News Wrap, Week 34

I’m back for the news wrap! And I have news: there is very little news! Ah dear, it seems that the media, much like the public, have – in many ways – become somewhat disenchanted with the 2011 Formula One non-Season. So much so that there are rumours that the media (and quite probably fan) contingent at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be greatly reduced compared to previous rounds, such is the meaninglessness of the event. Plus the racing there is pretty dull. Or, as Peter McGinley would say, ‘pretty shit, vote Liberal’. I, however, will stick with a slightly more neutral tone, and significantly more neutral political outlook.
 
Formula One Commission Meeting
Actually, I retract much of my opening paragraph – there has been news! And it’s some of the most important/frustration-alleviating news there is. Lotus vs Lotus, the pointless, year-long battle for superiority between two barely-differentiated brands has at last been resolved.

Caterham-Lotus-Fernandes-1Malaysia…

On Thursday, the Formula One Commission – a group of representatives of the constructors, major sponsors, Pirelli, the FIA, FOM, and some circuit promoters – convened to make decisions on nine key topics. The topics are, on the most part, secret – but a few have necessarily come to light, largest of which is the Lotus case.
But first, the customary background information. In fact, I’m just going to start copying an pasting my previous elaborations on the matter when the topic comes up, to save time. Read:
Tony Fernandes (1Malaysia) leased the rights from Danny Bahar (Group Lotus) to name his team in 2010 Lotus Racing. Group Lotus claimed at the end of that year that 1Malaysia had breached their contract agreement and terminated the lease five years early. Over the summer, 1Malaysia signed a deal with David Hunt to use the historical Team Lotus name in Formula One, as they’re doing this year. Meanwhile, Group Lotus entered into a sponsorship agreement with Renault F1, with the plans to eventually buy the team to turn it into a Lotus works competitor. The result: we have Team Lotus-Renault (Tony Fernandes/1Malaysia), and Lotus Renault (Danny Bahar/Group Lotus).
The two teams sued each other before the start of the year, with the decision being largely favourable for Tony Fernandes. Though it was found that he did indeed breach the original contract, it was ruled that he was allowed to keep the name Team Lotus. Danny Bahar appealed, but the appeal was rejected.
Now here’s where things get properly political. Tony Fernandes is Malaysian, and thus Team Lotus is racing with a Malaysian licence. Group Lotus is also Malaysian-based, despite being a British outfit. Therefore, this squabble has also been a national one. Recently, the Malaysian Government has sold a significant stake of their national airline to Tony Fernandes, which is believed to be in exchange for Fernandes dropping his use of Team Lotus in order for Danny Bahar to use it for his own ends in both Formula One and road car manufacturing. Team Lotus/1Malaysia F1 would become Caterham F1 – already a sponsor of the team, owned by… Tony Fernandes.
And indeed, this is what’s happened. (Present day) Renault and Team Lotus both applied to be allowed to change their respective names. They need permission so that they do not breach the Concorde Agreement, which stipulates that a team chassis name cannot be changed without a majority ruling, lest the team forfeit the money entitled to it via championship position (prize money), commercial rights (television and sponsorship), and historical results.
As a result, Team Lotus will be known as Caterham from next year( though some speculate the team may surprise everyone and pull out the Caterham livery in Abu Dhabi), while Renault is free to do as it likes, presumable change its name to Lotus. Renault have wanted to exit the sport as a constructor for a long while now, so this decision will also make the French manufacturer happy.

Marussia Virgin Racing

But, one issue that flew under the radar was Virgin Racing’s application to change its name. It seems Sir Richard Branson has grown weary of his involvement in Formula One, and is looking for an exit after three years – two of which were spent running a chassis. The team has applied to have its name changed to Marussia Racing, the little-known Russian car brand taking a greater stakeholdership in the team. Few will be unhappy to see the Virgin brand leave the sport, with it making little progress in furthering the sport. Many were critical of the way the money was directed, creating a team with little cohesion. The team’s board began sorting that out earlier this year, sacking Wirth Research – an external company contracted to build develop its cars – and then buying the company and incorporating it into the team. Hopefully Marussia’s fortunes will turn next year, and we’ll see some progress.
 
Williams, fast cars, Qataries, and tractors
Williams is team that’s attracted very little media attention this year – or, more accurately, very little positive attention. What was supposed to be a year in which the historical team bounced back to compete after so many years languishing in the midfield ended in ruin, rooted in ninth place with only five points to its name. If no progress is made by next year, it’s a realistic possibility that Lotus Caterham Team Fernandes, or whatever they’re called, will find its way ahead – which will be a disaster. Kimi’s got star power, apparently

Rubens Barrichello – on the way out?

It’s well established – this is the worst year in Williams’ history. Moreover, Pastor Maldonado has now become the worst ever driver to race for the team, though considering that he’s done only marginally worse than Rubens Barrichello in a points-scoring sense, there isn’t too much to be read into his performance. The team has lost technical director Sam Michael and chief aerodynamicist Jon Tomlinson already, and came very close to losing Chairman Adam Parr. If Williams wasn’t already in rebuilding, it certainly is now.
But now for some positive news! Yeah! A sponsorship/investment deal has been concluded with Qatar. A ‘memorandum of understanding’ between Qatari national company Mowasalat. Williams has been working away in Qatar for a few years now, having invested in a technology centre back in 2009, plus a whole host of other deals for stuff including road safety and energy efficiency. There are rumours that a long-term deal is being worked on between Williams and the Qatar National Bank, which would fill the presumably sizable gap left by RBS at the end of last year.
What does this mean? Well, money, of course. BUT, you may be aware of the rumour that I continue to rant about on the show that Kimi Raikkonen may be heading back to Formula One. It’s curious, as Williams is very clearly prepared to keep the average Pastor Maldonado because he’s bringing a lucrative sponsorship package to the team, but is ready to let go of experienced developer Rubens Barrichello because he doesn’t have such money behind him. Why, then, would they be after Kimi Riakkonen, who has stated many a time that he won’t pay for a drive in Formula One?

Kimi’s got star power, apparently

Easy: star power. Raikkonen is a former World Champion, you may remember. His presence would undoubtedly energise the team, while offering sponsor an attractive reason to jump on board with the team. Makes sense, don’t you think?
Moreover, Raikkonen has dropped his strongest hint yet that he may be on the way back, backtracking on his statement earlier in the year that he would only ever return if he was offered a seat in one of the top teams. He’s since said that driving with a frontrunner is no longer a prerequisite. Hmm…
Some are already reporting that he’s only a series of formalities away from signing on. Other say he’s already signed on the dotted line and is practically on his way to have his seat fitted for the FW34. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what the ailing team’s next move is.
Read Joe Saward’s blog on the matter. He knows more than I do. He’s a proper journalist.
 
Anyway, I think that’s quite enough from me for the time being. Now that you’re done reading, feel like having a listen to our latest podcast? Or maybe head over to Facebookor Twitter to keep yourself up to date with all thing Peter McGinley Box Of Neutrals? You should. Ah, rekkamies…
 

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

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