After five successful years, it was highly unlikely that Formula One would say goodbye to Singapore. The two cities may have water in common, but Valencia this ain't.
But with the F1 circus rolling into town for what could have been the last time were the race contract not extended, paddock people were keeping their fingers crossed that we weren't making our last visit to the much loved Singapore Grand Prix.
While some fans complain that the Marina Bay Circuit doesn't offer much in the way of overtaking, finding Singapore detractors in the F1 paddock is an impossible task.
We like the food, the people, the city, the culture, the vampire hours, and the once-in-a-season fun of racing at night.
And we remember a lot of good racing at this circuit (where overtaking does happen), not least Robert Kubica's stellar performance on these mean streets in September 2010.
So when news emerged that Bernie Ecclestone and the Singapore race organisers had called a special press conference for Saturday evening, we braced ourselves for confirmation of a contract extension. Because why would Bernie and co. hold a press conference to announce the race was finished?
Sure, Singapore had been pressing for a lower race hosting fee in light of the changing global financial climate (and their position of power as the Monaco of the east in F1 business terms), but that's no reason for FOA to bring an end to one of the most popular events on the calendar.
"We're very happy with what we've got in Singapore,” Ecclestone told reporters. “All of us without exception like being here and that made it difficult to negotiate. We eventually got there."
The Singapore Grand Prix contract has been extended to 2017, and while Marina Bay is likely to remain the backdrop of the race, the organisers admitted that they were open to the possibility of revising or moving the circuit, although no plans to do either are currently in place.
So the FIA have got clever
, and now Bernie's fighting back.At least, that's my reading of the F1 supremo's latest interview, with British tabloid the Daily Mail, in which Ecclestone suggests that it should be the front-running teams - and not motorsport's governing body -
who control the Formula One rulebook.
"Now what we've got to do is look at how the technical regulations are made," Ecclestone said. "It should be the teams, though not all the teams, who do that. They are the people who have to come up with the money, not the FIA. It would be the established teams who are here to stay - Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull, Mercedes and probably Williams as old timers - deciding what to do."Thing is, the current system does see the teams deciding what to do - rule changes are agreed upon by vote, and all of Formula One's stakeholders have their say. But under this new system, proposed by Bernie, not only will more than half of the teams on the grid lose their chance of influencing the rulebook, but the FIA will lose a lot of power. And for this suggestion to come just as the FIA are making their largest power grab of the past two decades?Not suspicious at all, is it?Of course, Bernie's efforts to get the sport's bigger teams firmly in his camp will only work if the teams in question fall for it.Williams and McLaren have already capitulated to Bernie's influence in previous disagreements this season - McLaren over the Bahrain Grand Prix, and Williams over Adam Parr - and there is a good chance that could be repeated. And not just over this latest proposal, which could just be another sprinkler/medals suggestion.
What we're really looking at is a push-me-pull-you between Bernie and the FIA, with the teams playing piggy in the middle till the Concorde Agreement and 2013 rule changes have all been signed, sealed, and delivered.Mercedes have been standing firm, because they've got the clout to do so. Ferrari traditionally go with whichever option gives them the best deal, and they're unlikely to change that approach now. So the question there is will Ferrari benefit more from an FIA-enforced RRA or the ability to control the regulations? To answer that, remember the Scuderia's infamous veto power that already gives them a certain amount of control. And that leaves Red Bull. We already know that they're opposed to the proposals currently being considered by the FIA, and the strong relationship between Ecclestone and Christian Horner is far too valuable to the team for them to want to risk incurring the wrath of the F1 god.With luck, Stefano Domenicali and Martin Whitmarsh will view this latest proposal not as team principals who stand to benefit, but as senior figures in FOTA, whose job it is to fight for the rights of every team, not just those who have been selected for special treatment by a pot-stirring Bernie.
My F1 news aggregator is obsessed with cost-cutting at the moment. At least, that's what it feels like. Every headline has something to do with the subject, whether it's yet another team principal contributing his thoughts on the topic or madcap schemes like the banning of tyre warmers.
And who can argue against cutting costs in the current financial climate? (If I had a penny for every time I've typed that sentence since 2008...)
But the current cost-cutting talk is about a whole lot more than just saving money. Cost-cutting is the media-friendly topic through which F1's biggest stakeholders are all trying to wrest control of the sport under the current Concorde Agreement negotiations.
Bernie Ecclestone, who has long been against the new engine formula being brought in by the FIA, has been using the cost-cutting argument to try and torpedo the 2014 switch. As an added bonus, burying the FIA president's pet project would be a demonstration of the F1 supremo's continuing power and influence.
The FIA is looking seriously at the prospect of enshrining cost cutting into the sport's regulations, something that would cost the organisation more money, but give them infinitely more power. Teams could be fined or disqualified for overspending, and the FIA would have the authority to stick their noses into all aspects of an operation, not merely a team's trackside and development work.
The teams, meanwhile, all want some form of action on costs, but continue to prod away at rivalries rather than seeking out common ground. And it's a problem - where do you set a fair cap when some teams are spending £300 million and others less than £80 million? And how do you go about restricting resources without creating a series of layoffs at the bigger teams?
Make no mistake - cost-cutting in Formula One is a very real issue, and one that needs to be addressed. But it is also being manipulated for political gain.
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."
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.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I think that's how the saying goes, anyway.Popular adages exist for a reason. But luckily for Bernie Ecclestone, no one in Formula 1 seems to pay them much attention. At least, I assume not. Otherwise, how could the F1 supremo's divide-and-conquer strategy have paid dividends yet again?When doing dealings with Ecclestone, there is one thing to bear in mind: However good the deal he is presenting looks, however much you think you might be gaining an advantage, there is only one winner - Bernie himself.So Ferrari and Red Bull are reportedly gaining seats at the F1 negotiating table plus the promise of untold riches in the next round of the Concorde Agreement. And should the reports be accurate, there will be some pretty smug people in Maranello and Milton Keynes.But the biggest grin of all will be on the face of a certain white-haired businessman firmly ensconced behind a desk at Prince's Gate.So Bernie might have given away a few million, and honoured Ferrari and Red Bull with a largely irrelevant presence on the F1 board. But that's small beans compared to what he and CVC stood to have lost if the teams had stayed together to fight for the wider interests of the sport as a whole.Instead, Red Bull have had their heads turned by the terms of the new Concorde Agreement (parts of which were published on the Sky News website over the weekend before being swiftly removed)
, which will give the relative newbies greater status than long-established outfits like McLaren and Williams.Flattery will get you everywhere, if you know how to use it at the negotiating table.Ferrari have long made a habit of prioritising their own self-interest over the future of the sport as a whole, and as a result Bernie knows that he can count on having the prancing horses in his stable no matter how much they profess to strain under his bridle.Of course, those teams that feel they have been left out in the cold by this latest round of negotiations have one very powerful weapon in their arsenal, should they choose to use it.As a private equity firm, CVC are looking to maximise the return on their F1 investment. Current reports suggest that the goal is an IPO on the Singapore stock market, and cite a theoretical - and vastly over-inflated - market value of $10 billion.But without a signed and sealed Concorde Agreement guaranteeing the future participation of the bulk of the grid's current teams (and certainly including McLaren, Williams, Mercedes, and Lotus as signatories), CVC's F1 stake will have very little value at all.By holding the Concorde Agreement hostage, those teams currently left in FOTA might find that they too can earn a bit of preferential treatment.[Edited to add]: Both Ferrari and Red Bull have denied signing the deal referred to by Sky News, with both teams saying only that they are "in discussions" with FOM.
For sale: Spanish broadcasting rights to Formula 1. Slightly used, several previous owners.
It's not going well for Spain, is it? First they've got that pesky financial crisis to deal with, then they started trying to muck around with turning two grands prix into one, and now it looks like they might not have F1 on TV at all.And to think that the British fans complained when Sky swept in and brought an end to free-to-air F1.Okay, so I exaggerate a bit. Just because the Spanish Formula 1 TV rights are up for sale (again) in a financial climate that doesn't see huge bags of spare cash floating about the place doesn't mean that F1 is gone for good. After all, there are always billionaires with an eye for a bargain.For the moment, however, Mediapro have announced that they are not able to stump up the
€45 million fee due this year. As a result, the rights are now for sale to the highest bidder.Despite Fernando Alonso's success, Spain has never really been a major market for Formula 1.
The Ferrari driver has a loud and passionate fanbase, but MotoGP is the national motorsport, and F1 is only able to pull in around 3 million viewers per race.According to the Hollywood Reporter, "
Mediapro, which bought the exclusive rights in May 2007 for five years up to and including 2013 for a reported €200 million to be paid incrementally, is in the midst of merging its free-to-air television channel La Sexta with Planeta's Antena 3. Antena 3 and Telecinco are the only broadcasters in the Spanish market that could foot the bill for the rights. Antena 3 can't simply assume the rights as market regulators still need to green light the merger."
Finally, there's a reason to like the EU. Well, a reason other than ERASMUS, free movement across EU borders, and something else good that they've done. There must be something, right?But I digress.The European Court of Justice this week ruled that EU citizens who have purchased foreign decoder cards in an attempt to secure cheaper access to Premier League football matches were not breaking any laws by doing so.And what applies to Premier League football must also apply to Formula 1. After all, they're both sports with a fanbase that extends beyond national borders.The exact wording of the ECJ ruling applies only to football stadiums:
"import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards is contrary to the freedom to provide services and cannot be justified either in light of the objective of protecting intellectual property rights or by the objective of encouraging the public to attend football stadiums."But should anyone fall foul of the law by attempting the same with Formula 1 next year, just get in touch with Max Mosley. He's spent so much time campaigning in Strasbourg of late that he'll be able to tell you who to contact to plead your case that a judgment good enough for fo
otball should be good enough for Formula 1.Furthermore, and perhaps of greater interest, came the information that live match coverage is not covered by copyright. I'd need to speak to a lawyer (anyone out there?) to get the real story there, but does that mean live-streaming isn't in violation of copyright either?Even more interesting is the news that the ECJ doesn't think broadcasters should be allowed to buy territorial exclusivity.
"Payment by the television stations of a premium in order to ensure themselves absolute territorial exclusivity goes beyond what is necessary to ensure the right holders appropriate remuneration," the ECJ ruling read.
"Such a practice may result in artificial price differences between the partitioned national markets. Such partitioning and such an artificial price difference are irreconcilable with the fundamental aim of the treaty, which is completion of the internal market."The whole piece is worth a read. Just try and suppress your squeals of joy as you mentally swap all mentions of the Premier League for Formula 1.