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Archive for the ‘Personalities’ Category

Here we go again. Another round of ‘what ifs’, this time based on the proposal put forward by FOTA for revising the points system this season. They suggest that the winner should be receive greater reward (12 points) and that the podium finishers should gain more relative to the rest.

So the mathematicians have been working out what different championship outcomes we might havd had in the past if this system had been in place.

The biggest difference is that Eddie Irvine would have won the title in 1999 and Damon Hill would be a double champion, with victory in 1994 as well as 1996.

Felipe Massa would be the defending champion this season.

The feedback so far seems to have been reasonably positive. I think there is a general feeling that the driver who wins the most races should be the champion and most fans seem to welcome a plan which rewards going for the win.

The FIA will vote on this proposal on March 17th at its world council, which promises to be quite an event, with all the stuff FOTA put forward this week up for approval as well as whatever Max Mosley has up his sleeve.

There are some suggestions that budget caps are still being put forward within FIA circles as a possibility and these may well be up for a vote on the 17th too.

Many F1 teams, including Ferrari, do not like the idea of budget caps.

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Today I went along to a lunch thrown by Max Mosley for a small group of journalists at the Poissonerie de l’Avenue, in South Kensington, London.

The talk was, predictably, about the need for urgent cost cuts, the medals system, prospects for the season ahead, the future of the British Grand Prix, evidence of who set him up in last year’s sex scandal and his own future.

On this last point I got the clear impression that he intends to stay on for another term. He has to make his decision by June and as he explained, they have a complicated system whereby prospective candidates have to draw up a list of people for the key jobs. This is a system he initiated in 2005 as it would give him early warning of anyone plotting to stand against him. Wily old fox.

Anyway as he talked about it and was saying that he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to do it all again, he made it clear that all the key people want him to run for another term.

I would have thought that he is most unlikely to walk away from the job now as the next three years are absolutely critical to the future of F1, with the Formula One Teams Association providing a strong united front for the first time ever and Bernie Ecclestone and CVC very anxious to get everyone signed up beyond 2012 to protect their income stream.

In 2010 costs will really come down

Mosley: In 2010 costs will really come down

He looked very fit and full of energy, much more so than at times last year. He’s going deaf, though and clearly had problems hearing some of the questions. He wasn’t playing for thinking time by asking for a repeat, he was genuinely straining to hear. As always he was bitingly sardonic in some of his answers and particularly scathing about the stories put about last week that former RBS chief exec Sir Fred Goodwin might stand for FIA president this summer.

On cost cutting and the rules for 2010, he was very firm. He said the target is to get budget right down, as I wrote in my posting on Honda this morning, to around £50 million. He added that it is regrettable that people will have to lose their jobs in that process, but F1 teams are not in the social service business, employing people for the sake of it. To get budgets down from £300 million to under £100 million cannot be achieved by continuing to employ 1000 people in a team.

He wants to see costs come down so much that a team can run for £50 million and be competitive. He feels that the boards of the main car companies are keen to see costs brought down dramatically and that it needs the FIA to do this because the people who manage the teams on behalf of the manufacturers would not go far enough fast enough.

What he did not say, but I have gleaned privately, is that the FIA has a package to present to FOTA of areas of non-compete, which are very extensive, along the lines I wrote about in my Honda story this morning. Ideally the FIA would like FOTA’s agreement on this package, but they do have the option of ramming it through the world council in March or June under the force majeur rule – in other words arguing that the situation is so desperate in the motor industry that these measures must be taken now or else the whole survival of F1 will be threatened. That will be a major flash point with FOTA.

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No sooner did I mention in a post earlier today that Nigel Stepney, former chief mechanic at Ferrari and the man behind the McLaren/Ferrari spy scandal of 2007, was working for an engineering firm in Essex, but a picture of him pops up in a media mail out by Superleague Formula, the racing series based on football teams.

As you can see, Nigel (on right) is working for Gigawave, who supply on board cameras to the series. The Superleague media people are having a bit of a laugh here because the photo above is prominent in their mail out, but is not captioned! And nowhere does it mention Stepney’s name.

Or maybe they don’t know..
stepney
Does this count as working in motor sport?

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Luca di Montezemolo turned up in Madonna di Campiglio yesterday for the end of the Ferrari shindig and had a good long session with Bernie Ecclestone, whom he embraced warmly. The pair have known each other since the 1970s and they will lock antlers many times in the next year or two as Montezemolo seeks to lead the FOTA teams to the promised land of more control and more money.

Afterwards he sat down with the Italian media and I’m grateful to them for details of what he said. The thing which caught my eye was his reminder that the commercial deal binding the teams into F1 is only until 2012, which will be here soon enough, as the London Olympic committee can tell you. Beyond that, he said, F1 needs “an authoritative sporting body” to lead it.

He sees the key to the future as being four ‘S’s; Stability, “we cannot keep changing the rules every six months or a year”; Seriousness, “because we cannot pretend nothing’s happening in a period of great economic difficulty like this”; Spectacle, “I think the new rules will help with this”; Sustainability, “which is finding the right balance between cost and income.”

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Today’s McLaren launch was a quietly confident affair. The team looked composed and calm ahead of what is likely to be a hard fought and chaotic season, with complex new rules and an intense development programme away from the circuit. And then just as the thing was winding to a close, Ron Dennis, the sport’s most successful entrant, goes and lets slip that he’s standing down as team principal at the end of February.

It’s no great surprise in one sense; he is 61 years old and has been discussing stepping down for some time. He was under pressure from the authorities to quit in 2007 during the Stepney spy scandal, but he toughed it out, determined to stay in charge until Lewis Hamilton had clinched the world title, which he regarded as the culmination of a project he put in place over 10 years ago.

But that success and the pleasure it gave him seemed to have given him a fresh love of the sport and renewed motivation. So it was still mildly surprising that he chose today to announce that he was finally going to allow his loyal deputy of 20 years, Martin Whitmarsh, to take the top job. As Ron said, they’ve been sharing the job for years anyway and practically speaking Martin has been the boss for a few years, with Ron the figurehead who makes his presence felt at race meetings and in the public arenas. There will not be much change in the way McLaren goes about its business, although they will probably enjoy better relations with the FIA now that Dennis is out of the way.

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Donington, Buemi and more

It’s been an interesting week for news, with the Buemi announcement, Donington getting its planning permission, FOTA making further cost savings and more on the Honda buyout. Here is my take on the week’s news digest.

Donington was granted planning permission to gear up for hosting the Grand Prix is 2010. This was the stage at which the Brands Hatch bid failed a few years back, so Simon Gillett and his team have done well to overcome that hurdle but many are still sceptical about the viability of this project. Ron Dennis voiced his concerns this week saying that the pound’s depreciation against the dollar will make the contract 25% more expensive for a start. He is also doubtful about the debenture scheme. I mentioned in an earlier blog that Gillet told me in December that the debenture funding was in place through Goldman Sachs and IMG.

Dennis’ voice is a significant one, but you also have to remember that he is a lifetime Guardian of Silverstone, along with Frank Williams, appointments the BRDC put in place a few years back to ensure that there would be protection against the track being sold in the future. So Ron does have a vested interest in this story.

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Today could turn out to be a day, which will stand out in the history books of Formula 1. At the FIA World Council meeting in Monaco some huge decisions will be taken, which reflect a sea change in attitude within the F1 teams compared to recent years and which will herald the start of a move towards a totally new F1 concept, certainly as far as engines are concerned.

Following the surprise withdrawal of Honda a week ago, a fresh mood of realism has finally crept in and the remaining nine teams met with FIA president Max Mosley on Wednesday and presented a package of proposals to drastically cut costs. All parties described the meeting as a ‘breakthrough’ and we wait with baited breath to see what shape our sport will take in the future.

The cornerstone of the proposal is a standard engine and drivetrain. Currently the costs of developing and producing the engine and gearbox are considered to be roughly half a Formula One operating budget for some teams, or £30 million per year. The FIA wants to remove the drivetrain as an area in which teams compete with each other, thus eliminating the need to spend such sums on it.

Under the plans before the World Council today, the standard engine will be supplied by Cosworth and the gearbox by Xtrac/Ricardo, costing around £5 million per season. It remains to be seen how many teams will sign up for this in 2010. Teams have the option of building their own engine but it must be to the exact Cosworth design and therefore equivalent in performance. I fancy that many of the big names will do this, including Ferrari. However, I’m told that one of the breakthroughs at the meeting on Wednesday was that this option has been made ‘sexier’, hence why the top names were happy to agree to it. We’ll see what that entails later today.

The idea behind the standard engine is simple – to calm down the excessive spending of recent times and get things under control. But the intention thereafter is to reintroduce competitive engines to a completely new design in 2013. These are likely to be turbocharged, probably V6 and the competition element will be reintroduced, probably based on fuel efficiency, rather than outright performance.

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