Race Blog
Brazil 2014

Begging-bowl F1

You are invited to attend the biggest, flashiest, most decadent, free-alcohol flowing, mega-rich-guest dancing, 95-metre-long-super-yacht party at this year’s Monaco Grand Prix.

I’m guessing you’d like to accept? Slip your shoes off (so as not to damage the precious wooden deck), step on to the walkway and enter a world of multi-millionaire, billionaire-like opulence.

Aboard the Indian Empress, one of the world’s largest privately owned floating gin palaces, Formula 1 team owner – and Chairman of the UB Group, one of India’s largest conglomerates – Vijay Mallya is happily entertaining his privileged guests.

Stand on one of the many decks and look across the glittering harbour and you’ll spy the Lotus Formula 1 team’s ‘motor home’. Owned by Genii Capital – an international financial advisory and investment firm – the shiny black cars of Luxembourgers Gérard Lopez and Eric Lux are ready to thrash around the Monaco streets in tomorrow’s race.

Very, very rich men enjoying the reflected glory that owning a Formula 1 team inevitably provides those fortunate enough to experience.

But all is not rosy in the mind-bogglingly expensive world of the sport they so love…

“Please, sir, can I have some more?”

These men who all made and make their fortunes in the ultra-capitalist world of international multi-billion-dollar finance, industry, technologies, liquor, aviation, mergers and acquisitions, real estate, technologies, fertiliser – I could go on – are upset. Annoyed, even.

It appears that after having bought their way in to the intoxicating world of motor sport’s highest echelon, they’re not happy. Why, they inquire, why is Formula 1 not run akin to a fistful of dollars, begging-bowl hand-outs, welfare state?

The level of hypocrisy is mind-boggling.

Entirely unsurprisingly, F1’s chief executive Bernie Ecclestone isn’t particularly interested in filling the collecting tins of guys who aren’t short of a super-yacht or two, quickly dismissing their claims for extra cash.

So, in response, what do these high-net-worth individuals threaten to do? Strike.

Their pathetic, divisive and utterly foolish threat to boycott the US GP showed a blatant disregard for the welfare and reputation of a sport they profess to care about. Mallya, Lopez and the Sauber team’s unimpressive team principal Monisha Kaltenborn – even though they bleat on so annoyingly about the ‘DNA of F1’ – appeared utterly ignorant of one of the darkest days in recent F1 history: the 2005 United States Grand Prix, when the Michelin teams’ withdrawal from the race effectively destroyed the sport’s reputation in such an important market.

I've never been so appalled by the actions of many in F1 that day. The fact that the sport has now found a wonderful home in the States at the superb Circuit Of The Americas facility – and that the die-hard, enthusiastic and knowledgeable US fans have forgiven the sport for so shamefully failing them – was completely ignored by the selfish and ill-advised threats of Force India, Lotus and Sauber.

That such a self-destructive course of action was even threatened is bad enough, but can you imagine the way US sports media channels would have reported another F1 boycott on US soil? We’d have been lynched.

Unsurprisingly the three newly socialist teams did race in Austin and subsequently Brazil, but, with frustration getting the better of them and champagne stocks running short, fresh rumours of an Abu Dhabi ‘no show’ began to circulate the Interlagos paddock.

Sure, there are many things – in F1 – that could be organised a whole lot better than they currently are, but isn’t that the case with almost any business/sporting environment one can mention?

Formula 1 IS capitalism and merely reflective of the world that it operates within. When money is tight and budgets are difficult to justify the ‘haves’ generally have more. So it should come as no surprise that automotive behemoths such as Mercedes, Ferrari (Fiat), McLaren (Honda) and the ‘independent’ energy-drink-billion-dollar-funded Red Bull team all have more.

Of course it’s sad when F1 teams hit the money buffers and fold, but that’s the reality of business life, I’m afraid – always has been and always will. If – over the 64 years since the sport’s inception – underperforming teams struggled on, propped up by charitable hand-outs from those more financially powerful, we’d have a pit lane with literally hundreds of cars ready to race.

Since I’ve lost all my F1 photographic contracts, and none of those scurrilous snapper competitors of mine will give me any of theirs, I’m giving up this photographic life I’ve enjoyed and moving to India. I’ve bought a small brewery and have a dedicated team of clever guys working with me, all of us intent on taking on the drinks industry behemoth that is Vijay Mallya’s United Breweries Group. Of course I’ll be asking Vijay for some cash (I’ve spent all mine on set-up costs, you see) and perhaps a helping hand with the loan of some equipment. 

I’m sure – as a guy who obviously believes in a level playing field for all – I can expect a hefty cash advance from our Mohican-haired friend any day now...



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