around the Hard Rock Stadium, which is owned by Stephen Ross, the man who was going to promote the street race. Ross has a huge amount of land around the stadium and is developing new ideas all the time about how to turn his stadium into a mecca for sports fans. To give you an idea, the stadium, which traditionally hosts NFL and MLB games has been used also for the Miami Open tennis competition, with part of the facility having been permanently converted to become a tennis centre. It is an interesting plan, which would see the racing at the stadium but the partying in the downtown area, following the model of the Canadian GP. And while some will wince and remember Vegas in the 1980s, and others will say it would lack atmosphere because Florida is flat, one should point out that Montreal is also flat and no-one ever says that lacks atmosphere, and that perhaps the race could be under lights, which would be a pretty sensational show, particularly if Singapore drops from the calendar, which has been whispered for some time.

Singapore gets a lot from F1 and F1 gets a lot from Singapore, but the city sometimes does strange things. Last year it gave up being the host city of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Finals, despite a very successful run of events from 2014 to 2018. The various parties could not agree on a price. The event has now moved to the Chinese city of Shenzen until at least 2028. The competition attracted around 130,000 fans each year and was axed for no apparent reason, apart perhaps that it is bidding for the ATP Finals from 2021 to 2025. London has staged the event since 2009 at the O2 Arena.

It is interesting to note that another of the scribbles in the green notebook relates to a “London GP” and says “Docklands project” and “Promoter?” and the word ExCel, which is the Abu Dhabi-owned exhibition centre that is in the area.

I cannot say I know that part of London very well but I did once take a ride on a thing they call The Emirates Air Line, which is basically a cable car from the 02 Arena on the Greenwich Peninsula across to the Royal Victoria Dock, which is close to the ExCel exhibition centre. This is an area where much development has been going on and is part of what is known as the Green Enterprise District, which includes a building called The Crystal, a permanent exhibition about sustainable development, onwed and operated by Siemens. Formula 1 may not be seen as being very green but the reality is that its hybrid technology is ground-breaking to an astonishing level and it is likely to be much more important than the battery development work going on in Formula E, in the mid- to long-term. It is interesting to note that at the Geneva Motor Show this year Formula 1 chairman and CEO Chase Carey said that one of the sport’s two “strategic priorities” this year is to “build not just on our technological leadership, but the incredible achievements in efficiency and sustainability for our cars and hybrid engines” and “to continue to invest in opportunities to further reduce carbon emissions and other initiatives to be at the forefront of road relevant technology.”

One can see that being allowed to race in the Green Enterprise District would draw attention to F1’s achievements in this respect, which have been pushed into the shadows somewhat by Formula E. However, the car industry is beginning to see a push back in relation to electric cars, with an important study being published recently by theIFO Institute for Economic Research, an influential Munich-based think-tank, which suggests that the Tesla Model 3 produces more carbon dioxide during its life cycle than either a diesel-powered Mercedes 220d or a Mercedes C Class converted from petrol to natural gas. Volkswagen, which wants to sell 10 million EVs in the coming years, admitted its electric Golf is less environmentally-friendly than the diesel version but says that the calculations are skewed by the fact that Germany’s energy production model is very inefficient because of the political decision to give up on nuclear power, forcing the power industry to rely on coal-burning power stations in the short- to mid-term.

Elsewhere in the notebook, there are references to “Roberts – McLaren” and “Alperin – Racing Point”. There is also another scrawl which says “Bamford – RP”.

The first refers to the fact that the number four in McLaren – Chief Operating Officer Simon Roberts – is leaving the team he has been with for 15 years. One presumes that Roberts has another job to go to, but it is still a fairly major change at McLaren, where he has long been one of the pillars of the team. A pretty heavy-hitter in the car industry in his youth, working as head of divisions at Rover and at BMW after the British firm was taken over by the Germans, Roberts has been at McLaren ever since, apart from a stint at Force India when the team was a major McLaren customer and Simon was seconded to Silverstone to make sure things ran smoothly. Also leaving Woking is Dave Probyn, a management consultant who has a background in quality control, but who has been with the team for two years, using the title “Operations Director”. His background was at Toyota, where he spent 10 years before working for five years with Mercedes in various F1 roles.

The reference to Alperin relates to Argentine aerodynamist Mariano Alperin, who has worked in F1 since the early 1990s. He joined BAR at Brackley in 2005 and moved up to be chief aerodynamicist there in 2006 before moving to Sauber when Honda pulled the plug on the team in 2009. After nearly 10 years in Switzerland he is joining Racing Point, although the team does much of its aero work in Cologne in Germany.

The reference to Bamford relates to the British billionaire Lord Bamford, the owner of JCB, who has joined the consortium that owns Racing Point. He is a longtime friend of Lawrence Stroll, the two sharing a taste for exotic (and very expensive) Ferraris, and has sponsored Lance Stroll in recent years…

Thu, 02 May 2019 13:39:12 +0000
The Dutch GP

The Dutch GP

And by the way, the Dutch Grand Prix will be confirmed on May 14 and will take place at Zandvoort on May 10 2020 - so long as there is some work done to upgrade the paddock area. The bad news for Spnaish F1 fans is that we may be heading to the last Spanish GP next week, as the problems between Spain and Catalonia (which have dominated the general election that was held at the weekend) will make it impossible for a deal to be struck for the future. Things will obviously not be helped by the fact that Fernando Alonso has left F1...

Tue, 30 Apr 2019 11:08:21 +0000
The British GP

The British GP

One of the most difficult moments in the life of a news journalist comes when one has several trusted sources contradicting one another. The very fact that they are trusted means that they have earned such status over time and so one must dig down to understand how things have gone wrong, if indeed that is the case, rather than saying "This source can no longer be trusted". This often reveals that one of the sources was wrong but did not know they were wrong and did not lead one astray on purpose. And, more often than not, the story becomes true with a little time because when someone says "The deal is done", the broad brush has been applied and the detailed work is still to be done. Or people in a hierarchy do not know about deals that others had done. It is a complicated world and a bit of a high wire for the journalist involved, but getting news is about more than just retyping a press release...

When I landed at Roissy, on my way home this morning from Baku, Silverstone rang to say that the British GP deal is not done, contrary to a story I had written, based on normally impeccable sources, with whom the story had been cross-checked. I was rather surprised to hear this because the sources in this case are never wrong - and I could see no reason why either they or Silverstone would be trying to lead me astray. In fact, I went back to one of the sources twice: firstly to make sure that I had not got it wrong and secondly to ask whether the story would cause trouble for anyone involved. The answer was that no, it was OK to run it. And so I have concluded that this is either one of those situations where the deal is very close to being done but the i's need to be dotted and the t's need to be crossed and that it will be confirmed in the fullness of time, or that a deal was done and one of the parties now wants slightly different terms. Silverstone says that negotiations are ongoing and it is not a question of details. Clearly there is more to this than meets the eye and I am now wondering whether a deal was done, but without the paperwork being finished, and that circumstances have changed. This could be possible because it is clear that in recent weeks the Formula 1 group has been working heavily on a London race which would not replace the British GP, but rather run alongside it. This would not be what Silverstone might want because one can imagine the Northamptonshire track thinking that a second British GP would affect their ticket sales.

Having two races in the UK has happened before on several occasions and did not have any dramatic effect on either venue. Silverstone sells out each year and I am sure that a street race in London would sell out as well.

The fact that Silverstone initially dubbed the story as being "fake news" was a silly thing to do because it was clear that this is a very real story which has been properly researched and verified. It is also worth noting that the circuit later changed its denial to remove the words "fake news".

In any case, a British Grand Prix deal is close and I believe that we will find out soon that the story was not wrong. Even better news is that British fans may get the chance to have two races in Britain: one at the traditional British GP venue at Silverstone, and the other in London, a global destination city that will help F1 to increase the number of global F1 fans.

Time will tell.

For added context, here is the original story: British GP saved as Silverstone agrees new deal

Tue, 30 Apr 2019 10:59:46 +0000