F1 Business Diary 2017: The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Valtteri Bottas beats championship-winning teammate in underwhelming season finale.

F1 Business Diary 2017: The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

There was a slight ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ feeling to proceedings at the Yas Marina Circuit this weekend. 

With both championships sewn up, the final race of a season that promised so much - and more often than not delivered - ended with another win for the all-conquering Mercedes team. In contrast to the majority of this year it was not 2017 champion Lewis Hamilton who took the chequered flag but his teammate, Valtteri Bottas.

It was the Finn’s third win of 2017, his first since July, and his team’s 12th of a fourth consecutive title-winning campaign. That said, Mercedes’ dominance in Abu Dhabi was flattered by Ferrari opting to turn down Sebastien Vettel's engine to ensure he finished the race and clinched second in the drivers’ championship.

Many observers had believed that Hamilton eased off Bottas and gave his loyal teammate an open goal, but the Briton said in a post-race interview that "to get as close as I was showed I had good pace". 

While there was a lot of glad-handing and back-slapping in the Mercedes garage, not everyone was impressed with the damp squib of a contest. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner considered that a “race like today is not the best advert for Formula One" but admitted that over the season “there have been some great races”.

Nevertheless, it would not be Formula One without a bit of controversy. Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg cut the chicane at Turns 11 and 12 on the opening lap to reclaim seventh place from Sergio Perez. The Force India pilot insisted over his team radio that Hulkenberg, who in the meantime had opened up a considerable gap over his rival, return the place but the stewards only handed out a five-second time penalty instead.

Hulkenberg went on to finish sixth and secure Renault sixth place in the constructors' championship ahead of Toro Rosso. An irate Otmar Szafnauer, chief operating officer of the Sahara Force India, said that the ruling makes a “a mockery of the sport", adding that the stewards “inconsistency is not great”.

"I think Hulkenberg should have given the place back just like when he did the same thing to Grosjean,” continued Szafnauer."It's a track position race here, we knew they were a bit quicker than us on the ultrasoft which is why we needed to get ahead and stay ahead.

"Then Hulkenberg cuts the corner, the FIA don't do anything about it and, guess what, they gain a place in the constructors' championship which means more money and more competitiveness next year. It's not great.”

Overall, this season belonged to Hamilton, who appears to have stepped up a level in his bid to join the greats of Formula One. The 32-year-old now stands on four drivers’ championships and he expects to surpass that record next year, although he should face even stiffer competition from a galvanised Ferrari, Red Bull and a now Honda-less McLaren.     

Ferrari, who threatened to break Mercedes hegemony of both championships at the start of the year, may have come up short in 2017 but Vettel believes that the “positives [over the season] outweigh the disappointments”.

“[it is an] incredible achievement that's come together over the winter to set up this year, and throughout the season to keep improving the car, the engine,” argued the German. "If we keep doing that I'm confident that we can be in a better place next year."

Liberty Media continues its revolution with a new logo

It is fair to say that Formula One’s new-ish owner Liberty Media had been true to its promise of changing the face of the sport, which was, under the rule of former chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, perceived to be an increasingly archaic sports property. 

Liberty has set its benchmark on appropriately marketing the global open-wheel series for the first time. It is making attempts to improve the fan experience for a modern digital savvy follower, implementing up-to-date social media platform campaigns, and has now launched a new logo.

The redesign, which replaces an emblem that was introduced by Ecclestone 23 years ago, was revealed on the winner’s podium at the Yas Marina Circuit following the Grand Prix. 

The creation of a Wieden+Kennedy London team led by Richard Turley, the agency’s executive creative director of content and design, the new logo represents the look of a Formula One car with a modern-retro feel, with an aesthetic that the Creative Review has compared to mid-90s video game series Wipeout. In keeping with more contemporary branding, it is also intended to be more flexible and effective in a range of media contexts.

Sean Bratches, Formula One’s commercial director, explained that the new logo symbolised the “wider transformation taking place in Formula One” as it tries to “broaden the sport's appeal”.

“We set out to create a logo that captures the speed and excitement of the pinnacle of motorsport and this reveal signals the beginning of a new era for Formula One,” said Bratches. 

However, not everyone was impressed with the new, sleeker red logo. World champion Hamilton scathingly suggested that the “the old one [logo] was iconic, and the new one isn't”, while his team boss Toto Wolff said, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, that the logo was “mind-blowing”.

The reaction on social media - a target market that Bratches has been charged with impressing - was equally disparaging in some quarters, with many Twitter users calling it ‘boring’ and questioning the need to change the logo. Nevertheless, several have credited the American owners for creating a new logo to represent a new era of Formula One.

Ferrari may not be able to bank on Santander next year

Rumours are circulating amongst the Spanish press that Santander will not renew its Formula One sponsorship of Ferrari, which expires at the end of this year.  

The bank became Ferrari’s primary sponsor in 2010 when the Spanish driver Fernando Alonso joined them. However, after seven years and a reported €280million (US$334 million), it could now cut ties with the Prancing Horse. 

Spanish outlet El Confidencial reports that Santander turned down Ferrari’s plans to renew the partnership, which is thought to be valued at €40 million (US$48 million) a year, but may choose to continue as a secondary sponsor.

Jean Todt to run unopposed in FIA presidential race

It was confirmed before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix by the International Automobile Federation (FIA) that Jean Todt will run unopposed in its presidential election next month.

Once elected, the Frenchman will begin a third term as FIA president, after first taking up the position in 2009.

The former Ferrari chief executive, who is the only candidate named for the FIA presidential ballot after the deadline of 17th November, is only eligible to hold one more term in the office, and so will head motorsport’s global governing body until 2021.

Todt has overseen a number of changes to Formula One, including the move to single-turbo power units. His manifesto for election in 2013 until 2017 included a ‘four pillar’ plan comprised of improving the FIA’s governance and administration, motorsport development, mobility, and road safety and sustainable development.

The FIA is due to confirm Todt’s re-election during its annual general assembly in Paris on 8th December.

Surfs up: Alonso expands his commitment to McLaren with apparel agreement 

Clothing brand Kimoa, which is co-owned by Spanish driver Fernando Alonso, will serve as McLaren’s official surfwear partner from January 2018.

As part of the multi-year partnership, Kimoa’s branding will appear on McLaren’s race cars, driver overalls and helmets. The company’s logo will also be displayed on Alonso’s team kit and driver cap. The McLaren pilot, who started the project with a group of friends, was “truly delighted” and “extremely proud” with his company’s new partnership. 

Zak Brown, executive director of McLaren Technology Group, said: “As our new surfwear partner, Kimoa will easily sit alongside other clothing brands that we may look to introduce as we continue to grow our partner portfolio.”

Meanwhile, Alonso has partnered with Swiss technology brand Logitech and Spanish organisation G2 Esports to become the first Formula One driver to launch an esports team.

The Spaniard’s team will be called FA Racing G2 Logitech G and will compete on console and PC platforms in a variety of competitions both in Formula One sim racing and other professional online categories.

All change for Sauber? 

Swiss outfit Sauber are reportedly strengthening their ties with engine supplier Ferrari.   

Sauber were expected to announce their 2018 driver line-up in Abu Dhabi but team principal Fred Vasseur says a decision has been delayed until at least next week. While Vasseur admitted that he was “too optimistic” in his predicted timeframe, many in the paddock believe the delay is a result of Ferrari becoming a more dominant voice at Sauber.

The Italian team are thought to want their development drivers Antonio Giovinazzi and Charles Leclerc to replace Marcus Ericsson and Germany Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber from next year - creating a relationship with Sauber rather like Torro Rosso have with Red Bull.  

Giovinazzi made his Formula One debut for Sauber at the 2017 Australian Grand Prix, replacing an injured Wehrlein. It is understood that Vasseur is still deciding whether Ericsson or Giovinazzi would take the second seat alongside Leclerc.

Ferrari have supplied Sauber with engines since 2010 but the ever-closer ties between the teams have fuelled rumours that part of the relationship could involve the idea of a rebranding of Sauber’s engines as Alfa Romeo. The Italian sports car brand is owned by Ferrari’s parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). 

Vasseur said that such talk was premature for 2018 but the Frenchman confirmed that "it could be a part of the discussion but so far it is not a topic", adding that he would be “very open" to it in the long term. 

Many Italian sources say that deal is now effectively done.

Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of FCA, said: "Alfa Romeo in Formula One could become a fine breeding ground for young Italian drivers. The best one, Giovinazzi, is already with us, but there are others besides him, and they are struggling to find room. Alfa Romeo, more than our customer teams, could offer them that space."

Yas Marina Circuit on track for a change 

In an interview with Sky Sports, Formula One circuit designer Hermann Tilke revealed that complaints about the limited overtaking opportunities at the Yas Marina Circuit could lead to the track being altered.  

With only one overtaking move for position taking place in the top ten after the first lap, a disgruntled Max Verstappen described his race as "boring", adding: "If I had a pillow in the car, I could have fallen asleep." 

Sky’s commentator Martin Brundle took to Twitter to apologise to fans about the snooze-fest of a race, calling it ‘rubbish. Like a nil nil football score, not a whole lot happened’. 

Three-time Abu Dhabi Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton also bemoaned the lack of excitement in the race. 

“If there's any way we can improve this track to enable us to have these battles,” said Hamilton. “You've got these long straights where you can't even get close enough to utilise them.

“If there's some way where we can enable us to be able to remain closer in that third sector, I think this will go up in the rankings of a great circuit.”

Tilke told Sky Sports that he has an “idea to change one corner” that could aid overtaking but he did defend his original design - which cost £800 million (US$1 billion) to develop for the circuit’s opening in 2009 - by pointing out that the “faster ones [cars] were in front of the slower ones".