Fresh talent ready to start
Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Gutiérrez look set to be the star rookies of 2013 after being promoted to race seats at Williams and Sauber respectively.
Managed by Mika Hakkinen and Williams coowner Toto Wolff, Bottas (above) drove Bruno Senna’s car in FP1 sessions last season, and has not raced since he left GP3 at the end of 2011.
Gutiérrez (below) has been associated with Sauber since its BMW days, but has done relatively little test mileage. The team’s ongoing Mexican backing helped to ensure that he graduated from GP2 as replacement for Sergio Pérez.
In a sideways move at the back of the grid, Charles Pic has left Marussia for Caterham. The latter just won the tight battle between the pair for the crucial 10th position in the constructors’ championship.
The failure of HRT to register an entry means that only 22 cars will be on the F1 grid in 2013, and as we went to press only the second seats at Lotus, Force India and Caterham were still open.
Pressure grows on Ecclestone
Bernie Ecclestone heads into 2013 with twin legal threats hanging over his head. The situation has inevitably brought renewed focus on the 82-year-old’s role as commercial head of the sport, especially in relation to the planned flotation of part of the Formula 1 business, which is currently on hold.
In Germany the Gerhard Gribkowsky affair continues to rumble on. There have been ongoing suggestions from Munich prosecutor Thomas Steinkraus-Koch that Ecclestone might yet be charged in connection with the $44m payment made to Gerhard Gribkowsky, who is currently serving a jail sentence in Germany.
The former banker claimed that it related to the sale of F1 to CVC, while Ecclestone says it was to stop Gribkowsky creating a problem by making false allegations to the British tax authorities.
Ecclestone has always denied any wrongdoing in connection with the Gribkowsky affair and has so far laughed off any legal challenges, but it seems that the matter is not going away.
Meanwhile, a related case in America could prove even more challenging for Ecclestone. In November Bluewaters Communications Holdings, a New Yorkbased financial company, launched a $650m legal action in the Supreme Court of New York State. It names Ecclestone alongside CVC, Ecclestone-run companies Alpha Prema, Alpha Topco and Delta Topco, Gerhard Gribkowsky and Bayerische Landesbank.
In essence Bluewaters says that it was a potential buyer of the F1 business, and lost out because of the Gribkowsky bribe, which it claims was part of a larger sum paid to Ecclestone by Bayerische and CVC as a ‘finder’s fee’.
Its 27-page action documents in fascinating detail the negotiations that went on over the course of 2005. Bluewaters offered $1bn for Bayerische Landesbank’s share of the business, while adding that it could beat any rival offer by 10 per cent. However, in November 2005 the sale to CVC was confirmed. Ecclestone reportedly told Bluewaters that CVC was a more attractive bid.
The introduction to the action sums it up thus: “This case arises out of a $44 million bribe paid by defendant Ecclestone to defendant Gribkowsky using money supplied by defendants CVC and BayernLB.
“Gribkowsky was prosecuted and convicted of taking the bribe and is now serving an eight-anda-half year prison sentence. Ecclestone orchestrated and paid the bribe to preserve his status as head of a racing empire known as ‘Formula 1’.
“Plaintiff was the high bidder for the purchase of Formula 1, but Ecclestone bribed Gribkowsky — using CVC’s and BayernLB’s money — to steer the sale of Formula 1 to CVC for CVC’s and Ecclestone’s benefit. Plaintiff has been damaged in an amount exceeding $650 million.”
After detailing the chronology of the affair, it concludes: “Each of CVC, Alpha Prema, Alpha Topco, and Delta Topco extracted billions of dollars from Formula 1 that do not rightfully belong to them. CVC, Alpha Prema, Alpha Topco, and Delta Topco have profited enormously from CVC’s wrongful acquisition of Formula 1, which is currently valued at $10 billion.
“Ecclestone was unjustly enriched by receiving an improper ‘finder’s fee’. Gribkowsky was unjustly enriched by accepting an improper bribe. CVC, Alpha Prema, Alpha Topco, Delta Topco, Ecclestone, and Gribkowsky must disgorge the profits rightfully belonging to Bluewaters.”
Meanwhile Luca di Montezemolo created some waves when he claimed that at his age, Ecclestone was getting too old to do the job properly. Bernie countered by telling the Italian media that not so many years ago he happily dealt with an 88-year-old Enzo Ferrari… Adam Cooper
Cost control key to new-era regulation tweaks
The FIA continues to tinker with the 2014 F1 turbo technical rules, noting after the December World Motor Sport Council meeting that changes have been agreed with “the aim of limiting technology in some areas in order to reduce costs”.
One of the key decisions is that the requirement for cars to be driven solely under electric power in the pitlane has been postponed until 2017, which will represent a huge cost saving, at least in the short term. Proposed bodywork changes have also been abandoned and the current rules will remain in force.
Meanwhile for 2013 the FIA will introduce more stringent front wing deflection tests, while crucially in practice and qualifying DRS can now only be used in the zone or zones in which it will be used in the race, whereas previously it could be operated anywhere.
Teams can no longer claim ‘force majeure’ when a car stops on the track at the end of qualifying. Instead the FIA will simply determine how much fuel the car would have used to get back to the pits, and add it to the one-litre sample minimum, in order to determine whether sufficient fuel was still in the tank.
In a further clampdown on teams who bring new parts at the last minute the personnel curfew will be extended from six to eight hours on Thursday night, and only two exceptions will be allowed during a season, instead of four.
Date chaos for 2013 calendar
The 2013 Formula 1 calendar remains in a state of flux as Ecclestone attempts to find a 20th race to replace New Jersey, which has been postponed until 2014.
The FIA World Motor Sport Council has agreed to move the German GP from July 14 to July 7 in order to free up July 21 for another European race.
Ecclestone had been trying to get a French GP off the ground, but his attention turned instead to Turkey, which was dropped from the 2012 calendar for financial reasons. The Turkish ASN is keen to put the race on, but says it needs government funding, seen as unlikely.
An Austrian GP at the revamped Red Bull Ring, formerly the Al-Ring, is an outside bet, although selling tickets for a race just a fortnight after the German GP — and only a week before the round in neighbouring Hungary — could prove to be a challenge.
If the July 21 slot ultimately remains unfilled, Budapest will be the only F1 race to take place in the six weekends between Germany on July 7 and Belgium on August 25.
The German date change has created a headache for Goodwood, as the Festival of Speed was scheduled for the same weekend. A new date will be announced.