Honda's arrival in the F1 paddock has put the cat among the pigeons, and is liable to shake up existing relationships. The 2015 timing of their entry only makes things more complicated, with the bulk of supply contracts expiring at the end of this year.
We have the dead-cert not to change teams of Mercedes and Ferrari, who will start using different engines at around the same sort of time as we see airborne pigs giving rides to monkeys typing out the complete works of Shakespeare in Aramaic.
Add to that McLaren's switch to Honda power from 2015 and that leaves us with eight potential customer teams for four known suppliers. Assuming, of course, that we don't get a flood of new teams and new OEMs joining the fold.
So who's going where?
In late March, Force India and Mercedes announced a 'long-term' powertrain supply deal beginning in 2014, although the press release didn't define long-term. We can probably assume it means more than two years, though, so if the Silverstone racers are going to switch it won't be in 2015.
Marussia are strongly linked with a Ferrari engine deal, thanks in no small part to Jules Bianchi's presence in the team, and while nothing has been formally announced it does make sense. The only fly in the ointment is their technology deal with McLaren, which might make Honda engines more convenient in some regards, but they've managed to cooperate so far while running different powertrains, so why would the future be any different?
Sauber are unlikely to switch from Ferrari power, despite recent paddock chatter linking the Swiss team with a move to Honda, but that will depend on cost. Honda's engines are expected to be heavily subsidised, while Ferrari have spent much of the past few years complaining that customer engine costs will double under the regulation change. If a new entrant on the market forces the existing suppliers to cut their prices, Sauber might be able to negotiate a very good deal.
Renault are looking like the likeliest destination for a number of the teams. Red Bull have no reason to leave the supplier that has powered them to three world titles, while Caterham's Charles Pic is Renault-backed and gives the British team a very good reason to stay with their current supplier. After running years of Ferrari power Toro Rosso look likely to be moving to Renault, giving the Red Bull juniors experience of the same engines as the big boys.
While Renault currently supply four teams and are in negotiations with five over future deals, company executives have said they'd prefer to return to supplying three teams, which could leave Lotus and Williams out in the cold. Both teams are believed to be on Honda's wishlist of paddock customers, but they are also wanted by Mercedes, who are looking to supply up to four teams.
What makes this interesting is the potential effect Honda's entry is going to have over engine prices. Jean Todt has been subject to a lot of criticism for pushing the spec change through while also trying to reduce costs in the sport. But Honda said yesterday that the new 'green' engine was the driving force behind their F1 return, and it looks like Todt's green engine is actually going to be what drives costs down in the paddock.
Without Honda, and with Renault looking to cut back to three teams, Ferrari and Mercedes were going to have four teams apiece, a captive market who would pay the prices charged. But now that Honda has joined the fray, offering heavily subsidised engines in exchange for all sorts of lovely - and valuable - data, cost-conscious teams have got another option. A cheaper option.
Mercedes have already said on record that their 2014 engine was going to be comparable in cost over the contract period to the existing units, so who this is really going to hurt is Ferrari, who will be forced to cut their prices.
Below is my best guess of how it will all pan out...FerrariHondaMercedesRenault
- Red Bull
- Toro Rosso
The worst-kept secret in Formula One (since the last one) is now official - from 2015 onwards, McLaren will be running Honda engines, reigniting the partnership that powered the team's glory days.
It became clear last autumn that rumours of a Honda return were looking less and less like idle gossip, and by the end of the year eagle-eyed observers had spotted more than a few Honda employees dotted around the MTC. When it emerged that Honda were developing a motorsport facility in Milton Keynes - ostensibly for their WTCC efforts - it became clear that an announcement was imminent.
“It’s fantastic news for everyone who loves Formula 1 to be able to welcome Honda back to Formula 1,” said Martin Whitmarsh. “Together, we’re about to embark on a new and extremely exciting chapter in McLaren’s history. Like McLaren, Honda is a company with motor racing woven into the fabric of its heritage. We’re proud and thrilled to be joining forces once more to take on the world in Formula 1.
“Whilst both companies are fully aware that we’re embarking on a very demanding journey together, we’re hugely committed to the success of the partnership, and we’ll spend the next 18 months working together to ensure that we’re fully established and competitive ahead of our first grand prix together in 2015. The names of McLaren and Honda are synonymous with success in Formula 1, and, for everyone who works for both companies, the weight of our past achievements together lies heavily on our shoulders. But it’s a mark of the ambition and resolve we both share that we want once again to take McLaren-Honda to the very pinnacle of Formula 1 success. Together we have a great legacy – and we’re utterly committed to maintaining it."
The announcement is also good news for FIA president Jean Todt, as it validates his position on the need for an F1 engine spec change in the face on incessant opposition from Bernie Ecclestone. Takanobu Ito, president of Honda, confirmed that it was the engine spec change that lured the Japanese OEM back to the sport.
"Formula 1 is about to introduce new regulations that require a downsized engine with a turbocharger and energy recover systems, which fits better with environmental technologies for mass-production vehicles," Ito said. "As a result, more than ever we can expect more feedback from racing machines to mass-production vehicles and some feedback from mass-production vehicles back to racing machines.
"As we started to see a better match between the new direction of F1 and the direction of Honda's product development, our young engineers who will shape the future of Honda began expressing their passion to take on the new challenge of Formula 1 racing."
Munich prosecutors are preparing to file charges against Bernie Ecclestone in relation to the Gerhard Gribkowsky bribery case, the Suddeutsche Zeitung reported today
. According to the report, two charges are bring brought against the F1 supremo, and they will be filed next month once the relevant documentation has been translated into English.
"They haven't told me [about the charges], that's the only problem," Ecclestone said on Wednesday. "I suppose they will eventually, they're going to have to, obviously. To be quite honest with you, I haven't done anything about any of these things. I haven't bothered. If I have to get bothered, then I'll get bothered. ... Sooner or later somebody will look into it, which they have, and then they will have to make a decision on what they decide."
Thomas Deckers Wehnert Elsner, Ecclestone's German lawyers, said in a statement: "The documents with the charges from the Munich prosecutor's office have not been received. A statement is therefore not possible. The defence sticks to its view that Mr Ecclestone has neither committed bribery nor played any part in committing a fiduciary breach of trust."
If Ecclestone is indicted, he will almost certainly be asked to step down from the F1 board by CVC Capital Partners, who are already known to be on the lookout for a successor for the 82-year-old.
According to Bloomberg
, the Nurburgring is up for sale, and goes on the market today, with bids being accepted until September.
The Ring has been in financial trouble for years, since the owners overstretched themselves financially to build a rather unsatisfactory theme park that left Nurburgring GmbH unable to repay their loans. There have been EU investigations into financial irregularities, regional government scandals, and all sorts of other pretty messes associated with the project in recent years, and this year's German Grand Prix was only confirmed late in the day.
Bidders have been given the opportunity to submit offers for all or part of the 937 acre site, although it is expected that the eventual owner(s) will be asked to keep the site open to the public by the regional government. The Nurburgring is in the heart of Germany's Eifel mountains, and while the area is popular with all sorts of tourists, motorsport lovers visiting the iconic circuit do feature heavily in the local economy.
I realise that I am running the risk of turning this website into a collection of F1-related vehicles I am keen to play with, but I keep stumbling across new toys when working on other things.
While scanning the news headlines earlier, I spotted a story about an F1 simulator available from CostcoUK
, and I had to check it out.
Apparently the simulator has excellent aerodynamics, which I imagine must be vitally important when racing from a fixed position inside your house.
The technical specification (available below the jump) looks very similar to those published by teams at the start of the season, right down to the slick Pirelli show tyres. And while having one is not quite the same as owning an F1 car, it’s closer than most of us are ever going to get.
Those with £90,000 to spare will be pleased to know they can choose the colour of their very expensive games console, although you will have to wait up to four months for delivery. Given that the simulator requires a specialised team of installers, god only knows what you’re supposed to do on those inevitable days when turning it off and on again doesn’t seem to be doing the trick.
Sometimes in life it is the stupid things, the silly things - the ugly things, even - that capture our hearts and refuse to let go. I have a complicated relationship with cars, and love pre-war Bugattis and Citroen 2CVs in equal measure. There is even affection in my soul for both Ladas and Trabants.
What can I say? I love a crappy car with personality.
Which is why I must must MUST be given the opportunity to play with this:
No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you. That really is the Renault Twizy version of a Formula One car, complete with front and rear wings and F2 wheels and tyres. The fearsome speed monster also comes equipped with KERS.
In theory, anyway - like most awesome ideas these days, the Twizy F1 is currently a concept car, although they have got one doing the rounds at shows. But how great would it be to see them as the Formula E support category? It would be hilarious.
Making the car approximately eleventy billion times more awesome is its junior F1-style steering wheel:
An ITV news crew led by Rageh Omaar was deported from Bahrain last night. According to the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority, the crew were violating the terms of their media visa. The full statement from the IAA has been copied below without comment.
The ITV crew were deported from Bahrain yesterday due to violating the laws and regulations of the Kingdom.
The crew applied for a visa with a specific task to solely conduct interviews with the Minister of State for Information and the Minister of Justice. They had not applied for nor received a license to film which they legally require for filming in Bahrain and to cover any news story, which was what they had undertaken illegally. They had made no mention of such activities when their application was received.
It is clear that after conducting the interview with the Minister of State for Information, the crew exploited the opportunity of being in Bahrain and began filming and reporting without the relevant permit. This is in direct violation of the laws and regulations of the Kingdom and specifically Articles 88 and 89 of the Press Rules and Regulations decreed by Law No. 47 of the year 2002.
The crew were approached lawfully and quietly and were requested to stop filming and if they wanted to do so, they would need to obtain a filming permit by contacting the Information Affairs Authority (IAA). However, they have not sought permission nor initiated any contact with the IAA. Instead, the crew proceed to film once again without a license and the Information Affairs Authority were immediately notified and decided to deport them due to the violations they committed.
The IAA had to take immediate action against the crew because of such violations and for misrepresenting their purpose and intent. Had ITV obtained the appropriate permit and license, the IAA would have no objection to such actions.
Just to note, the Kingdom has not denied entry to journalists who have applied for visas correctly during the F1.
Despite an interest in international relations and (some) experience of life in Bahrain both pre- and post-2011, I can't claim to be an expert on life on the ground here. None of us can, although we do our best to parse it for you lot using a combination of our own experiences and the sources we have met over our years in the small island country.
Long-time readers will know that last year I was surprised by how peaceful Manama was. That may have been due to police crackdowns preventing demonstrations from getting anywhere near the F1 crowd, or it may have been dumb luck, but I saw a city bustling with people going about their daily lives in a manner not dissimilar to that which I had seen in 2010.
Arriving in Manama yesterday morning it looked as though little had changed. The police presence was about the same, the streets were busy as ever, and at mealtimes the restaurants and cafes were heaving.
But last night, on our way back from dinner, we ran into an unusually large traffic jam, Upon reaching the head of it we discovered that it was not a jam, but a road block - armed police officers were checking all vehicles heading into the Juffair neighbourhood, where much of the paddock is staying. That had not been the case last year.
This morning, on my way into the circuit, I saw far fewer police cars and armoured personnel carriers than had been present in 2011. That may have been because it was Thursday, and with fewer people heading to the circuit the risk had been perceived to be lower. Or it may have been because the government didn't feel it necessary to have the same visible police presence as we saw last year - I don't know.
One change I did notice this year was the presence of an X-ray vehicle set up at the approach to the track. Vehicles were made to travel through a roadblock-cum-scanner before being allowed to pass into the confines of the Sakhir International Circuit.
So I couldn't tell you whether Bahrain is safer this year than it was last year. What I do know is that I have never felt myself to be at risk here. Tellingly, colleagues from Sao Paulo have been saying all week that they are more concerned for their safety in their home town than they are in Bahrain. Maybe all Brazilians are hard cases?
Sunday 14 April was not just the date of the Chinese Grand Prix – it was also the date of the Venezuelan presidential election.
While many pundits had expected a landslide victory for Nicolas Maduro, chosen successor of deceased president Hugo Chavez, when all the votes were counted it was a much narrower result than had been presumed. Maduro claimed the majority of the votes cast, winning by a margin of just 1.6 percentage points over Henrique Capriles.
Putting that into perspective, Chavez beat Capriles by eleven percentage points in the October 2012 election.
The result has led to some soul-searching among the Chavistas, who are now questioning whether Maduro was the right man to run for the presidency.
“These results require deep self-criticism,” Reuters quote National Assembly head and Chavez ally Diosdado Cabello as saying. “Let’s turn over every stone to find our faults, but we cannot put the fatherland or the legacy of our commander in danger.”
Capriles – who conceded defeat on Sunday – has since announced that he is challenging the results of the national election, and has demanded a recount. It is unlikely that the result will be overturned, however, partly due to the number of Chavistas in control of the state judiciary.
The situation in Venezuela only serves to emphasise the weaknesses of character-based politics. The South American country is far from the only nation to have seen the political landscape change over the past century. Analysts and students of politics often point to FDR’s ‘fireside chats’ as the launch point for character politics, where the personality of an individual – and their appeal to the electorate – trumps electoral policy.
Chavez was what is known as a charismatic leader, a man whose ability to connect with the people on a human level – on an emotional level – made him more important than his party or his policies. While he was alive, this connection allowed him to win election after election. But now that he is gone, replaced by a man who lacks the same ‘common touch’ – it will be far harder for Chavismo to endure as a political force.
It won't have escaped your notice that Sir Stirling Moss made a rather anachronistic comment regarding women drivers this weekend. It was a bad judgement call by his media representatives, who should have learned from 'pooftergate' - generational attitudes have changed, and Moss has been left behind.
You can read my thoughts on the furore over on my ESPN blog
I'm afraid I'm still catching up on work from the weekend and it's approaching midnight in Shanghai, so I've not got the mental energy to write about it twice...