Formula 1, the triumph of greed

Bernie kills the golden goose ... There was once, in the early 1970's, a business man in his early forties with little real money but high ambition, a lover of motor racing, a former driver himself and latterly a manager of drivers. A man who seemed to love racing and those around it, not for wealth, for in those days (and, in truth, now) the easiest way in racing to earn a small fortune was to start with a large one, but for the sake of the competition, the thrill of the win, the constant need to go faster, higher, better. 45 years later, at age 84, Bernard Charles Ecclestone is the fourth richest man in Britain, worth US$ 4.5 Billion. The story of how he became so rich is not for here; along the way he owned a team and won championships, built good cars, hired good people and was part of the "garagiste's", the cabal of Anglo's and Anglo commonwealth racers who were such a thorn in the side of El Commendatore Enzo Ferrari. But somewhere along the journey from there to here, money seems to have became more important to Mr. E. than racing, much more important. Mr. E. is about to kill the golden goose, or perhaps it's Mr. E's employers, CVC Capital Partners, who seem to think that owning the commercial rites to Formula 1 means that they get paid exorbitant amounts and those that compete can take what they deign to hand out. Mr. E. has carefully and craftily played the egos of all involved over the years, pitting some against others, dividing and ultimately conquering; until now ... Now there is a crisis, two teams are in receivership, not necessarily unusual, teams have always come and gone, but there are three more seriously struggling with the costs of F1 and the seriously unequal returns. Bernie seems mostly un-fazed, apart from a rare slip admitting culpability, swiftly retracted and followed by a return to the hard line. Is CVC pulling strings, is Bernie a puppet, does someone know where the bodies are buried? All good questions with few public answers ... But all questions that will get asked and which are not necessarily good for a man who has been through a bribery and corruption trial and is rumored to be under investigation for tax avoidance. Bernie/CVC are about to kill the golden goose, the fans are finally tired of all the politics, the ratings are falling, interest is waning. What price the fourth richest man in Britain Bernie; in the words of John Lennon: "how do you sleep"?

Is there a silver (or BRG) lining?

The changes roll on ... So in July Tony Fernandes finally lost patience with his underperforming F1 team and sold it to a "a consortium of Swiss and Middle Eastern investors"; advised by erstwhile Jordan / Midland / Spyker / Force India team principal (and former dentist) Colin Kolles and fronted by F1 journeyman driver Christijan Albers. Given the hyper competitive world of F1 it is very early days and much too early to show much in the way of improvement over their dismal record this season, and the firing of a significant number of team staff almost immediately after the takeover will not help. The latter group have filed suit against the team for unfair dismissal and who knows where that will lead ... In the meantime Fernandes retains control of the Car company and cannot be particularly happy that the negative publicity surrounding the team will continue to be associated with Caterham itself due to the convoluted F1 rules which essentially eliminate name changes during the season. Speaking of Caterham, the new distributorship system is now in place which includes the change to selling only rolling chassis rather than kits. Prices for the new chassis have risen dramatically and I'm forced to admit that it looks to be a positive for me with respect to my investment. On the less positive side it does seem to me that it will deter those enthusiasts who wanted to save a little money and have the undoubted pleasure of knowing that they had assembled the car themselves. Caterham continue to announce new models including a Suzuki Hayabusa powered basic model that to some extent returns the car to it's simple roots, 175 HP, 11,500 RPM and very light. Quite where the company ends up in the future who knows. Can it meet Fernandes' expectations going forward, especially now that the much vaunted Renault deal has been terminated? Or will he decide to sell and devote all of his attention to his beloved airline and new toy, Queens Park Rangers? Only time will tell ...  

Caterham Changes

Change, as they say, is inevitable ... you must learn to live with it, or not. Word is that there are changes afoot in the world of Caterham ... Caterham USA in Denver is no longer the US distributer, replaced by Superformance of Irvine CA, known mainly for their Cobra and GT40 replica cars. The full press release from Caterham can be found here: http://www.superformance.com/news_view.aspx?articleid=141 I wonder if these changes will be positive for the brand and for my investment, we shall see. More, as they say, to come ...

Track Day

20 miles South West of Fort Worth along SR 377, on the edge of rolling terrain that will eventually turn into the Texas Hill Country, is the one horse town of Cresson. Ah but wait, one horse? Perhaps not, for if one passes through (even while blinking) with the car (or truck, this is Texas) windows rolled down the distinctive sound of multiple horses screaming can be heard on many a day. For Cresson is the home of Texas Motor Sport Ranch, a member owned race track not quite visible from the highway, designed for those with too much money, or a passion for fast cars (or more likely both) to test their metal and even occasionally bend it. The facilities are very well done, with two separate tracks of 1.7 and 1.3 miles that can be joined to produce a 3+ mile track, garages, skid pads, a clubhouse and even condos with the requisite 8 car garage on the bottom floor! As a separate, but massively important, positive there's very little to hit if you manage to get it all wrong, other than other maniacs with the same passion ... sounds ideal. And ideal it is ... My beautiful better half gifted me (for Christmas) with a day at the track accompanied by a fantastically patient instructor (thanks Neil) from the Apex driving school. Fun was very definitely had by all, with the possible exception of Neil, and we will do it again sometime. In the four half hour sessions the car held up, I didn't embarrass myself completely and despite indulging in one rear end puckering 'tank slapper', which I somehow managed to collect; I avoided hitting anything that wasn't there to hit, even the Formula Mazda's screaming past at twice my speed ... Smokin' ...

Service With a Smile

1200 miles have come and gone ... Jeff Sloan and his boys, well actually Bobby, have serviced and checked the car, fixed a few minor issues, working on one more and generally looked the thing over. All is well, except the OBD2 port isn't working yet, and fall is here. It's nice to use some revs, brings a smile to my face. Keep on Blatting ...

Cars and Coffee

Car-nuts ... It's now three months and 800 miles into my Seven life (and three months of neglect for this blog), and yesterday I took the opportunity to turn up at 'Cars and Coffee', the monthly car-nut gab-fest in North Dallas. The only theme is 'cars' and the love of them, so you get everything from the local drifting set with their tricked out Mitsu' Evo's to the 'too-rich-too-quick' guys with their Lambo's, tasteless watches the size of Rhode Island and silicon sister girlfriends'. It's held at a huge BMW dealership on the North Dallas tollway who, bless their soul, park their inventory on the grass and anywhere they can find space so as to leave several hundred spots open for we car nuts. There is a God, and I didn't need a televangelist to tell me ... The 25 mile ride over at 6:00 am, the early start necessary to get a decent parking spot, was somewhat surreal. I have never driven the Seven in the dark at 70 mph plus on the freeway and thankfully the eighteen wheeler traffic was sparse. I did encounter, unexpectedly (and all the more frustrating because everyone thought we were done with all of that), closures on East bound TX 114 (the 'DFW Connector'). This road, which used to be locally known, with good reason, as the 'funnel' was recently touted as being complete after three and a half years of pain. So to find the 'completed', and phenomenally improved, freeway was closed for 'paving and signage work' was not good for my blood pressure. Which was also not helped by the additional overly complex frontage road frustration of trying to find a way on to the freeway. Having said the above it is now in mid September and the weather continues to be ridiculously hot in North Texas this year (98 degrees F on Saturday); and so, despite the traffic issues, the early start actually ended up helping a lot. Once on to TX 114 though it was off to the races, which produced a big grin on the face of my soon to be twelve-year-old (who, by the by, has come to love roundabouts, in complete contrast to his mother, who loves the car but likes her Seven motoring to be sedate rides for coffee). The sensation of the warm wind whipping around us at speed, the surrounding darkness, the high-pitched tire whine on the concrete surface and the occasional flash of the tollway camera lights taking our rear-end view photograph for posterity all added to the sense of drama; truly surreal. The car meet' itself was great fun, the variety of cars was amazing and the people knowledgeable and friendly, even, surprisingly, the coffee was decent. Not knowing where to park we ended up opposite a bunch of Jeeps and adjacent to several classic muscle machines on one side and a friendly Stalker (V6 powered Seven knock-off) on the other. We were the only Caterham around as far as I could tell but by the time we decided to leave we had only walked about half of the parking lot, spending most of our time (courtesy of the 'soon-to-be-twelve-year-old'), around the Ferrari's, McLaren's, Lambo's and a singular Audi R8 that were parked in the reserved 'special area'. We did take a detour to the Porsche area (tasty), and the adjacent Lotus area. The latter was highlighted by a very pretty white Exige and an absolutely gorgeous 2007 limited edition Elise in the old Team Lotus JPS black and gold, known as the Elise Type 72D. This particular car I have actually seen before, as it is maintained by Jeff Sloan and the  boys at British Auto Specialists (it's a car I could definitely 'covet') and it's one of only 50 made. As noted, in between, there is anything and everything. A colleague of mine brought his bright orange BMW 2002 that isn't stock (but where it isn't doesn't matter); there were Beemer's, Vipers, Tesla's, Bently's, Corvette's, day-glow Camaro's, Mustang's and Nissan GT-R's but no (to the great dismay of the child) Panoz's. There were Low riders and kits, including several Cobra's and an absolutely perfect copy of an Austin Healey 3000 on a Mustang chassis that had me completely fooled. Classic VW Beetle's, VW vans, Mini's, Jeeps, Land Rover's Aston Martin's and American muscle, both restored and in-the-raw, were all around. A veritable feast for the car lover with the only requirement an early rise on a Saturday ... The ride back in daylight was less surreal, but none the less enjoyable and, to say the least, much fun was had by all. If you live in the Dallas area, or are visiting on the first Saturday of every month, are a  lover of cars and car people, then Cars and Coffee is highly recommended ...