Over the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend, it was announced with much fanfare that the Concorde Agreement negotiations were progressing well
, with commercial agreements reached "with the majority of current teams".
McLaren, Ferrari, and Red Bull were all name-checked in the announcement, and it emerged that Mercedes was one of the few major hold-outs.According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, the Silver Arrows are considering leaving the sport if they are not offered agreeable terms, and the possibility of legal action has also been raised.Mercedes may have only been in F1 since 2010 (in its current guise), but the German car manufacturer has long been involved as an engine supplier and team partner.Formula 1 has a lot to lose if Mercedes does decide to leave, although there's no guarantee that the departure of the race team would lead to the departure of Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines.To lose one of the grid's best engine suppliers shortly before a change to the engine formula would be dramatic, and a situation best avoided.To lose a strongish team with decent funding that has yet to win a race is less of a drama.But for the sport to lose the only race team backed by a manufacturer with mass market appeal is a real problem. Because while people might fantasize about buying a Ferrari, or picking up an MP4-12C, they're more likely to be able to afford a Mercedes. It's the only realistic car brand in F1. And yes, Caterham are affordable. But they're not the sort of car beloved by the masses. (Lotus, before you say anything, are running the name under license and are no longer directly linked to the manufacturer. But even if they were, see Caterham, above. Your Evora might be fun, but you won't see them clogging up the Sainsbury's car park any time soon.)So F1 does need Mercedes, strange as it might seem. Manufacturers with a racing history and money men who understand the sport are few and far between. If increases in sales of whatever the latest Mercs are
can be linked to the team's presence in Formula 1, other automotive brands are more likely to reconsider their (non) involvement in F1.
Given that Martin Whitmarsh has a history of trying to use his FOTA presidency to promote unity and unilateral decision-making among the teams, it was surprising to see McLaren listed in the Concorde announcement. In an interview with Autosport which I recommend you read
, Whitmarsh defended his team's decision.A separate Autosport piece also worth reading
quotes FIA head of F1 communications Matteo Bonciani as confirming that the sport's governing body was involved in the ongoing Concorde Agreement negotiations.
"All matters relating to a new agreement between the commercial rights holder and the teams are clearly still at a discussion stage and that the FIA is engaged with all the relevant parties as part of this discussion," Bonciani told Autosport
"Of course, these matters have been under discussion for quite some time, and due to their complexity, it is best not to speculate until a clear direction has been agreed."
If you know anything about golf, please insert a funny comment here. I only play mini-golf, and that very badly. Plus, after doing Melbourne and Sepang back-to-back, my brain has abandoned me for pastures new and I can't do the humour thing without it.
It was announced today that Adam Parr will be leaving the Williams F1 team at the end of this week. The news took the F1 world by surprise, as Parr was widely viewed to be Sir Frank's eventual successor.
"I asked Adam to join Williams at the end of 2006 to support me in the running of our team," Frank Williams was quoted as saying in the team's press release announcing Parr's departure. "Over five years, Adam’s achievements have surpassed my expectations and I must thank him for his service. Not least for the decisive role he played in the technical changes made last year which are beginning to show through in the team’s improved competitiveness this season, and for leading this company to a successful IPO.
"Adam leaves us on good terms to pursue a better balance in his life for which I wish him and his family well. He has left us in good shape and I have every confidence that the Board and senior management team at Williams will continue to drive the business forward into a promising future."
Nick Rose, who was a non-executive director of the Williams Grand Prix Holdings plc board, has been appointed as non-executive chairman in place of Parr.
The Concorde we are allowed to see
Racefans, heave a sigh of relief. We're not going to see an end to Formula 1 once the chequered flag falls in Interlagos.Not that anyone was all that worried, to be honest.But it's a Concorde Agreement negotiation year,
and tradition demands that the headlines scream of the death of the sport, a breakaway series or six, and revelations of backstabbery and double-dealing.Unfortunately, Bernie Ecclestone nipped that tradition in the bud this morning with the following announcement, published on the Formula1.com website:
"I am very pleased to announce that we have reached commercial agreements with the majority of the current Formula One teams, including Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull Racing, about the terms on which they will continue competing in Formula One after the current Concorde Agreement expires at the end of this year."As is often the case with official announcements, there's an awful lot of information missing. We're still waiting to hear about the terms themselves (copies of the Concorde Agreement can be seen only by the signatories, which means a lot of what we 'know' is only hearsay), and there's no confirmation of the hold-outs.But the paddock rumour mill is up to its usual tricks, and the highest-profile teams yet to sign are thought to be Mercedes and Williams.
Much as I hate to make such an admission, it looks as though I might have been wrong
. Savour this moment, as I don't do mea culpa
Still, it's an excuse to shoehorn yet another Evita
reference into this week's writing, so who am I to complain?And the money kept rolling in from every side
...When the money keeps rolling in, you don't ask how Think of all the people guaranteed a good time now
...And the money kept rolling out in all directions To the poor, to the weak, to the destitute of all complexions Now cynics claim a little of the cash has gone astray But that's not the point my friends When the money keeps rolling out you don't keep books You can tell you've done well by the happy grateful looks Accountants only slow things down, figures get in the wayArgentine president
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has made a habit of using public funds to secure her popularity, in an echo of the tactics used by the infamous Eva Peron in the 1940s and early '50s.Peron used public funds to secure the adoration of that self-same public through the
Fundación María Eva Duarte de Perón,
providing her descamisados
with all manner of benefits, from the useful (homes, hospitals, employment, education) to the more frivolous (money for holidays).It was a masterstroke of political PR, and gave Evita saint-like status among her supporters.Kirchner has been using public money in a similar attempt to secure popular support, but the president's efforts have been more circenses
, less panem
.In 2009, Kirchner nationalised Argentine football broadcasting, making the country's most popular sport accessible to all through FTA television. In her next move, she nationalised coverage of Argentine motorsport.The public are still paying to watch football and racecars, of course, but they're now doing so through taxation, and not via satellite subscriptions.
The latest attempt to curry public favour comes via the proposed Argentine Grand Prix, which is now looking highly likely, to the extent that the paddock rumour mill claims we'll be rocking up to Mar del Plata in 2013. The race is expected to be twinned with Interlagos at the end of the year.Of course, to claim that Kirchner is all circus and no bread is to do the Argentine president a disservice. Like her heroine Evita (Kirchner often uses pictures of Eva Peron as backdrops to her public speeches)
, the incumbent president has worked to improve both social inclusion and economic development.In 2010, Kirchner legalized gay marriage in Argentina. A year earlier, she implemented the Universal Child Allowance, from which approximately 10 percent of the population is said to benefit.
For the past two seasons, Lotus have been making a big deal out of music.
This year, the racing team released a CD of tracks the garage allegedly listens to (I say allegedly, as I've never heard any of the songs on the CD being played at a race weekend), and in 2011 the team started titling all their press releases with songs.That tradition has carried over into this season,
and the Lotus PR guys chose 'Fire and Rain' as the title of Friday's press release.
Around 3am on Saturday morning, the Lotus hospitality suite in the Sepang paddock caught fire.
The cause was reportedly a faulty fuse in one of the fridges.Luckily, no one was hurt. One of the Malaysian security staff entered the burning building and rescued the helmets and race suits, but a number of laptops and other pieces of team equipment were destroyed in the blaze.The team has been rehoused in a different hospitality suite at the far end of the paddock, and the team PRs have relocated to the press room, where they're all a lot more vulnerable to our constant requests for comment.Given the prophetic nature of that press release, we're now all waiting for the heavens to open. But seeing as the team can determine the future with their titles, might I suggest that the next release be headed 'We Are the Champions'?In other Lotus news, Kimi Raikkonen has been issued with a five-place grid penalty thanks to a gearbox change completely unrelated to the fire.
Unlikely to happen at the Austin GP
Anyone who's ever spent their Saturday night throwing their hands in the air under smoke and lasers might find a few aspects of a grand prix weekend somewhat familiar.There's the deafening noise, the press of the crowds, and the state of the loos. Oh, and the exorbitant cost of a bottle of water, plus the bag searches on entry.But aside from the aforementioned, I don't think an F1 weekend has much in common with a club night/free party/rave.According to the state of Texas, however, the crowds are enough of a similarity that the Austin Grand Prix will be required to secure a permit for mass gathering.The Austin Statesman, which first reported on the permit requirement, explains that Texas' mass gathering law dates back to the pot-powered 1970s Willie Nelson picnics, and is now most commonly used to penalise illegal raves.Not the sort of activities you'd normally associate with motorsport, which is why COTA executives appear to have been ignorant of the need to apply for a permit under the mass gathering law.
"The statute on its face requires a mass gathering permit, and common sense would tell you that [the grand prix] is obviously a mass gathering," county commissioner Sarah Eckhardt told the Statesman
.Circuit officials are now gearing up to apply for the relevant permit, and are confident that their application will be approved.
"COTA is securing the necessary county permits for construction and related site work as they are required," the Statesman
quote COTA spokeswoman Julie Loignon as saying. "
We have had discussions with numerous departments within the county regarding the mass gathering permit requirement and are getting together the necessary elements. With a project of this size and complexity, it takes some time to gather all of the requisite information. But we are working on it."
It is a fact of life at the Sepang International Circuit that the combination of extreme temperatures and high cornering speeds leads to increased tyre degradation.
With the Formula 1 circus arriving in Sepang hot on the heels of an Australian Grand Prix that saw a number of teams surprised by the levels of wear on their rubber, one of the big talking points in the paddock on Thursday was rear tyre degradation this weekend.
One of the worst-affected teams in Melbourne was Mercedes, with Nico Rosberg struggling to keep pace with his rivals on rubber that was disintegrating at a much faster rate.
The German driver said today that managing rear tyre degradation would be a priority for his team this weekend.
"It was us that suffered most [with tyre degradation in Australia]," Rosberg said. "I’m sure we’re going to be able to improve the situation significantly with the set-up, but it definitely won’t be easy here because of the nature of the track."
Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel was wary about the effects of the tropical heat on his Pirelli rubber, but admitted to feeling positive about the tyres overall.
"We’re pretty happy on both compounds," the Red Bull driver said. The tyres "are a little bit more vulnerable and the degradation is higher, but that was set as the target. I think we’ll see a little bit more [degradation] this weekend thanks to the higher track temperatures."
Previous Sepang winner Jenson Button sees the tyres as something of an unknown quantity this weekend, dependent on the vagaries of local weather conditions.
"It’s always more difficult for the tyres around here," the McLaren driver asserted. "But obviously we have the hard and the medium compound and they’re both pretty hard compounds, so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. I think it’s just the temperature and the humidity that will be the biggest issue for them."
Over at Force India, Nico Hulkenberg sees the tyres as more of an unknown quantity; the German retired from the Melbourne Grand Prix in the second lap, and has had to rely on his teammate’s telemetry as a consequence.
"It’s quite difficult this year to understand the tyres, to know how to switch them on and switch them off within different working ranges," Hulkenberg told the assembled media in Sepang. "It’s warm here, so we’ll see."
Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo was the final man to weigh in on the tyre degradation debate. Asked about the STR7’s performance in Melbourne, the Australian driver waxed lyrical about the enduring Pirelli rubber.
"I think it will be a bit different here with the heat," he added. "Much harder on the rear tyres. Obviously we’ll try and push the stints as long as we can, but I think the rear tyres will be vulnerable."For more on tyre degradation in Sepang, check out my FP1 report.
Got a spare few million tucked down the back of the sofa? Fancy owning a piece of motorsport history?Then you're in luck, as the Toleman with which Ayrton Senna came *thisclose* to humiliating Alain Prost during the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix is up for auction.The
TG184-2 is going on the block at the Silverstone Auction company on 16 May, and is likely to be subject to a fierce battle of the paddles if there are any rich F1 fans left in this world.
"We are thrilled to bring this iconic race car to auction as it’s undoubtedly one of the most important lots we’ve ever offered under the hammer," said Nick Whale, managing director at Silverstone Auctions. "
Senna mania is reaching fever pitch and rightly so as he’s considered by many as the greatest F1 driver we’ve ever seen. It goes without saying that this will be one of the star attractions at the sale as it’s a very rare chance to own a much sought after piece of motorsport and Ayrton Senna history."News via www.torquenews.com.
One thing I didn't expect when I first rocked up to an F1 press room was the number of people with a musical theatre background of sorts. I won't name any names, but a lot of us can be called upon to sing the collected works of Sondheim, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lloyd Webber, et al.So if you're not as well-versed in Broadway/the West End, the title of this piece is an Evita reference.Evita has been something of a theme this week. We landed in Kuala Lumpur and joked about 'Another Suitcase, Another Hall', while I've had 'Rainbow High' stuck in my head since landing in Melbourne at the beginning of March.But I digress.Vijay Mallya, the Indian beer baron, Force India team principal, and owner of the beleagured Kingfisher Airlines, has been having something of an annus horriblis. Far from being high flying and adored, Mallya is currently battling to keep Kingfisher afloat
.Reuters have done a wonderful job summarising Mallya's current struggles, and I recommend that you read their analysis.TL/DR? In addition to the ongoing problems of non-payment of staff, the IATA suspension, frozen bank accounts, and lack of support from a central government fearful of accusations of cronyism
, Kingfisher is now on the verge of being shut down by India's aviation minister.There are rumours that Mallya has himself been grounded by the Indian government, and that the Force India team principal has been banned from leaving the country. These rumours are unconfirmed, but it will be interesting to see whether or not Mallya makes an appearance in the Sepang paddock this weekend.To be fair to Mallya, the problems he's currently facing are not entirely his fault, although they are of his making.Starting an airline to promote a beer brand was always a bit of an odd thing to do, but if he'd made a success of it the Indian businessman would currently be lauded as a visionary. Unfortunately, he overstretched himself in a crowded market just as the global economy hit meltdown.India isn't a great country from which to run an airline. High taxes mean aviation fuel is more expensive on the subcontinent than it is anywhere else in the galaxy, making operating costs higher than they would have been had Mallya based his operations elsewhere. But Kingfisher Airlines needed to be an Indian brand so that he could tap into the pride aspect of the national psyche to promote his beer, so...The other problem faced by Mallya is the Indian central government's strict rules governing foreign investment in domestic airlines. Basically, it's verboten. Individuals can invest (
although not many individuals can stump up the $500-600 million needed to rescue Kingfisher), but foreign airlines are banned. The rule was designed to protect domestic business interests, but it does mean that once you're in serious schtuk, as Mallya is at present, there's not really anyone able to help you out of it.Mallya's other problem is his close connection to the powers that be in India. Thanks to decades of accusations of corruption and cronyism by the central government, and a concerted media campaign to improve transparency, Mallya's buddies in power can't afford to help him out. To do so would invite accusations of the same-old, same-old that they're all desperate to avoid in a bid to keep their seats at the high table.India needs to re-examine its attitude to foreign investment in domestic airlines, and to aviation taxation, but they cannot do so until after Mallya has fallen.High flying adored to sacficial lamb. Can't be much fun. But before you feel too sorry for the booze billionaire, spare a thought for the staff of Kingfisher Airlines, many of whom have been working without pay since December.