F1 Business Diary 2017: The Russian Grand Prix

Mercedes’ Bottas scores his first victory from 81 attempts and Sauber confirm Honda engine deal for 2018.

The narrative to the 2017 Formula One season has been one of an uber-clash between two multiple world champions. Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel and ante-post title favorite Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton have dominated the opening three Grands Prix of the year in both qualifying and races. 

The street circuit at Sochi, however, threw up a new winner. Following his debut pole position at Bahrain, Finland's Valterri Bottas took the chequered flag after leapfrogging the two front row Ferraris from his third position on the grid. The win was the Mercedes man's first in the premier class of open-wheel racing – from 81 attempts – coming in his fourth race after his high-profile move to the Silver Arrows. 

Bottas' teammate, Hamilton, remained in fourth place from pillar to post and his car struggled with overheating throughout. Although the result has, potentially, added a third name to the drivers’ championship reckoning it was also a fourth contest in a row that lacked overtaking or any serious on-track excitement. 

The pre-season optimism that arrived with the drastically redesigned cars, which was intended to increase speed and overtaking opportunities, looks to be subsiding. It has led many to ask whether this was another false promise from the sport's organisers or if it is once again a case of the technicians being the real kings of Formula One.  

Formula Fraud?
Following the Serious Fraud Office's (SFO) raids on English soccer sides Newcastle United and West Ham United, is Formula One the next sporting entity to be investigated?

In 2013, the Concorde Implementation Agreement (CIA) was agreed upon, whereby the FIA – motorsport’s global governing body – would receive a one-off lump sum payment from the Formula One Group. The CIA resulted in a new governance structure for Formula One and redefined certain conditions, such as a promise that the FIA would be properly remunerated. 
The US$5 million payment was reportedly made to the FIA for entering into an agreement with the teams and Formula One Group. The investigation into the alleged bribery is being headed up Damian Collins, chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee for the UK government. However, the FIA denies any wrongdoing and says the payment was a payment in turn for regulatory role in the sport, not a bribe. 

“I've written to the Serious Fraud Office asking them, 'Do they feel there was a breach of the Bribery Act and does it warrant investigation?” said Collins. 

An SFO spokesperson added: ‘The SFO is reviewing material in its possession in relation to these allegations. All matters referred to the SFO are assessed against criteria to establish whether they may fall within its remit to investigate.’

New car for Red Bull 

After less than a third of the season, Red Bull are 80 points adrift of the Mercedes/Ferrari constructors’ championship tussle. The season’s opening races have seen the Christian Horner-led team alarmingly off the pace in comparison to previous campaigns. Russia was no different – Daniel Ricardo suffered another technical failure and retired early on, whilst the usually effervescent Max Verstappen was strangely uncompetitive in fifth place.    

However, former driver Sebastien Vettel has added fuel to various reports that Red Bull is set to unleash a 'b-spec' car in two weeks' time at the Spanish Grand Prix. 
“There are a lot of rumours around,” said Vettel. “They are a strong team, they know how to build a quick car so I expect it's a question of when rather than if.”

Sauber confirm Honda deal for 2018 

Despite Fernando Alonso’s apparent apathy for his McLaren-Honda engine, mid-grid rivals Sauber will be joining McLaren in being powered by Honda from the start of 2018 – although pit-lane gossip still links McLaren with a return to a Mercedes-powered cars next year.  

According to specialist outlet Autosport, the Swiss team have, in addition, secured a deal to use McLaren's 2017 gearboxes from the start of the 2018 season. However, neither constructor has confirmed the supply agreement.  

“I can say nothing on that,” said Monisha Kaltenborn, chief executive of Sauber Motorsport. “Details on the transmission side will not be disclosed right now. We'll see in time. No further details at this stage, it is too early, really.”

McLaren previously supplied gearboxes to Force India when both teams were powered by Mercedes. 

Hamilton “inspired” by Serena Williams 

Triple Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has hailed Serena Williams as an inspiration after the world’s top female tennis player hit back at controversial comments made by Romanian tennis coach Illie Nastase.

Hamilton, a personal friend of the tennis player and prolific social media user, reposted Williams’ response to his 4.1 million Instagram followers in which she called the 70-year-old a “racist” for comments he was reported to have made about her unborn child.

‘I’ve only just heard about it today,’ wrote Hamilton. ‘I’m very much with her in what she said and I thought it was beautiful what she wrote, as a powerful independent black woman I just think she’s awesome.

‘She’s not only one of the greatest people I know, she’s just a born leader… reading what she’s written just inspires me and hopefully inspires others.’


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