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Have we all been too harsh on Bernie ?

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It seems we may have been. After blaming him for the likely demise of Silverstone he has (out of the sheer goodness of his heart) stepped up and offered to rescue the British Grand Prix. Bernie has put a proposal to the BRDC (British Racing Drivers Club) to promote the race himself, despite the fact that he's 'ashamed' of the 'third world' Silverstone. This is also despite the fact that his own deadline for the submission of an entry had passed. See, he has got a heart of pure platinum to match the credit cards in his wallet.

Of course, there are a few minor commercial conditions, as one would expect of a man of Bernie's acumen and character. In order for him to give himself back the money (actually only a very small portion of the $93 million) Interpublic paid him to cede the rights to the British GP, the BRDC will have to carry out the improvements to Silverstone and give him exclusive rights to the circuit year round (rent free of course) so that he can recover Interpublic's money that he gave to himself from the gate takings (and TV revenue) of ALL events held there. The BRDC will only have to borrow the money to repair the circuit and give up the revenue stream that would service that loan plus pay the holding, operating and upkeep costs - sounds fair to me.

This must have Sir Jackie Stewart (Chairman of the BRDC) falling all over himself to sign on the dotted line. If he (Sir Jackie) isn't totally committed to this lifesaving, magnanimous gesture then he really must be the lousy businessman that Bernie claimed.

Oh, yes, and the teams have to accept an 18 race calendar with effectively no additional revenue from the extra race (Bernie gets to keep that). As Bernie explains it that won't be a problem as the Silverstone circuit is just round the corner for them so it won't cost them much to compete there. It is a real pity that Bernie has as much of a grasp on geography as he has of commercial realities. That's a pretty big corner from Faenza, so Paul Stoddard might be a bit slow getting round it. It's also a very hefty cab bill for the Ferrari and Sauber guys to foot from home to the circuit.

Some are arguing that it isn't greed driving FOM (Formula One Management) to chase increasingly usurious terms for holding races, but debt. FOM does indeed carry huge debts and does need increased revenues. The organisation borrowed 1.4 billion dollars in 2000 and now has to service that bond issue to allow Bernie to buy back the interest in F1 that the debt was used for, and he needs to do it before the end of the Concorde agreement. Sound complicated? It is.

Basically, Bernie sold part of SLEC (the FOM holding company) to the banks for $1.4 billion. A $1.4 B eurobond issue funded that purchase. The banks kept 400 million of the issue as a guarantee and the Ecclestone family trust got the rest. So now FOM is saddled with a debt for money that Bernie paid to himself 4 years ago and is looking for the venues, the teams (through reduced participation in revenues) and the TV revenues to pay it back. Of course Bernie will be the ultimate winner once the bonds are redeemed, because then he will be in a position to buy back the shares in SLEC the banks hold, at a reduced value while enjoying increased revenues. That leaves Bernie once again owning the whole show, but with a billion dollars plus some change sitting in the family vaults from the bond issue.

If he hasn't succeeded in doing all that by 2007 then he won't be in a position to fight off those nasty money-grabbing GPWC chappies who want to take his rightful income and waste it by spreading it around the teams. Gee given all that, maybe it's true - they do need to screw everybody?

Bernie, I didn't think your greed could get any more outlandish. I was wrong.

What I wasn't wrong about was the smiling Canadian. Jacques lived up to my expectation yet again in Japan. BAR probably didn't need him as their secret weapon to ensure second place in the championship but he's exceeded their expectations anyway. Jacques put on the single worst performance of any driver there, given the equipment he had to work with. Alonso, Montoya and Raikkonen, all performed credibly, picking up 6 places after starting behind him in equivalent vehicles (Kimi would have undoubtedly got at least 7 if Jacques wasn't there running block on him). Massa started behind him, way behind him, but still managed to join those three in front of JV by the end. Jacques lost one place, which is a pretty flattering result when you consider that only one driver who started before him (Trulli) actually finished the race behind him, while three (Barrichello, Coulthard and Webber) didn't finish after starting in front of him. If we are going to have under-performing mobile chicanes on the track, lets at least paint them in Minardi or Jordan colours, not the blue of the third best team in the series.

Mr Sauber, you bought a lemon, I do at least hope you got it cheap.

Of the rest, Ralf put on his annual one good performance and is to be congratulated. I can't fault what he did during the race although he was, as was Michael, assisted mightily by the track during qualifying. He was also assisted by strategic shortcomings in the BAR camp. Webber put on a performance that he can be proud of, despite his retirement with a burnt bum.

I won't comment on the incident between Coulthard and Barrichello. Like all but the lucky few who happened to be seated in front of it, I didn't see it, so I'm not sure just what happened. Both were performing credibly before it though, even if the TV producer wasn't.

Button and Sato got the results the team deserved although one must feel sorry for both in one way. Sato was held up by his team mate for seven laps, effectively negating the advantage his 3 stop strategy gave him and allowing Ralf the breather he needed to build a gap to the fast charging Japanese. Traffic after his pit stop ensured that he, Sato, was not going to be able to recover the 14 odd seconds he lost behind Button. Jenson on the other hand lost a few seconds protecting his position, then letting Takuma past. That�s more than the gap between him and the Williams after the last round of pit stops. Had team orders favoured one or other of the BAR drivers then they would have ended 2nd and 4th.

Michael had a classic Michael kind of day. He got lucky during Qualifying by having a dry track while others had to swim. Make no mistake though, Michael would have won the race had he started anywhere on the first 4 rows. He had the car, the motivation and the tyres needed to put him in a league of his own. The gap at the finish line flattered Baby Brother. Michael built the gap he wanted then backed off.

All in all, Japan was an interesting race, happily devoid of major incidents. The weather contributed much to that interest, as it usually does. I go along with MS's opinion though; lets leave history to record Japan 2004 as the only time Qualifying has been held on race day.

We now move on to Brazil to finish the season. Ferrari would like to finish as they started, with a convincing 1-2 in both Qualifying and the race. Only bad luck will stop that happening, no other car on the track is good enough to stop it.

The advantage the red cars will carry into next season is very significant. Significant enough in my opinion to ensure Schumacher caps with eight stars will be available by season end. As a team they have been untouchable this year, and I'm not just talking about the sheer pace of the cars or the rejuvenated Bridgestone tyres. They have had the complete package, outperforming everyone else at every point. While they will be as disadvantaged as everybody else, perhaps more so, by the new rules (if we ever find out just what those rules are) they are starting from a base so far in front of the rest that the inertia will carry them through enough of the 2005 season that they will win again.

All that's left now is for the Button and Jaguar saga's to play themselves out so we can see the final driver lineup and what teams are actually on the grid in Melbourne. It might also be an idea if the FIA actually put forward a few hints on the rules (the sporting rules at least - the technical ones one assumes (!) are as per Max's 'suggestions') before round one as well. Perhaps they could even provide those hints before practice starts on Friday so the teams can cobble together a car that complies by Saturday and know just when and how they are supposed to qualify.

Lets hope for the sake of the sport that all 10 teams do make it, otherwise I guess I for one will be practicing my Golf on Sundays in preference to watching the farce of non-competing third cars competing!

The Quali-flyer

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Reader's comments:

Yes, that's what concerns me most about next season, too : "... the farce of non-competing third cars competing". 
I just hope that everyone in and around F1 is keen NOT to see this happening. But then again the ubiquitous question : How to get rid of Mr. Ecclestone who is ruining this sport? Best by letting him ruin his own creation and getting sued for that, and in 3 years' time, the GPWC can start fresh and healthy with a set of rules that took some lessons from the management mistakes made in F1 / FOM. 
Same goes for Max & the FIA leadership, of course. Dirty old town, ... dirty old town! - Soeren M - Germany

Yes, except this Dirty Old Town's residents include the group who will relocate to the Dirty New GPWC Town. I have given up on the powers that be ever achieving anything positive with F1, my dread is that the mistakes currently being made in F1 will only form the blueprint for the mistakes those same ego's will make when they transfer their self interests to the GPWC playground.

Bernie will undoubtedly manage to maintain his snout in the trough in some capacity, he knows the game too well and is too well connected not to. Any international competition will also have to live with the meddling of the FIA and Max doesn't seem to be going anywhere for a while. My greatest hope for a real direction is that the Council will throw Max's damn fool 'Safety' regulations out, allow the spirit of the Concorde Agreement to live and reassert some authority over the sport. If they capitulate again, then GPWC will be still-born in the face of Max's megalomania, aided by the manufacturer's varied vested interests.

We may just end up with a new and improved formula which is only distinguishable by the names on the advertising spaces of the cars. Perhaps, however, this version will include a Real Race on Saturdays. That at least will be a real step forward.

The Quali-Flyer


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