Formula One Business Diary: Germany

The sun shone as a home favourite won his home event on Sunday. Sebastian Vettel claimed his first German Grand Prix victory at the Nurburgring, on a weekend when the future of the venue was subject of much debate.

Despite a home victory at one of Europe's largest sporting venues, this was, perhaps predictably, something of a low-key Grand Prix weekend. With the United Kingdom's focus inevitably on Andy Murray and the Tour de France hitting the visually-stunning Pyrenees, it was no surprise that the German Grand Prix was overshadowed in several major markets. The date clashes can't be helped, of course, but it did highlight the decidedly unbalanced look of this year's Formula One calendar. After a three week gap in June, between the Canadian and British races, the German Grand Prix followed just a week after Silverstone. There is now another three-week gap before the Hungarian Grand Prix, then a four-week summer break before the circus arrives in Belgium – or, put another way, only one Grand Prix in the next seven weeks during what should be the most intense part of the season. The unusual sequence has been created by the loss of the race in Valencia this season, for financial reasons, and the failure to find a replacement European venue to host an event on the 21st July. With Russia and New Jersey expected to join the 2014 calendar, expect a major reshuffle of dates to create something a little less lop-sided next season.

A plan for the Nurburgring
Since 2007, Germany's two Formula One circuits, Hockenheim and the Nurburgring, have shared the country's annual Grand Prix. This year it was the turn of the Nurburgring, a venue which has its fair share of financial problems. Although reports that Bernie Ecclestone had waived the é14 million annual race fee this year, to safeguard the race, were wide of the mark, it is understood he made allowances to ensure that one of the sport's most historic venues remained on the calendar – at least this time round. Longer-term, Ecclestone insists he is not interested in taking on outright ownership of the circuit and the fearsome Nordschleife – a position he also holds on Silverstone – while Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz was also suggested as a possible financial saviour at the weekend. Would it not make more sense, though, for Germany's car manufacturing giants – the likes of BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Volkswagen – to club together and bail out a facility which has at least as much brand value as any of them and which could offer a ready-made test track, not to mention huge tourist appeal? The Nurburgring is Germany's unofficial home of motorsport; why not make that official?

Free(wheeling) publicity
Briton Paul Allen spent the night in Koblenz hospital after being struck by the detached right-rear tyre of Mark Webber's Red Bull in the pit-lane early in Sunday's race. Allen, a member of Formula One Management's central television production unit, suffered a broken collarbone and cracked ribs after he was hit, from behind, and sent tumbling in an incident FOM did not replay in full. Television staff in the pit-lane can shortly expect to have to wear helmets and perhaps other protective gear from now on, as team personnel are already required to do. Meanwhile, Formula One should spare a moment to thank central sponsors UBS and Allianz – or at least to the chap who positions their trackside advertising banners. When Jules Bianchi's broken Marussia freewheeled down a hill and back onto the track, it was only a hoarding – branded by Allianz on one side and UBS on the other – that averted potential catastrophe. In another brand exposure break for Allianz, the incident brought out the safety car – sponsored by everybody's favourite German multinational insurance giant.

The Sauber situation
Whispers and the odd newspaper report suggest the Sauber team is in an increasingly perilous financial situation. The Swiss outfit, which has been in Formula One since 1993, had a terrific season in 2012 but has struggled this year, although Nico Hulkenberg's excellent drive on Sunday netted a precious point. Since BMW's withdrawal from Formula One in 2009, Sauber has transitioned back from a manufacturer-owned team to the independently-run one it once was, but it now appears reliant on the Mexican sponsorship which arrived when Sergio Perez joined the team in 2011. Carlos Slim's money, however, is expected to gradually move towards Perez, now ensconced at McLaren, leaving Sauber's team principal Monisha Kaltenborn on the hunt for investment elsewhere. Tellingly, however, the highly-rated Hulkenberg, who described the situation as “difficult” on Thursday, did not deny suggestions that he has terminated his contract, making him a free agent in the 2014 driver market, with European media reports suggesting he has not been paid since May.
 

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