F1 Business Diary 2014: the Bahrain Grand Prix

The 900th world championship Grand Prix was one of the very best, with a dramatic battle for supremacy amongst the Mercedes drivers won by Lewis Hamilton. The build-up to the first floodlit Bahrain Grand Prix, however, was dominated by politics.

Formula One has a remarkable and longstanding history of shooting itself in the foot, with many of its key players unable, or unwilling, to keep sight of the bigger picture.

The Bahrain Grand Prix was a spectacular race, one of the best in years, and that was a relief, for its build-up was overshadowed by debate over the new rules, the new sound of Formula One and the sport doing itself harm by talking down the product. Bernie Ecclestone, FIA president Jean Todt and Ferrari chairman all appeared in the Bahrain paddock over the weekend, meeting to discuss the current state of affairs. Ecclestone and Montezemolo, in particular, have spent much of the last few weeks denigrating the sport and the spectacle. If the latter's motives can be put down to Ferrari's lacklustre performance, the suggestion was that the former might not simply be offering his opinion but playing a strategic game: do down the sport, so the theory went, and Ecclestone might find it easier to buy it back. Rumours swirled the paddock all weekend, Ecclestone told a variety of journalists different things – as usual – but it was noticeable that by the time the chequered flag fell neither Ecclestone nor Montezemolo could be found, both having left the circuit before the end of a race that made many of their criticisms sound more than a touch absurd.

Counting the cost

With so many heavy-hitters prowling the paddock over the weekend, it was no surprise that Formula One's tangled web of politics would be in the spotlight. While the FIA and teams have agreed to look into complaints about the noise of the cars to see if any short-term remedies can be applied – they have, apparently, listened to fans, which makes the deaf ears around the fierce criticism of the 2014 double points final race in Abu Dhabi all the more remarkable – the six teams who sit on Formula One's rule-ratifying strategy group have decided to abandon the previously announced plans for cost controls, which were due to be introduced for 2015. Without their approval, and with Ecclestone as commercial rights-holder also against, it cannot happen. Not for the first time, the teams have come to the conclusion that a capping system is unworkable. Jean Todt, the FIA president who had pushed hard for a cost cap, was magnanimous. “Am I disappointed? In a way I am disappointed because it may be more difficult to achieve the reduction which I feel is needed. But everyone says we are all in favour of reducing the cost, and through sporting and technical regulations.”

Business in Bahrain

As it celebrated the tenth anniversary of its first Formula One race, the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) achieved something of a milestone on Sunday when Bell Racing Helmets announced the relocation of its global manufacturing and research and development operations to the venue. It is the first major manufacturing business to move to the desert circuit, part of a new development plan designed to attract more motorsport and technology-related companies, which will also include a racing school. Over 100 jobs will be created. “The motorsport facilities at the BIC, combined with the business friendly environment of Bahrain were also a major draw for us,” said Martine Kindt, Bell Racing Helmets' chief executive.

Williams cashes in

Williams got both cars into the points for the second successive Grand Prix under the lights in Bahrain. Earlier in the week the team's parent company, Williams Grand Prix Holdings, confirmed the sale of its hybrid technology division, Williams Hybrid Power, to GKN Land Systems. No financial details were released but Williams, which has owned its hybrid offshoot in 2010, decided to cash in after initially developing the hybrid technology for use on its Formula One car. In recent years the hybrid division has provided revenue to help run the Grand Prix team by focusing on the development of systems for the mass transit and automotive sectors.

Quote(s) of the weekend

“I don't like his sort of taxi-cab driving.”
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo offers his verdict on new-era Formula One prior to the Bahrain Grand Prix.

“If anyone calls this boring, they're an idiot”.
Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda, immediately after the chequered flag.

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