Matters of Moment, May 2013

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By Damien Smith, Editor

PSA Peugeot Citroën is in big trouble. It said so on the TV as I left my hotel room to head for the halls of the Geneva Motor Show. More than 10,000 jobs are to be cut and a plant closed as the French manufacturer struggles to reverse mind-blowing losses in the past year of €200m. That figure is per month, by the way.

Renault is in a similarly perilous state. But at the show itself there was no sign of hardship from either of the French giants. Quite the opposite. Their stands were as brash and imposing as any, and they had to be. Geneva is the most important car show of the year, a place to make a statement of intent. The millions spent on gloss in Switzerland are worth it, so they say, and every car company must be seen to be keeping up with the Joneses.

At the top end of the market, it’s a different story. Bentley has just announced an operating profit for 2012 of €100.5m, up from €8m in 2011. Quite a result. For Peugeot, it’ll take an awful lot of 208 sales to get it out of the mire, although how the attractive copperflanked concept car that took centre stage will help is beyond me. The Onyx is inspired by the hybrid performance technology Peugeot developed on its 908 Le Mans racer — yes, the one that was canned ahead of its race debut last year precisely because of the mess the company was in. PSA had spent millions developing a car that might have won Le Mans, but couldn’t be seen to waste its resources on frivolous motor sport when thousands were losing their jobs. Wrong message to a threatened workforce. The same is clearly not the case for a concept supercar that will never be built.

Most of the concepts at any show can be quickly passed over. They are creative and perhaps point towards future styling cues or innovation, but they are often little more than set-dressing. Still, one I lingered over made a deeper impression, not only for its striking looks, but also because of its badge.

The bemusingly-named LaFerrari drew a pressing crowd all day, but over on the Pininfarina stand a smaller, more discerning audience admired the Ferrari Sergio. Its young creator Luca Borgogno explained with pride how the car is inspired and named after the design house’s much-loved patron, who died last year aged 85. It says much for Sergio Pininfarina’s standing that Ferrari allowed its prancing horse to grace this sleek barchetta.

Powered by the 458’s punchy V8, the Sergio’s most notable feature (apart from its looks) is its lack of windscreen, but Luca promises that careful channelling of air thwarts breathless buffeting. Beside it sat the prototype 1965 Dino 206GT from which it borrowed some inspiration, and it’s all in the best traditions of the Mythos and Modulo concepts Pininfarina created for Ferrari during other eras.

If any company has a place on its stand for an indulgent concept car, it’s surely this one.

*

We were alarmed to learn that the future of Mallory Park is once again in question. Most of us have a soft spot for the Leicestershire speedbowl for at least one reason or another. From a personal point of view, it’s where my reporting career began and the fact I associate the place with the feeling of a jangling bag of nerves has never diluted my affection for it. Mallory’s longstanding motto is ‘the friendly circuit’, but it’s one that’s being tested right now.

Paul Fearnley wrote an excellent piece on our website about the problems Mallory is facing, along with a charming summary of what makes it special. Talk of an imminent sale for housing development has been scotched by owner Chris Meek, but it is the noise factor that is more pressing.

Now, this isn’t as straightforward as it might first appear. Contrary to first perceptions, those who are unhappy are not all new to the area. Some have lived in the local village for years, and it appears the BARC does have a case to answer on breaches of a 28-year-old licence it claims is too restricting for its business. The local council is taking a conciliatory stance and is doing its best to find a rapprochement between the circuit and the residents.

All parties need to find a way out of this stand-off, but sadly an expensive legal case appears increasingly likely. And if it does go to court, the outcome probably won’t be a happy one. For either side.

*

In the final year of the current Formula 1 technical regulations, McLaren chose a radically different approach to the design of its new MP4-28 compared to its 2012 chassis. Given that the MP4-27 ended last season as the quickest on the grid, this was always a risky strategy and on the evidence of the Australian Grand Prix it’s one that appears to have backfired spectacularly.

We hope the same is not the case with Motor Sport this month. We prefer to think that the changes you’ll see in these pages are more akin to Adrian Newey’s approach to the Red Bull RB9. He chose evolution over revolution, and that was our mantra too. The magazine, in print and tablet form, has undergone a major facelift and we’ve moved a few things around. But its foundations remain the same (there’s certainly no fewer words!), with Nigel Roebuck’s Reflections, Simon Taylor’s lunch interviews and Doug Nye’s historical musings still at the heart of what makes the ‘green ‘un’ different (and yes, as I promised, we didn’t mess with the masthead).

There are a few additions we hope you’ll enjoy. New features editor Simon Arron gets his own column, which you’ll find on page 129. Then on page 90 there’s something that is, I admit, a genuine departure — but one we hope will appeal. Guy Allen drew our Jim Clark/Graham Hill illustrated cover last year and ever since we’ve been wondering how we can use his talents again. Flick the pages to find out.

To further mark this issue as special, we’ve formed a partnership with STP to bring you a terrific competition. Turn to page 105 to find out how you can win a fantastic trip for two to experience NAS CAR in the US — from both a grandstand seat and a cockpit…

‘Don’t change a thing’ is something I’ve been gratified to hear from readers over the past few years. But Motor Sport can’t afford to stand still; it has to evolve if it is to thrive. Speaking of which, I know there’s a growing number of you who will be pleased to hear we’ve expanded our tablet edition to be available to Android users, in a fully interactive format. It’s another great way to read the magazine.

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