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Previously on The Judge 13:
OTD Lite: 1994 – Schumacher dominates European GP after ban
On this day Michael Schumacher returned from his ban and stopped the rot that had threatened to derail his season. He had been black-flagged at the British Grand Prix for passing Damon Hill on the warm up lap and was further punished with a two race ban. There was no way that he would have missed the German race and therefore raced under appeal in Germany, Hungary and Belgium; whilst waiting for the FIA hearing.
A retirement in Hockhenheim, victory at the Hungaroring and a disqualification for a plank that had worn away too much at Spa meant he only gathered 10 points over this period. The FIA upheld their ban and he missed the Italian and Portugese races before returning for the European Grand Prix at Jerez. With Damon Hill winning the preceding three races to Jerez – Schumi had to respond – and he did with an emphatic victory.
At the time speculation was rife that the FIA were punishing the Benetton team for having had traction control software aboard their car – although it’s use was never confirmed – they had caused a pit fire by removing filters to gain time in pit stops and the team bosses were viewed in the same manner as the current Red Bull crew.
With the death of Senna some months before many felt that either ‘karma’ or Bernie’s hand was involved in manipulating the rules which resulted in the young German being excluded or disqualified from 25% of the races.
To a degree the 1994 season came to represent the win-at-all costs mentality that the British journalists abhorred and with the exception of Ross Brawn – the main players were tarnished thereafter.
Why the TV ratings in Germany worry Bernie so much
Something that has been reported several times in the past is that Bernie is mucho worried about sharply declining viewer ratings in Germanyland. If the numbers that Motorsport Total has published are anything to go by, this worry isn’t exactly surprising. Germany is his biggest paymaster.
Germans can choose between two broadcasters – pay TV provider Sky Germany and free-to-air broadcaster RTL, who show FP3, qualifying and the races free of charge; as well as a free live stream on their homepage. It would not be an understatement to credit RTL with bringing Formula One to German Television.
One of the things that Ecclestone was desperately looking for in the late eighties was coverage in Germany which – even before reunification – had the biggest economy in Europe. Back then the German TV rights were with public broadcaster ARD, but the director of sports, Isenbart, an equestrian fanatic, declined to waste Sunday afternoons with live coverage of F1 races, choosing instead to bore the living daylights out of their audience by showing horses toiling about and crapping all over the place. Only the German GP was shown live. All other races were shown as short summaries in the ARD’s flagship sports news Sportschau.
Since the mid eighties private channels started to appear in Germany and frustrated by Isenbart’s horse fetish, Ecclestone sold the TV rights to RTL for 1991 for what is said to be an uncharacteristically low price in return for the promise of showing all races live. Coverage began with the 1991 French Grand Prix. Willi Knupp and Keke Rosberg were the first commentators and were replaced by Heiko Waßer and Jochen Mass. The rhetorically rather inept Mass was replaced by the more eloquent former F1 driver and Indycar driver/owner Christian Danner. To this day the Waßer/Danner duo are still the voices of choice.
The interviews are provided by the ‘illustrious’ Kai Ebel whilst ‘expert’ comments are provided by Niki Lauda. In true Bernie style, the RTL contract, which after 23 years is now the longest running arrangement in Formula One, has gotten progressively more expensive. The current extension runs until the end of 2015 and until this day, RTL have chucked 1.1 billion Euro (1.4 billion dollars) Bernie’s way.
Considering that his tally of TV rights money over the years amounts to 23.4 billion dollars (18.5 billion Euro), it shows how important the German market is. Certainly when considering that RTL’s donation is stacked upon that of Sky – the second German broadcaster. These mind-boggling numbers gives one an inkling of just how much of a giggle he must have had over the measly 75 million Euro bribe from Munich earlier this year.
TV broadcasters and the track owners are Bernie’s primary cash cows. Last season the revenue amounted to 1.7 billion dollars, of which 68 million come from support series and interest payments. 87.8 million come from corporate hospitality and 259 million from sponsors like Rolex, DHL etc. The lion share of 1.3 billion however is extorted from TV stations and through hosting fees.
Number two and three behind RTL on Bernie’s milking list are the 674.8 million dollars he squeezes out of the current contract with Silverstone. Further our antipodean cousins in Melbourne will bleed 712 million dollars until the end of their current contract, which runs through to 2020.
Were RTL to withdraw from covering F1 after 2015 – due to falling TV ratings it is questionable whether SKY would wish to cover RTL’s share of the fees and like Alonso, Bernie may be stuck with nowhere else to go..
Red Bull’s Austrians talk about the Vettel move
There has been talk of Vettel going to Ferrari for a few years. At times, a variety of sources that suggested that he had signed a letter of intent to join the team at some stage in the future. But these same reports also carried a caveat that Alonso had it written in his contract that Seb could not join the red army – as the Samurai insisted on number one status.
Either way back in April, when Stefano Domenicali ‘resigned’ as Ferrari team principal he mentioned in an interview that he had received phone calls from three drivers. Kimi, Fred and Seb.
Following the young lad’s defection Helmut Marko has felt the need for pacification and reflected: “Ferrari is still the name in F1, it’s a myth, so every driver yearns to go there in their racing career. “
Of course as much as Alonso fought his corner within the team he would have heard about Ferrari talking to his main rival – a man who received invaluable life lessons from his great friend – Michael Schumacher – who would have known Ferrari intimately.
Marko continued: “I think the first suspicion that there was something brewing was after the summer break. I cannot nail it down to an occurrence, but it was a strong gut feeling. Remember this: at least two things had to come together. It was not only a case of Sebastian wanting to leave, but also of Fernando Alonso clearing the way. The more Alonso distanced himself from Ferrari the more likely it became that Seb would move.”
Quite possibly that was the crux with all the counter moves between the various players. Alonso made no secret of his initial antipathy towards Mattiacci and seemingly misunderstood the authority this new man would bring to bear on the Gestione Sportiva.
As the season has progressed, Fred’s stance has softened to the point of being almost apologetic, yet Ferrari continued to make his tenure as uncomfortable as possible; even gifting him a release without a penalty being implemented.
Marko concluded: “I warned Dietrich that there was something coming. And this is not a love affair – this is a working relationship, and if you believe that the grass might be greener somewhere else, then you make such a decision. And again, I think that it was an ideal moment for Sebastian with the situation Ferrari is in.”
In other words, he s young enough to build Ferrari into his own personal fiefdom and emulate the legacy that Schumacher built in the hallowed halls in Maranello. Of course, whilst Schumi achieved massive success there and a generation before him, so did Niki Lauda, maybe it is no coincidence that Gerhard Berger never did.
The Austrian was perhaps better known for his sense of humour than for his racing skills, yet felt compelled to claim surprise at Seb’s defection from the team owned by his close friend, Dieter Mateschitz. “In my opinion, the situation at Ferrari at the moment is a little too turbulent. I simply would not have believed that Vettel would go there at this time. The challenge Sebastian is taking on is one of the biggest you can have in Formula One. Even Fernando Alonso, one of the best in the business, has not become world champion there.”
After the Spaniard stated that ‘The Finger’ may suffer with his four titles when he has a car that is not the best – this could prove the ultimate motivation to silence the argument for good.
‘How to make friends and influence people’ – by Ron Dennis aged 67 & 1/3
According to Omnicorse in Italy, Stefano Domenicali has been offered a position with Audi. The initial assumptions were that he would take over as successor to Wolfgang Ulrich, Audi’s Motorsport director; but in fact it would be to take control of Ducati, including its MotoGP programme.
Audi bought the Italian manufacturer in 2012 and have been investing considerable resources and technologies to turning the iconic brand around. Having removed the ‘arrogant’ engineers that refused to listen to the riders of their machines, they feel they could entrust the division to the ex Ferrari team principal.
Of perhaps more interest – the article continued with rumours of a meeting between TAG’s Mansour Ojjeh, Lawrence Stroll and Stefano. The Italian had spoken before the Italian Grand Prix that he would be staying at home for the first time in twenty five years, yet was observed in the paddock talking to both men.
The talks centred around Stroll taking control of Mclaren and then fulfilling Honda’s wishes of recruiting Stefano as the team principal with Alonso as the lead driver.
Canadian billionaire, Stroll, has featured in the TJ13 columns for a few weeks now as having an interest in buying Sauber or Lotus and most recently Macca. Ojjeh has been looking at selling his 25% of Mclaren since his recovery from his double lung transplant but for different reasons to what has been commonly suggested.
Mansoor had been a partner with Ron Dennis since before they took control of Mclaren in 1980. As he underwent his critical operations, Dennis was attempting to find funding to take full control of the Woking Group, not simply the Aaber controlled part. The TAG boss has taken this news as a personal affront and is looking at all possible means to move forwards.
Of course, F1 is commonly referred to as the ‘Piranha Club’ but who needs enemies with friends like this..
Autódromo José Carlos Pace upgrades
The dilapidated nature of the Autódromo José Carlos Pace (Interlagos) threatened the future of the Brazilian GP. However, a deal was done last year by Ecclestone which saw the promoters and local authorities agree to upgrade the circuit facilities and resurface the track, and in return the hosting of the race is now secure to 2020.
The works will take two years and cost the Ministry of Tourism £40m ($64m) which by modern standards is not a significant amount. The Circuit of the America’s reportedly came in $100m over budget and cost Red McCombs $450m to complete.
By the time of the 2014 Brazilian GP, some £16m will have been spent, and a further £24 million of improvements will appear before the 2015 race weekend. Most of this will be spent on the pit lane and media centre facilities.
Besides the resurfacing of the track, the pit lane entrance, which has been a cause for concern over the years, has been moved from the final bend (kink) further towards to the pit lane buildings.
The pit exit has also been altered allowing a larger run off area inside the track, though this should not affect or improve opportunities for the racing line of the cars as the pas through the Senna Esses.
The new surface will be a challenge for Pirelli, who appear to consistently fail to take the nature of freshly laid asphalt into account when they make their tyre selection.
Currently the hardest tyres F1 available have been chosen for the in just over 2 weeks, however, it would be surprising having seen the running in Sochi, were Pirelli not to change this to the Soft and medium compounds.
FIA Bianchi Accident Panel formed (GMM)
The news, confirmed in a letter from the FIA to “all F1 teams” this week, follows Marussia angrily hitting back at media reports the team and its French driver were to blame for Bianchi’s crash into a recovery vehicle at Suzuka 11 days ago.
The FIA letter asked teams to forward to the Paris federation “any information which you may have regarding the circumstances of this accident, and to keep all documents, testimonies and any pertinent information which may be of interest to the accident panel”.
The publication that revealed the disputed and highly controversial information about Bianchi’s crash was Germany’s Sport Bild, claiming Marussia told the now critically ill Frenchman to speed up to keep Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson behind him in the moments before the crash.
Marussia also strenuously denied claims Bianchi did not slow down for the yellow flags.
But in the wake of the team’s angry denials, Sport Bild has published even more new information.
It claims Bianchi went through the high-speed Dunlop corner at 217kph on the lap before he crashed. Next time around, he was reportedly recorded at 212kph.
The information is reportedly based on an official FIA document.
When asked about the document’s existence, FIA spokesman Matteo Bonciani told Germany’s Sport1 that “all relevant information about Jules Bianchi’s accident was reported by race director Charlie Whiting at Suzuka.”
He also would not confirm the existence of the radio messages from Marussia to Bianchi, as originally alleged by Sport Bild.
“This (not commenting on speculation) is a principle of the FIA – especially in the case of Bianchi,” Bonciani insisted.
TJ13 comment: It is infuriating the lack of perspective the F1 media world has on this matter. Do none of the F1 journalists remember the debate over the neutered value of double waved yellow flags following the the 2014 race in Germany?
The continual focus of the actual speed of the cars is astounding when considering the fact that even were all the drivers within Charlie’s 2014 definition of ‘proper driving’ under double waved yellow flags, the cars would still have been hurtling through Dunlop at over 180 kph in soaking wet conditions and poor light.
And remember, a mere 50 feet from these four wheeled flying missiles, were marshals on foot recovering Sutil’s stricken Sauber – separated from the racing cars by just some very wet grass.
Jules Bianchi is being maligned by the consistent suggestions he was a significant, or even – the only contributing factor AT FAULT – for his accident.
TJ13 is launching the #Justice4Jules Twitter hashtag for those of you wishing to question the ‘great and good’ one this matter from Formula One.
With a little help from a friend…
Even after Red Bull’s management crashed Fernando’s party by announcing that Vettel was leaving, and everybody and his dog convinced that the German would wear scarlett next year, Fernando stubbornly refused to announce his own exit from the Gestione Sportiva. His buddy and as of recently former Ferrari boss Luca Cordero di Montezemolo helped him out with that and did it for him.
In an interview with Italian broadcaster RAI he explained some of the things going on in Maranello. “Fernando leaves because of two main reasons. Firstly, he wants a change of scenery (read: He doesn’t get along with his new boss) and secondly, he has reached an age where he can’t afford to wait for wins any longer.” (read: He’s fed up with watching Vettel and Hamilton win while his own time to collect titles is running out, because 33 is the new 43 for people who think putting teenagers in F1 cars is a good thing)
For the first time LCdM also confirmed what had been in the Italian press all summer – that Fernando had asked him to be released from his contract. “He was disappointed that he didn’t win much in the last few years and wanted a new challenge.”
This would hint at Alonso’s claims of having had a plan in his mind for two or three months already being more than just a tall tale. The real interesting question is though, if those plans work out or if he has to go with ‘plan B’ – McLaren. If he was seeking a way to win, this year made it abundantly clear that you have to drive a Mercedes or the one Red Bull that works.
Fernando might end up forced into a year of sabattical to wait for a competitive cockpit becoming available. Well, it worked for Prost once…