Embarrassing – very embarrassing – is how I’d describe it.
The Singapore edition of the Friday afternoon Team Principals’ press conference marked a new low in the merry-go-round of let’s-save-Formula-1-money; nothing more than hot air, blown so keenly through the trumpets of so many in the multi-millionaires’ enclave that is the F1 world.
Franz Tost (Toro Rosso), Bob Fearnley (Force India), Tony Fernandes (Caterham), Claire Williams (Williams) and Eric Bouliier (Lotus) sat on stage, being grilled by the emboldened media corps in a way that F1 top brass don’t usually accept.
Displaying commendable honesty in the face of some difficult questioning, it was perhaps Caterham’s owner Fernandes who summed it up best: “We screwed it up, it’s as simple as that.”
The fact is that there is an economy drive of sorts underway in the sport. Flying, for example, is an area where a number of teams have (to a degree) spent less over the past few years. Non-direct routes on less ‘glamorous’ carriers are the choice of a few of the lesser teams these days.
Economising on travel is all well and good, but it’s an area that few outside the cosseted and very insular world of F1 ever get to see. Any positives engendered by such admirable practice amount to nowt when the more acerbic media hacks – and then, via the resulting negative press, current and potential commercial partners – learn of the excesses enjoyed by the very people who insist most upon saving money.
Imagine how unsurprised I was to arrive (by subway) at Singapore’s Ritz Carlton hotel for a photo shoot on Saturday and see one of the team bosses, so strident in his cost-cutting opinion only the day before, enjoying a midday breakfast (F1 runs on Euro-time in Singapore, remember) as part of his £550+ per night room ‘deal’!
Perception is all, so simply paying lip service to the mood – without, seemingly, being prepared to suffer personally any of the budget cuts that they champion so enthusiastically – just won’t do.
Speculation is rife as to how many races will or will not be on Formula 1’s calendar in future years, and one wonders just what relevance the soon-to-be-re-introduced, money-burning in-season testing has to the sport in its current financial reality. As ever, though, Bernie Ecclestone has played a cool hand.
Laying a barely concealed trap for the hapless team heads, the F1 supremo’s tactical play ensures that the teams can hardly complain about having more races if they are quite prepared to spend many millions of dollars – which they supposedly haven’t got – on engineer-pleasing but essentially unnecessary testing. Agreeing with Bernie, Franz Tost – in his typically practical Austrian manner – argues well that having more races is preferable to testing. Far better to spend budgets on races, and earn money as a result, than to see no financial return from extended and lonely trips to Jerez, Barcelona, Bahrain, Dubai et al.
I’ve written before of the paucity – in modern day Formula 1 – of charismatic team principals ruling their teams with an iron fist; hard bastards who fight tooth and nail for any possible advantage, legitimate or not, never giving an inch to their rivals. Formula 1 leviathans such as Chapman, Briatore, Ferrari, Tyrrell, Williams, etc, have been succeeded by men and women who appear to have more in common with middle-management accountant types, behaving as if in the school playground, squabbling over the ball while the big boys decide upon the game’s rules and future.
The only top-drawer team boss in the paddock right now is Red Bull’s Christian Horner. Dedicated, focused and hell bent on securing the ultimate package – both on and off track – for his team, Horner is streets ahead of the competition, save for his ill-advised (albeit Ecclestone-aligned) opinion that the new-for-2014 engine format is a mistake.
He doesn’t harp on about money-saving measures. No – he gets on with doing his job, playing the game, walking a clever political path, ensuring that everything is as it should be for his mechanics, his engineers, his designers, his strategists, his multi-title-winning driver, and ultimately his Austrian paymasters.
Success has followed, and then some.
Oh – and he flies First Class!