Category Archives: 2017

Formula One: “Grand Prix Driver” – The Conflicted Review

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I’m conflicted. Last week I was sent an advance copy of the Amazon Prime documentary series Grand Prix Driver. This fantastic series offers previously unimaginable of levels of access to the McLaren F1 team as they prepare for the 2017 Formula One Season. Recorded over a period of four and a half months, Manish Pandey, Chris Connell, and Anwar Nuseibeh have produced an in-depth study into the life of a Formula One team with seemingly no topic being off limits. All of which, for a lifelong F1 fan such as myself, sounds incredible. So why am I conflicted?

It is said you should never meet your heroes. After watching Grand Prix Driver, I think this phase should be modified to ‘never watch a documentary about your heroes. I want to make it clear, the production values of the documentary are second to none. To gain the level of trust required to film some of the scenes depicted through the episodes is a testament to the passion, dedication and commitment of Manish Pandey and the team surrounding him. This series is a must-see for any fan of motorsport. Unfortunately, however, it’s also a must-see for anyone studying business management looking for examples of how not to run a successful business, and perhaps most importantly, for Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing on how not to work with a Power Unit Partner.

If you have seen a trailer for the documentary, it will be clear the series charts the breakdown of the relationship between McLaren and Honda on the eve of the 2017 season.

 

Analysing the series and reflecting on narrative documented, I have tried to break down my assessment of the team into a few key sections.

Partnerships

The key rationale for the McLaren Honda partnership was that Ron Dennis and/ or the team felt it would not be possible for McLaren to challenge for world championships as a customer team. Logic and recent history suggest this assessment is absolutely correct. The mantra throughout the McLaren Honda partnership and throughout this series is that of “One Team” and “We win as a team; we lose as a team”. The documentary shows those words to be largely empty. Relations between McLaren and Honda employees at every level of the business seemed strained at all times. There is a constant feeling of us and them.

An interesting insight into teams using customer power units in Formula One is when the customer receives the power unit. As a customer team, power units very rarely enter the team facility. One unit will be made available for the first time the car is fired up ahead of the season. After this, Power Units will be delivered to the circuit by the supplier and taken away again at the end of a test or race weekend. The benefit of direct / works relationship with a power unit manufacturer should be these limitations are removed. Team and Power unit manufacturer work as one in parallel. Based on the Grand Prix Driver documentary, this unity was never achieved between McLaren and Honda.

The first time McLaren physically saw the 2017 power unit was in the days preceding the first fire up of the unit. This is not an integrated partnership. Heading into 2017, Honda were playing catch up, they decided to overhaul their design philosophy. This decision, it is implied, was one McLaren did not have a say in. After taking such a decision, communication between McLaren and Honda should have been continuous, when it came to installing the power unit there should have been no surprises. As the documentary will show, this was not the case, with components having to be re-engineered on the fly.

The relationship between McLaren and Honda was not a partnership. It was barely more than a customer relationship, where the supplier happened to be supplying power units free of charge.

Humility

In speaking to Manish Pandey about the documentary, the topic of humility came up. Manish’s view of humility was interesting. His perspective was that both Honda and McLaren demonstrated great humility as they prepared for the documentary. He and his team made several attempts to get the team to discuss ambitions for the season. Looking for the soundbite of ‘returning to the top step’ or ‘challenging for the championship’. No one offered such remarks. Manish’s view was that this demonstrates the team were realistic in their approach to the season, and on this, I agree.

However, as the McLaren Honda relationship fell apart around them, it was the team’s complete lack of humility that struck me. Throughout the entire series, no McLaren representative takes any level of accountability for the partnership failing. Honda is made entirely responsible for the shortcomings of the team performance. This is wrong. We’ve all had relationships that haven’t worked out, at no time is one party solely responsible for a relationship failing. It comes across as hugely arrogant of McLaren to place all the blame for their performance through the Honda partnership at the foot of the power unit manufacturer.

Honestly, I am amazed McLaren are happy for this lack of humility to be made public. At times I wasn’t sure if I was watching a documentary series set in Woking or a Mockumentary series from Slough.

Communication

In the opening episodes, meetings are filmed from outside rooms giving the viewer a feel for events taking place without the content being made public, by the final episode cameras have been invited into meeting with no talking points edited or removed. Whilst again, this is great access, being part of these meetings will be quite distressing for any fan of the sport. Time after time the viewer is shown milestone dates on timelines being missed or management interactions in which it seems almost impossible to offer a clear answer to basic questions. To me this again comes down to accountability, no one in the organisation seems willing to accept their role in the failure.

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Sponsorship

The topic of sponsorship or partners is something frequently addressed through the series. In a bid to highlight a new beginning for the McLaren team, it was decided that a departure from silver, grey and black tones in the car livery and team environment was required. The origins of this decision and influencing factors are a little conflicted in the series, but the message for change was clear. The ambition being a new livery concept will entice new sponsors to join a new McLaren.

For me, the professionalism around this decision is diminished somewhat by branding being applied on the eve of the launch in what appears to be a corridor. Nevertheless, the ambition is clearly communicated. This desire to rebrand after a challenging period also explains why McLaren are expected to reveal another new livery concept for the 2018 season.

The McLaren team has developed a strong reputation within the technologies sector for its work outside of Formula One in recent years. Major FMCG’s consult with the group on numerous challenges. The McLaren Formula One Team depicted in this documentary is not one many FMCG’s would look favourably upon. I do not believe the McLaren commercial team will look favourably on the way in which the team is portrayed.

Even Handed Approach

In my discussion with Manish Pandey, in an interview for Paddock Magazine (click here to head to the interview) I raised the question of the way in which McLaren and Honda were depicted within the series, highlighting my concern that Honda did not have the opportunity to offer their side of the story.

Understandably Manish did not hold my opinion. The narrative of a documentary is often defined by the events it covers from the perspective of the lead. This is not a Honda documentary. It is a McLaren documentary and the views within it are communicated as such. Again this is not a criticism of the documentary, more a reflection of the brief and the client.

 

I sincerely hope my interpretation of the McLaren team based on the series is not an accurate reflection of the way in which the business operates. 12 months have passed since this documentary was filmed. With new management structures in place, much-needed process and accountability may have been successfully implemented. I, like many other F1 fans, hope to see McLaren back at the front of the grid challenging for race wins.  With The McLaren Team seen through this 2017 documentary, I doubt this would have been possible. Whatever the power unit.

Grand Prix Driver is available on Amazon Prime from February 10thClick here for more.

 

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Formula E: Raising the Bar in Motorsport Sponsorship

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Season Four of the FIA Formula E World Championship resumes this weekend with the third round in the calendar coming from Marrakesh. As the first major motorsport event of 2018, now is a good time to reflect on the success of the championship and explore how Formula E’s approach to partners is changing the face of motorsport sponsorship.

As motorsport goes, Formula E is a Championship still very much in its infancy. When considering the achievements of the championship, this fact is something many forget. Over three seasons Formula E has established a global audience in excess of 200M, this compared to Formula One which using the same metrics reported an audience of 350M across 2017 is hugely impressive. On average, Formula E appeals to a younger audience, with a gender split whilst still leaning towards males is far more balanced than any other form of motorsport. The city-centre, single day format has proven successful, as have affordable ticketing policies. Attendance of an ePrix is successfully positioned as a family event.

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The level of manufacturer support Formula E has achieved since its inception has exceeded all expectations. Championship management targeted 4-5 OEMs to have committed to the championship by season five. With DS, Jaguar, NIO, Mahindra, Audi, Renault (set to run as Nissan from next season) Venturi, BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche now involved, the championship finds itself in the position of having the most manufacturer-backed entries in any form of motorsport. Of course championship management acknowledge manufacturer support is cyclical, but Formula E represents a unique platform for manufacturers to showcase Electric Vehicle technology in a cost-controlled environment. The appeal of the championship goes beyond racing, Formula E gives manufacturers access to an audience demographic they would otherwise struggle to connect with. There is every reason to expect the current level of manufacturer support to be sustained.

Season Five will see the most significant change in the championship to date. In a bid to keep team costs under control, Formula E limits the development of components on a season by season basis and in some cases mandates the use of standard equipment across all teams. Through season five, two of the most significant standard elements will be upgraded, in the battery and the car itself. Whilst both elements will remain standard items, significant improvements in battery technology will remove the requirement for a mid-race car change, alongside delivering a sizable increase in performance. With the new car, Formula E promises to amaze fans with a futuristic design incorporating FIA mandated cockpit safety structures in a fully integrated design concept. The new look championship promises to leave other forms of motorsport looking old-fashioned by comparison.

Following the lead of Mumm Champagne, long time partners of Formula One including Allianz and Hugo Boss continue to transition towards Formula E. This shift is due in part to the way in which Formula E engages with its audience and has positioned itself at the forefront of the conversation around Electric Vehicles. The technology demonstrated within Formula E is perceived to be of greater relevance to the future of the automotive industry and as a consequence, has positioned itself as a sport which a broad and diverse audience can engage with. Free from shackles of history, the Formula E message evolves with it’s fans. This open and dynamic approach sits well with the marketing teams behind the championships growing list of partners and continues to attract new partners to the sport.

Formula E and its approach to fan engagement has not gone unnoticed.  2017 saw Formula One announce a partnership with premium partner Carbon Champagne. In attempts to build awareness of the F1 – Carbon Champagne partnership, CEO, Alexander Mea has acknowledged taking inspiration from the Formula E podium celebrations. Carbon have already employed ideas such as the use of a DJ to build atmosphere around the podium (as seen at the Mexican Grand Prix), to branding the cool down room and presenting drivers through the crowds to increase visibility. Formula E and its partners have inspired the established brands to up their game to maximize any return on investment.

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Engagement extends far beyond the podium ceremony, for race attending fans the eVillage supporting every ePrix provides an area for championship partners to engage with fans, delivering both tangible sales and the ability to build brand awareness. Formula E encourage championship partners and local partners to embrace the eVillage and its captive audience of fans. Beyond the eVillage is the The EMOTION Club.  Formula E’s unique take on the VIP paddock life experience. In contrast to other forms of motorsport where team and championship guests are hosted in separate motorhomes or paddock buildings, Formula E, through the EMOTION Club, have created a shared environment in which all guests and partners are together, facilitating an environment which truly lends itself to the development of new business to business partnerships and allows guests to maximize their experience from both an entertainment and commercial perspective. Formula E has always been keen to ensure all brands and partners involved with the championship have every opportunity to maximize their position in the sport. Success in this open approach is evidenced by the fact that to date, all partners joining the championship have chosen to renew and extend their commitments.

Another great asset of Formula E is its relationship with the media.  Of course the sport has it doubters and critics, but media reporting from within the championship hold Formula E in high regard. Motorsport will be criticized irrespective of any decisions taken, but Formula E seeks to balance this by engaging with the media, explaining the strategy of the championship, ensuring a feeling of inclusion and community. Many journalists have been a part of the championship from the very beginning, they feel part of the championship and their value in its continued growth does not go unnoticed by championship management.

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With the imminent announcement of title sponsorship of the entire Formula E Championship, Formula E management can be proud of what has been achieved. Formula E continues to outperform rival motorsport championships in terms of its reach and engagement. Founding partners including Qualcomm, DHL, Michelin, and Mumm Champagne continue to be rewarded for their willingness to embrace a new form of motorsport. As the championship grows, so will their return on investment.

Formula One: Missing Sponsors

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As the clock struck midnight on December 31st 2017, many sponsorship relationships throughout the F1 Grid reached their conclusion. In the coming weeks and months, numerous new agreements will be announced at both a team and championship level as attention focuses on the season ahead. For myself as a lifelong fan of the business of Formula One, now aspiring to develop a career in this side of the sport, this period between commercial contract expiry and new contract announcements can be fascinating.

No team will encourage media to make a story out of the end of a partnership, so don’t expect any press releases confirming a departure, instead head to the partner’s section of the website of the team you follow and see if you can spot the brands or names suddenly missing from the list.

A well-publicised partnership expiration is that of the relationship between Santander and Scuderia Ferrari.  A partnership many believe will be replaced by the promotion of long-term team partners Phillip Morris introducing e-cigarettes to Formula One with the brand IQOS. If true, e-cigarettes could represent a high-value sector of sponsors for F1 moving forward, assuming advertising challenges can be overcome, and OEM’s including Mercedes and Renault are comfortable with the association.

Intriguingly, whilst Santander has been removed from the Scuderia Ferrari Website, it remains on the McLaren (no longer McLaren Honda) website. Santander, whilst no longer a brand represented on the McLaren livery have been partnered with the Woking based team since Alonso first joined the team in 2007.

Can you spot any other team websites with mysteriously missing partners? There are some out there which may surprise…

Formula One : The Future of Pirelli in F1

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Pirelli returned to Formula One in 2011 as the sole tyre supplier and official championship partner. Pirelli, founded in Italy, recently acquired by ChemChina, joined the championship with a clear mandate from Formula One Management to ‘spice up the racing’ through the development of a range of tyre compounds with significant performance variables and accelerated levels of degradation. Initially, this new philosophy around tyre performance at the pinnacle of motorsports was well received with a positive response from fans and media around a new element of unpredictability surrounding an F1 weekend.

However, as teams and drivers adapted to the Pirelli approach to tyre compound chemistry, car set up and driving techniques evolved to minimise the challenges the tyres presented. This led to increasingly aggressive approaches to performance and degradation levels in tyre development culminating in the “challenging” 2013 British Grand Prix in which teams were supplied with tyres which were not capable of performing at the levels required. The result of which was a race which saw numerous failures throughout the field and a strategic re-evaluation from Pirelli.

In the seasons since 2013, Pirelli has maintained the vision of producing a range of compounds with varying levels of performance and high levels of degradation but with a more conservative approach. The result of this restraint has been races in which teams and drivers focus on tyre management over performance, understanding the optimal approach to a race has often been to extend the life of a tyre rather than push it to its limit. As such, in recent seasons, drivers have rarely complimented the performance of Pirelli’s efforts over a Grand Prix weekend.

Creating positive media coverage in a sole supply situation will always be a challenge. Since there is no competitor to beat, victory becomes the default leaving the only newsworthy coverage that of failure.  In such an environment it can be a challenge to understand how Pirelli quantify benefits from its sponsorship of Formula One. Over seven seasons they have developed a reputation for producing tyres with excessive degradation and minimal differentiation beyond coloured side walls. Would an F1 fan seriously consider buying Pirelli tyres for their own car based on how they perform in Formula One?

So where does this leave Pirelli?

At the end of each season, Pirelli produce an end of year summary detailing all every fact and figure imaginable around; corning speeds, top speeds, lap times, number of overtakes, number of compounds used by each driver and the figure which stood out to me the most, the number of sets of tyres produced in a season.

In 2017 Pirelli produced 38,788 sets of F1 tyres, which equates to approximately 3,258 tons of tyres. Of these, only 12,920 sets (1,085 tons of tyres) were actually used. This means two-thirds of F1 tyres produced in 2017 were never raced and simply destroyed. Whilst Pirelli makes it clear all tyres were recovered, a system in which such a vast number of tyres are produced and shipped around the globe and never used is hugely wasteful and frankly embarrassing for both the manufacturer and the sport. The strategy of an ever-increasing range of tyres being made available for a Grand Prix weekend has resulted in the requirement of an inefficient and cumbersome supply chain. Something which will only increase in 2018 with further tyre compounds and team selection freedoms being added to the Pirelli ‘menu’.

In recent years Michelin, a leading industry competitor, have repeated statements that the current philosophy of Formula One around the use of tyre degradation as a key variable in racing, is of limited strategic merit and is not in keeping with how they believe tyre technology should be presented in motorsport. Instead, Michelin has focused their efforts in Formula E and the World Endurance Championship, showcasing innovations around all-weather tyres, low profile tyres (18-inches, compared to the 13-inch profile used in Formula One), and minimal degradation allowing competitors to push the performance of a tyre throughout an event.

Increasingly Formula One and its regulations are focused on reducing unnecessary waste. limiting fuel use through a race, and limiting the number of power units available to a team through a season. This focus on efficiency appeals to existing OEM’s in the sport including Mercedes, Renault, and Honda, and again sits in contrast to the wasteful and confusing approach mandated to Pirelli. For the 2018 season there is no longer any opportunity for Pirelli to change their approach to racing, but with minimal technical regulation changes set for 2019, perhaps the management of Formula One should look to change the conversation around Pirelli’s role in F1 and encourage the manufacturer to innovate relevant style.

For 2019, perhaps Pirelli should look to consider a simplified approach to tyre compounds, produce tyres with increased variance in performance yet minimised levels of degradation, and adopt 18-inch low profile tyres, enabling the end user to better relate to the product they see racing on a Sunday.

It is understood 2019 is the final season of Pirelli’s current agreement with Formula One. Without change, will it be their last?

Formula E: Shaky Start to Eurosport UK Coverage of Formula E

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Season Four of the FIA Formula E World Championship got underway this weekend, with rounds 1 & 2 of the action coming from the streets of Hong Kong. The all electric championship continued to thrill fans with ambitious on-track action, and controversies both on and off the track. For Season 4, championship management has stepped up a gear in their creative approach to social media engagement and radical on-screen graphics.

As interest in the championship continues to grow, sponsors and broadcasters are increasingly keen to get in on the action. The latest high profile partner to switch from Formula One to Formula E being Hugo Boss, joining the likes of Allianz and Official Champagne Partner G.H. Mumm in switching categories to refresh their involvement in motorsport and engage with a new audience.

Another partnership announced between Seasons 3 & 4 of Formula E was an enhanced partnership with the Discovery Group, which see’s Eurosport take on increased broadcast rights across a number of European territories. In the case of the UK, Formula E will now be broadcast on Channel 5, BT Sport, & Eurosport.

Through season 3, Channel 5’s Formula E output was criticised for the show anchor and race pundit being removed from the event and the director cutting away from key moments in order to fit a channel schedule. The Channel has addressed this feedback in Season 4, with increased involvement at the races. Unfortunately for the opening rounds of the championship the channel did not have rights to broadcast races live.

Live broadcast rights in the UK for the Hong Kong ePrix weekend fell to Eurosport. Curiously in their approach to Formula E coverage, Eurosport have chosen not to use the Formula E World Feed commentary provided by Jack Nicholls, Dario Franchitti, & Bob Varsha, instead, they are working with in-house commentators for Hong Kong at least Tom Gaymor and Mike Conway.

The commentary duo of Jack Nicholls & Dario Franchitti have, over 3 seasons developed a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging dynamic, they convey a passion for the championship and critically attend the races. By contrast the Eurosport team of Tom Gaymor & Mike Conway felt removed from the action on track. Providing a dispassionate overview of the action.

Commentary missed both simple and critical elements of coverage, making fundamental errors in identifying drivers. Put simply, the joy and enthusiasm of Formula E was missing.

Eurosport’s desire to differentiate itself from other broadcasters is understandable, but Formula E’s core appeal, besides technological, is its fast pace, close racing, and unexpected results. Commentators should act as advocates for the championship. Their enthusiasm should drive fans to find more content. The Eurosport UK Team did not achieve this in Hong Kong. Quite the opposite in fact, with many fans commenting they were left cold by the coverage.

The simplest and most cost effective solution would be for the channel to use World Feed Commentators from the Marrakesh ePrix onwards. Why try and reinvent the wheel?

Formula One: Improving the Show – Tune in to the #USGP Early!

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If you’re the type of Formula One fan that likes to tune into Race Day coverage 5 minutes before the start having grown tired of former driver pundits sitting on the fence over pre-race predictions, you might want to make an exception for today’s US Grand Prix.

As Formula One Management continue to evaluate new ways in which to engage with fans, one focus of this weekend is a plan to “showcase the talent”. Formula One drivers, with a few notable exceptions, have long been criticised for lacking personality and not engaging with fans. Formula One Management plans to start to address this in the build-up to the US Grand Prix this weekend with a new addition to the Show.

WWE legend Michael Buffer has been drafted in for the race and will announce each of the drivers as they take to the grid ahead of the race. At this time, it is unclear what format this will take, and how driver introductions will be incorporated into the pre-race schedule, but if Buffer’s profile in WWE is anything to go by, an approach of ‘Go big or Go home’ will be on the agenda. Perhaps in a bid to inspire drivers to come out of themselves in their introductions, Usain Bolt, who bought showmanship to the world of athletics, is a guest of Formula One Management this weekend at the Grand Prix, no doubt he’ll be offering advice to a few of the drivers less comfortable being the centre of attention. Can you imagine the likes of Pascal Wehrlein mimicking Usian Bolt’s classic moments seen here:

One driver likely to thieve in this feature of an F1 race will be Daniel Ricciardo, never afraid to out his personality out there for the world to enjoy:

For drivers still looking for inspiration for the big roll call, perhaps they should check out these classic moments from WWE. Will Formula One management open a social media poll for the best introduction?

Another key point of interest in the build-up to the USGP will be the actions of drivers during the National Anthem, and rather than read about the actions of any driver in a post-race write-up, fans would do well to watch for themselves and hear the rationale for any actions directly from the drivers.

Should any driver elect to take a knee or simply not attend the National Anthem ceremony ahead of the Grand Prix, there are two key points to remain mindful of. First, the process of drivers coming together at the front of the grid to collectively pay respect to the National Anthem of the country in which a Grand Prix is taking place was actually only introduced in 2014 at the request of Russian Grand Prix officials. It is not a long-held tradition within the sport. Secondly, Sebastian Vettel’s reprimand for missing the start of the Japanese National Anthem 2 weeks go set a precedent for other drivers. If a driver misses the National Anthem or behaves in a manner outside of the recommended procedure they can expect a reprimand and penalty points. Armed with this knowledge driver’s can make an informed decision around how to present themselves ahead of the Grand Prix with team’s well positioned to define a rational penalties with a precedent having been set.

So, if for no other reason than to hear the voice of Michael Buffer and to see Daniel Ricciardo throwing some magnificent pre-race shapes. Every F1 fan should take the time to tune into today’s pre-race show, Live on Sky Sports and Channel 4.

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Formula One: Motorsports Mayweather vs. McGregor

Mayweather Vs McGregor

The Formula One circus springs back into life this weekend with the championship heading to Spa for the iconic Belgian Grand Prix. If history is anything to go by we can expect to see Red Bull Racing have made a step forward in performance through the break, and for Lewis Hamilton’s form to kick into high gear.

For the F1 fan during a Grand Prix weekend, it can easy to forget other forms of motorsport exist let alone other forms of sport, but this weekend it will be nigh on impossible to miss the relentless coverage of Mayweather vs McGregor.

Everyone loves a cross over! Mayweather vs McGregor is the sporting world’s ultimate cross over. The undefeated heavyweight boxing champion Floyd Mayweather coming out of retirement to answer the challenge of UFC legend Conner McGregor. Cynics would say it’s all about the money with each fighter set to earn in the region of $200 Million for the night and let’s face it, it is, but who cares?

Give the fans what they want and the world will talk about it. Prepare for every social media record ever set to be broken!  It costs more for a sponsor to have their name on Conor McGregor’s elasticated waist for 1 night than it does to be title sponsor of a leading F1 team for an entire season!

How can any other sport compete? Has there ever been a comparable event in motorsport? Could F1 or any other category put on a similar show?

What the world of boxing and UFC have in Mayweather and McGregor are personalities. Neither are backward in coming forward, both believe they are the best in everything they do and both have a constant need to tell the world. Their respective categories embrace this, encouraging them to build their names, which in effect will build the category. They are showman, they are entertainers. Within Motorsports this level of self-adulation isn’t overtly encouraged, the sport is about the team and is often attached to an automotive manufacturer whose reputation could be tarnished by an extrovert driver. In the coming years, should F1 elect to move away from it’s mandate of acting as a basis for automotive development and focus more on entertainment, the Mayweather and McGregor characters could emerge. Until then, we’re stuck with drivers being forced to apologise for sneezing in a way which could damage the brand they represent.

Motorsports is no stranger to a crossover. This year alone, Fernando Alonso was given the opportunity to try his hand in Indycar and proved to be no slouch, drivers often compete in multiple categories such as Jean Eric Vergne racing in Formula E and the World Endurance Championship this season. But when did a champion of one series last race directly against another champion? The simple answer is the annual Race of Champions event, which can attract a high calibre of driver including the likes of Vettel and 2016 champion Montoya, but given the knock out style of the event do they really get to race against each other? Is it really want the fans want?

Motorsport can do better than the Race of Champions. Liberty Media should take inspiration from Mayweather vs McGregor and go all out.  What would you like to see them do? Who would you like to see compete?

Finally, how many F1 drivers will be getting up at 5AM / staying up until 5AM on Sunday morning to watch the arguably the greatest sporting event of the year, and how many drivers will dare tweet about it?

Formula One: Throwback Thursday – Red Bull Racing (don’t) split from Renault

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If you’ve caught more than 10 minutes F1 coverage or spent anytime on popular F1 news aggregator sites over the last few weeks you would be forgiven for thinking the Mclaren Honda divorce was complete. Based on all confirmed sources this is not the case.

F1 media, as with any media, has a tendency towards sensationalism. A controversial headline will attract readership.  I have to admit, I’m not adverse to the occasional sensationalist headline here on JWGP.

So, whilst the F1 world awaits formal confirmation from both Mclaren and Honda around future plans, now seems as good a time as ever to reflect on the last “SENSATIONAL” Team and power unit supplier fall out. When with no official word from either Red Bull Racing or Renault, after 18 months of continuous headlines around a fallout, their split was announced by the media. Except it wasn’t. Two seasons later the partnership is still alive. Yes it has been modified, but the fact remains Red Bull Racing and Renault are partners.  Below is a screen grab of just a few of the credible outlets that “confirmed” the news.

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So while we wait for official news from Mclaren and Honda about the future of their partnership, one fact to bare in mind;

As per FIA sporting regulations, Honda and Mercedes have already confirmed power unit supply plans to the FIA for 2018 (see story with verified sources here). Within this confirmation, Mercedes will supply the same teams they are in 2017, Honda will supply Mclaren and Sauber.

In retrospect Looking back at the “confirmed” Red Bull Racing Renault split, the story ensured continual press coverage for a team performing well below expectations over a 12 month period. This coverage was arguably greater than that which Mercedes received whilst fighting for the championship. A masterstroke in marketing by a true marketeer Dietrich Mateschitz. In November last year, Mclaren replaced Ron Dennis with marketing guru Zak Brown.

How many newspapers are giving midweek coverage to Mercedes win on Sunday?

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Formula One: Champagne returns to the F1 podium!

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The eagle eyed F1 fan may have noticed a new name featuring at the Monaco Grand Prix podium, that name, Carbon Champagne. As the name suggests, Carbon Champagne fits perfectly into the world of Formula One, with a unique carbon fibre surround crafted for  the premium champagne.

After Mumm Champagne transitioned motorsport involvement from Formula One to Formula E, a decision covered in detail here, Formula One Management partnered with sparkling wine brand Chandon. As followers of this website and  JWGP on Twitter, drivers and teams referring to Chandon as champagne had been a continual pet peeve of mine. With this in mind I applaud Formula One Management for bringing a true champagne back to the podium celebration.

Entering into partnership with Carbon Champagne represents a curious strategic development from Formula One Management and possibly hints towards an evolving business strategy. Carbon Champagne fits into the super premium drinks segment both in terms of quality and price point. A single bottle of Carbon Champagne costs between 10 and 20 times that of the podium product it replaces. This partnership perhaps reflects Formula One’s ambition to ensure the sport retains it’s status as the pinnacle of motorsport through association with brands unattainable to the typical fan. It is clear the sport is walking a tightrope seeking to broaden the appeal of the sport and grow the audience, whilst maintinaing and perhaps elevating its premium nature.

Typically the relationship between a champagne partner and a sports championship is more expansive than the three bottles drivers receive during podium celebrations. As a minimum, a champagne partner can expect to see all championship hospitality requirements to be purchased through this relationship. Beyond increased brand awareness earned through Formula One association, this sale will provide a clear return on investment for the brand against any sponsorship fee agreed. With Carbon Champagne this relationship could prove challenging due to the super premium price positioning of the product. Put simply, it may be challenging for Carbon Champagne to be made available within Grand Prix hospitality without increasing ticket pricing, a move unlikely to be well received by patrons of such said hospitality.

The Carbon Champagne Formula One partnership is one of the first under Liberty Media Management, however long the partnership lasts, it represents a clear statement of intent from Liberty Media. Decisions around championship partners will be made to build brand equity not dilute it.

Formula One: No Mercedes power for McLaren in 2018

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Away from incredible on track performances this season, recent Formula One news has been increasingly fixated by the prospect of ‘divorce’ between Honda and McLaren, with a number of respected outlets and leading pundits suggesting the separation is already all but finalised.

Whilst frustrations around the on track performance of the McLaren Honda partnership are plainly visible for all to see, with senior representatives from McLaren doing little to calm stories, one key factor appears to have been forgotten. The FIA Sporting Regulations.

Within the FIA Formula One World Championship Sporting Regulations, all power unit manufacturers are required to submit a list of teams they will supply in the following season by May 15th.  Under this regulation both Honda and Mercedes have already informed the FIA of the teams which will be using their power units for 2018

No power unit may be used in a given Championship season unless the Power Unit Manufacturer supplying such power unit accepts and adheres to the following conditions.

Each of the Power Unit Manufacturers of an homologated power unit must :

i)  provide the FIA, before 15 May (or such other date as agreed in writing between all the Power Unit Manufacturers and the FIA) of the season preceding that in which such power units are to be supplied, with the list of teams (clearly identifying the appointed “works/factory” team, if any) to which a supply agreement has been concluded for the given Championship season ;

ii)  if called upon to do so by the FIA before 1 June (or such other date as agreed in writing between all the Power Unit Manufacturers and the FIA) of the season preceding that in which such power units were to be supplied:

T = 111-A/B-C

–  A = Total number of teams (including “works/factory” teams) having a supply agreement concluded for the given Championship season with a New Power Unit Manufacturer.

–  B = Total number of manufacturers of homologated Power Units for the given Championship season.

–  C = Total number of New Power Unit Manufacturers for the given Championship season.

provided that if the result contains a fraction then the fraction shall count as a full team (e.g. 11 teams divided by 4 manufacturers = 2.75, each manufacturer must, if called upon to do so by the FIA, supply at least 3 teams).”

Appendix 9 – FIA Formula One World Championship Sporting Regulations. 

Earlier today, confirmation was sought from both Mercedes and Honda as to the contents of the lists provided to the FIA in accordance with this regulation.

Honda stated their list submitted to the FIA documents Power Unit supply intentions for both Mclaren and Sauber. Mercedes confirmed their submission to the FIA references three teams, Force India, Williams, and the factory Mercedes team.

No provision is made within the Sporting Regulations around deviation from this commitment. With both Honda and Mercedes having stated intentions around 2018 it seems highly unlikely any change is planned or possible without the consent of all teams participating in the championship.