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There are a few interesting threads around today. The Times has an extraordinary interview with F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone where he explores the theme of ‘dictators’.

Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo recently implied that FIA president Max Mosley was a dictator and Bernie sets out here to defend the breed as people who ‘get things done’.

“Politicians are too worried about elections, ” he says. “We did a terrible thing when we supported the idea of getting rid of Saddam Hussein, he was the only one who could control that country.

Warming to his theme, Bernie tackles the sensitive subject of Hitler, “In the end he got lost so he wasn’t a very good dictator. Either he knew what was going on and insisted, or he just went along with it — either way he wasn’t a dictator.”

Meanwhile I keep hearing stories about the new teams struggling to come to terms with the fact that the F1 they will be entering next year is not the same as the F1 they have signed up to. They came in on the basis of £40 million budget cap and two tier rules which allowed their Cosworth engines to run at higher revs than the other engines and gave them some aerodynamic advantages too.

Although the deal struck between FOTA and the FIA last week will mean that F1 budgets will be dramatically reduced, it will still not be anywhere near the £40 million next year which was originally on the table. The idea is to get down in 2011 to the budget levels of the early 1990s, which was around £40 million without the engine costs, which were at least that much again.

John Booth, team principal of Manor, one of the new entrants, is quoted today in his local paper, the Yorkshire Post as saying, “”Hopefully, it should become clearer in the next couple of weeks. There does seem an intention from all concerned to get the costs under control. We have only been planning to join formula one for the last five or six months. Over the years it has not been feasible, you had to be a multi, multi-millionaire to even consider it.”

Meanwhile Manor is currently the subject of some controversy regarding the involvement of FIA chief steward Alan Donnelly in the team’s F1 entry.

According to the Guardian, Manor already has VIrgin as a 20% shareholder and Donnelly was working on finding further equity partners and sponsorship for the team in Saudi Arabia. The paper reveals details of a leaked email to illustrate the point. The email was allegedly sent on on 29 May, two weeks before the FIA announced the three successful new teams.

This is part of what looks like quite a systematic attack on Donnelly, following on from the stories about him lobbying teams in Turkey, particularly Ross Brawn’s to leave FOTA’s proposed breakaway and sign up to the FIA world championship.

It would appear that the tactic is both to undermine Donnelly and his FIA role by alleging conflicts of interest and possibly to force an enquiry into the process by which the entries for 2010 were made, with a view to getting the process re-run.

It’s all part of the ‘great game'; the battle between FOTA and Mosley.

Here we go again; summer’s here, the temperatures are sky high, there’s a long three week gap between races and Max Mosley and FOTA have gone quiet.

If a vacuum is created something will come along to fill it and in this case it is the Spanish sports paper AS claiming that Ferrari is set to announce its deal with Fernando Alonso at the Italian Grand Prix in September.

According to AS, Monza is where important Ferrari announcements are made (true up to a point) and the traditional end of season Ferrari celebration has been booked in for November at the Valencia circuit (the permanent one, not the F1 street track) in order to celebrate the arrival of the Spanish driver many in the team feel they should have hired in 2006.

“We are not going to waste our time commenting on speculation. Everyone should remember that Massa and Raikkonen have contracts which include 2010,” team spokesman Luca Colajanni is quoted as saying to Gazzetta dello Sport.

I’ve posted on this before, if anyone wants to look back it was during Monaco weekend and just after Christmas last year. Alonso is a Ferrari driver, the deal is done and it is looking increasingly possible that he will drive in 2010 rather than 2011. Who knows whether they will announce it at Monza, but the story fills the news vacuum at the moment.

What I will say is that back in 1995 there were many rumours that Michael Schumacher was going to be announced as a Ferrari driver. The Ferrari press office issued a press release on 20th June which said,

“Ferrari would like to express, for the umpteenth time and with maximum clarity that all stories relating to negotiations with the driver Michael Schumacher are totally false.”

A few weeks later FIAT patriarch Gianni Agnelli announced the signing of Schumacher and new era began.

You’ve probably not heard of Liam Fairhurst but he was a mad keen F1 fan and he died this week.
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But there’s more to it than that. Liam was only 14 and he had been battling against cancer for four years. He thought he’d beaten it, but it turned out he hadn’t.

Liam was remarkable because when he was being treated the first time he made friends with another child who subsequently died. Upset by the loss of his friend, Liam was determined to raise money for Clic Sargent, the children’s cancer charity, of which Eddie Jordan and I are patrons, which helps children and their families through the struggle of dealing with cancer.

He raised over £320,000.

Liam had an indomitable spirit. Despite being wheelchair bound and through frequent rounds of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and operations, Liam went to a lot of fund raising events. He won a Pride of Britain award.

He was crazy about Formula 1 and was desperate to visit the McLaren factory, which he ended up doing more than once, because Ron Dennis got involved in a bet with him to see how many fish he could catch in the lake at the factory. That turned into another big fundraising initiative.

He was a brave little guy, who proved how much you can achieve if you are really determined.

It puts the struggles of the last few weeks in F1 into perspective really.

To find out more about Clic Sargent and donate please go to
http://www.clicsargent.org.uk

Mark Webber has come out with some perky quotes today about the second half of the season and his chances of having a run at championship leader Jenson Button.

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Mark is 28.5 points behind Button (wish we could get rid of the half point thing, but without another rained off race we won’t be able to) and only 3.5 points behind his team mate Sebastian Vettel with a maximum of 90 points still available from the nine remaining races.

Webber needs to score an average of just over three points per race more than Button to beat him to the title. A run of Red Bull 1-2 finishes would start to make that a possibility.

“I’m still very confident that I can haul some good points in the future.” said Webber. “Whether it’s enough to be consistently ahead remains to be seen. I’m getting some pretty good results. I’ve had very consistent Sunday afternoons.”

That’s a fact and it marks a bit of a turning point for Webber in his career. Last season he had a reasonable run of points finishes up to the British GP, but this year he has shown the consistency which was missing in previous years, partly due to bad luck with reliability. Webber’s career is one of unfulfilled promise, which is why he needs to take maximum advantage of the problems of McLaren, Renault and Ferrari this year, because he doesn’t know when he may get the chance to win races and get podiums again.

After starting the season behind Vettel he has matched him recently and beaten him in Spain and Turkey thanks to race strategy. Webber started the season recovering from a broken shoulder and a broken leg, so he was a little slow out of the blocks as the team expected him to be, but he’s now right there with Vettel. He lost the initiative to Vettel at Silverstone when he blew qualifying because he got wrong footed by Raikkonen into Stowe corner, after that second place in the race was always going to be the best he could do.

Qualifying is the key, “Saturday is crucial, we know that, in terms of how tight it is between the four of us, and especially in the last few events, ” said Webber.

So true. Red Bull doesn’t want to favour either driver. Although it is clear when you stand in their motorhome or garage, which of the two drivers certain members of the management team want to win, the policy so far is that they are allowed to race. This is fair and it’s what the public wants to see. Webber is in the later stages of his career, Vettel at the beginning, but they must both be allowed to benefit from having a good car, because in F1 you can never be sure you’ll have another good one next year. Just ask Lewis Hamilton.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner confirmed the drivers’ status, “There’s no No 1 driver. Updates are being introduced to the cars equally at every race, and that’s the way it will continue for the rest of the season,” he said.

That said, if it were to turn out that the Red Bull car was superior at the remaining races, getting those 1-2 finishes, then there would have to come a time when the team throws its weight behind one driver. Currently they are having to give one driver the better qualifying strategy ( ie a bit lighter to go for pole) and the other driver the better race strategy. But neither is the optimum combined strategy.

If one of the drivers were to get in range of Button’s points total then that might well change, because this championship is not over yet.

Meanwhile Red Bull has confirmed that the reserve driver it shares with Toro Rosso is changing over. It has been Brendon Hartley up to now, for the second half of the season it will be British F3 champion Jaime Alguersuari, the 19 year old Spanish driver.

The benefit to him is that he gets to learn the F1 environment, listen in to briefings and debriefs.

The new Yas Marina Island circuit at Abu Dhabi is taking shape, ahead of its first Grand Prix on November 1st, the season finale.

Today the organisers launched a video game which offers fans the chance to drive a virtual lap of the circuit.
Cregan

At Silverstone I sat down for a few minutes to chat with Richard Cregan, who is CEO of the project and responsible for bringing it in on time and to the highest F1 standards. We met in the new Ferrari motorhome, on the top floor. Aldar Properties, the company which is building the new track, has taken it for the season as a place to host its guests.

The massive undertaking of building the circuit is a new challenge for Richard, who for many years was the team manager of Toyota in sportscars and more recently Formula 1. A easy-going Dubliner, Richard is one of those guys about whom no-one in the paddock has a bad word to say, which is pretty rare. So he will be quite an asset for his employers when F1 comes to town. He understands how F1 works and will make sure that the teams fit in effortlessly to the circuit. When he was offered the Abu Dhabi job late last year he couldn’t turn it down.

Listening to Richard it is hard not to think of the contrast with poor old Simon Gillett at Donington who is fighting against all the financial odds to get his circuit revamped to host a race next year. Richard currently has 14,500 people working on his project, a rise of 2,500 for the summer months when, he tells me, efficiency drops off in the sweltering temperatures of 48 degrees! I can relate to that, I’m struggling to prevent my efficiency dropping off in the current UK heatwave and I’m not having to carry a hod around..

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“We can now see that we’ve got a track, ” he said gleefully. “Our inspection by Charlie (Whiting of the FIA) is on August 1st and it has to be ready for then.”

The scale of the track is what makes it different, and the imagination which has gone into the design. It passes underneath a hotel, the pit exit is a tunnel, for example. The track has a waterfront stretch which passes a deep water harbour, like Monaco, which has 148 berths, for yachts up to 160 metres in length. Like Monaco the boats should provide a stunning backdrop.

“It’s going to put Abu Dhabi on the international map, for motor sports and tourism, it’s part of a very big picture, a tool to activate that and a centre of excellence for motorsports, ” says Cregan.

The F1 Circuit and the Grand Prix are only part of the story. The Yas Island will include the first Ferrari theme park, a Warner Bros theme park, a golf course and other attractions. But widening the view out further from there, the development project includes Sa’adiyat Island, which will be a centre for culture and education, al Reem Island, which will be the financial hub. Abu Dhabi is setting the ground for the future.

We were talking on the Sunday morning, barely 48 hours after FOTA had announced it breakaway from the FIA. I asked Richard whether this made him nervous, given Ferrari’s involvement in Abu Dhabi, both through the theme park and the Mubadala sponsorship of the team,
“We will wait and see, like everyone else, ” he said, “The Ferrari deal is not going to influence our situation.”

Since then a peace deal has been struck, of course, but then thrown into some doubt again by FIA president Max Mosley. It’s gone very quiet on that front since Sunday. The Abu Dhabi deal is with F1 management, so they will be hosting the F1 world championship, come what may.

Jenson Button has visited the track and he will have been delighted to hear that the expected temperature for race day on November 1st is 41 degrees, which will suit his Brawn car and the way it uses the tyres.

But he may well have it all wrapped up by then.

I’m really looking forward to going to this track. It’s timely because F1 is undergoing a debate about its own values and priorities in this FIA vs FOTA struggle and one of the hot topics is the extent to which new venues replace the classic circuits. I’ve always been of the belief that a mix of the classic tracks like Spa and Monza with exciting new venues that really add something is what is called for. F1 must innovate, but not at the expense of its heritage.

Looks like Abu Dhabi is going to be an asset to the championship. Can’t wait to see it in the flesh.

To drive the virtual circuit go to: http://www.yasmarinacircuit.com/experience

In the parallel F1 world, away from FIA and FOTA, there have been a few interesting little developments lately.

Donington got its planning permission, thanks to the resolution of the legal row between Simon Gillett and the landowners Wheatcroft and Son. Also the company which is selling the debentures, ISG, an offshoot of IMG, broke cover and commented for the first time in ages about Donington. It’s now a year since Gillett said that he would be announcing plans for a ‘fan powered debenture scheme’ to pay for the developments.

In May this year he announced the plans. Debentures will be for three, five and 10 years, with prices between £1,200 and £4,000 a year, depending on level of access.

There are 40 days of entertainment in the package plus the Grand Prix, made up of other motorsport and music events and track days.

Gillett told the Express recently that the demand is there, “We’re only looking for 4,700 a year globally to buy into our idea. Our survey shows they are out there.”

And Andrew Hampel of ISG (an offshoot of IMG, which is in charge of the debenture scheme) said, “It is nonsense to say that the Donington Park figures and debenture scheme does not stack up. Through IMG and Bastion, ISG has vast experience and we are world leaders in the area of stadium and arena marketing.

“Without doubt, as paying customers, motorsport fans are ready for the same level of quality that fans of other leading sports have become accustomed to, and there is no reason that Donington Park cannot provide that.”

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The Brawn team is running away with both championships and today I noticed that Alex Wurz, the former Honda test driver, has been talking to Auto Motor und Sport magazine about the car which Honda chose not to race. Now renamed Brawn, Wurz reckons that it is the “most expensive car with the lowest operating budget ever”, based on the assertion that it was developed in five windtunnels with three separate programmes running. I’ve heard rival teams mutter that this is the most expensive car ever made too, but thought that they were probably jealous! Meanwhile one of the designers, Jorg Zander, has left Brawn recently. Zander has moved around a fair bit in recent years between Toyota, BAR, Williams, BMW Sauber and Honda. He lasted a year at Williams, a year at BMW and two and a half years at Honda/Brawn.

Of the three new F1 teams who entered for 2010 thinking that there would be a £40 million budget cap, two say they are going ahead, while one says that it looks more difficult than it did before. USF1, which is backed by one of the You Tube founders, is the only one of the three which is building its own car, trying to be a genuine F1 team, just like the others. Manor is taking a car from Simtek, while Campos is taking a car from Dallara. Manor boss John Booth spoke recently about the uncertainty which still hangs over next year’s rules and I get the impression from other F1 teams that they think this project might struggle to get the funding, despite rumours of Virgin being interested in sponsoring them, which I can’t really see. Meanwhile Gianpaulo Dallara is quoted today as saying that they began work on the 2010 car three months ago and as for the collapse of the budget cap, “We are continuing as if nothing had happened,”

Like all of the F1 technical departments, Dallara gambled that the rules would be based on 2009, with no refuelling and he was proved right,
“We have worked on 2009 specification adding the extra fuel capacity required for 2010,” he said.

Campos is down to use the Cosworth engine, but as I posted here a couple of days ago, they will not be allowed to run at 20,000rpm, so it will be interesting to take a look at how they get that engine up to speed. Frank Williams, who used the engine in 2006, said recently that it was not even close to the package provided by the modern manufacturer engines, like the Toyota.

And speaking of engines, another little gem from Auto Motor und Sport says that Robert Kubica a contender for the season’s most miserable driver, has now chomped through five of his allocated eight engines for the year. He looks like making some unwanted history by being the first man to take a penalty for using a ninth engine. Apparently at Silverstone he lost two engines, one on Friday and then it’s replacement on Saturday. How he must look back on last season and his chance to fight for the title and wonder when that chance may come around again..

Ferrari and FOTA president Luca di Montezemolo has gone on the media offensive in the past 24 hours, putting out some messages, not in response to FIA president Max Mosley’s complaints about FOTA’s behaviour, but stating his own case. He calls for an end to ‘polemics’ in F1.
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There is no hint of apology in his statements, nor a response to Mosley’s claims that the breakaway could still be on. There is only a clear reaffirmation of the principles on which FOTA negotiated the deal on Wednesday.

FOTA are very keen to show that they put the fans’ interests at the top of the agenda and so Montezemolo answered a range of questions from fans on the Ferrari website: “What I can guarantee you is that Ferrari and FOTA are busy to keep the spirit and the essence of F1 alive, constantly listening to our fans,” he said. “As far as the tracks are concerned where the races are held, the historical ones have always had a great fascination; for Ferrari and for all the other teams it will be important to get back to North America. “

“One of the main engagements of FOTA is to reduce costs to get to the level of the early 1990s in the next two years without losing the technological and sporting challenge of the highest level.”

Montezemolo also gave a global overview of the week’s achievements,
“First of all, I think that what we have obtained are three very important elements – stability, less costs – it means coming back to the level of the costs of the 1990s and also that F1, which is far more important, will remain F1 and does not become F3. This is crucial for us.

“Of course we have to improve everything and this is why we want to be more involved in the decisions of the sport, because we want more spectators in the circuits, tickets less expensive because today the tickets are too expensive, and to have more show.

“Maybe the possibility to have some teams or all the teams to run even a third car, to have more possibility to overtake – but increasing technology research, extreme performance and overall competition.”

“Now, stop with all the polemics, because we love F1. We don’t want to contribute to … take off the big charm and the unique elements of F1.”

The idea of a third car was mooted in Bologna on Wednesday and the name of Valentino Rossi was mentioned. Rossi said yesterday that he was interested in the proposal, when his contract with Yamaha is up at the of 2010.

Incidentally, I asked yesterday whether Ferrari still has the right of veto over rule changes and the answer is “yes”. The agreement is still in place. Ferrari had launched an arbitration in Lausanne to attempt to prove that the FIA had breached the agreement and so Ferrari were not bound by it. But now that the conditions have changed, they have stopped that arbitration and view the agreement as still being in place, which means they still have the veto right.

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