F1 Business Diary 2017: The Monaco Grand Prix

A glorious weekend in the principality for Ferrari increases Sebastien Vettel’s drivers’ championship lead.

The Monaco Grand Prix is still the jewel in the Formula One crown, and by far the most prestigious and glamorous event on its 20-race calendar.

Despite a ‘new era’ of Formula One being ushered in, the superyacht-lined Hercule Harbour was reassuringly sun soaked and the picturesque street-circuit remained tinged with nostalgia – La Rascasse, the tunnel, and Casino Square – whilst the famed pre-race grid walk overflowed with international A-list celebrities such as US sportswomen Serena Williams and Lindsey Vonn; Hollywood stars Chris Hemsworth, George Lucas and Kate Upton; and soccer manager José Mourinho of Manchester United.     

For fans, space was, of course, at a premium whether on the top of the packed hill-tops, the terrace of the Hotel de Paris Monte Carlo, or poolside from a yacht in the marina. This was, however, where the excitement stopped. Formula One’s signature contest was marred by a distinct lack of overtaking and possible team orders that made the race somewhat of a procession.

The Grand Prix was nevertheless a red letter day for Ferrari. The ‘Prancing Horse’ enjoyed a front-row lock-out in qualifying and followed it with a race victory for Sebastien Vettel and a second-place for their 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen. 

The comfortable win for the German was achieved by his pit crew over-cutting teammate Raikkonen, a move that led many observers to wonder whether Ferrari’s drivers were acting on pre-orchestrated team orders. Raikkonen’s sanguine demeanour on the podium did nothing to dispel this school of thought.

A glum Raikkonen confirmed after the race that he hadn’t wanted to stop: “I was called in and that's about it.”

Both Ferrari and Vettel have been quick to dismiss rumours of a team hierarchy but doubts remain. Vettel’s accomplished win nonetheless enabled the four-time world champion to expand his title lead to 25 points from British rival Lewis Hamilton, who recovered from a poor 14th place in qualifying to finish seventh.      

Calendars start to align

The Monaco Grand Prix is often a point in the year when sponsors, teams and series organisers meet to set their respective agendas for the coming season. Perhaps the highest-profile collective in Monte Carlo over the weekend was a meeting hosted by president of world motorsport’s FIA, Jean Todt.

Todt assembled Formula One's managing director of motorsports Ross Brawn, World Endurance Championship (WEC) chief executive Gérard Neveu and Formula E Holdings chief executive Alejandro Agag to discuss a more harmonious international racing calendar.

Brawn has been advocating Liberty Media's wish to remove as many clashes as possible between the different racing categories in what is always a packed year.

“With so much great motorsport available to competitors, fans and television spectators worldwide, the setting of schedules is one of the most challenging tasks for any promoter,” said Neveu.”We all work hard to produce calendars that make practical, economical and climatic sense, and we try and avoid clashes between championships.

“Our positive meeting in Monaco yesterday has begun a new process to further harmonise our calendars for the benefit of all motorsport fans.”

Indycar adds to the excitement

The meeting to de-clutter global motorsport’s calendar did, however, take place over a weekend that staged two of motorsport’s ‘Triple Crown’ races. The Indianapolis 500 immediately followed the Monaco Grand Prix and consequently threw up more overtaking in a handful of circuits than the dour 78 laps of the Circuit de Monaco.

This year’s iteration of ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ had an increased European interest to it: embattled Formula One driver Fernando Alonso was making his debut in the high-octane North American open-wheel race.  

It appears that the Alonso effect had an immediate effect to the race’s overseas TV ratings. 

UK broadcaster BT Sport pulled an average of 129,000 viewers across the five-hour time slot, which peaked at 203,000.  Last year, the pay-TV channel’s Indy 500 coverage averaged just 12,000, peaking with 31,000. This equates to a year-on-year increase of 975 per cent based on the average, and an increase of 555 per cent based on the peak figure.

Alonso suffered an engine failure – an irony that would have not been lost on the Spaniard or Formula One fans – on the 179th circuit of the 220-lap race. Despite his failure to finish the race Alonso left the Indianapolis Speedway to a standing ovation with his global reputation and future Stateside earnings looking to be on the up.           

Aussie rules

It is not only automotive clashes that Liberty Media is worried about.

The Australian Grand Prix, which has historically been the season’s opening race, is set to be moved to avoid its annual clash with the start of the Australian Football League (AFL) season next year.

Race organiser Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) wants to move the 2018 Grand Prix a week earlier to the 18th March. The 2017 Grand Prix was moved to 26th March and although the crowds didn’t appear to be down, coverage in the media – and on social media platforms – was nullified by the AFL fixtures.

Formula One’s new management had already approved an upgrading of the Supercars Championship support races to count towards the V8 title by allowing the series to have its own pit lane. Negotiations to move the Grand Prix back are said to be being undertaken in a similar spirit of co-operation.

“We're working with them and we're very confident we'll get an outcome, and if that works out to be 18th March, then we'll be very happy,” said Andrew Westacott, chief executive of AGPC.

Ferrari are the jet set

If you can’t be seen in a Formula One car over the Monaco Grand Prix weekend then a yacht is the next best thing. That is unless you are Ferrari, who have both.

The constructors’ championship leaders have extended their commercial agreement with luxury yacht manufacturer Riva.  

The Ferretti Group-owned company’s branding will continue to be present on the Maranello team’s race livery. It will also adorn the helmets and race overalls of drivers Vettel and Raikkonen.

“[This is] an extraordinary combination of two absolute icons like Ferrari and Riva,” said Alberto Galassi, chief executive of the Ferretti Group. “Our agreement renews a link between houses that is unrivalled in history, popularity and ability to perpetuate their supremacy.”

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