F1 Paddock Insights

May 20, 2009

Despite the hope of a resurgence of many of the teams in the Formula One paddock leading into the Spanish Grand Prix, Brawn GP’s Button and Barrichello stormed to another 1-2 to extend their Constructors’ lead. This weekend the teams travel in style to the playground of the rich and famous, Monte Carlo. 2009 marks the 80th edition of the Monaco Grand Prix with its stature as the pinnacle of motor racing seemingly getting more pronounced every year. Here’s the latest from the paddock in Monaco.

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– The ruling from the French FIA court of appeal has just been announced, ruling against the Italian team’s opposition to the proposed budget cap. Ferrari had hoped that, due to a clause in the agreement signed with Bernie Ecclestone, they could veto any major decision made by the FIA. It appears, however, that the FIA is now clear to push forward with its plans to install a budget cap and it will be up to the teams to debate at what level it is set. With the matter of the two-tiered technical regulations decided, the word from inside the courtroom is that the teams can now push harder for the budget cap to be raised, with Ferrari, Toyota, Renault and Red Bull Racing the most fervent of supporters.

– Beneath the Formula One drama on the track and the usual soap opera carrying on off it, there is another little sub-plot developing between two of the sport’s heavyweights, Flavio Briatore (ING Renault team principal) and Ross Brawn (Brawn GP). First, Flavio was in support of the inclusion of Ross Brawn’s reincarnation of the Honda F1 Team. Then the team ran the controversial double diffuser, started doing rather too well and Flav wanted to remove Ross as the technical delegate of FOTA. Add to that the dispute over unpaid television and prize monies from 2008 and Flav was starting to get a real bee in his bonnet over the Brackley-based world-beaters. Now the Italian has told F1 insiders that no-one in the Formula One paddock can match the Brawns for the remainder of the season –yet more sour grapes, Flav? The Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber are getting pretty close and Ferrari’s rise in the past few weeks looks ominous for the other teams.

– The big question inside the paddock this weekend is whether the cars struggling for maximum downforce can survive the pressure of 78 laps around the tightest circuit on the calendar. Bridgestone are introducing a new intermediate tyre that will offer the drivers more grip around the circuit this weekend. Couple that with the extra grip that slicks provide and perhaps the pack will be evened out where downforce previously made a lot of the difference. F1 insiders tell me that this Grand Prix should be a race for the Monaco specialists like Button and Alonso. Keep an eye out for the drivers running KERS as well this weekend as the short straights and need for acceleration could really play into their favour. However, it could also take them too wide and throw them into a barrier, there is no room for error in Monaco!

– Finally, the star of the 2003 British Grand Prix is back on our screens. No, we’re not talking about Rubens Barrichello but in fact Neil Horan – the defrocked Irish priest who invaded the track and forced Mark Webber to swerve dramatically out of the way. The diminutive Irish man popped up on our screens again on Saturday night when he performed his ‘soft Irish jig’ to the delight of the Britain’s Got Talent crowd and multi-million strong audience. Simon Cowell couldn’t stand the man, but the other two judges put him through to allow him a step closer to performing for the Queen – whether a publicity stunt or a big mistake, this could be his biggest achievement to date (his CV also lists the 2004 Olympic Marathon and the 2006 FIFA World Cup!).

With the cars set to hit the track in the Principality, the intense working conditions of the paddock as well as the inevitable murmurings of budget discontent should make this Monaco Grand Prix a lively one to be at. Always a hot ticket for the celebrities, the Cannes film festival has started the juices flowing among the Hollywood rich and famous, so expect there to be more A-listers than team personnel in the pit lane!

Enjoy the racing from the ‘Jewel in the Formula One crown’.

F1 Paddock Insights

May 6, 2009

Despite taking two weeks off, Formula One is still a hive of activity inside both the garages and law courts of the world. McLaren escaped with a slap on the wrist for their part in the lying scandal that has rocked Formula One since the opening Grand Prix of 2009, even though many people thought that the sanctions would be a great deal harsher. A suspended sentence, the firing of Dave Ryan and the expedited departure of Ron Dennis will, I think, be enough to scare McLaren into not trying to pull another stunt like that – this season, at least.

Almost like a new season – Never before has the start of the European season heralded such a breadth of technical developments to carry the hopes of the teams. The two week break has encouraged a raft of new developments across every single team. Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated development will come at the hands of Renault who teased us with their new diffuser at Bahrain. Spaniard Fernando Alonso has said this week that, “seeing the support of the fans always gives me a big boost”, couple that with “a new diffuser and floor, new wheel fairings to increase downforce and a new rear wing” and we should see a “reasonable step in performance this weekend.” Expect to see more this weekend from Ferrari, with their new, fabled double diffuser, too.

£40m enough? – The big news from the FIA in the last week has been the proposal of the £40m budget cap. The proposal has left FOTA divided, with the smaller teams delighted by the plans and the big boys now having to look at how they can seriously reduce their budgets. Even some of the satellite teams, such as Toro Rosso manage to spend upward of £60m per year. It leaves teams asking big questions of their finances and, unfortunately, now of their workforce. An F1 insider told me over the weekend that “the first thing to go will be the staff”, leaving even more people out of work, where the budget cuts had initially planned to prolong the life of teams and jobs. There are suggestions in the paddock that FOTA will respond by proposing a reduction in expenditure by 30-40%, rather than a budget cap – a good idea, but one that will not resolve the issue of new teams joining the F1 paddock.

Donington saga continues – As talked about in Bahrain’s F1 Insider, the Donington-staged British Grand Prix of 2010 could still be under threat. Donington Ventures Leisure Limited (DVLL) CEO Simon Gillett has met with the local council who had underwritten £100m for his re-development of the Donington site and the North West Leicestershire District Council has extended his grace period until the end of June. It is claimed that Gillett is yet to sign the planning agreements to detail the development of the site – necessary before any substantial backing can be put in place. Turns out he is still fighting on two fronts, too, as Tom Wheatcroft is still after his £2.47m, for which a law suit was filed two weeks ago.

Every car running McLaren? – Following the success of McLaren’s standard ECU throughout the paddock, an insider at the Woking-based technology firm are looking to implement the only truly productive Kers throughout the whole paddock next season. With limited downforce so far this season, the cars’ Kers have propelled them to the unexpected heights of 4th in Bahrain. Another potentially cost-saving measure, this could be the answer to the FIA’s Kers prayers, following the first 4 rounds of the season and less than a quarter of the field using the power booster regularly.

And finally – With the weather forecast looking mixed for this weekend, the paddock could be, once again, thrown upside down. An abrasive track surface, plus the high downforce requirements mean that tyre-life is limited around the Circuit de Catalunya. Will the rain play into the hands of the already-strong Brawns and Red Bulls or will we see yet another team leading the pack this weekend. Expect to see tight lap times, though, as most of the teams tested here in pre-season and should be on fairly familiar set-ups.

Enjoy the first European race of the season.

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.

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