F1 Business Diary – The Spanish Grand Prix

In a momentous weekend, Max Verstappen became the youngest ever Formula One race winner at the tender age of just 18, but much of the action took place away from the track.

In a momentous weekend where Max Verstappen, driving for Red Bull, became the youngest ever Formula One race winner at the tender age of just 18, where leaders of the pack and Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton collided, and where former teammates Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo came to blows, we round up the Spanish Grand Prix’s off-the-track news.


Marchionne marches on

At the past two races, Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne has been a looming figure. The top boss had previously said that he expected the team to end their winning drought almost immediately, but once again they were outpaced in Spain.

And Mercedes chief and racing legend Niki Lauda has now suggested that it is Marchionne himself causing the team’s faltering form.

“The fact that Ferrari is so far behind is very surprising,” he said.

“But the problem with them is that they are under pressure – the more Marchionne calls for wins, the more the Italians make mistakes.”

That claim will, undoubtedly, fan the flames of rivalry between the two teams, but Marchionne moved quickly to restore calm to his team.

Amid rumours that he was set to sack Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene if results did not turn around, Marchionne said: “These rumours are rubbish. In a very competitive industry as this, it would create other problems rather than help.”

And when challenged on whether his influence was piling too much pressure on the team, Marchionne added: “It’s my role to stimulate the team and ask for victory. The drivers are two of the very best in the world, and they enjoy my confidence – we are only at the fifth race.”

It seems that, despite the team’s form, all is not as unsettled behind the scenes as rumours might have you think. But if results continue, Marchionne’s patience will only last for so long.


Edgy Ecclestone?

In major news for the future of Formula One, chief executive Bernie Ecclestone confirmed to papers that he believed some of the sport’s major stakeholders were “plotting” his demise.

The stakeholders in question, Daimler chairman Dieter Zetsche and Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne, are believed to be discussing the whole sport’s reforms, and when Ecclestone was asked if they could get rid of him, the eccentric leader said: “They’ve got more chance of getting struck by lightning. They should start playing the lottery.

“They’re trying to do some plotting probably but they don’t know what they’re plotting for.”

Regardless, however, rumours continue to circulate, with many believing the Niki Lauda is being primed to take over the “sporting” arm of Formula One, amid a major restructure.

The Mercedes chief has scaled down a lot of his commitments in the sport, recently terminating his role as a full-time pundit for German television channel RTL.

Lauda himself, however, is keen to keep these rumours at bay.

“Toto Wolff and I have a big enough job here with Mercedes,” he said. “We even own shares in the team. We are successful and everything works fine.”

Despite both parties denying the rumours, speculation will continue to grow. With such unrest, the future will continue to look uncertain.


Lauda, Wolff – Round One

While Lauda says that Toto Wolff and he still have an important role to play at Mercedes, the colleagues did come to a disagreement this weekend, in much the same way as their team’s competing drivers.

On lap one, at the third turn, Mercedes teammates and world championship leaders Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton collided, bringing a premature end to both drivers’ Spanish Grand Prix.

While the collision gave Max Verstappen the opportunity to become the youngest ever Formula One race winner, it left Lauda and Wolff at loggerheads.

Speaking to German television, Lauda said: “For me, it was unacceptable. First of all we must talk to Lewis, because Nico was defending his lead.”

But Wolff declared it as a “racing incident”, refusing to apportion blame to either of his drivers.

The stewards agreed with Wolff, but both Hamilton and Rosberg, in a truly professional manner, refused to be drawn on whose fault it really was.

Both apologised to each other, although Rosberg did hint at unhappiness with Hamilton’s driving, but insisted that he in no way blamed the three-time champion.

While much has been made in the press of the love-hate relationship between Hamilton and Rosberg, Mercedes can only hope that the same attitude has not filtered upstairs to its two top bosses.