News Wrap, Week 16

I’ve come to realise a few things this week. I’m quite tall – that’s one of them. I’ve also realised that even sideburns cannot make Peter McGInley’s unusually large head look any less conspicuous in public – courtesy of Rob James buying a permanent marker while I went out on Friday night. Those crazy cats.
More importantly (sort of) I’ve learnt that, being essentially a volunteer when it comes to this Formula One business and thus needing to work in other jobs that pay real money (rather than Rob’s ‘McGinley Dollars’), I can’t devote as much time to writing news and whatnot as I’d like to. I tried writing an article while at work, but it’s really difficult to find quotes and put through EFTPOS transactions at the same time. I almost charged one customer £200 million for a pen because I was reading about the future of the BBC’s coverage.
With that in mind, I’d like to bring you Box Of Neutrals’ least-innovative innovation – a short amalgamation of the news that I can’t be bothered covering during the week. Sometimes I’ll even add pictures, depending on how long it takes Rob to send me the final cut of the podcast.
 
Sergio Perez

Sergio Perez back for Valencia

I’ll start off with me. My doppelganger, after pulling out of the Canadian Grand Prix on medical grounds, is back for Valencia and says he’s fit to race. This is off the back of his 80g accident in Monaco, which left him concussed and unable to take part in that race. He complained of dizziness on Friday in Montreal, and was subsequently replaced by perennially fired river Pedro de la Rosa. – despite the Spaniard being halfway through his lunch. I’d like to think he took his plate with him to the car.
With Friday practice down, Perez does indeed seem in working order. It’s wonderful news, and is testament to safety in Formula One. Books could be written on the subject (and indeed they have. Professor Sid Watkins wrote a great one called Life at the Limit: Triumph and Tragedy in Formula One. You should read it), but it’s worth pointing out that we can never stop developing safety measures. The moment safety stagnates is the moment we’ve learnt nothing from the past.
 
ECU Engine Mapping Ban
This week, the FIA’s announced a ban on changes to the ECU relevant to engine mapping between qualifying and the race. Essentially, the ECU is now controlled by parc fermé conditions. This comes a fortnight prior to the enforcing of a ban on throttle overrunning to blow on the diffuser. Hot blowing, it’s called. I can hear Rob giggling somewhere across Melbourne.

I don’t have a photo for this story

It’s interesting because this is the second major change in regulation interpretation to happen mid-season, rather than between seasons. As we saw with double diffusers and the f-duct, the FIA made moves to outlaw them between seasons. This time around, they’re so worried about the increasingly exotic concepts being put in to practice that they’re putting a stop to it immediately.
Some of the cynical folks out there are claiming that this is the FIA’s way of slowing down Red Bull to prevent them from running away with a championship that should’ve been the most competitive in years. There are grounds to this claim (indeed, Peter McGinley thinks as much – though when has his opinion been factually grounded?), but it is the role of the governing body to enforce the spirit of the rules as much as the literal rules themselves. Charlie Whiting told Adam Cooper yesterday that it was all well and good for teams to run this sort of system last year because they were merely capitalising on the exhaust gasses that were always going to be there. This year, teams are pumping money into programmes to create more exhaust gas to form an integral part of their aerodynamic setups, which goes against the spirit of the regulations.
The effects of this ban will be remain to be seen. Some are predicting (and certainly hoping… Ferrari) that Red Bull have been so dependent on this system that they will fall back into the clutches of McLaren and Ferrari come the British Grand Prix. The effect is likely to be less pronounced than this, though I would expect to see some fiercer competition during qualifying, when these changes will be most evident. And we know that McLaren have similar race pace to Red Bull, so we could finally see a different coloured car sitting on pole.
What will be properly curious is the effect these changes have on the midfield. Williams, according Rubens Barrichello, run neither a hot blown diffuser nor change their engine mapping on Sunday morning. This could be their chance to jump up into Q3. Similarly, Sauber are running a fairly basic exhaust setup. Inversely, however, we could see Toro Rosso suffer as they’re running a fairly exotic solution (apparently). The gains they’ve made through exhaust development this season could come to naught – or they could end up like McLaren and discover it’s actually been slowing them down this entire time.
 
2014 Engine Regulations
The engine regulations for 2013 have been a contentious issue for around a year now. Originally set up to see 1.6 litre turbocharged straight-four engines introduced in two years, the FIA are ready to approve an amendment to the plan to include a one-year delay and upscale to six-cylinders.
You can read about it here.
Renault, who threatened to leave the sport entirely if the original scheme was altered, are reportedly happy with the compromise. Ferrari, the team most opposed, also seem satisfied with this middle ground. All is well, which is a small miracle.
 
Lotus vs. Lotus
Finally, we return to one of our favourite ever topics. Lotus vs. Lotus, the most pointlessly drawn-out argument in the history of Formula One. Confused? Take a deep breath…

Lotus vs. Lotus… again

Tony Fernandes’ (cue laugh)Tune Group entered F1 last year under licence from Group Lotus (the road car manufacturer) and thus raced with the title ‘Lotus Racing’. At the end of 2010, Group Lotus terminated the licence contract, meaning Fernandes could not call his cars Lotuses. Fernandes subsequently bought the name Team Lotus from David Hunt, which is why the green and yellow cars are still called Lotus this year.Meanwhile, Group Lotus set up a sponsorship deal with Renault. The result is a team sponsored by Lotus: Lotus Renault; and a Lotus team with Renault engines: Lotus-Renault. Confusing. So they sued each other.
Late last month the judge came to the decision that, despite Group Lotus being entitled to terminate their contract, they were not owed exclusive right to the name Lotus, and thus both teams would just have to get along with each other. Each team declared victory, while Group Lotus tried to appeal. Appeal a win, what? Their appeal has, this week, been rejected. The end. Or is it?
Word is that Group Lotus are actually looking to bring more legal action against Team Lotus for something along the lines of ‘confusing the audience’ for buying Caterham (I’m not getting into that, it’s way too confusing). Moreover, they still have the Supreme Court route to go down if they’re really serious about the naming dispute – and have some serious time and money behind them.
 
BBC Coverage
From memory, this week’s podcast included an excessive amount of discussion over the rumoured move by the BBC to drop their coverage of Formula One come 2014. Britain’s public broadcaster signed a five-year deal starting from 2009 at an estimated cost of £200 million – roughly the same price as click pen at my shop, apparently.
As I understand it the British economy is going through some sort of rough patch, which is why the government has frozen the funding available to the broadcaster for the next six years, which equates to a funding cut of 16 per cent over that time. The choice, if the BBC was to take the entirety of that money out in one action, is between its Formula One coverage or BBC 4, which is a television station devoted to arts and intellect. How cool does BBC 4 sound? I wish we had an Australian equivalent, instead of Seven MAAAAATE.

BBC to yank the chain? (Pun: Rob James)

Bernie Ecclestone says that he’s committed to helping the BBC retain its rights to cover the sport beyond 201. It’s positive to hear, though we know science suggests that Bernie’s brain is actually shaped to look like a dollar sign. Or a pound sign, whichever. But we do have to trust that Bernie will put the interests of the sport first, and we know that the teams in particular are reliant on the coverage they can get from free-to-air broadcasting for sponsorship exposure. It would be difficult to maintain cash flow without such exposure – without a change in business model, that is. The English Premier League opted for a pay-television model and it’s working a treat for them. It’s up to Bernie to evaluate which model is more sustainable in the long term.
It’s also worth pointing out that this story originated from the Sunday Times in the UK, a paper operated by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. You may remember that earlier in the year another of Murdoch’s media outlets, Sky News, ‘broke’ the story that News Corporation was looking to buy Formula One’s commercial rights from CVC Capital Partners. Whether or not there is any real potency in this takeover bid remain to be seen, but it’s worth looking at this story in the context of the broader picture. But, as with most things in Formula One, it’s difficult to know what’s going to happen until it actually happens – and even then we can’t be sure. See: Bahrain.
Just curiously, the television broadcast deal was recently concluded for the AFL (the country’s biggest sport), worth over $1 billion – roughly three times more expensive than the BBC’s deal. No programme ever rates higher than 3 million viewers here, with the average AFL game attracting fewer than 1 million. On a relative scale, the BBC is getting a pretty good deal – but, of course, comparisons like these are fairly meaningless, and I’ve just wasted even more of your time.
You can Read Rob’s view on the situation here.
 

 You can follow me on twitter, if you have nothing better to do: @MichaelLamonato
 

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