As is now something of a tradition, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo made an appearance on qualifying day at Monza – he is, apparently, too superstitious to attend on raceday – and in what is fast becoming another tradition he used the media spotlight to lay forth his vision of Formula One’s future. This year’s suggestion, bound up of course in the usual bunfight over the sport’s future, is for shorter Grands Prix to appeal more to the youth of the world. “How long is the race, an hour and a half? Maybe this is too long for young people,” di Montezemolo suggested.
He also added, intriguingly, that later race start times in Europe would boost audiences – “I don’t think it’s good to race in July and August at 2pm when people are in the sea or on vacation” – which is sound logic but a comment that is somewhat at odds with the lofty dismissal, four years ago, of Singapore’s night race, start time 8pm, as a “circus” by a certain L. di Montezemolo. Could it possibly be that Ferrari’s grand showman, with a media pack hungry for headlines in front of him, was simply playing to his crowd?
Banking on success
Di Montezemolo also found time on Saturday to glad-hand his great friend Emilio Botin, the chairman of Banco Santander and a regular in the Ferrari garage. Santander confirmed in February that it has renewed its major sponsorship agreement with Ferrari, which was first announced at Monza in 2009, until the end of 2017. At Monza came merely an announcement that Ferrari’s rear wing at the next race in Singapore will feature the phrase ‘World’s Best Bank’, in recognition of Santander’s recent award from financial journal Euromoney.
Lewis Hamilton faced a barrage of questions about his future at the weekend with suggestions he is considering what would surely be a significant financial offer to leave McLaren, the team that moulded him and made him a world champion, for Mercedes. But he isn’t the only Briton in Formula One pondering his future. Paul di Resta is in his second season and remains highly spoken of in the paddock, even if his performances don’t quite match the hype, and a potential Mercedes target should Michael Schumacher retire and Hamilton remains at McLaren.
Having split with Hamilton’s father Anthony, who had been managing his affairs, acrimoniously earlier in the year di Resta confirmed at Monza that he has signed with The Sports Partnership, the management agency founded by Jenson Button’s manager Richard Goddard. Goddard has been advising di Resta for much of the season but formalising the agreement is the first step to moving the Force India driver up the grid next year.
One notable visitor to Monza was the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, who was in Italy to ramp up enthusiasm for the United States Grand Prix, which will take place in his state in November. After some early teething troubles and a time-consuming legal battle which temporarily halted construction, the Circuit of the America’s – the USA’s first purpose-built Formula One facility, located just outside Austin – is coming along nicely by all accounts. Perry, for one, is evidently pumped already: he has promised the venue will boast “the best visuals of any circuit in the world”.
China in his hands
Events inevitably overtook it as the weekend progressed, but there was a bitesize piece of history at Monza on Friday morning when Ma Qing Hua became the first Chinese national to drive a Grand Prix car during a race weekend. Ma took part in Friday practice for the lowly HRT team, for whom he is a nominal test driver this year, and called the experience “extraordinary” and adding: “It was an important step for me, but also for motorsport in China since it’s a very young sport there but with great potential.”
Despite hosting a Grand Prix since 2004, Formula One has generally failed to crack China, certainly on a sponsorship level. It is very early days but can 24-year old Ma be the man spark the kind of interest in China that Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhock have piqued in India?