Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Bluebird Garage

July 5th, 2009 No comments

Bluebird Garage c1930Last week, Keith Collantine at F1 Fanatic wrote a nice post about one of my favourite London buildings, the beautiful art-deco Michelin House on Fulham Road.

That building was the UK headquarters of Michelin from 1909 to 1985 before Sir Terence Conran bought it and turned it into the Bibendum Restaurant, named after the cigar-smoking, bicycle-riding, rubbery mascot of the Michelin Tyre Co.

But only a short walk away is another historic art-deco automotive building that Conran has converted into a restaurant; the Bluebird Garage on Kings Road.

When the garage was built in the early 1920’s, it was Europe’s largest motor car facility at some 50,000 sq ft.  As well as selling petrol and servicing automobiles, it also provided overnight accommodation for lady motorists and their chauffeurs in the two wings on either side of the main building.

The land speed record holder Sir Malcolm Campbell had a connection with the garage although it is hard to determine what it was exactly.  Some say the garage was where he built his famous ‘Blue Bird’ cars, others that he just sold cars there when he took over the Itala and Ballot concessions in London.

Campbell competed in Grand Prix racing, winning the 1927 and 1928 Boulogne Grands Prix but he is best known for breaking the world speed record on land and water several times in the 1920’s and 30’s.

His first land speed record was in 1924 when he piloted a V12 Sunbeam 350HP to 146.16 mph at Pendine Sands in Wales.  Between 1924 and 1935 he broke the land speed record nine times and on September 3 1935 he became the first person to drive a car over 300 mph when he hit 301.337 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

Campbell drove four Blue Bird cars (his son Donald drove a jet-powered Bluebird in the 1950’s) culminating in the 1935 Campbell-Railton Blue Bird.  This car had a 36.7 litre supercharged Rolls-Royce R V12 engine producing 2,300hp.  The car was so powerful that double rear wheels had to be fitted to stop the wheels spinning.

Here’s a video of Campbell driving Blue Bird at Daytona Beach.

Below are some pictures of the Bluebird Garage.  The tennis balls are a Wimbledon thing. 🙂

Images: Conran & Partners, David Keen

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Max is going, will Bernie be next?

June 25th, 2009 No comments

Bernie Ecclestone, Max Mosley, June 2009Despite Max Mosley’s insistence that he wasn’t forced out, that his departure from his position as President of the FIA was always ‘planned, agreed, arranged’, the fact that he will not be standing for re-election in October is clearly a victory for the teams.

On the face of it, the FOTA-FIA war was about budget caps and two-tier regulations, but really it was about Max Mosley and his autocratic style of running the sport.  After Wednesday’s announcement, Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo called Mosley a ‘dictator’.

Max himself said:

As far as I’m concerned, the teams were always going to get rid of me in October; well, they still are.

Now the teams have their stable regulations and have got rid of Max, will FOTA turn its attention to his mate Bernie?

In March, there was a threat to boycott the season opening Australian Grand Prix over claims that the teams were owed tens of millions of dollars in unpaid fees by the commercial rights holder.  In the end the teams backed down, but there is no doubt that FOTA is stronger because of its recent victory and they may try to use the momentum to push through changes to the commercial side of the sport as well.

The teams have long been unhappy that they only receive 50% of the sport’s revenues and there have been questions over the wisdom of taking Formula One to half empty venues like Turkey over other older and better attended circuits.

Max will turn 70 next year and Bernie himself is 10 years older.  I can’t see Ecclestone offering his retirement any time soon and I don’t think the teams actually want to get rid of him but I wouldn’t be surprised if FOTA managed to wring a slightly more favourable deal out of him now.

Image: AP Photo/Gareth Watkins

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FIA publishes minutes of cost cutting meeting

June 18th, 2009 No comments


The last few days have seen letters flying back and forth between FOTA and the FIA like paper planes.

On Tuesday the FIA published a lengthy essay on what it feels the dispute is really about, accusing the teams of an attempt to take over the commercial rights to Formula One and the regulatory function away from the FIA.

This prompted a letter from FOTA to Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone which sought to ‘compromise and bring an urgent conclusion to the protracted debate’.

Mosley replied with a letter of his own in which he essentially dismissed all the FOTA proposals.  Instead, he suggested that the teams sign up unconditionally after which they could get together to discuss any regulation changes that could be made.

Interestingly, the FIA have also published a summary of cost cap discussions that took place between the teams and the FIA in January of 2008.  In a meeting on 11 January it seems that practically all the teams felt that a budget cap would be ‘the fairest and most effective way of minimising the impact of the recession’ and ‘only Jean Todt (Ferrari) disagreed, stating that a cost cap was not achievable for his team.’

This document also has links to the minutes of this meeting where several team principals speak favourably of cost-capping.  For example:

Ross Brawn felt that the FIA and the teams’ albeit worthy attempts in the past to drastically cut costs had failed due to the fact that although technical constraints had been introduced to reduce expenditure, the teams had continued to spend in other ways. He therefore felt that it might be preferable to consider budget caps in some if not all areas of car development along with technical constraints as he felt that this was the only way to really control actual spend.

These minutes do seem to cast FOTA’s rejection of a budget cap in a new light.  Ferrari have always been against a cap but the other teams seem to have been broadly in favour of it, at least in some form.  It really looks, as many have noted, that this is more about Max Mosley’s governance of the FIA than cost caps.

The teams have until Friday to sign up unconditionally to the 2010 Formula One Championship and I’m still optimistic some kind of agreement can be reached.  I get the impression most of the FOTA teams would be willing to compromise.  Ferrari, however, have publicly stated that they won’t compete in 2010 unless the regulations are changed so who knows what they will do?

At least we don’t have to wait long to find out.

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Ferrari call Max’s bluff

May 12th, 2009 No comments

Massa, Spain, 2009Ferrari dropped a massive bombshell today.  After a meeting of the Board of Directors, Ferrari issued a statement saying they would not compete in the 2010 Formula One World Championship unless the new regulations are changed.  This makes Ferrari the fourth team, after Toyota, Red Bull and Toro Rosso, to announce that they will not compete in a two-tier Championship.

When Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo first expressed his displeasure with the new regulations Max Mosley said “the sport could survive without Ferrari”,  an inflammatory statement that Bernie Ecclestone has been trying to smooth over ever since.

Could Formula One survive without Ferrari?  I suppose it could, in some form, but it wouldn’t be the same.  Ferrari are the only team to have competed in every Formula One Grand Prix in the Championship’s 60 year history and they are the most popular team, by far.

This is a warning shot, fired ahead of di Montezemolo’s meeting with Mosley set to take place later this week.  I hope that some kind of compromise can be reached, but whatever happens, it will have to happen soon.  The deadline for entries to the 2010 Championship is a little over two weeks away.

In their statement, Ferrari also made criticism of the way the sport is being run, specifically the way the FIA have attempted to force through rule changes without the consultation of the teams.  I have to agree.

Under the leadership of Max Mosley, the FIA has become an adversarial organisation that seems hostile to the very sport it is meant to support.  While Bernie Ecclestone is obsessed by the almighty dollar, Mosley seems obsessed by power.

If Mosley will not compromise and Ferrari were to leave Formula One, I’m sure other teams would follow them.  What would happen next is anyone’s guess but whatever it was, it is the fans that would be the losers.

What do you think?  Could F1 survive without Ferrari?

The Ferrari statement in full:

The Board of Directors examined developments related to recent decisions taken by the FIA during an extraordinary meeting of the World Motor Sport Council on 29 April 2009. Although this meeting was originally called only to examine a disciplinary matter, the decisions taken mean that, for the first time ever in Formula One, the 2010 season will see the introduction of two different sets of regulations based on arbitrary technical rules and economic parameters.

The Board considers that if this is the regulatory framework for Formula One in the future, then the reasons underlying Ferrari’s uninterrupted participation in the World Championship over the last 60 years – the only constructor to have taken part ever since its inception in 1950 – would come to a close.

The Board also expressed its disappointment about the methods adopted by the FIA in taking decisions of such a serious nature and its refusal to effectively reach an understanding with constructors and teams.

The rules of governance that have contributed to the development of Formula One over the last 25 years have been disregarded, as have the binding contractual obligations between Ferrari and the FIA itself regarding the stability of the regulations.

The same rules for all teams, stability of regulations, the continuity of the FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) endeavours to methodically and progressively reduce costs, and governance of Formula One are the priorities for the future.

If these indispensable principles are not respected and if the regulations adopted for 2010 will not change, then Ferrari does not intend to enter its cars in the next Formula One World Championship.

Ferrari trusts that its many fans worldwide will understand that this difficult decision is coherent with the Scuderia’s approach to motorsport and to Formula One in particular, always seeking to promote its sporting and technical values.

The Chairman of the Board of Directors was mandated to evaluate the most suitable ways and methods to protect the company’s interests.

Image: Ferrari

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Cost caps and rule changes

May 12th, 2009 No comments

Toyota Motorsport President, John Howett, Spain, 2009The FIA recently announced plans to introduce a cost cap of £40m in 2010.  While the cost cap would be voluntary, those teams that signed up for it would be allowed a greater degree of technical freedom than the uncapped teams.

Any team that wishes to compete in the 2010 Championship must complete their application by the end of May and state whether they wish to compete under the cost cap or not.

While some of the smaller teams would be in favour of limiting budgets, the main area of concern for FOTA is that it would create a two-tier championship.  It is estimated that with the freedoms allowed under the cost cap, the cars of those teams that sign up could be two seconds per lap quicker than those of the uncapped teams.

Last week Toyota became the first team to declare they wouldn’t sign up for the 2010 Championship if there was a two-tier system in place but it was a comment by Toyota boss, and FOTA vice-chairman, John Howett that got me thinking.

The FIA own the “FIA Formula One World Championship” so presumably they can do what they want with it, right?  But are there procedures for changing the rules?  Regulations for the regulations, in effect?

This is what Howett said:

The regulations were announced but if you read the regulations, there is a proper process that should be followed and our understanding is that that hasn’t been done.

Article 1.1 of the 2009 F1 Sporting Regulations says:

All changes to the Formula One Technical and/or Sporting Regulations will be made in accordance with the procedures set out in Appendix 5.

and Apendix 5 states:

1. Changes to the Technical Regulations will be proposed by the Technical Working Group (TWG) consisting of one senior technical representative from each team and chaired by a representative of the FIA.

2. Changes to the Sporting Regulations will be proposed by the Sporting Working Group (SWG) consisting of one senior representative from each team and chaired by a representative of the FIA.

3. Decisions in the TWG and SWG will be taken by a simple majority vote. The FIA representative will not vote unless the teams’ representatives are equally divided, in which case he will exercise a casting vote.

I’m not really sure what this means.  Are the regulations valid for one year (and one year only) or do they carry on until a new set of rules replaces them?

If it is the case that there are “The Rules” which apply from their date of effect then it looks like the FIA cannot just arbitrarily decide to change them without consulting the teams.  In fact it looks like all changes to the rules must come from either the TWG or the SWG.

Maybe I’m missing something.  You can read the full regulations here, and if anyone can give me a definitive answer I’d love to hear it.

I’m starting to like the idea of a budget cap with increased technical freedom but the teams are always saying that one of the best ways to reduce costs is to stop messing with the rules.

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