Latest F1 news in brief – Thursday (Update)

UPDATE Updates shown in red below.

If he goes to trial and loses, will Ecclestone run F1 from his jail cell like the best crime bosses did?


  • Lopez admits to $200m Lotus debt
  • Ecclestone bids for Nurburgring while possible trial looms
  • F1 Boss Ecclestone Faces Trial In Germany
  • Williams Appoints New IT Director New
  • Sahara Force India signs multi-year partnership with Roshfrans New
  • Robin Frijns signs management contract with ganscomm New

Lopez admits to $200m Lotus debt
Lotus chairman Gerard Lopez has revealed that his team is $200m in debt, whilst admitting that talks with Quantum Motorsport are dead and buried.

At a time when many are concerned over the team's future, a situation not helped by the news that it will not attend the opening pre-season test, Lopez has opened up in an interview with Germany's Auto Motor und Sport.

"We have about $200m of debt, of which more than £80 million is with ourselves," he said, referring to Genii Capital. "But what are we (Genii) going to do, demand repayment of the debt? That makes no sense.

"We are doing this because it is fiscally interesting. We can put the money down to marketing expenses, after all it is sitting in our company, and it is safe there.

"The budget gap last season was covered by us," he admitted. "The Quantum money never arrived… we have now cancelled the thing.

"For 2014, everything is complete with our new sponsor (PDVSA's) budget. We will not need to make any new debt. Genii is one of 98 percent still us.

"Eventually we will see how we recover the debt, but at the moment, it is important that the team moves forward. If I couldn't cover the cost I would have had to lay off 250 people."

Of course the team has already lost some key personnel…

"Last year, we were working on three projects simultaneously," he said. "Overall, we had about 580 people. Now we can concentrate on the 2014 car and the workforce is down to around 500.

"Yes, we've lost some people to the competition, but we've also recruited new people from Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes. This is the carousel of Formula 1, it operates according to the Darwinian principle… the 'Survival of the fittest'.

"Of course, we lose ideas to the competition, but we learn from new recruits what's happening with the other teams. When James Allison went to Ferrari, they did not suddenly become faster, indeed, I believe that we had the better car at the end of the season."

Asked to explain the decision not to attend the Jerez test, he said: "We are very satisfied with the development of our car, which will probably look different to the others. But we believe that it is better to use the next few weeks in the wind tunnel. That will deliver much more than one test on track… as we gain more in performance."

He also dismissed claims that by missing out on Jerez his team will also miss out on valuable experience of the new Renault engine.

"The engine is used by Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Caterham, so their findings will benefit us. Everything Renault changes for the Bahrain test will also be on our car. The transmission is our own development, so we can react quickly if something goes wrong. The only thing that we will be missing out on in Jerez is the electronics, such as the KERS, but that's not the end of the world.

"At Jerez the temperature will be around 15 or 16 degrees, so what will we learn there about the tires and cooling?" he continued. "Let us go direct to Bahrain… at Jerez you can test for Silverstone, nothing else. The first real test will be in Bahrain. Before that, we can find more lap time at the factory.

"We did briefly consider, in terms of the tires, going to Jerez with the old car, but the engineers advised against it. The Jerez track surface has a special coating that means you cannot learn much. It's wasted time."

Talking of Renault, there is talk doing the rounds that there could yet be a problem between Lotus and Renault, with, as yet, no official confirmation of their partnership in 2014.

"We will be using the Renault engines, as they have been an ideal partner for us," he said. "Lotus is not just a customer of Renault our engineers have helped develop the KERS. Therefore, our partnership is more than just engine supply, which has delayed negotiations somewhat."

Asked about a rumor linking Lotus with the Italian sports car builder de Tomaso, he replies: "There is currently nothing in it. We are going to develop a carbon chassis for sports car that can be built industrially in large quantities and de Tomaso is an option… that is one of the new tasks of (former Lotus CEO) Patrick Louis. But this has nothing to do with Formula 1."

Looking to the season ahead and his interesting driver pairing.

"I am a realist," he insists. "Even if some people have their doubts, I contend that we have one of the fastest driver pairings in F1. Two years ago I would have said, the pairing is quick, but explosive, today it is different. Romain is for me one of the four fastest drivers, maybe even three. Faster than a few names they regularly mention. He is now strong in the head and very resistant.

"Pastor must take the last step yet. He is super-fast. We know him very well. He must now go through the same phase as Romain. He needs to learn that a Grand Prix does not consist of a few fast laps, but of an entire weekend. He needs to control his speed better."

Finally, asked whether Kimi Raikkonen ever got paid, Lopez admits: "He got part of his salary, and he will get the rest."

Ecclestone facing German trial, bids for Nurburgring
(GMM) Bernie Ecclestone looks set for a challenging 2014, as German prosecutors prepare to send him to court to face criminal bribery charges.

Sky News' authoritative city editor Mark Kleinman claims the announcement could be made as early as Thursday, as the F1 chief executive's long-running woes surrounding the Gerhard Gribkowsky corruption affair reach their zenith.

When asked if Ecclestone's latest troubles would finally prevent the 83-year-old billionaire from performing his duties, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said: "It all depends on the outcome.

"Bernie is absolutely the best and only guy to do what he does, to take formula one to the global reach that the sport has achieved," he told reporters in London, according to the Bloomberg news agency.

"It's in all our interests that he's around as long as possible," the Associated Press quoted Horner as adding.

But even amid Ecclestone's troubles, it is also clear this week that the diminutive Briton is still pulling strings.

He told the Handelsblatt and Wirtschaftswoche publications that he has made a bid to buy the fabled yet troubled German grand prix venue the Nurburgring.

"We want to make sure there is a formula one race in Germany every year in the future," said Ecclestone.

"There are one or two other interested parties, but we will only pay what we believe the Nurburgring is worth.

"We believe we can do more for the track than anyone else," he added.

F1 Boss Ecclestone Faces Trial In Germany
Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One supremo, is expected to face formal charges over secret payments to a German banker when the sport changed hands nearly a decade ago.

Sky News can exclusively reveal that Mr. Ecclestone is to be confronted with the biggest challenge in his five decades at the helm of the world's richest motorsport.

State prosecutors in Munich are poised to end months of speculation by announcing as soon as Thursday that they will bring formal criminal proceedings against Mr. Ecclestone over $44m (£27m) that was paid to Gerhard Gribkowsky, a banker who was involved in organizing F1's sale.

Mr. Ecclestone's trial is understood to have been provisionally scheduled to begin on April 23.

The F1 boss will step down from the board of the company which runs the sport pending the outcome of the trial, people close to the situation said, although he will remain in charge of F1's day-to-day management.

A statement is expected from the Munich prosecutor's office confirming the opening of formal proceedings on Thursday, although it could be delayed, one insider said.

It also remains possible that an out-of-court settlement could still be negotiated that would delay the filing of formal charges, although this appeared to be a remote prospect on Wednesday.

The precise nature of the charges is unclear, although they may allege that Mr. Ecclestone tried to bribe a public official because Mr. Gribkowsky's employer, Bayerische Landesbank, was a state-backed lender.

Earlier on Wednesday, Christian Horner, boss of the Red Bull Racing F1 team and a confidant of Mr. Ecclestone, insisted that he remained the right person to run the sport regardless of his legal difficulties.

Mr. Horner said that Mr. Ecclestone was "absolutely the best and only guy to do what he does, to take Formula One to the global reach that the sport has achieved … it's in all our interests that he's around as long as possible".

The trial will represent the latest, although not the only, legal setback to confront Mr. Ecclestone in recent times.

He is a defendant at a High Court case in London at which a German media group has accused the F1 chief executive of conspiring to undervalue the sport when it was sold to CVC Capital Partners in 2005.

The "corrupt bargain" to which Mr. Ecclestone was a party enabled him to remain at the helm of F1's commercial rights-holder, Constantin Medien has alleged.

Reports last month said that BayernLB was preparing to file a separate damages claim alleging a conspiracy between Mr. Ecclestone and Mr. Gribkowsky to sell F1 for a knockdown price.

Mr. Ecclestone has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

He conceded that he had made part of the relevant payments to Mr. Gribkowsky but said that he had done so because he was concerned that the German would make unfounded allegations about his tax affairs to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs.

CVC has made billions of pounds from its original investment in F1 and has drawn up plans to float the company on the Singapore stock exchange.

It has conceded that that plan is unworkable until the legal issues surrounding the sport are resolved.

The private equity firm instead reduced its shareholding in the sport by selling a series of minority stakes to investors from the US and Norway.

Donald Mackenzie, the CVC founder who sits on the board of F1, said at the High Court in November that it was right to have retained Mr. Ecclestone's services despite the legal maelstrom surrounding the sport.

"If Mr. Ecclestone had done anything criminal or wrong, we would fire him," he said.

The phrasing of that statement is understood to mean that CVC has decided to allow Mr. Ecclestone to continue running the sport even during his trial.

However, insiders suggested that he was likely to step down from the company's board with the possibility of being reinstated if he is subsequently cleared of wrongdoing.

Peter Brabeck, the chairman of the Swiss consumer goods giant Nestlé who also chairs F1's parent company, is likely to take on a more hands-on role during the coming months.

A board meeting is understood to have been organized to discuss the latest developments on Thursday.

CVC declined to comment, while a spokesman for F1 could not be reached.

Williams Appoints New IT Director
Williams Grand Prix Holdings PLC is pleased to announce the appointment of Graeme Hackland to the position of IT Director.

In this role Graeme will have overall technical, operational and delivery responsibility for all IT projects within the Williams Group, encompassing both the Williams F1 Team and Williams Advanced Engineering. Graeme will also join the Group's Executive Committee. Graeme joins Williams from the Lotus F1 Team where he held the position of IT/IS Director. Graeme originally joined Benetton Formula Ltd in 1997 in the position of Network Support Analyst and was subsequently promoted to IT Manager in 2002 and Head of IS in 2009, taking on the IT/IS Director role in 2010.

Speaking about his appointment, Graeme said: "I'm proud to join the Williams Group as IT Director. The Williams F1 Team has engineering excellence at the heart of its DNA, and Williams Advanced Engineering has an enviable reputation for world class technical innovation. I'm excited to play a part in the future success of Williams, bringing my love of applying technology to complex business challenges, especially at a time of major change within Formula One's technical regulations."

Group CEO, Mike O'Driscoll, added: "We are delighted to welcome Graeme to Williams in this newly created role. As a rapidly expanding high technology business it is important that we continue to invest in the very best IT facilities and personnel. Graeme is the ideal person to direct our IT infrastructure moving forwards and his vast knowledge of the Formula One operating environment will be particularly invaluable."

Sahara Force India signs multi-year partnership with Roshfrans
Sahara Force India is delighted to begin 2014 by announcing an exciting multi-year partnership with Roshfrans, the lubricant oils specialists from Mexico.

The agreement will see prominent Roshfrans branding on the team’s new car, the VJM07 (rear wing endplate) as well as on the drivers’ suits, helmets and team clothing.

Dr Vijay Mallya, Team Principal and Managing Director of Sahara Force India: “I’m delighted to welcome Roshfrans as a new long-term partner of Sahara Force India. Together we share a lot of common values, including a passion for technology and innovation, and we look forward to forging a strong working relationship with them in the years ahead. As a global organization, Roshfrans is ideally placed to take advantage of Formula One’s unparalleled reach to demonstrate its technical excellence and increase brand awareness."

Ing. Sergio Platonoff Castillo, CEO of Roshfrans: “It’s a pleasure for Roshfrans to begin a partnership with Sahara Force India – an up-and-coming team with big ambitions. We have been very impressed with the commitment of everybody in the team and, with such an exciting driver line-up, we believe the stage is set for a successful season. It’s an extremely proud moment for Roshfrans to be involved in the world of Formula One and we look forward to following the team's progress this season."

About Roshfrans
Founded in 1955, Comercial ROSHFRANS S.A. de C.V. is a Mexican company dedicated to the formulation, manufacture and distribution of lubricant oils and greases. Operating across a global footprint they service both the automotive and industrial markets with oil lubricants, products and complementary services.

Sahara Force India signs multi-year partnership with Roshfrans

Robin Frijns (right) and Timo Gans

Robin Frijns signs management contract with ganscomm
The 22-year-old race driver Robin Frijns has signed a long-term management contract with the agency ganscomm on Thursday. The managers Timo Gans and Thilo Damm are from now on responsible for the sporting side of Frijns’ career.

Robin Frijns: “I am very much looking forward to working with Thilo and Timo. I have known both for quite a while and I feel that I will be in very good hands. It is probably the dream of every race driver to become a part of Formula One and so is mine. Therefore we will now try everything we can to open the door to F1 and I have a good feeling that we will succeed in doing so."

Timo Gans, manager of Robin Frijns: “I am more than happy that Robin has chosen to go his way together with us. Without any doubt he is not only a nice guy to work with, but also one of the most promising talents in motorsports worldwide, which he has proven by winning three championships in a row."

Thilo Damm, manager of Robin Frijns: “Doing the next step and securing a seat in Formula One for 2014 is certainly our top priority now. Although it is hard for a young driver to jump into F1 nowadays, I am very optimistic that we will see Robin in the Paddock in the upcoming season."

While Damm and Gans are responsible for the sporting side of Frijns’ career from now on, the Dutch agency “Just Sports Marketing" remains responsible for the commercial part.

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