With the first F1 car of the 2013 season making its debut on Monday, it's a pretty odd time to still have a TBA on the official calendar.
Talking to Autosport
, Bernie Ecclestone said that Portugal's new Algarve circuit was in contention to fill the missing July slot on this year's calendar, while admitting that the calendar would probably stand at 19 races this year. The F1 boss also told the magazine that the calendar would not grow beyond twenty races. “
Twenty [is] the maximum amount," he said.
Assuming that Sochi and New Jersey make their debuts in 2014 as planned, and that rumoured races in Mexico, Thailand, and Long Beach all come to fruition, it hardly takes an expert to spot that some of the existing races are going to have to go.North Korea are currently threatening war on South Korea
, trying to prevent their neighbour from joining in with tightened UN sanctions against the country, which this week said they would be testing nuclear weapons capable of attacking the United States. To say that tensions are somewhat high is putting things mildly.
Meanwhile, in Bahrain, the protests continue. Some concessions have been made by the government - the lifting of martial law, and the introduction of minor reforms - but these have largely been seen as palliative measures by the protesters.
The government last week invited the opposition for talks, and while six groups will be represented there are concerns that the government will once again 'moderate' the talks, and not participate in them
, as has been the case in previous cross-party discussions.
Part of the ongoing problem in Bahrain is that the government is itself divided on the position it should take. There are internal schisms between the hard-line prime minister and the crown prince, who heads a faction more willing to reform the country's political structure. It is worth noting that Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa is the world's longest-serving prime minister, and not a man known for his free-wheeling approach to change.
The current political situations in North Korea and Bahrain would not necessarily lead to race contracts not being renegotiated in Yeongam and Sakhir, but they are worth keeping in mind. The progression of events could have a long-term effect on either grand prix.
And then there's Europe to consider. Barcelona has a contract to host a grand prix, and circuit officials have spoken of their desire to renew upon expiry, with circuit boss Vincente Aguilera saying in December that plans to alternate with Valencia were off the table, and that he hoped to extend the Circuit de Catalunya's F1 contract to 2020.
But Spain's not in the greatest shape financially, and Aguilera's desires may come to naught should the financial situation worsen further still. Complicating matters further, the Catalan parliament yesterday effectively confirmed that they would be holding a referendum on independence for the region. Depending on the results of that referendum, Aguilera could find himself in a completely different political and financial climate when the time comes to renew.
Spa's long-term financial troubles are well-documented, and the beloved circuit is constantly at risk of falling off the calendar. The will-they-won't-they over this year's German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring means that an annual race in Germany is by no means guaranteed, although Hockenheim still has a contract to host the race on alternate years. Hockenheim circuit officials have been very clear in their statements saying that they can not afford to take the event on full time.
New Jersey itself is by no means certain. Not only has the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy led to a massive redirection of funds, construction workers, and the like - F1 is an understandably low priority right now - but the cause of the initial postponement may lead to longer delays, or to no race at all. The amount of work needed to soil and roads in an occupied area could make the grand prix a no-go. The costs of doing such work are obscene to begin with, and protests from residents about the disruption to their lives could see the project off for good.
Sorry for the radio silence - in between recovering from the Korean jetlag and sleeping all manner of odd hours I've been working on a number of TOPSEKRIT projects that may never see the light of day.
Or they might. We shall see.
While I've been away all sorts has happened - Massa's been confirmed for a one-year extension at Ferrari, which my Twitter followers will have read about over the Monza weekend; Suzie Wolff did an aero test for Williams and really enjoyed herself; Thailand's been making all sorts of noises about getting a slot on the 2014 calendar; and New Jersey is now off until 2014.
We'll see what happens with Bangkok and New Jersey. The Thais only have an agreement in principle at the moment, meaning nothing's been signed and no money handed over. And with NJ pushed back to 2014, and Sochi already scheduled to make its debut that year, it seems unlikely that we'll have three brand new races in a single season.
The current trend where flyaways are concerned is to schedule races back-to-back where possible. While this can be done with New Jersey and Montreal as it's simply a matter of getting trucks across the US-Canadian border, for Sochi and Bangkok FOM would certainly do its usual thing of keeping the first year's race as a standalone to prevent unforeseen customs delays casuing chaos with the calendar.
News of Massa's contract extension is obviously fabulous for the Brazilian and his legions of fans, but it won't have been welcomed by those drivers hoping for their chance with Ferrari. There are now no seats available at the top of the grid, and with Lotus unlikely to change their driver line-up there is little for drivers in the mid-field to do but make largely sideways steps.
To be fair to the good people of Patras, they appear to have a charming marina. I can imagine that a race in or near the Greek town would be a lovely experience - great climate, nice locals, lovely food, beautiful scenery...
I can also imagine the locals getting understandably irate at the fact that their government appears to be perfectly happy to spend money bringing Formula One to Greece when they've been somewhat reluctant to pay civil servants' wages for months.
Because the Greeks aren't shy of protest, as they have shown both in the course of the recent financial crisis and in their long, rich, but highly complicated history.
For months now I have been getting press releases about a number of different Greek Grand Prix bids (three, to be precise), all of which claim to be in advanced stages of negotiation with Bernie.
The Patras bid has long looked to be the most realistic, in that the bid organisers have actually had face time with Ecclestone to discuss their plans (as invited guests in Monaco, no less).
But 'realistic' still meant utterly batshit insane, as far as I was concerned. Plans are all good and well, but when you have a country in the sort of economic schtuck that Greece has been in for the past few years?
Well, all that F1 money - whether it's private or public investment - would be better put to use equipping hospitals, paying teachers, or ensuring that pensioners have adequate food. You know, the important stuff.
The fact that each of the three bids I was aware of called for the construction of a purpose-built motorsport facility only made them more ridiculous notions, in my opinion. Creating jobs is all good and well, but will the few hundred jobs created outweigh the hundreds of millions of euros spent on the project? Not unless construction workers' salaries are on a par with that of an F1 driver...
But it turns out that I'm the person with no grasp of reality, as the Greek government has just unblocked a subsidy that will enable the construction of a purpose-built F1 track just outside Patras
Whatever they're smoking, I want some.
We've all heard the rumours. Bernie Ecclestone's torn up the New Jersey contract, and it might not just be part of his usual negotiating tactics.
While I'm still in the camp that thinks the NJ race will happen - as long as they starting paying Bernie on time - rumour has it that Mexico City is primed to fill the vacant slot on the calendar should the second US Grand Prix fall by the wayside.
A Mexican race makes a lot of sense, what with the Telmex money floating around the paddock, Sergio Perez asserting himself as the rising star in F1, and Esteban Gutierrez one to watch in the feeder series.
When I interviewed Carlos Slim Jr in May, for a feature on the Mexican revolution in Formula One, he was open about the ongoing efforts to bring F1 back to Mexico.
"I think Mexico is in a very good place to be potentially working on bringing a grand prix," he said. "There are some very strong promoters working on that, and I believe there are some very strong reasons to make it happen. One of the most important is that we have a Mexican driver, we have somebody the people can get behind and follow. That is already there – Sergio is having a very good season, and we hope to see Esteban in F1 soon.
"There is work being done on the track, discussions with local and federal government, and a formal presentation [for FOM] is being put together by the organisers. The promoters are working hard, and I believe that someday soon we will have a race in Mexico. More races in the Americas is not just good for the global fan community – it is good for Formula One. It’s the way to keep consolidating a global sport, and I think that’s important for Formula One."
Outside the paddock, Mexico is a country on the rise. While there are still serious problems with drug and gang related violence in parts of the country, the Mexican economy is growing at an impressive rate. Based on current projections, this year the Mexican economy is expected to see 4 percent growth, double that of South American powerhouse Brazil.
Mexico is attracting a lot of foreign investment at the moment, while Brazil is heavily reliant on materials export to China, a country that is itself undergoing financial belt-tightening.
Rumours of a Mexican Grand Prix in 2014 may prove to be just that, but make no mistake - a Mexico City race is on the horizon, even if current gossip sees the date out by a year or two.
Tom Cotter, currently the president of the Formula One Grand Prix of America (the New Jersey one, if you were wondering) is leaving at the end of the month. Appointed in January, Cotter was in the role for a scant nine months.
At the time of the January announcement, he looked to be an ideal candidate to drum up interest in the New Jersey Grand Prix. A long-time motorsport PR and writer with connections throughout the American media – not least to Clear Channel Communication, who bought Cotter Group, his motorsport PR agency, in 2000 – Cotter had exactly the sort of Rolodex the race organisers needed.
But now the New York native has elected to return to North Carolina, where his home and business are based. For the past nine months, Cotter has been dividing his time between the NASCAR heartland and the banks of the Hudson River, where he was responsible for “executing the contract” to bring F1 to the northeastern Atlantic seaboard.
No replacement for Cotter has been named. Instead, his duties will be carried out by Richard Goldschmidt, assistant to Hindery, and Dennis Robinson, the race’s chief operations officer. It seems slightly odd not to replace a high-ranked employee, but given that Cotter’s role was largely to do with ensuring the demands of the contract with FOM were adhered to, and that the NJ race organisers are up to date with their payments, it could be that there’s not a whole lot left to be done.
Oh, except finish constructing a temporary racetrack, keep local residents happy when they raise concerns about transport and noise, keep on paying contractors and suppliers, and ensure that there’s enough money rolling in to pay for it all. Sounds like a doddle, doesn’t it?
“I have full faith in the Grand Prix of America team and look forward to sitting in the grandstands at a world-class race in 2013,” Cotter was quoted as saying in the statement confirming his departure.
“We’re all thankful for Tom’s leadership in bringing Formula One to Port Imperial,” Leo Hindery Jr. said in the same statement. “During his stewardship we’ve made great progress and are less than a year away from the sport’s top racers speeding around a street course with New York City in the background. We wish our friend Tom the best as he returns home to North Carolina.”
In a piece for last week's GP Week
magazine, I touched on the subject of some Russian rumours that have been doing the rounds of the paddock since the early season fly-aways.The subject of the rumours is the 2014 Sochi race, which many observers think is unlikely to ever happen. The IOC have voiced concerns about the practicality of striking down the Olympics infrastructure while setting up for Formula One
, and suggested that the grand prix might be best delayed for a year, but that's not why we're wondering about the viability of the race.No, instead the Russian Grand Prix is being fought over by a number of politicians all of whom think they can get the best possible PR out of their electorate by moving the race somewhere closer to their own constituency.Recently re-elected Russian president Vladimir Putin, a native of St Petersburg, has long been keen on the idea of a grand prix in his home town.
Previous president and current prime minister Dmitry Medvedev is also a St Petersburg native, and shares Putin's desire to promote the city. But there's no suitable circuit, and no plans for a street race. St Petersburg just isn't an option at present. Moscow and St Petersburg have an ongoing rivalry of the sort typically found between major cities,
but despite that rivalry it still better suits the powers that be in the Kremlin to hold a race in or near the major city - the capital city - of Moscow than it does out in the sticks of Sochi.Sochi is already getting a boost from the Winter Olympics; the local residents form a very small voting block and there is no real need to additionally pander to their desires from a political standpoint for a few years yet to come.And - if properly managed - a race in Moscow should generate more income and better PR for Russia than a grand prix on the Black Sea. The F1 travelling circus likes its luxuries, and parties hard (and spends accordingly) when afforded the opportunity of racing in a metropolis.Compare the coverage of the Korean Grand Prix, where we're all stuck in a quiet seaside town with nothing to do, with Singapore, where we love the bright lights and fast pace. Which race is the more popular of the two?
Which one sees sponsors and VIP guests actually turning up?So for a while now we've been wondering whether Sochi was just a useful smokescreen for an inevitable race in Moscow, and when we were going to be informed of this likely change of venue.Further fuel was added to the fire before the British Grand Prix, when FIA race director Charlie Whiting inspected the new Moscow Raceway, and said that it would be a suitable venue for
Formula One, although it lacked the appropriate FIA grading. All the ducks are slowly lining up...
But while the Moscow Raceway might be in the right place at the right time, it's already come in for heavy criticism from drivers after only a single racing weekend. The venue played host to a round of the WSR championship over the weekend, and both Alain Prost and Vitaly Petrov said the Hermann Tilke-designed track left a lot to be desired.
"The raceway could have been done a little bit more interesting," said Petrov after completing some exhibition laps of the circuit. "It doesn’t have enough zing. It lacks high-speed corners, some sections of the track are a bit slow, and it doesn’t bring a lot of pleasure to go through [corners] in second or third gear."Prost was similarly critical after his first laps of the Russian track:
"The infield part is very similar and very difficult to overtake. I was a bit surprised that at the end of the straight, it was not also that easy to overtake. There are some places where it’s quite nice, but overtaking is not easy."Not great initial feedback, but when has a lack of overtaking opportunities ever stopped Formula One from making a Tlikedrome its temporary home?Other pointers to a possible race in Moscow, such as this morning's widely-quoted Lewis Hamilton comments about his desire for a night race in the Russian capital, should be taken with the usual pinch of PR-friendly salt, but might not be as far-fetched as they first appear.
Unbelievable as it might seem to the rest of us, Bernie Ecclestone is still convinced that he can make a London Grand Prix happen, telling The Guardian
that his support for a race in the British capital was no joke.
"We are getting on with it. It is no joke, 100 percent completely no joke," he said.Now it's unlikely that the F1 supremo is thinking of the fantasy circuit dreamt up by Santander prior to the British Grand Prix. Dramatic a backdrop it might be, but no one really thinks we're going to see Formula One cars whizzing past Buckingham Palace or the Houses of Parliament.But Bernie has long been keen on the idea of a race in London; some say he views the idea as his legacy to the sport. And they could be right - the famous negotiator has said he'd be willing to put his hand in his own pocket if he thought it would make a London Grand Prix happen.
"[Santander] showed me their idea two or three months ago and said, 'It looks good. It looks exciting. It's good publicity for the British Grand Prix and Santander.' I said: 'You're bloody right it is.' And before I knew it I was apparently the one who was behind it," Ecclestone revealed last week.
"I didn't know about it to be honest, but I accepted the credit. I did say – not in relation to [the Santander race] – that if we could have a race in London, we would be prepared to pay £35 million to make it happen."
While the Santander CGI-fest is obviously the realm of fantasy, there is the remote possibility of F1 turning up at the Olympic Stadium in the not-too-distant future, as a grand prix is one of four proposals on a short-list for repurposing the venue. The public transport links would be excellent, but noise complaints from local residents make this one an unlikely prospect.It is far more likely that Bernie has something else entirely up his sleeve, akin to the race in New Jersey that will give the F1 boss his long-desired Manhattan skyline as a backdrop. What that something may be? God only knows - I've been racking my brains
for a London venue that wouldn't lead to excessive disruption while also providing fodder for the cameras. Any ideas?
I assumed that everyone saw this week's London Grand Prix chatter for the distraction it was, but I've been asked by a number of people to explain just why we're not going to see a street race in the English capital.So, without further ado, here's a cut-out-and-keep guide to why the London Grand Prix as imagined by Santander ain't never gonna happen:
There are many, many, many more reasons, but that should be enough for getting on with, don't you think? Add your own in the comments.
- Bernie isn't going to set a dangerous precedent for his contracts with other circuits by funding the London Grand Prix. Without private funding, the race'll never happen.
- No government will allow the disruption to the city's roads for an annual event. It takes around six weeks to build and strike the grandstands and safety fencing needed for a grand prix, to weld down all the manhole covers, etc.
- The proposed circuit would lead to the temporary closures of a number of major zone 1 tube stops for the duration of the race weekend, if not throughout the circuit preparation.
- London is unlikely to benefit financially. Not only is the city already one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, but the proposed track would necessitate the temporary closure of a number of popular tourist sites, all of which would lose money.
- Noise and pollution. Noise and pollution. Noise and pollution. Don't forget - London is where everyone who writes for The Guardian lives.
- The configuration. Past Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, along Piccadilly and through Admiral's Arch? Nope, I don't see a single historically sensitive building possibly being damaged by a combination of pollution and vibrations from high-revving engines, do you? As for the matter of the Queen's beauty sleep? A mere trifle!
London is a particularly nice city in the summer, don't you think? Much nicer than Munich, certainly. If I were you, I'd lie back and make sure that I thought of England. Definitely not Germany, oh no.
Yes, I think that we'd all be far better off talking about the prospect of a future grand prix in London than we might be thinking about any news that might be coming out of Germany this week.
I'll level with you. It's gotten to the point where I no longer care whether or not France has a grand prix.
Sure, France should have a grand prix. It's the home of grand prix racing, and for historic reasons alone the race should never have been allowed to fall off the calendar.
But speaking as an exhausted F1 journalist at the end of her emotional tether, I have had it up to here with the on-again off-again reports of the race.
Either pull your fingers out, pick a circuit, find the cash, and convince the government, or STFU.
Of course, that's not really fair. Half of the problems with the French Grand Prix have stemmed from the change in government that took place before any contracts were signed. The rest of the problems are linked to the state of Europe's financial health, which is currently on life support.
And it's only right that the incoming government would choose to review the project before signing off on anything that involved that much public money.
The problem is all the politicising that comes with it. The race was going to be at Ricard because Bernie wants it there and it suited the old lot. But now the new lot want to race at Magny-Cours because it suits their political interests in the region most dear to their hearts.
This past week has seen Valerie Fourneyron, minister for youth affairs and sports, meet with officials from both circuits with a view to seeing who can lay the best claim to the grand prize. (See what I did there? AWESOME.)
She's making a concerted effort to take the best decision for the country, but there's still a good chance that the race will be deemed to be too costly for the socialist government in the current financial climate.
On again, off again, on again, off again. Anyone else out there reminded of a pair of whore's knickers?