Calling Planet Anderson…

Mark Webber has likened the state of Formula 1’s new teams to a cartoon. But when intelligence reached my ears that not only are the two principals of USF1 no longer on speaking terms, but that one of them has been living in the Hilton Charlotte for over two months while trying to pacify an increasingly irate band of creditors, I was put more in mind of I’m Alan Partridge.

So while Peter Windsor subsists on room service while trying to clear up the mess that is USF1, Ken Anderson has been spouting cant to the press.

“The way the chips fell in January, that put us behind,” he told AUTOSPORT. “We were on schedule right up until mid-January, and that was when some issues arose with sponsors that kind of locked us up.”

Chips? Fell? What twaddle is this? Here’s how an F1 start-up works, Ken: sponsors and partners set certain key technical milestones, with deadlines, and when those are met – on deadline – hey presto! More money arrives.

And when I say “key technical milestones” I mean “actual bits of an F1 car, not just pictures of what they may look like”. It’s as simple as that.

Here’s another tip on how to get ahead in F1: if you’ve got a benevolent millionaire entrepreneur on board, share him with Bernie. Even just an introduction would do. A little more goodwill may have radiated from Princes Gate as a result.

The only hope left is to keep the entry notionally alive so that it can be sold to pay off the creditors, including some very angry Argentines; and the sorry legacy of this tawdry scenario is that the much-needed American F1 team and US Grand Prix now seem further away than ever. Still, the local Starbucks has done well out of it.

Enter the Cable Guy

Lotus Racing announced a partnership with CNN today. As ever, that weasel word ‘partner’ leads one to ponder how much (if any) money is involved, and what benefits eventuate for either party.

Launched by media mogul Ted Turner in 1980, the Cable News Network leapt to international prominence during the first Gulf War by dint of being in the right place at the right time: it had a clutch of reporters in Iraq when hostilities broke out. The 24-hour news cycle we take for granted today truly came of age as Bernard Shaw (no relation to the author of Pygmalion) reported live on the bombing of Baghdad.

The competition between these rolling news networks is fierce, and, as you might expect, coverage is costly, especially since the big guns now operate locally tailored programming on a global basis – usually aimed at a business audience. Increasingly these networks – even BBC World – are turning to commercial sponsorship of their news broadcasts. The Lotus release aligns its ‘partnership’ with CNN’s ‘Partner Solutions Group’ (I feel a submission to Private Eye coming on) under the leadership of Rani Raad, the senior vice president International Advertising Sales, who had this to say:

The combination of two such iconic and aspirational global brands fits perfectly with CNN International’s worldwide reach and brand positioning. This unique partnership with Lotus Racing takes CNN International into a new era of marketing and promotions and puts us in front of a worldwide audience of millions.

Raad is credited with engineering a number of high-profile programme sponsorships for CNN International. Most recently he has been involved in a deal for the Earth’s Frontiers environmental series to be sponsored by Masdar, a renewable energies company wholly owned by Mubadala, the sovereign wealth fund of Abu Dhabi (which, coincidentally, has a stake in Ferrari as well as being one of the driving forces behind the Abu Dhabi GP). CNN is also launching a broadcast facility in the emirate.

Some readers may be uncomfortable with corporate sponsorship of news broadcasting, but this is the direction we’re heading in as conventional ad revenues decline. There are governments and sovereign wealth funds out there with pots of money that they wish to spend on promoting their countries as business destinations. The Lotus connection will engender a lot of attention in the kind of emerging markets CNN is aiming for.

Where there’s a Will…

What with the increasingly hateful costs of intercontinental air travel, any journalist hoping to cover Formula 1 ‘from the ground’ has to wear many hats. So it’s very pleasing to learn that Will Buxton is fresh from the milliner, so to speak, and will be taking over from Peter Windsor as SPEED TV’s pitlane reporter.
Will is an entertaining broadcaster – check out his GP2 work on YouTube – as well as a tenacious reporter. He broke in to F1 the hard way, slumming it around Europe in a camper van before spending a couple of years as a press officer for GP2. He’s also no slouch at Karaoke. Viewers in the US are in for a treat.

Quick! Change Luca’s password

We’ve all been amused by the intermittent Twitterings of F1Scoop, an F1 journalist whose scurrilous alter ago has four times as many followers as his real self. But for genuine sauce one has to turn to ‘The Horse Whisperer’, an unnamed writer (believed by some to be Luca Cordero di Montezemolo himself) who appears on the Ferrari homepage. This morning he brought his scathing but elegant turn of phrase to bear once again on F1’s new teams in a piece entitled For whom the bell tolls.

I loved this bit:

As for the twelfth team, Campos Meta, its shareholder and management structure has been transformed, according to rumours which have reached the Horse Whisperer through the paddock telegraph, with a sudden cash injection from a munificent white knight, well used to this sort of last minute rescue deal.

It’s no secret that Bernie Ecclestone is the man behind the cash injection in question, although how much was injected and into which vessel remains a mystery. What is interesting, though, is that Colin Kolles comes as part of the package. When Bernie puts money into an enterprise he likes to have eyes and ears on the factory floor. It looks like Colin has taken on the mantle of John Macdonald.

Next, we have the Serbian vultures. Firstly, they launched themselves into a quixotic legal battle with the FIA, then they picked the bones of Toyota on its death bed. Having got some people on board, around whom there was still a whiff of past scandals, they are now hovering around waiting to replace whoever is first to drop out of the game, possibly with backing from that very same knight in shining armour whom we mentioned earlier.

Could he mean Mike Coughlan?

This is the legacy of the holy war waged by the former FIA president. The cause in question was to allow smaller teams to get into Formula 1. This is the outcome: two teams will limp into the start of the championship, a third is being pushed into the ring by an invisible hand – you can be sure it is not the hand of Adam Smith – and, as for the fourth, well, you would do better to call on Missing Persons to locate it.

All very amusing stuff, and executed beautifully. Still, this is the sort of thing that would cause an employee to get into a lot of trouble, residing as it does in a prominent spot on the website of the oldest team in F1. If I were working in the comms department, I’d be asking IT if there was a way of blocking Mr Montezemolo’s access to the content management system, at least until the first espresso of the day had kicked in.

In any case, given the fragile state of F1’s economic health at the moment, perhaps the Horse Whisperer ought to pay closer attention to the sentiments of the John Donne poem he alludes to in the title of his piece:

No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manner of thine own

Or of thine friend’s were.

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls.

It tolls for thee.