Posts Tagged ‘ Formula 1

Free Formula 1 photo exhibition in London this weekend

Giuseppe Farina's Alfa Romeo 158, winner of the first F1 World Championship Grand Prix. Photo by James Mann

Giuseppe Farina's Alfa Romeo 158, winner of the first F1 World Championship Grand Prix. Photo by James Mann

Do you like great pictures of Formula 1 cars? This weekend (2-3 October) James Mann, my collaborator on the Art of the Formula 1 Car book, is hosting an exhibition of his work as part of the Lambeth Open Festival.

Gilles Villeneuve's Ferrari 312T3

Gilles Villeneuve's Ferrari 312T3

The exhibition is free to enter and you can find it at Plough Studios (Park Hill, Clapham, SW4 9NS), where many of the cars were shot for the book. You’ll be able to see the ‘cove’ and gain a real insight into how cars are photographed in a studio. As well as photographic prints there is a real F1 car, a recently restored Leyton House CG901 – one of Adrian Newey’s early works.

On Monday the prints will be auctioned off in aid of The British Home charity. If you like the pictures you can also order copies and there will be autographed copies of the book available too (assuming I don’t get mown down on the way there tonight).

Michael Schumacher's Ferrari F2000

Michael Schumacher's Ferrari F2000

Schumacher: Back for (no) good

Later this morning Mercedes GP will announce that Michael Schumacher will drive for the team in 2010. There is a certain delicious irony here; since Mercedes already has Nico Rosberg under contract, many outlets carrying today’s news are describing Schumacher as the team’s ‘second driver’. It will not be so.

Michael Schumacher is the most rapacious competitor ever to stalk the Formula 1 paddock. Anyone who thinks he is coming back just for one last run around the block, or to add to his already considerable wealth, is kidding themselves. He’s here to win the 2010 world championship or die trying.

This hasn’t stopped some people soft-soaping the idea of Schumacher’s comeback. My colleague Ed Gorman wrote in The Times yesterday:

The impression gained is that the German wants to pick up where he left off with Ferrari when he retired in 2006. Those suggesting that he may see his role more as a mentor to Nico Rosberg, the 24-year-old who would be his team-mate, than a team-leading championship contender, are wide of the mark. He is said to be looking to add not only to his record 91 grand-prix wins, but also to his unparalleled haul of seven drivers’ titles.

Ed is pulling his punches here. Only a serial dingbat would imagine that Schumacher is going to play the avuncular mentor role to Rosberg. Michael wouldn’t have signed up unless he was confident he could blow young Nico’s doors off – and he will, by fair means or foul.

For Mercedes this is a PR coup (of sorts), plus some belated ROI after easing Michael’s path to F1 through the junior formulae. For German TV stations it’s good news for viewing figures. For anyone who views Formula 1 as a sport, rather than a crushingly cynical exercise in winning at any cost, it is utterly depressing.

People often ask me what Michael Schumacher is ‘really like’. I say it’s tricky to tell. In many ways he is perfectly normal. He has an extraordinary talent behind the wheel but he is also a family man and he adopts stray dogs. He’s also a shameless cheat.

I say ‘shameless’ advisedly. Michael has a feline quality. Cats have no guilt; a tiger will maul its keeper and then half an hour later wonder where they’ve gone. It’s the same in the business world. Robert Maxwell, Kenneth Lay and Bernard Madoff didn’t view their behaviour as fraud, but simply as a different business model.

It is this mindset that has driven Michael to avail himself of any means necessary to win, whether that be spinning deliberately to spoil an opponent’s qualifying lap (Monaco 2006), punting opponents off the circuit altogether (Australia 1994 and Jerez ’97), or compelling his team-mate to move over (Austria 2002). Let’s not get into the business of illegal traction control systems, although there is a story that Juan Pablo Montoya was moved to such fury at the Brazilian GP one year when he heard the Ferrari’s engine stutter (signifying the presence of TC) that he drove into Schumacher’s car.

For all these reasons I hope Michael Schumacher’s return to Formula 1 is a brief and inglorious one. There is good reason to hope: word reaches me that Sebastian Vettel has already signed a contract with Mercedes in 2011. Let’s drink to that…

F1′s single launch is dead

During a convivial lunch yesterday, conversation turned to the matter of January’s single launch for all the F1 teams. It was going to save the teams a packet because the local government was going to underwrite the whole shindig, reckoning on a big payday for the local facilities.

But there were several problems, not least of which was that some of the teams won’t have cars ready in time. Others – well, pretty much everyone except Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren – were unhappy that they would be swept off the news agenda. There was no PR value in it for the smaller teams.

Since they couldn’t even agree on a single catering supplier to dish out the bacon sarnies, it’s hardly surprising that the single launch has now been cancelled. Expect an official announcement in the Friday evening graveyard slot.

A great time to buy in to F1

Earlier this year I went over to the World Touring Car Championship race at Porto. I caught up with a driver who I haven’t seen in years, and amongst other things he told me that in recent months he’d been snapping up repossessed houses for around 50 per cent of the market rate.

“The banks are desperate to get rid of them,” he said, “because they’re desperate for cash. They need liquidity more than they need the paper value of the asset.”

I pointed out that property values could fall further in the short term.

“Doesn’t matter,” he replied. “The opportunity is now. They aren’t thinking about the future, because it’s less important to them than shareholder value – they don’t want a rout next time they release some figures. When the panic’s over the bargains will be gone.”

Similar thoughts have been playing through the minds of the investors who are presently jockeying to pick up the Renault F1 team, should Renault decide to sell (I was told last week that the decision is still pending). As the weakened manufacturers have fled the sport to focus on shoring up their balance sheets, the better to defend their share prices, visionary entrepreneurs have sniffed opportunities; although sometimes, as in the case of Qadbak, the difference between entrepreneur and huckster isn’t immediately obvious.

Yesterday’s news that Lloyds Development Capital has taken a stake in the Virgin F1 team underlines the fact that the panic is now over in the banking sector. It was also a nimble piece of news management (hardly surprising, given that Virgin F1’s comms chief used to work at Honda and therefore knows a thing or two about firefighting). Banks and bankers are still reviled and reports of them spending money – especially if, like Lloyds, they’ve been bailed out by the British taxpayer – may not be greeted warmly. The timing of the announcement makes it a small element in the hierarchy of today’s launch.

This is a good time to be investing in Formula 1. The background mood of optimism in the market is characterised by the price of F1’s debt, which is currently trading in the region of 90 pence in the pound. Back in July, at the height of the FOTA breakaway threat, it was around 50 pence in the pound.

In buying Brawn, Mercedes have obtained a championship-winning F1 team for far less than British American Tobacco and Honda paid for pretty much the same outfit when it was still a midfielder. They will now derive all the benefits from having their name above the door while spending far less – partly thanks to the resource restriction agreement. Dr Dieter Zetsche, Mercedes’ chairman, has claimed that from 2011 the annual budget will be a quarter of what it used to be.

So the recent talk about Anthony Hamilton throwing his hat into the ring with Renault F1 may not be too hard to believe. After all, as my WTCC snout pointed out, if you’ve got cash these days then why leave it buried under the Swiss Alps when there are bargains to be had?