The civil war and fight against Islamic State in Syria entered it seventh year this week. But new reports suggest the FIA handed grants from its Formula One cuts to the regime of President Assad via Syrian Automobile Club. So why has it knowingly done this?
US questions links between F1 and Syria
An investigation by Forbs has unearthed yet more links between Formula One and the Syrian government. Last August, it was reported that the sports governing body the FIA handed grants from the F1 profits to the Syrian Automobile Club (SAC).
Now its emerged that Liberty has been questioned the US government’s Securities and Exchange Commission last August and the stock market regulator the following month when it filed its 10-K annual report.
A letter from the government to Liberty asked it to explain “the nature and extent of any past, current, and anticipated contacts with Sudan and Syria.”
Both Syrian and Sundanese governments are listed by the US as “state sponsors of terrorism,” and are subject to international sanctions because of the civil wars in the countries.
Liberty says they don’t directly deal with contracts as TV rights are negotiated on a regional basis in the Middle East and Africa.
In a reply to the SEC sent on 28 August Carleton said that “neither Liberty nor any of its subsidiaries have had any direct contacts with Sudan and Syria, and any indirect contacts have been minimal.”
However, the investigation into the FIA’s links with the Syrian Government continues. Last year, an ITV investigation reviled that the FIA gave money to the government for a rally in 2013 and held meetings with the minister for tourism.
The terms of the current Concorde Agreement, allows the FIA to use the money for grants to support less wealthy ASN’s to run national championships.
But it believes that the rallies in Syria are being used as a propaganda by the Assad regime. The SAC posted in 2016 “he eleventh Championship of Rally, organized by Syrian Automobile Club, and sponsored by Syrian ministry of tourism.”
In a statement, Liberty said “It is not within our remit to influence or determine how the FIA promotes, develops and regulates motorsport, nor how its funds are applied. We are satisfied that we are in full compliance with applicable sanctions.”
The FIA added, “all grants are subject to rigorous internal scrutiny and the FIA will continue to lead the way in ensuring compliance as it strives to put in place best practice.”
Liberty is making their mark on Formula One. Their latest proposal is for regionalisation of the calendar, a good idea, but with races contracted to their spot on the calendar can it happen?
Plans for radical calendar shake-up
Liberty Media has put plans for a radical shake-up of the Formula One calendar on hold. The sports owners had suggested regional groupings of races to boost the popularity of the sport while reducing costs.
Managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches had suggested a calendar which started in Europe before shifting to the Americas and then ending in Asia. There had been suggestions that could of begun next season, however, Australia’s desire to remain the opener and Abu Dhabi wanting the finale slot have put it on the back burner.
“From an aspirational standpoint, I am an optimist – but I am also a realist, and based on some of the contractual commitments we have, and based on weather issues, it will be a while before we can get there – if we can [at all],” Bratches told Autosport.
Bratches says that they are trying to create a sport which is more efficient and reduces travel expenses. He says that could create opportunities for regional sponsorship deals.
One of Liberty’s aims has been increasing the number of races, but the reported figure of twenty-five per season has been played down by CEO Chase Carey.
A number of teams have frequently expressed concerns about the impact that would have on their travelling staff.
“We don’t have a target number of races. We certainly could add races, we’ve got a lot of places that would like to have races. But I think there are actually quite a number that would be real positives for us.”
He says the focus should be quality of races and getting the races to engage with local partners, cities and the public beyond race weekends. Which he believes will happen as deals are renewed.
This week, the FIA lost it deputy race director Laurent Mekies in a controversial move to Ferrari. But now with under a week to go until the opening race what challenges does that pose in finding a successor?
FIA headache in searching for a deputy race director
The FIA is facing a challenge now following the departure of the deputy race director Laurent Mekies a week before the season opening Australian Grand Prix.
Mekies has stood down from F1 duties following the announcement of his departure to Ferrari. It has been reported that Mekies predecessor Herbie Blash is not able to fill the role, as he has other commitments. Blash stood down in 2016, and has re-joined Yamaha.
The role of deputy race director is important as they are effectively in charge of race control for the grid, formation lap, start and opening laps, while race director Charlie Whiting is busy with starting the grand prix from the pit wall and then making his way back.
This responsibility extends to making calls on red flags and safety cars. The role of deputy race director also involves training and being the safety delegate.
There is no obvious candidates to fill the role who are qualified enough to fill the role. Blash will be in Thailand next weekend for the world superbike race however it’s understood that he could be potentially available for subsequent races, if called upon.
An alternative course could be to second an experienced race director or deputy from another FIA series, at least on a temporary basis.
Ferrari has long had the power to veto any regulations it doesn’t like and with the team threatening to walk away if the new rules aren’t to its liking. Why does FIA president and former Ferrari team principal Jean Todt believe it should lose those powers?
Ferrari should lose veto powers – Todt
FIA president and former Ferrari team principal Jean Todt says that the Italian manufacturer should lose its long-standing veto on Formula One rules.
Ferrari has had the right to veto any non-safety regulations which it doesn’t like for decades. The team last used the veto to block plans to put a price cap on engine and gearboxes in 2015. It has been widely expected the team would use it veto powers as a chip in the discussions around the next set of engine regulations due to come in 2021.
Speaking about that veto in London, Todt said the thirty-year veto which they have had since the 1980’s is well out of date. Todt said “The veto was at the time of Enzo Ferrari, and he was isolated in Maranello. That was the only team supplying engine and chassis against some other teams that were all powered by Ford.”
“So at this time, it was decided that being away from what is called the silicon valley of motorsport, they needed to have a protection. That is the story about the veto.” Todt added now that times have changed, he was not in favour of it now.
Todt says that the teams veto powers are only in place under the current Concorde Agreement which expires in 2020. The veto tweak involved Ferrari only being allowed to block rules if it could prove that they were against the team’s best interests.
Speaking about Ferrari’s bonus payments, Todt believes that its right that Ferrari receives the payments because of the attraction it brings to F1.
The Frenchman’s comment comes against the threats that CEO Sergio Marchionne has made to walk away if the new regulations do not suit Ferrari’s interest. Though many see that as a bargaining chip, Todt doesn’t dismiss the chance totally.
He says “They may leave. And honestly, that is their choice. They are free. Definitely I hope they will not leave. But it can always happen. You have seen big competitors leaving. Coming back. But again. It is their choice.”
He adds that he feels Ferrari should be spending money on cars and not racing. Adding “it is not acceptable to have the pinnacle of motorsport where 60-70 percent of the field are struggling to survive.”
Valtteri Bottas became Lewis Hamilton’s teammate last year, proving he could match and beat the now four-time champion. So why did he beat himself up when he lost out to Hamilton?
Bottas admits beating himself up after losing out
Valtteri Bottas has admitted to beating himself up last season after losing out to his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton. Bottas is entering his second season with the team after he was brought into replace Nico Rosberg at the end of 2016.
After his first season with the team, Bottas says he will deal with defeat differently in 2018 and look to play to his strengths this season.
He told ESPN “Lewis is a great driver and I should never get upset if he is quicker than me at times. Then I just need to accept it and learn from those races.”
“For sure, I was beating myself up a lot last year when I was struggling but that’s all part of the learning process and you always learn about yourself as well every season.” Bottas says he is going into the season with a good mind set, but was taking a race by race approach.
Bottas says for a long term contract with Mercedes he need to perform at every race and perform at the same level as Hamilton. But he has again ruled out trying to gain a psychological advantage off the track in the same way Rosberg did during his time as Hamilton’s teammate.
“Well, I’m not going to go into a complete mental fight within the team. Instead of that I’m going to focus on my own performance on the track. I will be quick in practice, qualifying and in the races, focusing my energy on that.” He added.
That’s all from Reporters this week, goodbye