“very, very cool” reverse layout – Leclerc
Charles Leclerc believes it would be “very, very cool” for F1 if some races were held on reverse track layouts this season. The Coronavirus pandemic means that the sport is considering multiple events at the same venues.
In a bid to bolster the number of races because of the coronavirus pandemic, one idea that has been suggested is trying to vary the layouts used. This would be easy at places like Silverstone or Paul Ricard, is quite easy, other venues do not have that option.
Leclerc believes running events at the same venue would work well but says the fairness of F1 running multiple races at the same venue which could favour one car over another, Leclerc said: “I think you can always argue the fairness.”
“But at the end, we mostly need to look at the situation and try to make the most out of the situation, and if this will make us race twice on the same track [that is okay]. I think we should look also at this possibility to try and have the most races possible.”
He says that if these races do happen the drivers will probably rediscover tracks and the cars would be very different, describing the idea as interesting. However, this idea would need re-homologation because circuits are only designed to run in one direction, Leclerc says that the concept behind the idea is valid.
“I’ve done this in karting too, to do one track one way and then do it the other way. And from my experience, yeah, you’re just rediscovering another track,” he added.
Leclerc says that it would be a level playing field, as most drivers will have not had experience or knowledge of the track. But, admits the favourites would probably be the same.
Ferrari remain committed despite reports
Ferrari insists that they remain committed to Formula One following reports that the sport’s oldest and most successful team could walk away if a proposed budget cap for 2021 was too low.
The Guardian newspaper suggested that Ferrari were prepared to quit in a headline, later replaced, over an interview with team boss Mattia Binotto. But Ferrari has said that Binotto had not mentioned the team leaving F1.
Clarifying the comments, a spokeswoman stated. “On the contrary, he said that we would not want to be put in a position of having to look at further options, besides continuing racing in F1, for deploying our racing DNA.”
Binotto told the newspaper hat a drastic budget cut, called for by some teams as they face the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis, put at risk hundreds of jobs at their Maranello factory.
Saying “The $145m level is already a new and demanding request compared to what was set out last June. It cannot be attained without further significant sacrifices, especially in terms of our human resources.”
There have been proposals to lower the cap as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier in the month, Binotto said that meetings had been “very positive and constructive”, he urged the sport not to make an “emotional” cost-cap decision. Red Bull is also thought to be against a lower limit on spending for teams.
Ferraris argument against a lower cap is based on the fact that they supply parts to Alfa Romeo and Haas, they believe that could penalise them further if they are forced to produce those parts within the cap.
Adding, “We know that we will face difficult situations but we need as well to somehow maintain the DNA and the essence of F1, which is competition, and we should not forget that about F1 and motorsport.”
Liberty makes moves to get cash into F1
Liberty Media has undertaken a “re-attribution” of its assets partly to give F1 more cash as the coronavirus pandemic continues to have an impact. In a series of deals between FOM, and the sister SiriusXM division.
The main change is that concert promotion company Live Nation, which used to sit alongside F1 under the FWON umbrella, has been moved across to join radio network Liberty SiriusXM.
The move gives F1 more cash and separates it with Live Nation from the risks to other parts of its business, both are seriously exposed while live events are not permitted worldwide. It also moves live events and concerts into a single business, which some had found confusing.
In total, $1.5bn of asset value had been moved from the F1 Group to Liberty SiriusXM, compromised of $2.8bn of assets and $1.3bn of liabilities. LiveNation’s shares account for $2.6bn of the former figure.
Liberty says it “creates pure-play FWON stock tied to F1’s business, “strengthens FWON [Holdco] balance sheet, provides potential liquidity for F1 in event of continued delay of season, including preserving the health of ecosystem” and “reduces potential exposure to live events.”
The cash injection into F1 allows Liberty to buy other business and invest in new assets when the coronavirus is seriously harming the sport. Explaining the changes Liberty Media president and CEO Greg Maffei said it was the best way to put cash into the F1 business.
Maffei said in a call with Wall Street analysts, “We looked at a range of opportunities to see how F1 could secure incremental liquidity. Including potentially selling a stake to others, including raising capital in other formats. And we believed this was the most efficient.”
He also confirmed that the F1 Group was now in a position to buy other businesses that might be struggling, although he wouldn’t go into details on any that might already be on the radar.
Adding, “I’m certainly not going to discuss acquisitions that are a particular target. But there are live events, in particular ones around motorsports, that could be attractive.”
Teams receive advance payments
Formula One teams received payments in advance to protect the sport’s “ecosystem” amid the coronavirus crisis. Each year the teams receive a percentage of F1’s overall income, which has taken a major hit as more and more races are lost from the calendar.
The top three teams have guaranteed fees under deals negotiated in the Bernie Ecclestone, but six teams rely solely on a share of F1’s ongoing profitability. Liberty Media president and CEO Greg Maffei says that to help them through the current crisis, some teams have received early payments.
F1 is hoping to start the season in July in Austria, even if that means races without spectators, to guarantee income from TV companies and its sponsor partners. Speaking to Wall Street analysts, Maffei said, “We have scenarios for zero races, anywhere from 15-18 races, races that begin with no fans present and only the teams.”
“We really have a host of opportunities or challenges on all fronts. Chase [Carey] and his team are presented with multiple options. Including until you know the timing how do you ask somebody to move an existing race in place of another race when you don’t know when it’s open?”
Maffei says that they are currently watching the situation around the Coronavirus there are no guarantees about when the season can start. Maffei stressed that races held behind closed doors would inevitably hit F1’s income, and hence that of the teams, as such events won’t involve a traditional host fee from promoters.
FIA announces changes to decision-making
The FIA has announced changes to its decision-making processes, which will give the smaller teams hopes of a dramatic lowering of the cap. While a stand off between mainly Ferrari and rival teams about the scale of a reduction in the budget cap.
The FIA stepped into the debate by making it clear that under certain circumstances it could now accept majority approval for rule changes. Until now the International Sporting Code meant that any changes for 2021 made at this stage required unanimous support from all teams.
The Coronavirus pandemic and its potential impacts on the sport’s finances, he FIA has given itself the power to step in and make changes with majority support, if it feels that such tweaks ‘safeguard’ the championship.
A newly updated clause in the Sporting Code regarding rule changes states: “In exceptional circumstances, and if the FIA considers that the change in question is essential for the safeguarding of the Championship, cup, trophy, challenge or series concerned, the agreement of the majority of the Competitors properly entered shall suffice.”
Life in lockdown for Leclerc
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc says his life is basically “training, simulator and cooking” during Monaco’s lockdown. However, admits the cooking is not going that well, saying “I am still very bad at it. Pasta, chicken. I am not taking too much risk.”
Although the simulator and online racing is new to the Ferrari driver, he has proved talented with wins in his first four eRaces in Bahrain and Melbourne, as well as the first official virtual Chinese Grand Prix last weekend.
Virtual racing has been popular to fill the void after the suspension of real-life racing with drivers streaming online, showing Leclerc as an all-round good guy, along with his F1 racer mates Alex Albon and George Russell, with whom his friendship and rivalry goes back to their childhoods.
Leclerc told BBC News, “Streaming on Twitch is something I did not expect to enjoy but I did. For the people who follow me, it is the closest you can get to the real me. On an F1 track, there is a lot of pressure and so it is a bit different, but playing with people I have known for ages it is more natural.”
The Ferrari driver emerged into the limelight last year, as one the brightest stars of the new generation, taking more pole positions than anyone else and winning two races. He has now transferred those skills into the virtual world.
Saying “I did not have the simulator for a long time but now I have it I am playing quite a lot – probably five hours a day. I am training to try to be competitive, and everything we do we want to be competitive as drivers. There is a bit of a competition starting and we want to win.”
Leclerc says his only focus is on winning the Grand Prix’s, but the other races they are doing are only for fun and they a way to give entertainment to the fans at home. He says his main priority is to provide the public with a bit of light at this dark time.
Adding “At the moment my main priority is to try to entertain the people at home and to keep myself entertained and to try to train on the simulator.”
Australia was safe to go ahead – Szafnauer
Racing Point team Otmar Szafnauer believes the Australian Grand Prix could have gone ahead safely due to a “very low” risk of Coronavirus spreading in the paddock.
The race was cancelled and postponed hours before practice was due to start after a McLaren team member tested positive for COVID-19. Talks between the teams continued for hours and prompted confusion as the final decision wasn’t made until Friday morning following all-night talks.
The decision was ultimately taken to cancel the Grand Prix completely as concerns grew, with just three teams – Red Bull, Alpha Tauri and Racing Point – still willing to take part in practice by the morning.
Szafnauer still believes that the race could have gone ahead despite the uncertainty at the time. Szafnauer told CNN, “It was difficult to predict the future there in Melbourne, but when I look back at it now, had we raced, I think we would have raced safely.”
“The risk was very low, and I think we could have put the race on. The Australian government gave us the go-ahead to do so. However, there’s a big unknown at the time, and because of the unknown, I think we made a cautious decision not to race.”
Earlier this month FIA president Jean Todt told Motorsport.com earlier this month there were “quite a lot of different opinions”, but it was only after an “acceleration of evidence” against the race going ahead that there was enough confidence to cancel it.
Szafnauer says when the meeting finished around two in the morning the plan was to go ahead, he was surprised to wake up to be told the race was cancelled.
He added “We took a risk-averse stance, and that was probably the right thing to do. However, looking back, had we raced, I think we would have done so safely.”