Category Archives: FIA

Formula One: Should Red Bull Racing rest Ricciardo?

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With Daniel Ricciardo having announced his decision to leave the Red Bull Racing family at the end of this season, rumours surrounding the security of position with the team for the remainder of the season have started to gather momentum.

Adding fuel to fire, Red Bull junior team, Scuderia Toro Rosso, yesterday posted images of Red Bull development driver SĂ©bastien Buemi completing a seat fitting with the team, leading many to suggest he may take the place of Pierre Gasly in the coming races. With Red Bull Racing having confirmed Gasly will replace Ricciardo in 2019, there would be a clear logic to promoting him now to maximise his time within a new team environment.

Red Bull Racing have all but secured third position in the World Constructors Championship with an advantage of more than 160 points over their nearest rival Renault. In fact, with the FIA applying 2019 entry fees based on points scored in 2018, the team from a financial perspective would do well to reduce the number of points scored between now and the end of the season.

Since Daniel Ricciardo’s contract with Red Bull stems from his time as a Red Bull junior, there is likely to be a certain level of flexibility within the agreement to change his status to development driver. Moving him to Toro Rosso would be less than palatable for Honda as he would gain knowledge of their power unit before moving to the works Renault team in 2019. As such bringing Buemi back into the STR fold for the remainder of 2018 and possibly beyond makes strategic sense.

Taking the logic of Red Bull Racing having nothing more to gain in 2018 in terms of constructor’s championship position and subsequent prize funds, a yet more bold move from the Red Bull Empire would be to move Max Verstappen over to Toro Rosso for the remainder of the season.

In so doing Verstappen would have the opportunity to familiarise himself with Honda power ahead of 2019, and as Red Bull’s leading driver best equip the team in their challenge constructors battle with Racing Point Force India (who in only 2 races have amassed a points tally greater than Toro Rosso has over the entire season)

Alongside the talk of resting Ricciardo, and bringing back Buemi, another increasingly likely piece of the Red Bull 2019 jigsaw is Daniil Kyvat. After a year spent with the Scuderia in a development driver capacity, Red Bull look likely to welcome the Russian back into the fold with open arms.  From Honda’s perspective, the sooner he returns with any knowledge of Ferrari’s trick power unit, the sooner they can interrogate him for their 2019 plans.

The Singapore Grand Prix on paper represents Red Bull Racing’s last opportunity to win a race in 2018. The sporting side of Red Bull will likely leave the line-up unchanged until after this race. The business & strategic planning side should then kick in and make the following changes for the remainder of the season:

Red Bull Racing –

Pierre Gasly

SĂ©bastien Buemi

Scuderia Toro Rosso –

Max Verstappen

Daniil Kyvat

From a personal perspective, I am a huge fan of Ricciardo and what he brings to Formula One, but Red Bull have little to gain from keeping him in his seat for the remainder of this season. There is an opportunity to take a competitive advantage with the suggested driver changes. A team looking to challenge for championships in the next 24 months must take every opportunity presented to them.

Be Bold Red Bull! Be Bold!

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Formula One: Arm the Sprinklers!

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Formula One returns to Paul Ricard this weekend for the first French Grand Prix in twenty years. The legendary circuit redeveloped in the early 2000’s under the guidance of former CEO Phillipe Gurdjian, has in recent years become a venue of choice for Formula One tyre development testing and was the logical home for the return of Formula One to its spiritual home of France.

Redevelopment of the Paul Ricard circuit was initially focused on the venue hosting racing testing and development programmes. Succesful completion of this objective came in the form of the FIA awarded the circuit as First Centre of Excellence for Motor Sport Safety. This recognition comes in part due to the layout of the circuit, it’s approach to run off areas and ability to sustainably simulate dynamic weather situations. As mentioned in an early article here on JWGP available here.

Whilst the venue’s approach to vehicle safety, through large tarmac covered run-off areas, perfectly lends itself to performance testing, minimising the risk of a driver being penalised for on-track errors and will likely lead to teams pushing the boundaries of track limits throughout the Grand Prix weekend. Coupled with this, the current philosophy surrounding Formula One aerodynamics have left many well informed observers to suggest overtaking will be somewhat of a challenge through the race:

With this in mind Formula One is at risk of a fourth successive event in which on track excitement looks set to be minimal. But worry not, there is a solution! As mentioned the Paul Ricard HTTT (High Tech Test Track) has a visionary trick up its sleeve, under the guidance of previous circuit owner Bernie Ecclestone and more recently his ex-wife Slavica, the circuit has an inbuilt sprinkler system.

The system is capable of simulating a multitude of wet weather scenarios at the touch of a button. Formula One returning to France and Paul Ricard offers owners Liberty Media the ability to bring to life the long-promised proposal from Mr Ecclestone to spice up Formula One through the use of sprinklers! (check out some of  his other proposals here)

Of course, with no announcement of such trial being made prior to the race weekend, Liberty Media will have to manufacture a scenario in which the magic sprinkler system can be activated by mistake thus creating global media coverage for an otherwise uninspiring event.  Winne Harlow, what are you up to this weekend? 😉

Formula E: Massa’s Formula E Prospects – S5 Silly Season

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Viewers of the 2018 Spanish GP tuning in for Martin Brundle‘s grid walk over the weekend saw, in a not at all preplanned interview, Felipe Massa discuss the prospect of him joining Formula E in the not too distant future. Having tested Formula E machinery last year, Massa has an understanding of the category and clearly sees a future for himself in the championship.

Season five of Formula E will see the launch of the Gen2 car. With it comes increased power, the removal of mid-race car changes, and increases in the application of aerodynamics. This coupled with huge OEM support makes the championship more compelling than ever for drivers at any stage of their career. That being said, I find Felipe Massa’s interest in the championship curious. Formula E is a championship made up of street circuits, looking back at Massa’s track record around the streets of Monaco, city circuits on the face of it are not his strong suit.

Speaking to senior team members on the topic of the Gen2 machinery, significant concern raised has been around the size of the rear diffuser, the extent to which it is exposed and that with current designs it forms part of a single piece floor panel. Repair costs in Formula E are expected to increase dramatically in Season five, with this in mind teams should be looking for Street Circuit Specialists.

Nevertheless. The prospect of a Former F1 driver with a huge Brazilian following possibly heading to Formula E serves as sufficient justification for a quick-fire look at the Formula E silly season rumours and paddock gossip.

First to remove from the list of potential homes for Massa has to be the big hitters from Germany. Porsche, Mercedes, BMW, and Audi have a huge pool of drivers at their disposal. They are highly unlikely to offer a seat to Massa over a contracted driver. With a fantastic showing from Abt in Season four and a season plagued by technical failings for current champion Di Grassi, expect Audi to maintain their current line up into S5 and beyond.  For S5, Mercedes have opted for a soft launch to their entry into Formula E via longterm motorsports partner HWA with customer technology from the Venturi Team. Through S4 Mercedes loaned out works drivers Engel and Mortara to the Venturi Team presumably with the plan for them to graduate to HWA in S5. Mercedes departing DTM at the end of 2018 also free’s up the likes of Paul Di Resta and Pascal Wehrlein. I expect HWA and Venturi to field works Mercedes Drivers for Season five of the Formula E championship.

Having said that with Venturi being a Monaco based entry, arguably there are some links to Monaco resident Felipe Massa. It is possible the team could be a home for the Brazilian in Season 5.

Moving to BMW, Season five will see the Bavarian Marque step up its commitment and investment in the championship, Felix da Costa will likely retain his place with the team operated by Andretti Autosport, BMW future participation in DTM will likely determine the driver in the second seat. Porsche will step into Formula E from season six, with in-house driver, André Lotterer set to be retained by Techeetah for Season 5 he will be well placed to take the lead position with Porsche upon their arrival. Alongside the German, Porsche have options on a number of WEC championship winning drivers.

On the subject of Techeetah, Massa is unlikely to find a home for season five with the current championship leaders. Jean-Eric Vergne has shaped the team around him, he is unlikely to find a more amiable seat on the grid. Lotterer having now found the form that escaped him in the first half of the season will more than likely be retained by the Chinese team as they look towards a full works status future.

On to mid-season championship favourites Mahindra. Team Principle Dilbagh Gil will be doing everything in his power to ensure Felix Rosenqvist remains with the team for Season 5 and well beyond. With Felix, Mahindra has a future champion in their team, they simply need to give him a consistent car in which to deliver. Nick Heidfeld’s season with Mahindra has been a challenge, his knowledge in setting up a car a maximising potential continues to prove invaluable to the team, but could his skills be best placed in a role similar to Pedro De La Rosa’s with Techeetah? Freeing up a seat with Mahindra for a young talent, perhaps in the form of Jehan Daruvala?

Jaguar Racing is another team which to my mind could offer a seat to Felipe Massa. Season four has seen the team improve dramatically after a challenging first year in the championship. Essentially operated via Williams F1, Massa has strong links to the structure of the team. However, Piquet is understood to have a long-term agreement with the team, and Mitch Evans has more than proved his worth this season. The team would do well to retain their line up into S5.

Then to Dragon Racing. The team have struggled this season, and don’t appear to have any short-term solutions in sight. Massa would only look to move to Formula E if he had a chance of winning races. Dragon are unlikely to be able to offer this until the Blue Oval comes on board.

That leaves, Renault Nissan eDams,  Vigin Envision Racing, and NIO Formula E team, All of whom I believe are the most likely candidates for Felipe Massa in Formula E. The Renault eDams team will become Nissan in Season five of Formula E. As the most successful team in Formula E with 3 constructors championships they offer the levels of success Felipe Massa is likely to expect. With Alain Prost recently selling his stake in the team it can be expected Nico, after a very difficult season, will likely leave the team ahead of Season five. Buemi is understood to be under an agreement, and Nissan seemingly doesn’t have an issue with him representing Toyota in WEC alongside his commitments in Formula E with them. Whilst my first choice for the seat alongside Buemi in the Nissan Formula E team would be Nissan EV ambassador Margot Robbie, a more likely candidate should Massa not be considered would be Jann Mardenborough.

In season five Virgin Racing is expected to lose it works manufacturer status, it is expected the team, the majority shareholding of which was recently sold to Chinese Energy group Envision will switch to a customer Audi partnership moving forward. Current driver and championship contender Sam Bird will likely remain loyal to the team with whom he entered Formula E, teammate Alex Lynn’s place seems less secure. Massa could be attracted to a race winning Power Unit in Audi and Race Winning team set up with the Virgin Racing Establishment, but the reduced testing opportunities offered to a non- works team will make getting up to speed with the intricacies of Formula E a real challenge as evidenced by AndrĂ© Lotterer in this season.

Finally, to the NIO Formula E Team, the team who in my opinion are most likely to offer the conditions Felipe Massa might expect from a Formula E team. They are well funded, they have delivered a world championship, with Nelson Piquet in Season One, and continue to prove on occasion they have the pace to run at the front. Oliver Turvey will likely retain his seat with the team for Season five and continue to maximise the potential of the car at every opportunity, running Massa alongside him would bring much-needed media coverage to the team and offer a face to the broader NIO EV global rollout.

Time will tell if Felipe Massa makes the move over to Formula E for the launch of the championships Gen2 machinery. Perhaps his following in Brazil will bring the championship to the country and facilitate the World Championship status Formula E management are working to secure. I’m not convinced Formula E needs Felipe Massa, and Felipe Massa’s bank balance is unlikely to need Formula E. In my opinion, the championship should not become the home for drivers coming to the end of their career in Formula One, rather the pinnacle for young drives proving their worth in the future of motorsport.

Following recent news regarding another arrival to Formula E for the Berlin ePrix this weekend I have to say I have a similar opinion about the commentary box.

Formula One: Ricciardo to Renault?

 

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Daniel Ricciardo: Time to remove the Red Bull Racing race suit for good?

 

As the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship heads to Barcelona, silly season is kicking into high gear. At present, when looking towards the 2019 season, the state of play for the likely top four finishers in the Constructors Championship this season is as follows: 

Mercedes: both drivers out of contract

Ferrari: One seat open

Red Bull Racing: One seat open

Renault: both seats open

Being only four races into the 2018 season it may seem a little premature to be talking about 2019, but the events of Baku are likely to play a pivotal role in the decision-making process across the market.

With 99% certainty, it can be expected Lewis Hamilton will or has already renewed his commitment to Mercedes for 2019 and beyond in what will likely be his final contract as a driver in Formula One.  Leaving a single seat with the Silver Arrows. Whilst many have questioned his outright ability to take the fight to his competitors, Bottas has proved to be a reliable second driver for the team. Lewis’ response towards his teammate after being gifted his first win of the year, illustrates a team working in cohesion. Management would have to think long and hard about what they were trying to achieve in looking to replace Bottas. I expect he will be retained for a third season unless Ocon finds himself without a seat at Force India.

Over at the Scuderia, Kimi has been in his final season since he rejoined the team in 2014. Whilst never stella, he again creates an environment in which his teammate can thrive. Arguably he weakens Ferrari’s ability to challenge for the constructor’s championship, but I personally believe he will either be renewed on another single year agreement, or make way for Charles le Clerc, who finally started to prove his strengths with a fantastic performance in Baku. I do not believe Ferrari are considering Ricciardo as a possible partner for to Vettel.

Then to the curious case of Red Bull Racing. In Baku, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo broke the golden rule of motorsport and took each other out. The incident was a long time coming, after a race in which multiple passes between the two had already resulted in contact, the drivers compromised their own strategies and slowed each other down. With the team standing by their philosophy to “let them race”.  In the short term, I don’t believe this will destroy team harmony, but it went some way to sowing the seed in Riccardo’s mind that a team not willing to favour one driver over the other may not be the team in which he achieves his ambition of securing a world championship. This coupled with the widely expected announcement that Red Bull Racing will switch to Honda power for 2019, which whilst much more competitive with Toro Rosso than it ever was with McLaren may not quite be at the level to compete for championships.

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Renault F1 Team  successfully challenging Aston Martin Red Bull Racing for position during the 2018 Azerbaijan GP

Then to Renault, a team whose 3-year plan to reinvigorate the Enstone facility and rebuild a once championship contending team, is now starting to come to fruition. From 2019 onwards Renault should expect to be challenging for outright wins and comfortably challenge the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari. In Hulkenberg and Sainz the team have a formidable but unthreatening lineup. As the team look to challenge for wins, they need a superstar driver. Could Ricciardo become Renault’s next superstar? As a works team, they are in a position to offer the salary driver of Ricciardo’s calibre should command, and they can offer something no other team can, the ability to shape the team around him. Some will say it would be risky for Ricciardo to give up a race-winning seat for a team which hasn’t won a race in over a decade, but the same could be said for Lewis Hamilton when he walked away from McLaren. Renault presents opportunities Red Bull Racing simply can’t offer.

Should the top four teams be covered by four manufacturers, it would be fantastic to see the top four drivers of the current era; Hamilton, Vettel, Verstappen, and Ricciardo behind the wheel of different cars each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Daniel Ricciardo racing for the Renault Sport F1 Team for 2019 is my prediction for the big shift this silly season. Sainz may well return to Red Bull fold as a result, but I personally believe he will remain with Renault with Hulkenberg heading to life after F1 and Gasly moving into the Red Bull Racing team.

Image Source: Red Bull Media Pool

 

Formula E: Championship leaders Techeetah announce major new partnership with Dragon Inc

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Ahead of the 6th round of the  ABB FIA Formula E Championship coming from Punta del Este, Championship Leaders Techeetah have announced a major new partnership with Blockchain platform provider Dragon Inc.

The partnership will see Dragon branding feature prominently on the side pods of the four TECHEETAH race cars, garage, race wear and drivers’ helmets.

Speaking on the announcement Paul Moynan, Dragon Inc. Co-Founder commented: “Dragon Inc. is pioneering a new era of blockchain and entertainment while Formula E is leading the electric revolution across motorsports, it is only natural that both come together for a ground-breaking collaboration. Both Dragon and TECHEETAH are applying technologies that are reinventing their respective industries. We seek to support one another not only in the sharing of technology but by bringing a greater awareness of the benefits to the world stage. Being a former Royal Marine Commando, I’m taught to lead by example and set our standards high to pave the way for others to follow; the combination of Formula E and Dragon’s blockchain solutions is doing just that. This will be an amazing year for both our teams and by working together we can build something bigger than ourselves,” 

Keith Smout, Chief Commercial Officer for Techeetah added ” We are very pleased to welcome Dragon Inc. to the team. We are constantly striving to bring new and exciting partners on board and with Dragon now joining us we feel that we have accomplished this.  We look forward to helping build their brand and share our aligned technologies as we push for the Formula E Championship,

Further details on Dragon Inc can be found here

Follow Dragon Inc on social media here

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: Underestimate me at your peril – Marchionne to F1

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Underestimate me at your peril. The resounding subtext pointed in no uncertain terms towards Chase Carey and Formula One from Sergio Marchionne at the launch of Alfa Romeo’s title partnership relationship with the Sauber F1 Team this weekend. 

The long rumoured return of Alfa Romeo to Formula One with the Sauber F1 Team was finally confirmed earlier this week. The announcement of the return was closely followed by an invitation to the worlds motoring media to attend a press conference in Milan. On the face of it, the objective of this event was to confirm 2018 Sauber F1 Team drivers Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson with Antonio Giovinazzi taking on a 3rd driver role and to unveil the 2018 livery theme. What transpired was a master class in negotiation from Chief Executive Officer of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Sergio Marchionne.

After a period of observing, tinkering, and to some extent grandstanding, the final races of the 2017 Formula One season have seen Liberty Media begin to share their vision for the future of Formula One. Until now, key protagonists set to be impacted by this vision have largely kept their views to themselves or at least limited opinions to isolated sound bites. Sergio Marchionne and FCA, have now firmly stuck their head above the parapet to makes themselves and their views clear for all.

Elaborate team and sponsor launches are something which for many had been consigned to the history books with the vast majority of team unveiling now taking place minutes before pre-season testing on a chilly pitlane in Barcelona. Yet this weekend saw the team finishing plum last in the championship host over 400 media representatives from all over the world at the Alfa Romeo Museum situated just outside of Milano launch a sponsorship less than one week after the end of the season. With media from the US being flown in First Class with 48 hours notice, it would be conceivable to say that the budget of this single event exceeded the marketing and activation budget of the team for the entire season. Sergio Marchionne wanted an audience for his message, and he wanted his audience to leave the event singing his tune.

In addition to the media contingent, Sergio Marchionne and FCA invited newly reappointed FIA president and former Scuderia Ferrari Team Principe Jean Todt to attend and speak at the event, alongside Formula One CEO Chase Carey, with Sauber F1 Team owner Pascal Picci. So with the stage set, Sergio Marchionne opened the event, in Italian, focusing on the great news of Alfa Romeo returning to Formula One. This was followed by Mr Todt waxing lyrical about the passion of the brand and its significance with motorsport. Chase Carey then took to the stage to applaud FCA for bringing Alfa Romeo back to Formula One, he acknowledged their history in the sport and spoke of his enthusiasm for their return. Then the big reveal, driver line up confirmation and an indicative view of the team livery.

What followed was pure mastery. Sergio Marchionne returned to the podium for a few more words. In the space of 10 minutes, he politely panned the Michael Buffer COTA show, make clear FCA & Ferrari did not want to be part of a ‘dumbing down’ of Formula One, asserted the sport should be focused on technology over entertainment, and what could be the knock out blow, “our partnership with Sauber is until 2021, if we don’t like the direction the sport is taking at that point, we will leave and we’ll take them with us”

This rhetoric was delivered not only to a room full of media, but squarely at Chase Carey seated directly below the rostrum at which Sergio Marchionne made his speech.

Following this, team owner Pascal Picci and team principle FrĂ©dĂ©ric Vasseur returned to the stage for an open Q&A session. I would not like to suggest any questions were ‘planted’ but the position of FCA strength ahead of any negotiations with Formula One over the future of the sport was highlighted at every available opportunity.

Of course, Chase Carey and Liberty Media did not get to where they are today by chance, I have no doubt they have more than a few tricks up their sleeve as they head into negotiations with Formula One teams over the future of the sport. Sergio Marchionne has simply set the tone of future discussions and made it very clear he is more than happy for any discussion to be made in full view of the media and the Formula One fan.

Formula One: McLaren set to badge Renault Power Unit – McLaren

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As the F1 world awaits confirmation of the widely expected split between McLaren and Honda, attention has turned to the team name and branding for the 2018 season and beyond. It is fairly certain McLaren will switch to Renault power unit supply for next season in a deal which will see the Woking based team become a customer team for the remainder of the current iteration of Formula One Power Unit regulations.

Through social media, Fans and F1 pundits have been speculating on the likely name under which the McLaren Renault partnership will operate, with the overriding sentiment being that legacy of the respective brands not quite sitting well together. With almost every brand within the Renault-Nissan Alliance being touted as a possible fit for the partnership, from McLaren Infiniti, to McLaren Alpine, McLaren Nismo, and my personal favourite McLaren Dacia, the most logical naming convention appears to have been forgotten.

Zak Brown, Executive Director McLaren Technology Group, has been quoted as suggesting the team will consider producing Power Units under the McLaren brand under the new technical regulations, should costs not prove prohibitive. With this in mind it should be expected that the Renault agreement for 2018 will be delivered under a white label agreement, as already in place with Red Bull Racing who included naming rights to their Renault Power Unit in their partnership which LVMH, which sees the Power Unit branded Tag Heuer.

McLaren as an automotive entity in its own right will likely brand the white label Renault Power Unit as McLaren. Suggesting to the casual F1 follower or fan that the team is already producing its own power unit. Such a move will serve to further enhance the credibility of the McLaren Automotive Group and remove confusion around relationships between the road going cars and track based power unit partnerships.

After three of the worst seasons in the team’s history, it is highly unlikely McLaren will be in a position to sign a title sponsor for the 2018 season, the team must rebuild its reputation with brands and partners. As such when the 2018 team listing is announced expect McLaren to be listed simply as McLaren with no reference to any power unit supplier.

Should, for what ever reason, the Renault Power Unit fail to elevate McLaren from its current plight expect to hear some awkward interviews in which an unbranded power unit is held accountable for challenges facing the team.