April 29, 2009

Decision Day Looms at Donington

Bernie Ecclestone, the man at the heart of the FIA’s crown jewel, has (yet again) thrown the British Grand Prix of 2010 in serious doubt this week. In fairness to the pint-sized powerhouse of Formula One, the troubles at the East Midlands circuit started long before Bernie got involved.

Simon Gillett, the impressive CEO of DVLL, has agreed a 150 year loan for the use of the Donington circuit from Tom Wheatcroft, the Park’s owner. However, following a string of financial complications (including the small matter of a recession) the rent bills have been lying unpaid, and most likely unopened, on Gillett’s desk since September 2008.

It clearly all got a bit too much for Wheatcroft and his son, as they reached the final straw with DVLL and commenced court proceedings for the outstanding £2.47m. So the big question is now, where does that leave the British Grand Prix? Industry insiders are mulling over a number of different options – quite which one will prove correct, only time will tell.

First, there is the (slim) option that Gillett and co. will find financial support from a third party investor – someone with a lot of money who believes in Ecclestone’s rhetoric on how the economy will benefit and companies, local and national, associated with the race will enjoy unprecedented exposure.

There is also the chance that the £2.47m won’t be paid back to Wheatcroft and Sons, leaving the Donington Park circuit a half-built, empty sand-pit languishing in the hopes and dreams of what could have been. Does Wheatcroft seriously believe this will be the most sensible option for him and his circuit? What repercussions would an empty track over Grand Prix weekend be for the future of Donington Park?

The final and most cynical option comes from the anti-Bernie camp. For years, Bernie has been forcing Formula One into the Far East or the oil-rich states of the Middle East and has long made the British Grand Prix the pariah of the Formula One calendar (much like he did with the French Grand Prix – where not enough razzmatazz caused the Magny Cours circuit’s downfall). The view from the most hard-nosed of paddock folk is that Bernie knew Donington couldn’t live up to its original pitch. If that is the case, it certainly was a timely ruse to drag the British GP away from a dilapidated, tired Silverstone only fit for club days and the odd BRDC meeting and towards a sparkling new venue on the calendar.

Bernie Ecclestone is calling for national investment in the project at Donington, as a return for the amount of income motorsport generates for the government. The House of Commons has spoken to say that motorsport is an independent entity and the government cannot be drawn into bailing out a racetrack in addition to the already nationalised banks.

So where from here for the pinnacle of British motorsport? Only time will really tell, but one thing is for sure – Tom Wheatcroft, with his crafty business nouse, his unrelenting desire to be in charge and his unwillingness to shirk away from a fight is unlikely to back down in the ensuing legal battle with Simon Gillett.

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F1 Paddock Insights

April 24, 2009

Have we just seen the emergence of the new Schumacher? A consummate drive in seriously treacherous conditions guided Vettel to his second (wet weather) victory behind the wheel of an F1 car. First in Monza last year, now again in China, the 21-year old German left the field for dead. He managed his fuel behind the safety car to extend his refuelling window. Then with the extra lap he pulled out 10 seconds on teammate Mark Webber to guarantee him coming back out in front. Nice work, kid! Find out what’s happening in the paddock at Bahrain.

– Is Flav just jealous of Ross? – Flavio Briatore has attempted to mount a serious Fota mutiny against its own technical delegate, Ross Brawn. Despite the team principals supporting the reincarnation of Honda over the winter, they have now made themselves victims of their own success. First there were the quick testing times resulting in diffuser-gate. Then came two Grand Prix victories and a fresh attack on their TV money or transportation allocation as a new team in Formula One. Shouldn’t the team principals simply forget the fighting and focus on the racing – it seems like that’s what Brawn is doing!

– Experience counts – It seems as though Bahrain holds a special place in a number of Formula One drivers’ hearts. A technically difficult track and one that look likely to stay dry, Bahrain will offer some different challenges this weekend to that experienced in China. Only Ferrari, Toyota and BMW have been at Bahrain since the new regulations kicked in, so you would imagine they would have a fair idea of the set up required, but at the moment their on-track performances are anyone’s guesses. Let’s see how Ferrari’s quickest time of 1.32.102 will compare to the Toyotas and the BMWs this weekend.

– Fortune favours the brave – Following the late night garage work in China and the urgent delivery of parts to Bahrain, this weekend will provide an interesting conclusion to the first of the fly-away races. We all expect to see a host of new diffusers lined up on the grid, and with the conditions expected to be hot and sunny, word from the paddock is that this is the first glimpse we will see of how far the teams have come from Australia. Jenson Button recently told an F1 Insider that “braking from over 300kph to first gear into turn one is an amazing feeling. It is surprising to see how early people get on the brakes, so if you’re confident in your grip and corner-speed, you can really make it count.” A race engineer told me that the average corner angle for the circuit in Sakhir is 143 degrees (the F1 average is 121 degrees) so the driveability and the speed taken through the corners is going to be critical this Sunday.

– Donington in trouble already? – Donington circuits owner, Tom Wheatcroft has taken DVLL (Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd) to court over unpaid rent of £2.47m since September 2008. Simon Gillett, CEO of DVLL, took a 150-year lease and had acquired the rights for the British Formula One Grand Prix for the next ten years. Wheatcroft is a notoriously ruthless businessman and I’m certain he is not going to back down until he gets his money from Gillett.

– And finally – It turns out the Red Bull 1-2 still wasn’t the perfect weekend for the team. The Austrian (yes, Austrian) registered team, based in Milton Keynes (UK), celebrated their Constructors’ victory to the sound of the British national anthem. Helmut Marko, Red Bull Racing’s advisor, told an insider in the garage that he “was disappointed that the wrong anthem was played”. Perhaps the Chinese didn’t expect the Red Bulls to perform so well in Shanghai.

As the curtains falls on the first set of races this season, Eddie Jordan will be back in front of the BBC cameras, the sun should be shining and expect Bahrain to have prepared the Austrian national anthem. Maybe.

Enjoy the racing.

Welcome to my blog

April 23, 2009

Hi everyone!
My name is Rich Soddy, a sports marketing professional in London. Every week I’ll be looking to provide you with a comment on the automotive industry, with a particular focus on motorsport. I have worked in the sports industry for nearly three years now and my passion for motorsport will hopefully make this blog interesting for all my readers.
I hope you enjoy my posts and please feel free to leave me a comment or two – it would be great to hear back from you with any insights that you might have, too.

Thanks for your time and I hope to see you again very soon,
Rich