There are few things that create such a storm in the proverbial tea cup like the distribution of rights from Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula 1 mega-empire. There have certainly been some that stirred the emotions of the British public in the sport’s history but the Beeb’s fraternising with the enemy has caused more commotion than ever before…at least on this little island.

I feel the need to preface this blog with a disclaimer that I have been a fan of the BBC’s coverage over the past few years. The entire team has covered the sport from all angles and has given the viewing public the chance to experience the season across pretty much every platform available. Perhaps the on-the-ground crew seem to favour talking about the British drivers a little too much to the incredibly knowledgeable audience, most of whom are interested in the majority of teams, but maybe that’s just me.

Back to the issue at hand. Was this the right move for F1 fans in the UK? Was this the right move for F1 in the UK? Does the UK have a right to claim such an ownership of F1 that FOTA should take action?

The BBC has managed to retain the rights to broadcast F1 for a period longer than its original contract – not such a bad thing in isolation. The sharing of the rights with SKY, however, has caused so much concern among the British public because we are now being asked to pay for the right to watch an entire season. Is this fair? To our mind this is not because we pay our licence fee every year and we expect to be able to watch what the licence fee-paying public want and with audience figures through the roof in 2011 does this represent a suitable way to cut costs? I think it’s very difficult to analyse where the broadcaster could have saved money without knowing the extent of budget cuts, balance sheets and other financials that include channel costs, programme creation budgets etc.

The argument from Bernie that “This will open F1 up to a much wider audience” and “Be good for the sport” is perhaps not true. Let’s not forget that the UK isn’t the only country in the world that receives the BBC’s feed. To look at numbers and see that an average of 6 million people (to be generous to the Beeb) tune in to watch Jake, Eddie, Martin and DC chew the fat throughout the season and then reflect that just over 10 million people are signed up to SKY is not an accurate way to look at the spreading of the rights. Not all 10 million SKY customers have SKY Sports, let alone the SKY HD package.

The BBC have defended themselves by drawing parallels with their Match of the Day programme that summarises the day’s/weekend’s football action and there is certainly a case there. The viewers for that programme are, however, at around the 3 million mark and this is for a sport that is infinitely more popular than F1. Who’s to say that over 50% of the current viewer will watch the highlights?

But what about the level of coverage that SKY will give us hard-working, knowledgeable UK F1 fans? Well, who’s to say? In 1992 they delivered top flight football like we had never seen before, but let’s remember that they, along with the Premier League, produced an entirely new sporting proposition. Even if this is the first step towards purchasing the sport from CVC, they are not doing that here and will have to report within Bernie’s guidelines. We can be sure though, that some £125 million (or so) will not be wasted and the entire production will be of the highest quality.

Without question, the UK is the sport’s home but for a long time now, it hasn’t been the most important market for either the teams or the sport as a whole. Although as a fan I don’t always like to admit to it, the sport is governed by an exhaustive combination of factors including circuit fees, sponsor pressure, team pressure and national governments. Why is F1 going to America? Because so many sponsors have the USA as one of their key markets. Why is the track in Sochi being built to launch Russian F1 just months after the city holds the Winter Olympics? Because Vladimir Putin is looking to re-establish Russia as a destination and stabilise the near-10% financial growth they have experienced over the past few years. How did Sergio Perez or Pastor Maldonado get their respective feet in the doors at Sauber or Williams? An equal measurement of talent and sponsor dollars.

I think that as an audience the UK is entitled to a view and a voice, but I don’t believe it will be heard. The Concorde agreement (and Bernie’s deal with the European Commission) says that the sport should be shown on free-to-air television and this agreement honours that. As such FOTA doesn’t necessarily have a leg to stand on should it want to dispute the recent deal as the Great British public can still watch their fastest sport on the Beeb.

So in answer to my own questions above, this is certainly not the best development for F1 fans in the UK but it may just be the best compromise. We might just have to take solace in the fact that we still get to see half of the races without paying, unlike most of the world. I’m intrigued to find out if this is the best thing for F1 in the UK, especially from a sponsor’s perspective – more viewers equals more money for the teams and for F1 through Allsport (who sells circuit signage and hospitality packages).

But how about this to finish off: SKY buys into the BBC’s rights deal starting in 2012. Come the end of that year, when the Concorde Agreement reaches a sticky conclusion, SKY throws its name back in the ring for the purchase of CVC’s shares and now owns the sport. With a better financial package for the teams (because who could negotiate as successfully as Bernie with 12 warring factions?) they agree to signing the new Concorde Agreement which now allows F1 to be broadcast on pay-per-view channels. A lengthy but ultimately successful buy out from SKY. Is this the first rung of the ladder for the broadcaster?

I know I’ve been a little controversial in places here but I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts, especially now that the dust has settled a little.


Since the early ‘90s a heavy question mark has hung over the fastest sport in the world. The age-old question is ‘man or machine’. The toughest of criticism to even the most talented of drivers has been levied since the introduction of the numerous electronic systems intended to aid the drivers and the technological development of the sport.

2010 saw the return of Michael Schumacher to Formula One amidst a swell of emotion and excitement, however the anticipation placed upon the 41 year old’s shoulders seemed to have dented the German’s assurance. The most decorated Formula One driver in history has returned to the track in an attempt to add to his 7 World Championships, 91 victories and 154 podiums with the sport in a very different position to the way he left it in 2006.

Not content with changing the rules of the sport in an attempt to prise the world titles from him, the authorities have since made a conscious decision to remove the majority of driver aids that so helped the legendary elder statesman of the sport win his 5 titles in a row. With such a meagre return of points in his first 4 races people have asked the inevitable question: “Was it simply the car that drove him to those titles?”

Ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, Mercedes GP has altered the weight distribution of their cars. Reports suggest that both Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher have been involved in the discussions about this and have even gone as far as to say that the redesign has been in place for two months – its publicity only hindered by the fly-away schedule of the first 4 races. Alternatively we are led to believe that this is the first sign of Schumacher asserting his garage dominance in an attempt to gain parity with his flying team-mate. Either way, Schumacher has out-qualified Rosberg for the first time this season by claiming 6th spot on the grid and has cut a notably happier figure around the paddock in doing so. His conversations before Saturday’s session painted a picture of a relieved man who could finally start to enjoy his time behind the wheel of his Formula One car again. “It now points where I want the car to point and it takes less time to get there!”, proclaimed Schumacher after finishing third in both Friday practice sessions.

Irrespective of the result on Sunday, we find ourselves asking the same question once again: “Does this mean it’s only the machine that makes him fast?”. I disagree.

It is a rare sight when man and machine work in such perfect unison that it’s hard to tell where the abilities of the driver stop and the technology of the car takes over. With Michael Schumacher and a good car, this is what you have. Throw in the magic of Ross Brawn and you have a rare mix that really can compete at the highest levels of motorsport time and time again.

The Formula One world has, in fact, seen it since Schumacher first retired with Jenson Button in 2009. Ross Brawn has already commented on the similarities of Jenson and Michael and many people drew the same technology-related questions when Button was powering his way to 6 victories in 7 races as when Michael was racing to 5 titles in a row.

In these two drivers we have men who can perform as one with their machinery. Their performances can be enhanced by mechanical and electronic devices and without the symbiosis that exists between them and their machines their abilities would be merely human.

So what, then, is the answer to the 15-year-old question of ‘man or machine’? The answer is still both – as it always has been. With the correct blend of natural ability, mechanical support and managerial guidance, however, cyborg-like performances can be found. Michael Schumacher, with the right car under him, has shown this, time and time again, turning out phenomenal performances that defied human logic or understanding. Jenson Button’s metronomic success in the first half of last season proved just that.

Just as The Terminator proved in the two (original) films, some cyborgs are more successful than others (defeating the T1000 in Terminator 2). In the films, Arnie stuck to his promise by returning to save the world. Whilst we may not have heard Schumacher utter “I’ll be back” in 2006, most people in the paddock are still confident that Formula One’s Terminator can return to save our memories of his first 15-year career in the sport.

Richard Soddy

F1 Paddock Insights

August 21, 2009

After nearly a month since the last race, the F1 drivers are strapped back in their seats and ready to hit the Valencia harbour. The teams have had to take a two week break from anything F1 related, but don’t be surprised if you see a raft of new changes – development happens very quickly in F1, it’s our job to try and keep up with it. Find out what’s happening in the paddock in sunny America’s Cup Harbour.

– When Fernando Alonso’s tyre went bouncing down the circuit to end his chances of a good finish in Hungary, the F1 world was taken back to the tragic accident that killed Henry Surtees only a week prior and the freak accident that injured Felipe in qualifying the previous day. Perhaps that is why the FIA took the accident so seriously and immediately banned them from the European GP. Crowd favourite Alonso was in disbelief and the race organisers were starting to count their ticket losses. In the end, though, it was four of the major teams in F1 who came to Renault’s rescue (Red Bull Racing, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, Panasonic Toyota Racing and Ferrari), by submitting letters to the court in support of the French team. Either way, the Spaniard and his French team are racing in Valencia, but Nelson Piquet is not. The unsuccessful Brazilian has been dropped by the uncompromising Flavio Briatore for his lack of points this season. Then flew a tirade of abuse towards the Italian and the whole team, saying that Flav on the radio is “like listening to something my sister would say about the car. Pat Symonds is the guy who really understands what is going on with the team” and that “he makes comments that don’t make any sense”. As Romain Grosjean takes the seat still left warm by the young Brazilian, one can only hope that he has more luck than its previous inhabitant.

– There was a time where all F1 fans’ hearts were lifted prior to the Valencia GP – Michael Schumacher had climbed back into a Ferrari Formula One car with the hope of filling the injured Felipe Massa’s boots for the rest of the season. Unfortunately for the great man, the neck injury he sustained in February on his bike was too severe for his F1 racing career to get back on track and the F1 world could breathe again. No worries for the bookies – his replacement is none other than Luca Badoer…Who? I hear you ask. Luca Badoer – the man who has started more Grands Prix than any other man in F1 (48) without scoring a single point. Now that’s a replacement to a seven-time world champion who has won a record 91 Grands Prix, scored a record 1,369 points and finished on the podium 154 times. So who is Luca Badoer? He is an Italian man through and through. Born in 1971 and a graduate of the Italian karting system. He has raced for only Italian teams and is the first Italian to drive for Ferrari since 1992, when Ivan Capelli scored a total of 3 points. He has been a test driver at Ferrari since 1997 and according to his engineers has completed “over 150,000km in F1 cars since he joined Ferrari – nearly 5 times the amount covered by an F1 driver in that time”. The decision to chose him over Marc Gené, Ferrari’s other test driver is one that confuses a number of people. Luca di Montezemolo told insiders that “In agreement with Stefano Domenicali, we have therefore decided to give Luca Badoer the chance to race for the Scuderia after he has put in so many years of hard work as a test driver”. Sounds to me like he has been given the drive as they are already testing for 2010 and Luca is the best person to test the new parts.

– Felipe Massa has recently told insiders that he is expecting to be back in time for the Brazilian GP from the 16-18 October. This, given the Brazilian suffered a double-fractured skull and eye injuries as well as injuries to his brain. The comeback would be remarkable and, of course, subject to an FIA medical. Having spoken to insiders close to Felipe, they say he “is confident that he can make it back with some karting laps before the weekend.” Suspicions across the paddock suggest that Felipe’s encouraging words ahead of his home Grand Prix have been used in an attempt to bolster ticket sales as without Piquet Jr and Massa, Rubens Barrichello remains the only Brazilian interest on the grid. Even then he might be on his way out of a Brawn team that he has fallen out with on more than one occasion this year already.

– The man to watch this weekend will be Lewis Hamilton. Not only has he been tucking into pancakes, care of his Pussy Cat Doll, in LA but he is coming to the Harbour circuit off the back of his first victory all season. He promised his fans one when the MP4-24 was a second off the pace in Australia, but few believed it was possible. Speaking to McLaren engineers in their Woking factory, it seems that the two week break came at just the wrong moment this season. They have been working “19 hour days, 6 days a week” to get the car up to speed and the break in August could “potentially de-rail their plans to take another victory in Valencia”. It’s not only the engineers under pressure at McLaren at the moment, though, as Heikki Kovalainen is fighting to retain his seat into 2010. With Nico Rosberg apparently “ready to relish the opportunity to drive for McLaren”. He added that he “would like a competitive team mate, that’s for sure” – is he saying that Kazuki Nakajima isn’t doing well this season?!

– And finally, with Luca Badoer returning to race in F1 for the first time since Japan 1999, I tried to think of anyone who had made a comeback after so long. The only man that beats Luca’s 9 years and 10 months is Jan Lammers, who retired in 1982 and returned a full 10 years and 3 months later at the 1992 Japanese GP. Lammers failed to finish that race, by the way…

After 4 more weeks of off-track news, F1 finally returns to the tarmac. Expect Valencia to be hot, tight and close, with at least half the grid looking to take podium finishes. With only a week to wait until the next round in Spa, the next fortnight could make big steps towards the destination of the Championship trophy. Or it could make it all the more confusing.

Enjoy the racing.

The importance of the business of F1 has grown in the previous few years and has reached a certain level of fever pitch since 2008, where every conversation seems to be about income generation and value for money. Despite the disintegration of Super Aguri and the credit crunch in 2008, the total spend on on-car sponsorship peaked at almost US$837m, a rise of US$5m on 2007 (source: Formula Money 2008). Although not significant, it shows that sponsors were willing to justify the astronomical spend in F1.

Now that the credit crunch has set in and a number of high profile sponsors have pulled away from the sport – RBS and ING to name a couple – it will be interesting to see the eventual level of investment in F1 in 2009. One question that has risen in prominence is the level of activation around F1 and its associated success, especially focusing on brand loyalty and resultant income generation – a way of justifying sponsorship spend to stakeholders.

Having looked into studies carried out over a period of 14 years, it can be seen that 72% of NASCAR fans reported that they would ‘almost always’ or ‘frequently’ choose the brand/product associated with their team/sport (Performance Research). At the RAC British Grand Prix in 2000, it was the opposite, where almost 40% of fans insisted that they would ‘almost never’ choose the sponsor’s product ahead of a competitor (Performance Research).

As an example, the RAC British Grand Prix in 1999 was Damon Hill’s last and as such the crowds flocked to see the retiring driver in his last appearance before quitting F1. Benson and Hedges was a major F1 sponsor at the time and took to the Grand Prix stands, handing out a huge number of free goodies, offering Grand Prix simulators and temporary tattoos! The free recall of F1 sponsors onsite resulted in 83% of fans recalling Benson and Hedges (advertising at the time as “Buzzin’ Hornets”), with Marlboro and West at least 35% below.

Performance Research reported a dramatic decrease the following year, back down to 39% of fans able to name B&H as a F1 sponsor. So why did the onsite activation work for B&H and can this be translated to other sponsors?

The onsite fan engagement was honest and open –a simple brand awareness programme that transparently made F1 fans aware of the company’s presence in F1. There were no figures on whether this then increased brand loyalty or boosted sales, but we can deduce (from 29% of F1 fans saying they would be more likely to select the brand associated with their sport) that there would have been a short-term increase in revenue.

I believe that fans are still open to onsite sponsor activation, but are more receptive to non-cynical communications where they are encouraged to learn more at their own pace. For companies that are trying to promote their brand messages through their sponsorship of F1 the task is harder as fan engagement is necessary to allow empathy and understanding of the brand.

We can see from this example that onsite activation can work and would probably have greater merit if the campaign was extended to include a number of races, different markets and continuous campaign theme.

F1 Paddock Insights

July 24, 2009

As the Formula One season briefly settles back into its fortnightly cycle, the ten teams, global media and VIPs make their way over to the Hungaroring circuit just outside Budapest’s eastern ring road. One of the oldest circuits on the calendar, it held its first race here in 1936, only to wait 50 years before the zenith of motorsport lapped the track once more. Here what’s happening in the paddock at the historic Hungaroring:

As if the legal war between the FIA and FOTA has not dragged Formula One through enough of a public quagmire, poor old Sebastian Bourdais has joined in on the action. Having recently been booted out by Scuderia Toro Rosso for not delivering on the track, the French driver is considering taking his former employers to court for wrongful dismissal. Adding fuel to the already freely-burning fire, STR then promptly employed young Spanish racer, Jaime Alguersari. At only 19 years of age, he will likely be the youngest driver to ever race in Formula One, with his only experience before the Friday practice in the 2009 a straight-line test this week back in Italy. The 30 year old is unsurprisingly upset about being replaced, especially by someone so young, but with only 6 points in 27 races, perhaps the team is right to turn its attention to one of the brightest stars on its Red Bull young driver programme. Felipe Massa – who himself started his Formula One career at 20 years of age – recently told insiders, “Maybe he’s an incredible talent and he will do much better than everybody thinks, but for me it’s not good for him.” Jaime Alguersari has recently defended the decision for him to compete in Formula One alongside the Formula Renault World Series simultaneously by telling critics in the paddock that “I need to do as many races as possible. I need to experience as many situations as possible. For me, for sure it would be good because it would give me more experience and of course there are no clashes with Formula One, so there is not really a reason not to do it. If it becomes an issue, then obviously we may have to reconsider.”

The on-track struggles of 2008’s most successful teams have not gone un-noticed by the world’s media, despite the roaring success of Brawn GP or Red Bull, and questions have often been asked of their commitment to improving their 2009 contenders. Stefano Domenicali recently told F1 insiders that he expects Ferrari to turn its attention to the 2010 version of its F60. Having been caught up in the nail-biting finish to 2008’s Formula One season with McLaren and, to a certain extent, BMW, all three teams are feeling the pressure this year, with a severe downturn in their performances. “We have already started some work on the new project and in the next couple of weeks we will basically move on to that to make sure we do not lose any time. Next season will be crucial and we really want to start with a different pace compared to this year.” Interesting that Domenicali and his Ferrari friends should come out with this when McLaren has recently stated that Lewis Hamilton has a greater chance of winning then before with a number of new parts to the MP4-24 coming to Hungary. Some of the team mechanics in the paddock have told me that perhaps Ferrari should look at continuing their development in 2009, either that or McLaren are so far behind that they feel they need to keep working on the car before they can consider being competitive in 2010.

With McLaren looking stronger this weekend than they have all season, are we going to see another shift of power on the Formula One grid? There’s a few conversations flying around the paddock this weekend that make me think that it’s going to be down to the drivers, rather than the cars in Hungary. With all the teams looking stronger and making the right noises, we can expect to see the Brawns back somewhere near the top (the higher temperatures with put the heat back in the their tyres and returning to the site of Jenson Button’s first ever win), Red Bull are still on a high and have a car to match the Brawns in all departments, the Ferraris have looked stronger and stronger every week with the new/last developments of 2009 working wonders for Felipe Massa in particular. A number of the chief mechanics in the paddock have told me that the team with expectant smiles on their faces is Toyota. Timo Glock claimed second place here in 2008, where a Toyota podium was more of a shock than this year and with a new rear aerodynamic package to boot, it could be the Toyotas who surprise the crowds.

And finally, it is with great sadness that we are reminded about the danger of motorsport as Henry Surtees was killed in a Formula 2 race at Brands Hatch on July 19th. After achieving his maiden podium in the race on Saturday, Surtees was involved in an incident in which a loose wheel from fellow competitor Jack Clarke’s car hit him on the head and caused him to crash on the entry to Sheene Curve. He later died of his injuries in hospital. Henry’s father, John Surtees, remains the only man to claim the World Championships on both 2 wheels and 4, winning the Formula One World Championship with Ferrari in 1964 and the Motorcycle World Champions in 350 and 500cc in 3 consecutive years from 1958-1960. Henry Surtees, at only 18 years of age was only just embarking on his career as a racing driver. His own father issued a statement that read, “Despite his young age he had shown maturity, technical understanding and speed.” He was also described as “one of the best Brits in the racing series” and will be sorely missed by everyone involved in motorsport. Our sincerest condolences are with the Surtees family and friends.

So, as we return to the summer heat of eastern Europe, keep your eyes out for a mixed field, a close race and some all-important tyre choices.

F1 Paddock Insights

June 17, 2009

As we approach the British Grand Prix, a teary, reminiscent mood has fallen over the Formula One paddock. The circuit that launched the very first World Championship race is now hosting its last. At least for a while. As the memories of Silverstone’s high speed corners, redesigned complex and old school charm makes its way further north to Donington Park, the future of the original home of British racing hangs in the balance. Yet again the back pages have been dominated by the civil war that has broken out between the FIA and FOTA. It seems like FOTA are once again making a nuisance of themselves and could, indeed end up as FOCA did – as a distant memory and a reminder of Bernie’s authority. Here’s what’s happening in the paddock this weekend:

Jenson Button returns to Silverstone as a man on top of the world. He is currently 26 points ahead of his nearest rival – the perennial 2nd placed man, Rubens Barrichello – and with 6 wins under his belt he almost has the title within his sights. All this after Bernie Ecclestone pushed so hard for the former Honda Racing F1 Team to avoid collapsing even before the pre-season testing sessions. I don’t think he could have foreseen the dramatic turn of events this season and for the first time in his professional career he must be glad he was wrong. Had the pocket-sized powerhouse of Formula One got his way, Jenson would currently be developing neck muscles not from the cornering speeds of the BGP001, but from the weight of gold medals hanging from his neck. Having taken 6 victories so far in 2009, another win at Silverstone and one more at Hungary would signal the end of the Championship, with no other driver able to match his haul of 8 wins. It would have given the Briton a good long summer holiday and the chance for Brawn to start developing their car for 2010, whatever that may yet look like.

What a twelve months it has been for the man from Stevenage. Lewis Hamilton’s meteoric rise through the ranks of McLaren and Formula One was nothing short of mesmeric. The youngest ever Formula One World Champion had the world at his feet 12 months ago and as he feathered the throttle through the final corners of a rain-soaked Silverstone he must have thought it would never end. Compare, though 2009 to 2008 for the young star and it is strikingly obvious how different his life may now be. Last year Hamilton had stepped onto the podium and qualified on the front two rows of the grid in each of the three like-for-like races prior to the British Grand Prix. This year, however, he has only finished once inside the top ten and not qualified higher than 12th. No surprise then that, when recently speaking to F1 Insiders, he remarked: “It’s a perfect place for the race, so let’s hope it’s not the last time we race at this track”. Lewis Hamilton is clearly searching for the glory days of his youth to propel his car back to the front of the grid.

If Lewis Hamilton’s career has been in reverse, Jenson Button has seemingly applied the KERS button to his. As the man who has forever been a back-marker, Jenson Button’s career has shot up the starting grid. As a result one would think that everyone at Brawn would be jealous. Everyone, that is, including their sponsors, Virgin. Richard Branson, the enigmatic billionaire who has everything he has ever wanted is seemingly high on the list of jealous team members. Surprising, you’d think, until you take a look at the object of his desire. The sleek lines and curves of a champion, Jenson’s girlfriend has been the victim of his affection recently – to the extent that at a recent BrawnGP party, Branson decided to try his luck with the young model. This, obviously didn’t go down to well with his world-beating compatriot and when asked what Jenson thought about Richard Branson, he calmly stated that: “I get on very well with the Virgin Group!”

Many of the drivers have been reminiscing about the history of Silverstone this week. Vijay Mallya, team principal of Force India (based across the road from the Silverstone’s main gates) has possibly the most legitimate reason to call this his home Grand Prix simply told insiders, when asked his thoughts on the venue: “Because it is home to us and Silverstone is a special place” . Ferrari has even more reason to look at the past – their future in the sport is as blurred as everyone’s right now – as it was at Silverstone that José Froilan Gonzalez took victory in 1951 to record the Prancing Horse’s first ever Formula One victory. Fernando Alonso’s view of the circuit seems to be similar to that of his fellow drivers, telling insiders (with a hint of anti-establishment frustration) at the Renault headquarters that: “In terms of the track, it’s a great place to drive a Formula One car and as this is probably the last time we will race at Silverstone, I will make sure I enjoy the experience”.

Whatever memories Silverstone may hold for you, enjoy the racing from the fast and furious ex-air force base.

The freshly released discussions between the FIA and FOTA certainly make for interesting reading – let alone embarrassingly dirty washing, hanging out to dry. Many are saying that the Max Mosley-led FIA is now standing up against the playground bullies of FOTA and is taking a stance that the true fan of Formula One would like to be allied with. A federation that cares about its members, that cares about introducing new teams to the upper echelons of motorsport and that cares about those who ultimately pay its wages – the spectators.

FIA’s press release
The FIA does not hold back in this most recent of public slanging rounds and makes no apology for naming names throughout the entire the document. It is interesting, though, that one of the most severe accusations of the document receives only one line: “Is it about an attempt by some teams to take over the commercial rights to Formula One?”. However tangled Bernie’s web of commercial rights finds itself, I, for one, find it hard to believe that FOTA’s members are looking crowbar his business bread and butter from him. Bernie is as astute a man as you’ll find in any motorsport paddock and I’m pretty certain that he can defend himself when it comes to Formula One’s commercial rights.

The obvious accusation was again thrown into the mire, as FOTA was tarnished with the brush of trying to assume the “regulatory function” of the FIA. Everyone involved is well aware that FOTA is looking to have greater regulatory power over the future of Formula One and perhaps this shouldn’t be a decision so sniffed at by the FIA – at the very least it might lead to a greater level of team retention in the future.

Finally on the FIA’s press release, it reminds us that Mr di Montezemolo was tasked with gaining letters to confirm the inclusion of a Formula One team from all the incumbent manufacturers currently in the paddock. A fantastic idea in principle – a man with such international recognition that even the door of Fort Knox would swing open for him. It may have been a more difficult task than Max or Bernie had originally hoped, however. With the exception of FIAT, the charismatic Italian has no sway in the corridors of Honda, Renault (or even the French Senat, for that matter!) or any of the other manufacturers and asking them to commit their future to F1 at a time like this is as absurd as proposing a two tiered technical specification in F1.

It’s the FIA’s party and it can cry if it wants to
So what is the most recent release trying to do for the FIA? Is it trying to re-position itself as the stronger of the two warring factions – amplifying the voice of the people, owning up to the mistakes of the past? Or is it simply looking for other ways to win this battle?

In a churlish attempt to heap scorn on the actions of FOTA, the FIA has taken the bait and bitten. The FIA is the first to crack under the pressure of war and, in doing so, has exposed its weaknesses. The FIA takes the proud ownership of a Championship that it claims can survive without Ferrari and co., but has not yet had the confidence to rid the resistance from its embattled frontiers. It reads: “In light of the success of the FIA’s Championship, FOTA – made up of participants who come and go as it suits them – has set itself two clear objectives:”The FIA announced a provisional list of entrants for the 2010 Formula One season and included the new teams in Campos, Manor and USF1, the FOTA breakaway teams in Force India and WilliamsF1 and, remarkably, the conditional entries of, among others, Renault, Toyota and McLaren. If the FIA believe that they are standing on the higher moral ground, that they have given the teams the right to a fair negotiation and that they are simply invited guests at its not-so-expensive-anymore party, a strong decision would have been to eliminate the warring factions and focus on those teams who are willing to play the party games under the rules that the FIA want so badly.

I certainly agree with the many analysts who view this Friday as either a new dawn or an apocalyptic day in the history of Formula One, however the FIA has let its guard down. The FIA appears desperate and will try to get the teams to play its game at all costs.

The only thing for the FIA is, however, that there is no mother behind the door to boot out the unruly children. The FIA has to stand up to them. Given the current evidence, I’m not convinced that the FIA is prepared to make such critical decisions for the future of its sport.

The F1 civil war over the proposed budget cap has shaken the motorsport world in more ways than one. Not only have the incumbent teams been awoken from their extravagant slumbers, but the rest of the Formula racing world has been made aware of the opportunities that are opening at the pinnacle of motor racing.

With a total of ten teams having now submitted their entries into F1 for 2010, the grid could feasibly be made up of entirely new outfits, with the exception of Williams and Force India – two teams whose only business is Formula One and as such, their entire livelihood is dependent upon participation in the sport.

The ten teams who have submitted their cost-capped entry to Formula One for 2010 (including names like Lotus, Prodrive, Brabham, March and Lola) could make up the vast majority of a very different looking grid. With such a raft of new teams, questions remain over the funding of their participation.

If we suppose that the cap will remain at around the €45m mark, the TV revenues and prize money from FOM will cover the majority of the associated costs. What necessity then for sponsors of the participating teams? Virgin has proven this year, even without a cost cap, that smart sponsors can invest in Formula One at a relatively low cost.

Irrespective of the level of commercial investment in the sport, however, the sponsors will still demand a return on investment that can only be achieved in Formula One. I believe that the role of agencies or in-house specialists in leveraging the sponsorship properties will be amplified to achieve these results. In the same way, I think that the rights holders themselves will have to allow far greater access to their assets to generate the return that they will demand.

If this is accurate, it could completely change the way that teams and sponsors interact. Previously investment in the team directly contributed to the development of the car and would therefore form part of their overall budget. Now, with the cap in place, less of the money from sponsors can or will go on car development – even less if the plans to place a ‘value in kind’ on supply deals also goes through. As such the teams will have to justify the spend on sponsorship as simply marketing spend, thereby placing even more emphasis on the return on investment expected.

In addition to this, the role of agencies will have more emphasis on the objectives of the organisation. WilliamsF1 claimed British Leyland as a sponsor in the 1980s. A seemingly unexpected sponsor of Formula One, Williams simply understood that the company wanted to have conversations with a key figure in the Russian Transport industry – another WilliamsF1 sponsor. The conversations were had and a deal was struck between the two sponsors, WilliamsF1 giving both companies the platform to achieve their objectives.

With money at a shortage and expectations ever growing, Formula One may well be in a position to exploit its global audience better now than ever before, but only if the spend can be justified by the returns.

F1 Paddock Insights

June 3, 2009

With another performance that warrants a more impressive acronym than 3 Bs, Brawn’s Button and Barrichello once again occupied the top two steps of the ‘podium’ – this time in Monaco. An imperious drive through the streets of the principality gave the Briton his first taste of victory at Monte-Carlo. As he whooped down the team radio on his parade lap, a surprised pair of red Ferraris crossed in third and fourth to claim their strongest finish yet. From the tight turns of Monaco’s harbour-front circuit, the Formula One circus flies off to Istanbul, Turkey to embrace the 40 degree heat, undulating straights and the longest single turn on the F1 calendar (left-handed turn 8). This is what’s happening in the paddock:

Toyota’s up and down season continued at Monaco where both cars locked out the back row of the grid. President, John Howett put this down to a lack of low-speed grip, saying: “We were not good enough on slow-speed sectors and we have worked tirelessly to understand the reason for this. It tends to be influenced by traction and this was magnified by Monaco.” With the poor result two weeks ago and the ever-increasing rumour of quitting F1, it’s been a testing time for Toyota both on the track and back at the factory. Howett recently told F1 Insiders that, “Clearly we want – and expect – to deliver a significantly better performance in Turkey than we did in Monaco, which was unacceptable. Turkey is a very different circuit to Monaco and I am very optimistic we will be strong.” In addition to this, Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock are clearly looking forward to this weekend, too. They recently spoke to an F1 Insider, saying that they: “can’t wait to start practice and find out where we are because we are fired up to bounce back this weekend.”

FOTA suspended Williams this week for submitting their entry to next year’s F1 season without the remainder of the teams on the grid. In going against the rest of the teams, their only reaction was to suspend the team for not complying with FOTA regulations. With their entry lodged for next year, though, the support of FOTA is surely redundant anyway. Sir Frank Williams, team principal, told F1 Insiders at the time that: “As a racing team and a company whose only business is Formula One, with obligations to our partners and our employees, submitting our entry to next year’s Championship was unquestionable. In addition, we are legally obliged under our contract with FOM and the FIA to participate in the World Championship until the end of 2012”. A recent Williams employee told me that he expected the ‘Max and Bernie double-act’ to pull a rabbit out of their hat at the eleventh hour and for all the teams to be delighted with that option and accept the terms. Seeing as this didn’t happen, however, do we think that the deafening silence from the FIA since the deadline is to resist any temptation to negotiate with the teams? The decision on who will be entered into the F1 Championship for 2010 will be announced on the 12th June.

Istanbul Park is another of the Hermann Tilke-designed circuits on the calendar and is a new track that differs to the majority that he has recently designed. The open, expansive feeling of the Park often gives spectators and drivers the initial impression that the circuit is another simple one. The main and obvious difference is that the circuit is driven anti-clockwise, giving drivers more than just a pain in the neck, but a technical conundrum on the balance of the car. One man who might be worrying about the temperature in Turkey is actually one of the fittest men on the grid. Jenson Button managed to burn his left buttock in Bahrain as the cooling mechanisms inside the Brawn BGP001 failed. With the undulations of the track taking the cars up to 125m above sea level, the air pressure at Istanbul is much lower than in Monaco and therefore the cooling in the cars is much less efficient. He will have to make sure it is working properly before he sits inside his 60° cockpit on Friday morning.

It is usually about this time in the Formula One season that the driver roulette starts and seats and drivers are being thrown up in the air. Brawn GP insiders told me that Jenson is in line for a huge pay-rise at the end of this year, to keep him from the clutching hands of some of the ‘bigger’ teams. Young Nelsinho Piquet, currently with no Championship points, is one driver whose seat at Renault looks like it could be up for grabs and add to that the place of Kazuki Nakajima who has failed to score a single point either and embarrassingly dropped his Williams into the wall on the last lap at Monaco two weeks ago. With Nakajima comes a Toyota engine deal, however, so his place may be saved for one more year, but others are definitely on the market. Expect Bruno Senna to announce his determination to return to the F1 grid and Giorgio Pantano to make his last attempt at an F1 seat.

The Formula One paddock is playing a waiting game with the FIA. Both sides have submitted their demands and we will see on 12th June who will win which battles. For now, though, it’s off to Turkey where the 20 cars are lining up on the grid, ready to tackle one of the fastest circuits on the calendar

Enjoy the racing from the Eastern edge of Europe.

Much has been eulogised about the Brackley-based outfit since the re-birth of the Honda F1 team as Brawn GP. The most surprising recent historical reference centred on Jenson Button’s confident driving style. His smooth, almost effortless negotiation of the tight corners of Monaco showed the Formula One world that his status of champion in waiting is not an exaggeration of his talent.

Ross Brawn, the man nicknamed the ‘Big Bear’, is now the Briton’s mentor at Brawn GP but has had a history of successful drivers beneath him. Not least Michael Schumacher, the man who is attributed with changing the face of modern F1. Brawn’s influence on the German’s career is often understated in the media, but his tactical nous, technical intelligence and his desire to win propelled Schumacher’s career to the arguably unreachable heights of any other driver in the future.

With veteran Rubens Barrichello by his side, or at least slightly behind him, Button has the perfect launch pad to attack his final assault on the F1 Drivers’ title. Take Monaco for example where Kimi Räikkönen was Jenson Button’s primary competition. Barrichello leapt off the line to squeeze past Räikkönen into Ste Devote and protect his team mate from the charging Prancing Horse. Not only this, but he drove his car so wide that when his rear tyres degraded and his lap times pushed 1m 20s, the Finn could not slip past to launch his attack on Button, now 9 seconds ahead of the chasing pair.

Throughout the race, Button delivered 80% of his lap times within 0.4 seconds of each other until he needed to push on and gain an advantage ahead of his second pit stop, where he shaved 0.8 seconds off his fastest lap and kept it there for the next 5 laps. With the very best car on the grid, the best team alongside him and arguably the most inspirational man on the pit wall with him, is there any reason why Jenson Button cannot claim his first Drivers’ World Title?

The answer to this is still up for debate and will presumably only be answered after the chequered flag falls at the Yas Marina circuit in November. The facts, however, remain that Herr Schumacher claimed 7 World Titles, set numerous records and remains one of the most iconic F1 personalities even 3 years after his departure from the grid.

There is little doubt that Button has the qualities of a World Champion – his driving style is easy on his tyres, smooth to watch and supremely consistent, but Schumacher had something else. He had the aura of a Champion that lifted his entire team as he strode purposefully through his garage. He had the ability to deliver quick lap after quick lap that simultaneously lifted and educated his team.

Perhaps Button can be likened to Schumacher in his driving style and the team around him, but the aura of a Champion that comes with pole positions and victories still eludes the Briton. The paddock can see it, however, and it is growing with every lap he drives as Championship leader, owing in no small part to the Midas touch of F1’s ‘Big Bear’.