Notebook from the old town in Speyer
August 1, 2016 by Joe Saward
IMG_0051The Formula 1 world is not one where there is much sympathy for the opposition and there was a lot of sniggering behind closed doors about the mess into which Ferrari has wandered in recent days, with the experienced old lags in other teams rejoicing that the Italian team has, in effect, set back its progress by three years. The first year will be spent looking for engineers to replace Allison and his men (most of whom will have been receiving offers since the moment the announcement was made. There will be periods of gardening required and so getting a new cohesive team together will take another year and then it will take a year to get their first design put together. In Hockenheim the process had already begun with rumours that the team’s chief aerodynamicist Dirk de Beer has also departed. It will not be the last such rumour. The whole problem appears to have been caused by two important things: firstly, automotive company executives often suffer from extreme arrogance when it comes to the sport, believing that they can swan into teams and make them successful. This almost always ends in disaster, because they underestimate how difficult it is to win in F1. The second problem is that the Scuderia has no idea about how to manage the perceptions of the fans and created a road for its own back by talking too positively about the 2016 project. Once the fans and media got it into their heads that the Ferrari would be a winner, the problem developed. The Ferrari was not a winner because other teams had done a better job and thus Ferrari’s efforts were a disappointment. The Italian media, so influential in the panic attacks in Maranello, began taking pot shots at the team, people began to feel vulnerable and the politics ramped up. This is a pattern that has been repeated over and over in the history of the team. In reality, since the death of Enzo Ferrari in 1988, the team has only ever really had one truly successful period and that was when the management was taken over by outsiders.
The notebook from Hockenheim was full of notes about the mess at Ferrari, but there was a little room left to note rumours about Sergio Perez and Renault. These make a lot of sense as Perez wants to be in a factory team and has a sizeable chunk of money that follows him around (something which will help Renault). There is a lot of work going on at the moment at Enstone, recruiting, replacing old equipment and investing in new things, but the French ways are still fairly evident as the boss Cyril Abiteboul seems to have gone off for one of those long summer breaks that the French management classes enjoy. This sort of thing may be the sign of good management (or not), but they don’t go down awfully well in racing teams where people are working night and day to get the team more competitive. Frederic Vasseur still has his nose to the grindstone, but he is a racer and not a politician and being in a corporate world may not be something that he enjoys. One can say the same of Eric Boullier at McLaren, who is a racer through and through. The team is moving forwards but it is not without a certain amount of pushing and shoving behind the scenes and things are probably going to get a little more complicated after the summer break when Jost Capito arrives on the scene, adding to the number of managers involved.
There was a daft rumour in Hockenheim, basd on no evidence at all, that Mercedes will be quitting F1 after 2018, the logic (if you can call it that) being that the two driver contracts end at that point. This magnificent piece of waffle was denied by al in sundry and the fact that Sunday saw a mass turn out of Mercedes Benz big cheeses suggests that it should not be taken seriously at all. Not only was the Dr Zetsche present, his massive moustache glistening in the sunlight, but his heir apparent, Ola Källenius, was at his side, along with fellow board member Prof. Dr. Thomas Weber. Källenius is a sort of management version of Max Verstappen, having emerged from Sweden and joined Mercedes as a management trainee in 1993. If one studies the wunderkind’s biography one sees him emerge from procurement to become executive director of operations at McLaren Automotive in 2003 and then a couple of years as MD of Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines in Brixworth. Here is a man who understands the value of racing, so don’t take too many bets of Mercedes pulling out in 2018. I hear they are considering building a new factory in the Brackley area because the current facility is less than super-efficient…
There is a fair bit of head-scratching going on about Canadian Lance Stroll (17), who is currently leading the European Formula 3 Championship. Stroll is also up to something with F1 cars but Williams are being rather coy on the subject and will not even say how many tests Lance is doing this year. The reason for this is that the tests are private and are taking place at race tracks all over the world, using a Williams-Mercedes 2014 car, in order for the teenager to get comfortable with modern machinery and learn tracks he has not yet visited. Blimey, you might think, this kid must be good if Williams is paying for all of this, but the word is that the team is its usual frugal self and that Stroll is being bankrolled by his larger-than-life father Lawrence Stroll, who is reckoned to be worth around $2.5 billion and is the kind of chap who is willing to spend $25 million on an old Ferrari, or look in the corner of his wallet to find the small change needed to rebuild the Mont Tremblant racing circuit in Canada. There are rumours, inevitably, that if he is good enough, young Stroll might be in line for a seat at Williams in the not too distant future if his dad is willing to stump up enough cash.
The only other rumour of note was that the German GP might move to the Sachsenring in 2017. This is located not far from Poland and hosts the German motorcycle GP, although it is struggle to pay for that. It’s a nice rumour, presumably slipped out by someone trying to do a deal with Hockenheim, but there is no sense at all in any of it. The region is not going to pay, the ADAC car club that runs the track has no money but would like a race because it cannot do anything with the Nurburgring and it is highly unlikely that anyone else will pay for a German GP way out east. The burghers of Hockenheim are unlikely to be much impressed by the “threat” of such a project.
The F1 world is off on holiday now, with the annual factory shut down at the end of the week. This means that for the next two weeks not much will happen. Everyone is tired after six race in eight weekends and teams are worrying that when they get a new calendar in December, they will all suffer a lot of resignations as their staff vote to spend more time with their families.
And that is what I am going to do for the next fortnight. The blg is shutting down and I am off to spend some peaceful days doing things completely unrelated to motorsport. I will be back in action (to some extent) after August 15 before the cylinders all start firing again in the run-up to the Belgian GP in Spa. Given the number of Dutch fans in Hockenheims, Spa is going to be sold out this year with an army of orange-clad Max fans…