Grand Prix Business Diary: Malaysia
No Bernie Ecclestone at the Malaysian Grand Prix due to a late change in his travel plans, but significant movement on his negotiations over a new commercial agreement for the sport.
Just before final practice at Sepang came a statement from Ecclestone in which he announced that "we have reached commercial agreements with the majority of the current Formula One teams, including Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull Racing' likely covering the 2013-2020 period.
After a week of rumour in which it has been suggested Red Bull and Ferrari may have been offered special deals (Ferrari on account of its historical importance and Red Bull due to a convenient new clause rewarding teams who have won titles in successive years since 2008), it seems McLaren may have fallen in line in an attempt to stay at relative financial parity with them.
'We have reached commercial agreements with the majority of the current Formula One teams'
Although everyone was at pains to point out that nobody had yet signed anything, it looks as if Ecclestone has again successfully staved off any collective bargaining that the teams may have been planning by reaching general agreement with the sport's key teams.
It later emerged that Lotus, Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso are all on board with Ecclestone, with Williams and Mercedes the key outfits who have so far failed to reach acceptable terms - and now, seemingly, hold a very poor negotiating hand. Ecclestone has reportedly yet to offer a deal to the three 'new' teams, Caterham, Marussia and HRT.
Parr for the course
After Bruno Senna's fine sixth place on Sunday, Monday morning dawned in Europe with the surprise news that Williams chairman Adam Parr has resigned and will leave the team at the end of the week. Parr was seen very much as Sir Frank Williams' natural sucessor, at least internally, and Williams himself often spoke glowingly about the former Rio Tinto executive.
Parr, though, did divide opinion elsewhere and - although Williams said he was leaving "to pursue a better balance in his life" - perhaps the writing was on the wall when Bernie Ecclestone suggested that pre-season changes at the team "should have come from above, not from below."
Former Diageo executive Nick Rose is to become non-executive chairman of the team; as for the day-to-day running of the company expect a more prominent role for chief executive Alex Burns.
For the second time in four years there was a significant delay to the Malaysian Grand Prix due partly to a monsoon and partly to the 4pm local start-time, which was moved in 2009 to better accommodate European television audiences. At least this time the race could resume before sundown. In its 14th year, the Grand Prix still clearly works for Malaysia with prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak calling the event 'an engine of growth in our country' and adding that some US$69 million of economic impact is generated each year.
The prime minister called the GP 'an engine of growth in our country'
This year's race, meanwhile, attracted a 90,000 crowd - 5,000 short of Sepang International Circuit's target - with a three-day attendance of 119,960. With a contract in place to host a Grand Prix until 2015, now the focus is on intensifying the promotion of the event.
'We should promote the race not only to the local market but also to capture attention of the entire Asean region,' the prime minister said. 'Leveraging on such an opportunity would increase the level of exposure that Formula One in Malaysia can give to promote the country as a destination and place to do business.'
About that conspiracy theory…
The conspiracy theorists were out in force when Sergio Perez, closing the gap incessently on Fernando Alonso, received a radio call from his Sauber team to be cautious - and immediately went off the road, dropping five seconds to the Spaniard.
Yes, Perez is a member of Ferrari's young driver academy and tipped to replace Felipe Massa and, yes, Sauber use Ferrari engines, but the truth is almost certainly more mundane: Sauber scored 44 points in the whole of 2011 and after two races of 2012 have already scored 30.
Sauber scored 44 points in the whole of 2011 and after two races of 2012 have already scored 30
With the 18 points for second place potentially worth tens of millions of dollars at the end of the season, Sauber - already the most cautious team in the pit-lane - were unsurprisingly unwilling for Perez to take a risk in passing Alonso, especially with the midfield pack as close as it is this season.
Perez, by the way, scored Mexico's first podium finish in Formula One for over 40 years, which must have delighted his significant backers at Carlos Slim's Telmex conglomerate even if he wasn't quite able to knock the Pope - visiting Mexico this week - off the front pages back home.
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