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Previously on The Judge 13:
F1 loves a conflict of interest
Stefano Domenicali has been lined up to replace Gerhard Berger as the new president of the FIA Single Seater Commission.
The appointment was announced at the FIA General Assembly at Doha in Qatar.
In his 3 years in office, Berger most notably reinstated the FIA Formula 3 European Championship and has been pushing the concept of FIA Formula 4.
One narrative is that FIA are running scared that their ‘own’ junior single seater programmes are disparate if barely existent, when compared to GP2 and GP3. However, there are those who believe Berger has not been entirely successful and it is time for him to move on.
Then of course there was the picture of Gerhard at the Abu Dhabi test sporting a Lotus branded shirt.
So, the FIA turn to Stefano to kick on the FIA ‘backed’ programme of junior single seater racing, whilst at the same time Domenicali is employed by the VW group.
This may indeed be a convenient arrangement, since Dominecali has been employed by the VW group and reportedly “conducting a feasibility study into a potential Formula One entry for Volkswagen”, according to the BBC.
Amongst the many with whom Ecclestone has crossed swords with, is the head of the VW supervisory board – Ferdinand Piech, who “have long had a difficult relationship”, according to the BBC’s Andrew Benson.
Despite being credited with saving VW from bankruptcy during the early 1990’s. whether Piech has sufficient clout to veto a VW F1 programme is not addressed by Benson.
However, as TJ13 has been reporting and commenting throughout the year, Ecclestone’s power and influence within the Formula One group of companies has been markedly on the wain, which opens the door for the second largest car manufacturer in the world to consider and entry into Formula One.
It is the marketers who may well be pricking VW’s interest in F1. Last year, Repucom reported that for the first time, a sponsor – Infiniti – had received $1bn worth of advertising credit from their involvement in F1.
Mercedes have apparently blitzed that number in one year, though of course they are both the engine manufacturer and team owners, together with being sponsors. The estimated net worth in advertising to Mercedes in 2014 after deducting all costs is believed to be in excess of $2bn.
For that reason alone, VW would surely be forced to enter F1 as a works team rather than an engine manufacturer alone.
Also, when the marketing reach of Mercedes from this years Formula One campaign is compared to the $30m advertising benefit Benson claims VW have received from their sports car and DTM touring car series – with an associated spend of around $400m – the math is simple.
VW were of course included in the working party that was formed to define the nature and scope of the new F1 V6 engines, though of course to date they have expressed no direct interest in developing a Power Unit for the top flight of single seater racing series.
What is of interest is which brand would a VW entry into Formula One utilise? The assumption is usually made that it would be Audi tasked with carrying the flag in competition against Mercedes and Ferrari.
Yet a brand can be negatively affected by being uncompetitive in Formula One as BMW, Toyota and Honda discovered in recent times. The VW owned Audi name is riding high due to their successes at Le Mans, so it is not necessarily the case that Audi is the obvious vehicle for VW to dip its toe into such a cut throat competition.
Initially an entry from VW could be named Lamborghini or Bughatti, or even Bentley – then should success be likely to accrue, a name change may then be a wiser approach.
Then there is the decision for VW to make, whether to build a Formula One team from scratch or acquire an existing platform to develop. And it is not beyond the realms of impossibility, that German manufacturer could acquire the Red Bull Racing team and use this as the basis to launch a campaign in Formula One.
Christian Horner made this bold claim recently. “If things are left as they are [engine regulations], Renault and another manufacturer could be pushed out. We need to do what is best for the sport above what is best for an individual manufacturer.”
This begs the question, who is the mystery engine manufacturer to whom Horner refers?
The obvious, but equally strange answer has to be Ferrari, given that Honda hasn’t yet started their F1 campaign and Mercedes are fairly happy with the status quo.
The thought of F1 with no Ferrari is impossible to believe. Yet prior to the ascension to the Ferrari throne of Sergio Marchionne, the notion that Luca de Montezemolo could be ousted from Maranello was highly improbable. Further, the Marchionne driven impending sale of Ferrari could yet deliver the almost unthinkable, which sees the famous brand go the way of Lamborghini and into German ownership.
It is not a leap of unimaginable proportions, that Domenical – a full time employee of VW – has been brought close and into the FIA family to facilitate the requirements for a VW entry into the sport of Formula One.
Whether this is a conflict of interest – or a smart political manoeuvre – is a subjective judgement call.
But in times of such great uncertainty for the FIA, with an EU Commission investigation imminent and once again threats of manufacturers leaving the sport of Formula One, it is prudent and somewhat comforting – that the sport’s ruling body may be looking to the future when faced with potential destructive threats from the past.