Latest F1 news in brief – Thursday

  • Grossjean bemoans the fact that F1 is 99% car and only 1% driver. The majority of the grid has 0.00% chance of ever winning
    Grosjean bemoans the fact that F1 is 99% car and only 1% driver. The majority of the grid has 0.00% chance of ever winning

    Modern F1 'too predictable' – Grosjean

  • F1 points system not changing
  • Red Bull says 'no' to MotoGP test for Verstappen
  • Alonso retirement 'sad' but 'normal' – Bell
  • McLaren 'hit the bottom' in 2018 – Sainz Jr.
  • James Key exit hurt Toro Rosso – Gasly
  • Wehrlein turned down Formula E for F1 hopes
  • Abiteboul understands Mercedes team orders
  • F1 screwed itself out of $40M

Modern F1 'too predictable' – Grosjean
(GMM) Romain Grosjean thinks modern formula one is too boring.

"As a young person, I wouldn't watch," the Haas driver admitted to Auto Motor und Sport.

"It's too predictable. Who will win? Hamilton or Vettel. Who else is on the podium? Bottas or Kimi. Who is behind them? The Red Bulls," Grosjean added.

"Before every race we already know the answers to those questions."

Grosjean said the main problem is the gap between those top three teams and the others, which he says are all filled with talented drivers as well.

"The difference to them and us is two seconds. But are Lewis and Seb two seconds faster than us? I don't think so," said the Frenchman.

F1 points system not changing
(GMM) F1's points system is not changing for now.

Earlier, Liberty Media proposed changing the current system so that the top 15 all score points, rather than just the top 10 like today.

It was put to a vote of the team bosses, but F1 race director Charlie Whiting told Speed Week it was rejected.

"If everyone had agreed it would have been introduced for 2019. But not everyone agreed," he said.

It was some years ago that the points system was last changed, and F1 sporting boss Ross Brawn says that if a new change is made, it too will be for the long term.

"It would be an important decision, so if we changed it then it would remain for the next ten years or so," he said.

Red Bull says 'no' to MotoGP test for Verstappen

Red Bull won't let 'Crash' Verstappen anywhere near a MotoGP bike
Red Bull won't let 'Crash' Verstappen anywhere near a MotoGP bike

(GMM) Red Bull has said 'no' to a MotoGP test for Max Verstappen.

The newly 21-year-old has admitted that early in 2018, he successfully passed his motorbike license exam.

He told De Telegraaf newspaper that he is now a Harley Davidson owner.

"I have asked the team if I can try a MotoGP bike," he revealed. "Red Bull is also a sponsor in MotoGP and I'd love to try one at the Red Bull Ring or somewhere.

"But they say no chance. They said absolutely no. They think it's too dangerous. So that's it," the Dutchman revealed.

Alonso retirement 'sad' but 'normal' – Bell

Clueless Bob Bell. Alonso is still the fastest driver in F1 and is not leaving because he is too slow now. It's because he cannot get a winning ride, so why bother.
Clueless Bob Bell. Alonso is still the fastest driver in F1 and is not leaving because he is too slow now. It's because he cannot get a winning ride, so why bother.

(GMM) Fernando Alonso's F1 exit is "sad", but it's just part of the regeneration of the sport.

That is the view of Bob Bell, a top Renault official who was also with the French works team when it won titles with Alonso over a decade ago.

"It's very sad that Fernando is leaving formula one," he told Marca.

"It's even sadder that he leaves with only two titles, because it should easily be four or five. But it's also just the normal cycle of the drivers," Bell added.

"There are young and exciting talents coming to Ferrari and Red Bull next year, so it's the natural regeneration of the drivers."

Bell said he is looking forward to the arrival of Daniel Ricciardo next year, but he also admitted that Renault wanted to re-sign Carlos Sainz as well.

"It was a very difficult situation for us," he said. "If Red Bull exercised the option they had over him, there was nothing we could do. So when Ricciardo become a possibility we had to decide."

And Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul said the reason the team turned down Esteban Ocon was because of his Mercedes links.

"We have a serious issue that he is a Mercedes driver," he told Nice Matin. "We could work with Esteban in the short or the medium term, but he had to be only a Renault driver.

"Believe me, Esteban is very talented and he will certainly return to formula one," Abiteboul said.

McLaren 'hit the bottom' in 2018 – Sainz Jr.

Will James Key save McLaren from the back of the grid?
Will James Key save McLaren from the back of the grid?

(GMM) Carlos Sainz Jr. is confident McLaren will put itself back on track in 2019.

Flavio Briatore, who is a manager of retiring McLaren driver Fernando Alonso, says the once great British team's car has been "disastrous for years".

Replacing the Spaniard from next year is another Spaniard, Carlos Sainz Jr.

"I think they are doing their homework now," Sainz told Cadena Ser radio.

"They hit the bottom this year so they can only get better. They're starting from scratch and that gives me confidence. They've seen the problems and they want to stop them," he added.

Sainz thinks McLaren's gradual slide even further back this year is because the team has been focusing for some time on 2019.

"I hope so," he said. "I think McLaren this year, the car and the team, were not fighting for more this year, so I hope they did bet on next year and that this was the learning year.

"Next season there is a change of regulations and it's an opportunity to start from scratch and reach the required level," Sainz, currently a Renault driver, added.

"My car now is not bad and the McLaren is three or tenths worse. But the gap to the rest of the grid is a world and that makes them look even worse.

"It's an odd thing to see Alonso nearly last, but this half of the grid is so tight that three or four tenths is a lot," he explained.

James Key exit hurt Toro Rosso – Gasly

James Key stolen by McLaren
James Key stolen by McLaren

(GMM) The departure of technical boss James Key hurt Toro Rosso this year.

That is the admission of Pierre Gasly, the Toro Rosso driver who is switching to the senior Red Bull team for 2019.

It has been an odd season for Toro Rosso, as Honda steadily worked on its engine in anticipation for 2019, but development of the Faenza team's chassis actually stalled.

"We didn't really have any upgrades on the car since Melbourne," Gasly is quoted by Globo. "Or there was a very small one in Monaco and the one in Austria didn't work."

He thinks Key's impending switch to McLaren hurt Toro Rosso, because the highly rated engineer is already on so-called gardening leave.

"You could say that if a team loses its technical director, that will always have an impact on performance," said Gasly.

But the good news for Gasly is that Toro Rosso is basically being used as a 'test car' for Honda's rapid engine development for 2019.

"We know that if we introduce more engines we will have penalties, but certainly with the new specifications, we will have a better chance of fighting for better things in the last races," he said.

Wehrlein turned down Formula E for F1 hopes

Will Pascal Wehrlein's check be large enough for the Toro Rosso seat?
Will Pascal Wehrlein's check be large enough for the Toro Rosso seat?

(GMM) Pascal Wehrlein looks to be focused on returning to formula one in 2019.

The German lost his seat at Sauber at the end of last year, and now he is escaping from his Mercedes contract in a move interpreted as preparation for a potential Toro Rosso drive.

Wehrlein recently tested the Formula E car of the new Mercedes works team, but team boss Ulrich Fritz says the 23-year-old is not in the running for a contract.

"Pascal did well in his test but at the time we wanted to make the decision, Pascal's focus was very clearly on returning to F1," Brazil's Globo quotes Fritz as saying.

"I can understand that but I do not want to set up a team where a driver says after two races that he is leaving to enter F1. Our expectation was that Pascal would decide in favor of Formula E for the long term," he added.

The only real remaining vacancies on the 2019 grid are at Toro Rosso and Williams.

Abiteboul understands Mercedes team orders

Cyril Abiteboul's car are so slow team orders would not matter
Cyril Abiteboul's cars are so slow team orders would not matter

(GMM) Cyril Abiteboul understands why Mercedes has imposed 'team orders' at the tail end of the 2018 world championship.

Some think that, given Lewis Hamilton's lead over Sebastian Vettel, the Mercedes driver does not need the 'number 2' backing of teammate Valtteri Bottas.

But Abiteboul, the boss at Renault, understands Toto Wolff's call.

"When you look at the economic structure of the Concorde Agreements, there is a huge advantage to winning a constructors' title," he told France's Auto Hebdo.

"At the same time, everyone only remembers the name of the winning driver world champion, so the question is how to reconcile those two factors," Abiteboul added.

"I think it's better to take on full transparency regarding the rules of the team and I think how Mercedes manages the situation seems to be the most appropriate to me," he said.

If Hamilton wins in Austin next weekend and Ferrari's Vettel is not at least second, the Mercedes driver will secure his fifth world championship.

F1 screwed itself out of $40M

Anyone who thinks you can make money from chord cutters by streaming live content has their head where the sun doesn't shine
Anyone who thinks you can make money from chord cutters by streaming live content has their head where the sun doesn't shine

The NBC Sports Network, which took over American coverage of F1 from SPEED in 2013, had a four-year deal in place with the intention being of seeking a five-year extension.

However, at the beginning of 2017, the fourth year of NBC's deal, Liberty Media famously bought F1 from its previous owners CVC.

Almost from the outset however, Liberty made it clear that one of its key plans for the sport moving forwards was live streaming, effectively cutting out the middleman broadcaster.

This was enough to cause NBC to have second thoughts about extending its deal.

"At the beginning of the fourth year we began having conversations about a five-year extension which would have seen a significant uptick in the fees we were paying," an NBC source tells Autoweek.

According to a report released earlier this year by Morgan Stanley, at the time NBCwas paying $4m per year, confirming this, the source reveals "the deal was a five-year contract with a two-year option. If it had gone the full seven years it would have paid Formula 1 $40 million".

All-in-all, the new deal would have meant NBC paying around $5.7m annually, a 43% increase on the previous contract.

"We had basically come to a handshake on this deal," says the source, who reveals that when F1 was sold NBCSN extended its contract for one more year on similar terms to its original contract, with (previous owners) CVC confirming that new F1 supremo Chase Carey and commercial boss Sean Bratches would need to approve any subsequent deal.

"The long and short of it is that we still commenced conversations with Chase and Sean, and they basically wanted the same deal that we had put on the table but they also wanted to be able to create their own app which they would run at the same time that we were on the air.

"We are a television network and a television channel that relies on advertising," explains the source. "We would have been able to stream it as well, but they would have been able to sell it and what that meant is they could have gone to people who don't get our channel. They would have been able to go to people who don't get NBC or NBCSN and sell them the race. It would be a direct competitor, and we don't do that with anybody, from NASCAR to golf to hockey to the Olympics. Nobody. And you can't do that in the UK with Formula 1. So we said no."

As a result, a deal was agreed with ESPN – Bratches' previous employer – a deal, according to Morgan Stanley, which sees the broadcaster get F1 for free. Consequently, the sport has lost out on the $40m offered by NBC and indeed given F1 away for free to ESPN, which does at least allow F1 to stream races. (It has a choice?)

With Morgan Stanley predicting 10,000 subscribers in this first year at $100 a time, this would see $1m heading into the F1 coffers.

However, the service has not been without its issues.

Only yesterday, speaking at Vanity Fair's New Establishment Summit, Carey admitted the service had suffered "more glitches than we hoped for", the American subsequently describing 2018 as the "beta year" for his company's digital forays.

"For us, it is early days," he said. "We have an incredibly passionate group of fans. They can't get enough. They want much more than they're getting from the traditional broadcast experience."

Even without the glitches, which similarly caused F1 to have to relaunch an old version of its Live Timing App after an updated version proved a monumental disaster, the NBC source admits that Morgan Stanley's forecasts echo NBC's own findings.

"Formula 1's audience is older, it's wealthier and it is very sophisticated," says the source. "But while they love technology in Formula 1, they don't want to watch it on their phones or their iPads or their computers. They want to watch it on a big screen. The average age of a Formula 1 fan in the U.S. is 59 years old, and that viewer is not going out and buying apps, especially if he can watch it for free on ESPN."

Following the initial furor over ESPN's coverage, which saw ad breaks at random moments and no subsequent explanation of what had had happened in the race on rejoining, the broadcaster secured a sponsorship deal with Mothers Polish and now runs the races ad-free.

However, according to the NBC source, this has presented another problem.

"It has lost a lot of its commercial appeal by going commercial free," says the source. "We have people who used to buy advertising in Formula 1 from us, and they are now spending that money on NASCAR, IndyCar and a bunch of other motorsports programs that we have."

"Where the sport really benefited from NBC is when it would get promoted in things like Sunday Night Football and other NASCAR programming. We significantly raised the profile of Formula 1 in the United States by doing things like putting Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes car live on 'The Today Show' in the run-up to the U.S. Grand Prix. We promoted it at the Super Bowl and the Olympics, which gave it a high-profile and high-prestige position."

This view is echoed by Bobby Epstein, boss of Circuit of the Americas, which will host next weekend's race at which Lewis Hamilton could secure his fifth title.

"NBC did an excellent job for sure and used their various properties to promote F1 and the United States Grand Prix. Certainly, I wish 'SportsCenter' would cover Formula 1, but they know their audience. From the promoter's point of view, I hope that ESPN will be able to influence ABC properties to put some of the drivers on talk shows ('Good Morning America' or 'Jimmy Kimmel Live!' for example).

"We don't get them on this continent very often, so we have to feature them when they are here. It would otherwise be a missed opportunity."

While ESPN has a two-year deal, NBC hasn't given up hope of securing a future deal.

"We love the property and we like the people we did business with. We never say never and we would have conversations with folks if the opportunity came along, but I can tell you definitively we wouldn't do the deal that they have on the table now." Pitpass

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