Matters of moment, September 2014

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Following our revealing interview with FIA president Jean Todt last month, you may recall that we posted a copy of our ‘Formula 1 manifesto for change’, printed in our April issue, to Luca di Montezemolo. The Ferrari chairman has taken it upon himself to cajole the major players to discuss the future of Grand Prix racing, and we couldn’t resist giving him a nudge towards our ideas to shake up the sport.

I wasn’t really expecting a response. But to my surprise, as I pulled into Le Mans at the wheel of one of his company’s F12berlinettas (see page 82), there was an email, direct from the (prancing) horse’s mouth.

Now, the F12 is a special supercar that’s worth a special amount of money. I’d been paranoid about scratching it from the moment I’d had to sign a scary piece of paper telling me how much it would cost if I did. Had I chipped, grazed or gouged the F12 without realising? And if so, had I been tracked by Ferrari satellites that triggered a Harry Potter-style ‘Howler’ to be dispatched in the immediate aftermath of this unknown indiscretion? But the car appeared to be fine. In that case, perhaps they knew I was about to park their pearlescent beauty in a field for three days and demean its grandeur further by sleeping beside it in a common tent. Disconcerted, there was only one way to find out.

I opened the letter:

Dear Mr Smith,

First of all, I wish to thank you for your words of support and encouragement. I really appreciated your contribution to the debate aimed at ensuring a bright and healthy future to the sport we all love and cherish.

In particular, I am fully aligned with you when you recall the adrenaline enshrined in F1 racing, advocating much more freedom for drivers both while they drive and while they are off-track.

All the proposals you made are worthy to be analysed and examined with care. Undoubtedly there is potential in many of them and you can be assured that Ferrari, and myself, will duly consider the benefits for F1 and for the public that could arise from their implementation.

It is my intention to work closely with the most relevant F1 stakeholders: our objective is to focus on a few key priorities in order to address the fundamental issues that are unavoidable for the growth of F1 in the future.

I am glad to know that we can count on the support of yourself and of your magazine to further develop the exchange of ideas also with F1 fans and I am confident that we will soon be able to develop an effective strategy for the forthcoming years.

I look forward to meeting you soon.

Luca di Montezemolo

Well, credit where it’s due: he could have chosen to ignore us, but he didn’t do that. He took the trouble to reply, for which we thank him.

Now, that doesn’t mean we’re naïve enough to think our suggestions, which you can still view and support via our website, are any closer to being adopted. The agendas at play are drawn far beyond the altruistic – as usual. But in the wake of news from the German Grand Prix weekend that CVC Capital Partners will likely sell its 35 per cent controlling stake in F1 within the next 12 months, these are critical times for current or potential powerbrokers.

The teams are incapable of forming a true and lasting alliance (unlike in NASCAR perhaps, p51), and given some of the manoeuvres pulled under the auspices of the F1 Strategy Group in recent months perhaps that’s just as well. And anyway, the price tag on those shares (estimated in billions, not millions) should limit options of a like-for-like sale to another money-making empire.

But still, is there a window of opportunity opening for power to be exerted in the coming months? If so, by whom? How much influence can di Montezemolo wield, with or without support from other factions? And the killer question: through it all, will the sport of Grand Prix racing win or lose when the dealing is done?

Chairman di Montezemolo is mindful of his duties as the carrier of the Ferrari flame. So we discovered, at a recent private party held in London in joint honour of Motor Sport’s 90th anniversary and John Surtees’ 80th birthday, when he surprised the 1964 world champion with a personal tribute via video from Maranello. He also sent Antonio Ghini on behalf of the Scuderia to present John with a wonderful bronze Prancing Horse on a marble base (above). In a prolific year for Il Grande John, he’d admit it was a highlight.

Our cover star this month was among the guests and in relaxed mood. As he relates in the story you can find on page 36, Adrian Newey has lost his patience with the strict confines of modern F1 and is looking forward to new challenges and pleasures. Speaking of which, he revealed that he is the buyer of the ex-Graham Hill Lotus 49B Bonhams brought to auction at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and featured in our June issue. How fitting that the man who has harnessed F1 downforce like no other should own a car that has come to represent the beginning of the modern era, from its Gold Leaf sponsorship to its use of rudimentary aerofoils.

It has gone to a good home.

Pete Aron has to be the most unlikely world champion in the history of F1. A dip in the drink at Monaco, fired by Jordan-BRM for causing the accident in which his team-mate is grievously injured, a brief spell in a blazer as a TV commentator, an amazing comeback with the Yamura team run by a former Japanese fighter pilot and then clinching his title in a dramatic finale at Monza where debonair rival Jean-Pierre Sarti meets a violent end off the top of the old banking. And that’s without the complicated love life. Beat that, Lewis and Nico!

On Hockenheim Sunday, how strange that the BBC should long before have scheduled Grand Prix for that afternoon, just hours after the death of its star had been announced.

Pete Aron was a long way short of James Garner’s best role in cinema, or TV for that matter. But the movie did spark a genuine enthusiasm for motor racing that burnt long beyond a wrap was called on the 1966 ‘classic’.

Cooler than McQueen, and faster too according to some, Garner was a maverick in more ways than one – and he left his mark on motor racing with a flawed gem of a film.

He sure looked the part in that Yamura. But for those of a certain age, forget Formula 1: James Garner will forever cruise in a brilliantly bronze Pontiac Firebird…

Contributors

England’s upper-order batsmen struggled to hang around during the early part of summer 2014, but here’s an object lesson in staying power: Simon Taylor has just celebrated his 100th Motor Sport lunch, this time in the company of Perry McCarthy (p106). One relic met another when Rob Widdows travelled to the Le Mans Classic aboard Henry Birkin’s famous Blower Bentley: his wind-blown prose begins on p78. Mark Hughes sat down with Adrian Newey to discuss the dominant designer’s favourite F1 cars… and why he’s walking away from the sport (p36). And a warm welcome back to former MS assistant editor Andrew Marriott, who caught up with Brett Lunger (p84) to discuss rescuing Niki Lauda and much more besides…

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