F1 Business Diary 2017: The Italian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton’s third victory in four Grands Prix sees the Briton now lead the drivers’ championship from Sebastian Vettel by three points.

F1 Business Diary 2017: The Italian Grand Prix

Despite the chorus of boos that greeted his victory, Lewis Hamilton’s smile was inescapable at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza on Sunday. 

The Briton not only overtook former Ferrari icon Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 career pole positions, but his lights-to-flag victory takes him past the Scuderia’s current German driver, Sebastien Vettel, and into a three-point lead in the world drivers’ championship after 13 Grands Prix.  

The crowd had, of course, come to see a race win for the ‘Prancing Horse’ on their 70th anniversary race but the assured nature of the Mercedes one-two will have worried even the most one-eyed Tifoso. Hamilton was, in his own words, playing the role of “villain” by “stopping the Ferraris” and the team’s fiercely loyal Italian fans let the championship leader know on the podium. The victor was “really happy” to be cast in the position but added that he would “just try to remain respectful, and I admire their passion”.

While Hamilton was triumphant, his thoughts were nonetheless with seven-time drivers’ world champion Schumacher. Hamilton - who, like most of the world does not the current extent of the German’s brain injuries - said it was "an honour” to break his record, adding that he “would love to speak to his [Schumacher’s} wife and see how things are”.

Although Vettel only lost ten points in the championship race, a visibly angry Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne felt that the Maranello team needed to take some accountability for the result. 

"I think we just screwed up," Marchionne told German broadcaster RTL. "The set-up for the car was wrong. I think we underestimated the circuit. We screwed up from Belgium, from Spa, into here. Now, we need to go back to the factory and find out which way the car went sideways. But we will be back in Singapore."

Hamilton, with three wins from four races, has been irresistible and the momentum is certainly with the Silver Arrows man after this weekend. However, the next race on the street circuit in Singapore is expected to suit Ferrari’s extra downforce. Ferrari's consistency over a wide range of tracks, coupled with the mercurial nature of the 2017 Mercedes, could ensure that the battle between the two dominant forces in Formula One over the past decade goes down to the wire this year.

Ferrari spark Marlboro renewal

As their home Grand Prix ended, Ferrari announced a multi-year extension of their long-term partnership with Philip Morris International and its Marlboro cigarette brand.

The two parties first joined forces over 40 years ago, and the tobacco company has been the Italian outfit’s title sponsor since 1997. Due to a ban on tobacco advertising, Marlboro’s logo has not appeared on Ferrari’s race car since the 2007 Chinese Grand Prix, but the vehicle has maintained a red and white livery that reflects the colours of the US-based company’s branding.     

The agreement means that Philip Morris will remain as the only tobacco company associated with the world’s elite motorsport series, and will continue to use its links with Ferrari to promote Marlboro in various territories. 

No financial terms were released but Ferrari’s existing partnership with Philip Morris is believed to be worth around US$100 million a year.

A team statement from Ferrari read: ‘Ferrari announces that Scuderia Ferrari has renewed its multi-year partnership with Philip Morris International. The agreement continues the collaboration of over 40 years between Philip Morris International and Scuderia Ferrari.’

Vietnam and Argentina want to join the calendar 

Since their 2016 acquisition of Formula One, Liberty Media has said that part of its long-term masterplan is to expand the global series’ race calendar.

As a result, Liberty has fielded an influx of submissions from potential new hosts such as Copenhagen, New York City, Las Vegas and Long Beach. Now, German industry outlet Auto Motor und Sport (AMuS) has reported that Argentina and Vietnam are planning to put forward their cases. 

The Vietnamese proposal - a street circuit in Hanoi - has not fully revealed its potential route but organisers are believed to want to take advantage of the city’s familiar waterfront straights and 90-degree bends. 

While Vietnam’s motorsport history is sparse, Argentina has previously hosted 21 Grands Prix. However, a lack of funding and a crumbling venue, the Autódromo Juan y Oscar Gálvez, has meant that the South American country has not held a race since 1998.   

The circuit’s facilities would need a considerable upgrade in order to make a return possible.  At the time of writing, the track and the surrounding stands do not meet the necessary FIA Grade One standards.

Serious Fraud Office investigating Formula One 

Formula One has confirmed that the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has begun a pre-investigation into the sport following a tip-off from Damian Collins, a member of the British parliament.

The investigation centres on a Concorde Implementation Agreement (CIA), settled upon in 2013, whereby the FIA - motorsport’s global governing body - would receive a one-off lump sum payment from the Formula One Group. The CIA resulted in a new governance structure for Formula One and redefined certain conditions, such as a promise that the FIA would be properly remunerated.  

The US$5 million payment was reportedly made to the FIA for entering into an agreement with the teams and Formula One Group. The contract also granted the FIA a one per cent stake in the Formula One Group for the bargain price of UK£360,000 (US$460,000). The FIA’s approval was needed for Liberty’s takeover of the company last year and it made a UK£62m (US$79.5m) profit by cashing in its stake.

The FIA denies any wrongdoing and says the fee was a payment in turn for its regulatory role in the sport, not a bribe. In April, SFO director David Green promised to conduct a “thorough examination” into allegations of bribery.

Stewards on brand?

In what is seemingly a ‘Groundhog Day’ of a season for Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard once again chalked a DNF following an engine failure, had an on-track altercation with the beleaguered Jolyon Palmer and entertained television viewers with a series of belligerent messages on his team radio.     

The fiery Spaniard - who is believed to have stated that he would leave McLaren should Honda stay as their engine supplier - was incensed that the Briton was only given a five-second penalty when he overtook Alonso by jumping the second chicane and refused to give the place back.

Alonso said that the stewards must have been "having a Heineken" during this incident as he felt that their reaction was too slow and Palmer’s punishment too lenient. Last year, the beer brand signed a partnership with Formula One which, according to the UK's Daily Telegraph, was worth around UK£150 million (US$216.32 million).

"It was not up to Formula One standards,” said Alonso. “There is not an interpretation possible there. It is black and white. If grabbing the football with your hands is a penalty, it should always be a penalty."

Renault driver Palmer later retired with car problems, which led Alonso to radio his team saying it was "karma".