Daily #F1 News and Comment: Wednesday 19th March 2014

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Ecclestone’s departure imminent

Whiting says Red Bull to blame

Ferrari ‘ugly duckling’ F14T is also fat

Honda duo to ‘observe’ at 2014 races – report (GMM)

FIA sides with fuel flow supplier (GMM)

FIA run by a technophobe

Ferrari Land comes to Europe


Ecclestone’s departure imminent

Something has changed over the past few weeks in the mind of Bernard Ecclestone. In January he was forced to step down from his various directorships in the FOM companies. CVC stated, “After discussion with the Board, Mr Ecclestone has proposed and the Board has agreed that until the case has been concluded, he will step down as a director with immediate effect, thereby relinquishing his board duties and responsibilities until the case has been resolved.

It is in the best interests of both the F1 business and the sport that Mr Ecclestone should continue to run the business on a day to day basis, but subject to increased monitoring and control by the Board. Mr Ecclestone has agreed to these arrangements.

The approval and signing of significant contracts and other material business arrangements shall now be the responsibility of the Chairman, Mr Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, and Deputy Chairman, Mr Donald Mackenzie”.

Bernie predictably refused to be cowed by the announcement. “Business as usual,” he insisted. “All that’s happened is a few months’ ago we decided that if I had to appear in court, during that period I would stand down from my role as a director of Delta Topco”.

Yet in the starkest of U-Turns, Ecclestone reveals to the Mirror, “I’m going to be 84 this year so I am probably going to have to start to think, ‘Do I want to go into the 85th year doing what I’ve been doing for goddamn how many years’. It’s something I’ll have to give some very serious thought to.

The important thing is to know when you should hang the boxing gloves up. So you are not going to end up going into the ring and getting a good hiding.”

This rhetoric from the man called the ‘F1 supremo’ is remarkable. When has Bernie admitted to being concerned about ‘getting a good hiding’? TJ13 has learned that Ecclestone has been making similar mutterings for a week or two, which has led to speculation that should his legal team fail in their current attempts to delay the Munich trial date – due to start in April – Ecclestone may abscond beyond the jurisdiction of the German courts.

The recent conviction by a German court and 3 ½ years prison sentence of Bayern Munich president, Uli Hoeness, may be playing on Ecclestone’s mind. Hoeness, like Ecclestone, is well connected, such that he was having lunch with Angela Merkel when he was informed of the investigation into his alleged tax fraud.

It appears the German courts are no respecter of persons when it comes to handing out custodial sentences, though Bernie denies this is influencing his thinking. “No. That’s nothing. No, no”.

In another bizarre admission of defeat, Mr. E claims his U-Turn has been brought about by, “the way people have to run ­businesses today compared to how they used to. I never knew about corporate ­governance back then, different committees, ethics committees and God knows what else boards to report to. I never reported to any.

I didn’t know about any of these things back then. Probably, if I had of done, I wouldn’t have lasted as long as I lasted”.

Clearly there are wheels turning behind the heavy oaken doors of the CVC corporate empire. The declaration by the sovereign fund of Norway that it should never have invested in F1 due to the fund’s ‘anti corruption’ regulations, is hardly inspiring for those looking at F1 as an investment.

Such is the continued media representation that corruption is at the heart of F1 ownership, TJ13 reveals there have been preliminary discussions in Paris by the FIA ethics committee over the matter of the transfer of F1 shares, though of course CVC has sold off a large proportion of its holding and now retains just c. 35% of the commercial rights, with Ecclestone holding 5.5%.

F1 must be about enter a new dawn of governance, and is it a no co-incidence Justin King of Sainsbury’s is saying his farewells and handing over the reigns of the supermarket this week?

Ecclestone see’s the future of F1 being very different from that during his tenure at the helm. “And we [F1] will be more restricted as time goes on. That’s how the world is. It’s coming that way. I don’t agree with it.

What we are slowly but surely managing to do is get rid of ­entrepreneurs. Getting rid of people who think outside the box.”

CVC have been linked with Liberty Media billionaire John Malone, owner of EuroSport, to sell their 35 per cent shareholding for around £15billion, though with the current publicity climate, they may be happy to get out for far less.

There are a surfeit of F1 shares up for sale at present. In addition to the Norges bank led syndicate who hold 21%, the liquidators of Leheman brothers have over 10% which must be sold by June. The previous transaction made in 2012 by Leheman’s administrators with the pension funds of North America valued the entire F1 shareholding at less than $7bn.

Ecclestone addressed the issue of who may own F1 recently when he suggested he may sell his shares soon. “If Mr McKenzie decides to sell his shares in the company, as far as I am concerned it depends on who the other people are who buy the shares. It’s as simple as that. I am in the very fortunate position I don’t need to go and get a job. I never have had. I’ve been lucky.

As far as the company side is concerned, I’ve had five or six different shareholders in the last 15 years. Five or six different bosses.

I’ve always run the company the way I thought it should be run. The minute I can’t do that I will leave. If Donald sells his shares to someone and I’m not happy with the people, I would go. I don’t have to stay.”

There are few times in life when the breaking news conveys a real sense of a shift in the course of history, and in F1 this will surely become the biggest historical shakeup that the sport has ever seen.

In true Bernie style, I see him slipping into his snakeskin slippers, cranking up his treasured hand made gramophone and reaching for a beloved vinyl. As he blows away the dust and sets the needle, Bernie settles into his trusty leather chair to listen to an old blue eyed friend…. ‘and now… ’

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Whiting says Red Bull to blame

Charlie Whiting says Red Bull only have themselves to blame for their car being disqualified following the Australian GP.

“We advised them twice after qualifying and five laps into the race to take the necessary steps to comply with the regulations,” said Whiting. “They chose to use their own calculations to show they complied. If they had followed the advice we gave them at the time, we would not have had a problem and they would not have been penalised.

If their sensor was kaput, then things would have been different. It is a human thing because they have the ability to do what was needed to comply.”

Helmet Marko has denounced the sensors on Servus TV as not fit for purpose, yet Gill Sensors defend their corner in no uncertain terms. “Following the Australian Grand Prix last weekend, the FIA have provided Gill Sensors with positive feedback on the performance of the Fuel Flow Meter, confirming their confidence in the development and stating the meters meet the FIA’s accuracy specification.

The meter development included an extensive testing programme, which involved liaising with many of the F1 teams for their valuable feedback on meter design and functionality. Meter calibration is handled by the FIA’s third party calibration company.

The meters utilise ultrasonic technology which was selected for its resilience in extreme operating conditions. The FIA chose Gill Sensors for this complex development because of Gill’s 29 years of proven experience in Ultrasonics.”

Marko is adamant the Red Bull defense is valid, claiming their readings were within the allowed fuel flow measurements allowed in the regulations. He calls on the FIA to supply reliable measures for Sepang or to allow the teams to supply their own measures to prevent what he calls ‘the farce’ of Melbourne.

The stewards in Melbourne ruled following the race that, “regardless of the team’s assertion that the sensor was at fault, it is not within their discretion to run a different fuel flow measurement method without the permission of the FIA”.

Bernie Ecclestone demonstrates why many in F1 believe the time is nigh for him to depart the sport. He clearly has no idea why the fuel flow regulations were agreed by all the teams. “The whole regulation, to me, seems a bit of a joke,” said Ecclestone.

We are not running for endurance. If something is controlling the amount of fuel you are using during a race, there is no need to say how much fuel you can have at the start.

If you use too much you are going to run out of fuel. It seems to be that simple and if it isn’t, it should be.”

Mercedes and Ferrari have both thrown their support behind the FIA which makes the likelihood of a successful Red Bull appeal being most unlikely. “The FIA is obviously controlling fuel flow and checking with all the teams, and it is a question of learning by doing it between the FIA and the teams,” Toto Wolff told the Guardian. “The fuel-flow meter is an FIA system and this needs to be integrated in the cars. This is a learning process where the teams support the FIA and vice versa.”

Ferrari team boss is equally unsympathetic with Red Bull’s plight. “We need to rely on the fact that it is a situation that is well managed by the FIA,” commented Stefano Domenicali. “We have the FIA that will do their job and I am sure there will not be a problem at all.”

This follows warnings prior to the weekend from Il Padrino that the FIA must not be fooled by ‘trickery’ over fuel and fuel flows. Ferrari tweeted their opposition to Red Bull creating a fuss over this issue.

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Red Bull must decide whether to lodge an appeal by tomorrow. Though they may wish to take a look at the history books first.

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Ferrari ‘ugly duckling’ F14T is also fat

At times we have to take with a pinch of salt, the information we are fed by the F1 ‘approved’ media. The swings are from getting over excited about something and nothing to choosing to keep us in the dark over issues brewing but to which they are sworn to secrecy.

When the F1 reporters continually asked drivers and team personnel for their hopes prior to the race in Melbourne, the response which felt almost scripted stated, “to finish the race, and then…”

F1 fans may have been sceptical that finishing the race was the first and foremost aspiration of everyone, and why? Well the teams are spending $100’s of millions, have more aero engineers than are employed in the global aviation industry and the nigh bullet proof reliability of the F1 V8 engines and the recent years’ car designs make a lack of reliability an anathema.

Even the uber dominant Mercedes suffered with a retirement before lap 5, and all the no-finishes bar Felipe Massa were due to cars failing in some way.

Fernando summed matters up pretty well. “You can’t take finishing the race for granted, as we were probably doing in the last couple of years. Even the guy on pole position cannot be 100 per cent that he will finish the race, so we’ll try to do everything on our side.”

Of course the dramatic predictions from Horner and Marko that 50% of the field would probably not finish the race was proven to be over the top as 14 runners were finally classified, and 8 cars only recorded as retired.

Reliability was in actuality at the forefront of most minds in the paddock last weekend, and rightly so. This being the goal, in a way the best ‘team’ results were for those who finished the race with 2 cars running. McLaren, Force India, Ferrari, Sauber and Toro Rosso.

For these teams the focus can now intensify on performance matters and the gulf between them, and a cruising Rosberg driven Mercedes.

A fourth and seventh place for Ferrari  doesn’t appear too bad, particularly when you consider Alonso beat both Mercedes powered Force India cars who had looked so strong in Bahrain testing II. Yet Ferrari like Mercedes have been co-developing chassis and engine hand in hand – as a true works team – and the feeling is that they should have done better and be further ahead than they are.

There are already mutterings emerging from Maranello, as to which Ferrari division is most to blame for the team’s current plight. The engine or car providers? We could be in for a classic year of Ferrari in fighting where we see an ageing, beleaguered consigliore (Domenicali) whose powers are on the wane – being whipped by the youthful Spanish matador who repeatedly cracks the whip on the rump of the Italian prancing horse as he demands more power. (I’ll pass this on to our satirical writers).

Alonso apparently drove the first 10 laps in Melbourne with between zero and 50% boost available from the electrical drive. The problem was somewhat rectified, at the early pace he was circulating, Alonso would have finished behind the Toro Rosso pair by the end of the race.

One of the more bizarre factors which is contributing to Ferrari’s woes, revolves around the weight of the engine. There were discussions pre-season at the F1 strategy group where a number of teams asked for the minimum total car weight to be raised to 700kg. Ferrari were most vociferous in opposing this, and yet it appears their engine is some 13kg over the minimum 145kg allowed for the power train.

If meeting the minimum weight target for the engine was an absolute goal for Ferrari, then Gill sensors level of accuracy is in a different universe of precision when compared to Ferrari’s whopping 9% overweight fail of their powertrain.

Ferrari can take some solace in the fact that post homologation by the FIA of the engines, all 3 manufacturers have applied for permission to make changes.

Charlie Whiting’s response was thinned lipped when asked how the FIA will respond to the engine manufacturers’ requests to modify their v6 engines. “Ultimately, its for us to decide”, was his curt and rather obtuse reply.

For F1 fans, we can but hope there is transparency from the FIA over what particular requests from the engine manufacturers are granted and the nature of the changes they propose to make. The usual way we discover what’s going on is due to another team/manufacturer unhappy about something and leaking the story via the fans websites.

Despite the bloated nature of the ‘less prancing than usual’ horse from Maranello, AMuS suggest the Ferrari is a puzzling beast. They observe Alonso recorded the 3rd fastest time, just 0.138s slower than Rosberg’s and in sector 3 the Spaniard was quickest overall during the race.

However, any attempt to measure another car against the Mercedes performance in Melbourne is futile. The reason, as TJ13 observed on Monday, is that Rosberg clocked his fastest lap of the race on lap 19, with over 2/3rds of his fuel remaining on board. Most others recorded their best lap times post lap 50.

Nobody knows how fast the Mercedes can go yet, probably not even Mercedes.

Ferrari’s problems also manifest themselves in the fact the car can only harness its full power for a few laps at a time. Domenicali admits, “we couldn’t use really the full power every lap. It’s an issue we had to manage”.

Alonso suggests there may be one or two other areas requiring attention. “We need to improve a little bit the speed of the car in general: the traction, the top speed…we are a little bit down here compared to the others on the finish line”. Also, “the braking – [we need] to make it a little bit more consistent”.

The history of Ferrari and the expectation of the tifosi at times appears to weigh heavily on F1’s most historic team. James Alison accepts the car at present is not acceptable by Maranello’s standards. “Our competitiveness was not acceptable in Melbourne, but we intend to fight our way back up the grid with the improvements that we will bring to the car.”

Alison attempts to remain upbeat. “There is plenty about the F14T that is working very well: The starts and the pace in the corners – especially the high speed ones – are particular strong points, but we need to work further on the stability under braking and the speed on the straights”.

Yet the distinct impression coming from the land of the Red F1 car, is that the engine division have not delivered what was expected. Domenicali is highly defensive over this suggestion, “I don’t want to focus only on that because the car has to be improved. It’s a matter of everyone doing his job and being focused on what they have to do at home without saying it’s your fault or my fault.”

Race weekend one, and the cracks are appearing in Ferrari-land.

This will all be forgotten if Ferrari can make swift progress to close the gap on Mercedes, Though those analysts who have crunched the numbers are suggesting to TJ13 that this task is indeed monumental – for Ferrari and the rest of the field.

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Honda duo to ‘observe’ at 2014 races – report (GMM)

Almost unnoticed in the Albert Park paddock last weekend strolled two Japanese with very big plans.

Speed Week correspondent Mathias Brunner reports that Yasuhisa Arai, Honda’s new F1 boss, and the Japanese marque’s technical chief Kazuo Sakurahara were on an un-uniformed mission to learn and observe as the 2014 season kicked off.

It is not until 2015 that Honda, absent from the paddock since the shock decision in late 2008 to pull its Brackley based works team from F1, will return to the grid as McLaren’s supplier of works turbo V6 engines. But as F1’s brave new era began in Australia, “It was the first of many visits this year,” Brunner claimed, as the Honda duo embark upon a meticulous mission to be up to speed against experienced rivals Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault.

Arai is quoted as saying: “At the beginning (of the V6 programme) there were some difficulties, but at the moment we are quite satisfied with our level of development.”

Undoubtedly, F1’s smaller, greener and more relevant engine regulations lured the modern-minded Honda back to the sport, but Arai insists that the ultimate ambition is clear.

“There’s no point in racing unless you win,” he is quoted by Japan Today. “That’s why we teamed up with a winning team,” Arai added, referring to McLaren, who in 2014 are spending their twentieth and last season with Mercedes power.

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FIA sides with fuel flow supplier (GMM)

The supplier of F1’s mandatory new fuel flow sensor has distanced itself from the Red Bull cheat controversy. The reigning world champion team pointed a clear finger of blame at Gill Sensors after Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified in Melbourne due to breaching the new rules governing a maximum fuel flow rate.

“The (Gill Sensors) device has obvious fluctuations,” Red Bull’s Dr Helmut Marko has now told Austrian television Servus TV. “It does not give precise measurements, when in our opinion we were within the (100 kilogram per hour flow) rules,” he insisted.

But Gill, a British company, said in the wake of the Melbourne controversy that it has the backing of its client, F1’s governing body. It said the FIA “provided Gill Sensors with positive feedback on the performance of the fuel flow meter (in Australia), confirming their confidence in the development and stating the meters meet the FIA’s accuracy specification.”

Red Bull is expected to follow through with an appeal against the Ricciardo ruling, but the fuel flow saga may only be a blip as the champions continue their chase of dominant 2014 team Mercedes.

“The speed with which Red Bull has caught up should make everyone worry,” Williams’ Pat Symonds is quoted by Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport. Red Bull boss Christian Horner confirmed that the team and its struggling engine supplier are making clear progress.

“At the Bahrain test the Renault was at 10 per cent of what it can do,”
he said. “In Melbourne we were at 60.” Renault chief Rob White, however, warned: “We are not out of the woods yet. In our steep learning curve, further setbacks are inevitable.” But the huge progress since Bahrain means car designer Adrian Newey can now get down to the real challenge of 2014. “I have only now begun with the development of the car,” he said. “If you can’t drive, you can’t try anything.”

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FIA run by a technophobe

The malaise at times which encompasses F1 is often driven by self interest, greed and corruption.

Yet there may be other reasons why F1 at times appears to struggle to come to terms with its place as a 21st century global sport – third noly in terms of audience to the Olympics and the Soccer world cup.

Formula 1 is a sport where the boundaries of technology are regularly being advanced by some of the greatest minds on the planet, so it would surely be the work of a fiction writer to suggests the guardian organisation is run by a man who admits he has problems using a computer.

Yet today when questioned over his technical capabilities, Jean Todt admits, “I do not use a computer. I’m not sure how to. Maximum is SMS”

Even Todt’s use of the revolutionary communication methodology that is ‘the text message’, is apparently something fairly recent in the Frenchman’s skill set. The motivation for getting on board with this communication type was, “In truth, I wanted to communicate with my wife, so I spoke with Michael Schumacher, who was with me. He said: ‘Send a text message’ but I replied, ‘I do not know how to do that’, so he was the one who showed me.”

Todt’s insistence on avoiding modern communications technology is however not due to complete ignorance, as he reveals. “I hate e-mails I’d rather discuss things directly with people”. In a world which beams billions of impersonal bytes of data around the planet every second, this throwback to the good old ways is rather touching – even if just for a nano-second.

Further, it could be argued that as president of the FIA, Monsieur Todt does not suffer the lack of instant availability of the person to whom he wishes to speak – as do the rest of us.

Even time zones appear to be of no obstacle to Le Presidente. Picture the scene…

04:00 am in Kazakhstan. The national motorsports official is in bed with his wife. The phone rings, he’s fast asleep, but she answers.

She shakes her inebriated husband violently until he arouses. “Darling, its Jean on the phone”, she implores.

A hazy Nursultan demands, what right does anyone have calling him at such an unearthly hour?

Wife: “He is the president of the FIA, dear”.

Todt is not a technophobe by accident. It is the very fact he has to micro manage his time so effectively to run the FIA which forced him to choose to reject the internet.  “It fascinated me when I discovered ‘Google’ and ‘Wikipedia’. “The problem is if I use these tools, my natural curiosity would mean I would spend too long, maybe lose at least four hours of working. I can not afford it. “

Aha! Good call Jean…. Better run along and feed the pigeons, before they start their daily travels…

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Ferrari Land comes to Europe

untitledIn 2016 Ferrari lovers won’t have to travel to Abu Dhabi to experience their favourite brand’s theme park. Just over an hour from Barcelona, the theme park at PortAventura Resort will open, “Ferrari Land”.

There will be 75,000 sq metres dedicated to the Prancing Horse, and the park promotion states it will, “instil in all visitors unique emotions, feelings and adventures”.

The highlight of Ferrari Land will be the fastest “vertical accelerator” in Europe.

untitled“But the new world of Ferrari at PortAventura does not end here. PortAventura will be home to the world’s first Ferrari-themed hotel. The 5-star luxury hotel will be themed throughout with the Ferrari brand for an incredible experience both on and off the rides”.

Let’s hope this Ferrari land doesn’t suffer the failings of its predecessor. Customer reviews regularly reveal parts of the Abu Dhabi park closed and rides often out of order.

16 responses to “Daily #F1 News and Comment: Wednesday 19th March 2014

  1. So if it is proved that Mr E bribed Mr G, does that make the sale to/by CVC null and void? I’m an engineer and stereotypically have little interest or knowledge of how justice and financial systems work. So some explanation on what happens if he is convicted would be very welcome 🙂

    • …Mr G was tasked with advising the Bank on how much and who to sell the shares to… He and Mr. E agreed the price.

      In layman’s terms….

      Ecclestone wanted CVC to buy the shares as they’d indicated they would keep him on as CEO. Another company was interested called Bluewater, they indicated they would not keep Eclestone on…

      The value was $2bn and CVC the approved buyer.

      CVC had the F1 business valued a few months after their acquisition at $3bn.

      This meant they could take out a loan with the shares as collateral for the $2bn they paid. So it costs CVC nothing in effect.

      F1 in effect has been mortgaged and has been paying interest on the loans ever since.

      The loans are now believed to be at least $3bn

      • Which is typical hedge fund behavior, take loans out to buy a company, drill it for as much profit as possible then slap it on the market to get out and move onto the next venture.

        We are in the dying embers of Bernie’s F1 Empire, how long it will take for him to go is anyone’s guess. The Knives have been sharpened.

        • If I hadn’t been a journeyman professional cyclist who flirted w/ the security services, I would’ve liked to have become a billionaire hedge-fund manager who over-leveraged companies to secure fat dividends before selling off their components and “eff” the workers! lol…

          Nice work if you can get it…

  2. Are cracks really appearing in Ferrari-land already? Yes, Sunday’s race wasn’t the greatest for them and they’re clearly disappointed but I don’t detect a sense of feeling down and out, just an honest, frank assessment of the work that’s needed going forward. I’m pretty sure most, if not all, other teams along the grid are also back at their factories demanding improvements in braking, speed, etc. And while their engine might be a bit heavier, Ferrari have made weight savings elsewhere on the car (e.g. engine cover). At least the Italian engine got both drivers over the finish line, and in the points, unlike the behemoth Mercedes one. You do mention some positives for the team over the weekend. I’d add Kimi’s prompt move up the grid initially, surviving the contact with Kobayashi, and the fact Alonso was 1st, 3rd and 3rd in the free practice sessions, in good company. If Ferrari don’t show a decent upward trend over the forthcoming races when new developments are added, THEN I’ll start feeling pessimistic.
    By the way, Domenicali “ageing” – the man’s only in his 40s! I suppose having spring chickens like Kvyat and Magnussen in F1 now make anyone over 25 seem ancient 😉

  3. 1) Slagging of Kazakhstan as a land of drunks? (re. suggesting the hypothetical president is asleep “inebriated” in bed when JT calls…)

    🙁

    Vinokourov is from Kazakhstan, and the WHO says alcohol abuse there is on the decline:

    http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/en/kazakhstan.pdf

    2) Slagging of JT for admitting that he forces himself not to waste time on the ‘net?

    double 🙁 🙁

    If that quote is valid (no reason to think it’s not), I give Todt huge credit for being able to resist the lure of Wikipedia and can sympathize w/ what it means to lose four hours in a day, regularly, satisfying one’s curiosity.

    I hope his Honour will revisit the tone of the commentary on Todt and consider extending the Frenchman some praise for not just being (apparently) sophisticated and intellectually curious about the world (even if not adept at mobile telephony), but also being disciplined enough and possessed of strong enough force of will (and self-aware enough) to work efficiently and effectively as head of FIA…

    Cheers!!

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