F1 Business Diary 2015: the Italian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton stormed to victory amid speculation that the 2015 Italian Grand Prix may have been among Monza's last.

The 40th Formula One victory of Lewis Hamilton's career was confirmed at Monza on Sunday, but only after a steward's investigation into his tyre pressure.

The win was his most dominant of the season and, after Nico Rosberg's retirement three laps from the end thanks to engine failure, leaves Hamilton 53 points clear at the top of the drivers' championship with seven races to go.

“Leave Monza alone!”

The Italian Grand Prix itself went ahead against the backdrop of speculation that it could be one of the last at the historic “cathedral of speed”, with no deal currently in place to host a Grand Prix at Monza beyond 2016. The debate over the future of the oldest course on the circuit has come to represent in microcosm the wider debates surrounding the state of Formula One and its engagement with its own history, with the sticking point, predictably, being financial.

Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone has been typically bullish about the stand-off, stating: “This has been going on for two and a half years, and it’s up to them to make up their mind. The bottom line is we’ve got something to sell and they have to decide whether they want to buy it. The price we are asking for is the same as the other people in Europe are paying.”

That price, according to the Independent, is €25 million, some €10 million more than the race organisers claim they are willing or able to pay. The Italian Grand Prix has been held at Monza every year but one since the inaugural Formula One world championship in 1950, and it is to this history that defenders of the course are appealing.

“When you go to a new circuit, Ayrton Senna didn’t drive there, Juan Manuel Fangio didn’t drive there,” world champion Hamilton commented, adding: “It should be here for the rest of Formula One’s life.”

Perhaps Italy's prime minister Matteo Renzi summed it up best when he called on Ecclestone to “Leave Monza alone!”

“Formula One doesn’t rely solely on money,” argued Renzi. “It’s also about history.”

History extended

If Formula One is about history, then Scuderia Ferrari  were celebrating this weekend after renewing the longest-running partnership in the sport with Anglo-Dutch oil and gas giants Shell. The new five-year extension of the deal which dates back to the 1930s sees Shell repositioned as Ferrari's “innovation partner”, though Shell will continue to provide the team with fuels and lubricants, as well as  50 full-time technical staff who will spend a combined total of at least 21,000 hours working for the team each year.

Abandon ship

McLaren Honda's weekend began with the unwelcome news that the team is set to lose as much as UK£20 million in sponsorship before the start of next season. According to reports, scotch whisky brand Johnnie Walker and banking group Santander are both ready to walk away from the British racing team when their contracts expire at the end of one of McLaren's worst ever seasons on the track. Despite their big-name driver pairing of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, both former world champions, McLaren are currently languishing in ninth in the constructors’ championship.

Johnnie Walker has been with the team since 2005 and reportedly pay UK£15 million a year for the privilege of being one of McLaren's premium partners. Losing them would be a significant blow for McLaren, who last year had to deal with the defection of Hugo Boss, a sponsor of 33 years, to their rivals Mercedes.

A lowest finish since 1980 appears ever more likely for the UK-based team, and with it a significant drop in prize money. Coupled with the possible loss of sponsorship funds from two of their major partners, this could signal major changes for the team, particularly since Button's contract, if he is to be retained, is set to rise from UK£8 million a year to UK£12 million a year from next season. Given that it took until the last weekend of last season for his contract for this year to be renewed and bearing in mind McLaren's existing cost-cutting policies, the most experienced driver on the grid could find himself looking for a new set of wheels come the season's end.

Christmas Grand Prix?

Finally, looking to the future, it seems that next season's Formula One calendar will run into December in order to accommodate a later Malaysian Grand Prix.

The Malaysian Grand Prix is being moved to separate it from the Singapore leg of the championship, with organisers worried that the geographical proximity of the two could lead to one detracting from the other. The races had previously been planned for consecutive weekends on the 18th and 25th September.

The 4th and the 11th of December 2016 have been touted as final race dates for next year, extending the season by at least a week over this season's ultimate showdown in Abu Dhabi at the end of November.


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