F1 Business Diary 2016: The Mexican Grand Prix

Another Hamilton victory is overshadowed by a bitter three-way battle for third

For the second week running reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton turned his attention from his Snapchat account to showcase his supreme driving talents. The British driver led from pillar to post, rarely looking in trouble throughout a 72-lap romp in Mexico.

Despite Hamilton’s dominance, 2016 world championship leader Nico Rosberg drove a superb defensive race to finish second and in doing so fastened his grip on this year’s title. If the two Mercedes drivers brilliantly executed races produced a somewhat processional air to proceedings, the fight for third place was highly combustible.

Dutch wunderkind Max Verstappen, Australian Daniel Ricciardo and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel scrapped and argued in dangerous proximity during the final third of the race. Whilst fans will have enjoyed the drama, the race organisers took a dim view of their aggressive driving. Both Vettel and Verstappen received separate five-second penalties, resulting in the popular Ricciardo being promoted to third place after a steward’s inquiry.     

Rosberg continues to lead the drivers’ championship with only two races remaining but Hamilton’s victory has cut the arrears to 19 points. 

Vettel turns the air blue

Sebastian Vettel’s frank exchanges with his sometimes bungling Ferrari pit crew has been a season-long source of comic relief to some fans, even if the former Red Bull man’s strained relationship with his team has led other observers to question his future in the sport. However, at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on Sunday, Vettel may have overstepped the boundaries of decency during his tetchy battle with Max Verstappen.

The expletive laden slanging match between Vettel and Verstappen was played out over the team radios, with the usually amiable Daniel Ricciardo joining in to boot: prompting some observers to liken the gentlemen to bickering school children.  

The dispute centred on an illegal move from the combative Dutchman that incensed the Ferrari driver and led to the pair exchanging disparaging hand gestures from their cockpits after the chequered flag. 

“He [Verstappen] is a c—,” Vettel raged over the radio. “That’s what he is. Am I the only one or are you not seeing what I’m seeing?”

The 29-year-old German’s ire was not exclusively directed at Verstappen. When he was told that Formula One’s experienced race director Charlie Whiting was looking into the racing incident, Vettel replied: “Yeah? Here’s a message to Charlie: f— off. Honestly, f— off.”

It is likely that Formula One’s hierarchy will to take a dim view of Vettel’s crassness and the German could be fined by the sport’s world governing body before the next race in Brazil.

Wolff keeps mum on Petronas rumours

It emerged in the week building up to Mexico that the Malaysian Grand Prix is likely to leave Formula One’s extensive calendar when its contract ends in 2018, with race organisers citing falling ticket sales and competition from other venues.

“If there is no economic value, why should we continue?” said Razlan Razali, the chief executive of Sepang International Circuit (SIC).

The local government is a heavy backer of the race, and if it has fallen out of love with the sport there could be serious implications for Mercedes. The German team’s title sponsor is, of course, the government-owned Malaysian oil company Petronas, which is also the title sponsor for the Sepang event. 

The usually garrulous Mercedes executive director, Toto Wolff, was much less forthright than normal when he was asked about the oil giant’s possible withdrawal. 

“I cannot comment, simply because I don't have any information to give,” said Wolff. “Yes, Petronas sponsors the Malaysian race, but their contract situation is not known to me. I can also not say anything about its other sponsorship programmes.”

Although the potential loss of Petronas would be an unwanted occurrence, it is likely that the grid’s preeminent team would not be short of affluent suitors.

Unrest at McLaren

In their illustrious history McLaren have produced 12 world champions, and for so long they were the team that others looked up to both on the track and commercially. However, for the past three years the Woking outfit have been scrapping for points at the lower end of the grid, despite having two former world champions drive for them, and it is starting to affect their reputation off the track. 

With poor results on the road, the assorted shareholders are believed to be forming a coup to oust longstanding team principal Ron Dennis. Ross Brawn, Justin King and Martin Whitmarsh are rumoured to be on the shortlist to replace him.

Nevertheless, McLaren released a statement to say that that Dennis is not stepping down and were at pains to downplay the apparent acrimony between Dennis and fellow shareholder Mansour Ojjeh.

‘Over many years, many decades in fact, McLaren shareholders have often entered into dialogue on the subject of potential equity movements and realignments, and Ron and Mansour have always been central to those discussions,’ the statement read. ‘That is still the case. Their recent conversations can therefore be categorised as “more of the same”.

‘However, it would be inappropriate to reveal further details of such discussions, which are of course private and confidential.’

McLaren have reportedly lost another long-time partner, ExxonMobil, which is said to be departing the English outfit for paddock rivals Red Bull. 

The loss of the American multinational oil and gas corporation will be another huge blow to McLaren.  Furthermore, the absence of the Mobil1 and Esso logos from their livery scheme will only serve to emphasise the team’s increasingly blank black cars.

However, UK-based oil giant BP has been tipped to return to Formula One as McLaren's new petrol partner. The new arrangement could see McLaren running BP fuel and Castrol lubricants in their Honda engines from the 2017 season. 

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