F1 Business Diary 2016: The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton wins the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but Nico Rosberg’s second place was enough to take the 2016 drivers’ championship.

F1 Business Diary 2016: The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton won the seventh running of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but Nico Rosberg’s second place was enough to take the 2016 drivers’ championship by a five-point margin. The German emulates his father, Keke, who won the open-wheel series 34 years ago.     

Hamilton was imperious all weekend - as he has been for the past four races - extending his total race wins for the season to ten, a record for a non-title winning driver. The Englishman looked utterly despondent on the podium, despite winning the race, while Rosberg was understandably overjoyed. 2016 marks the first time that the German has finished above his fierce rival and childhood friend in the championship standings.   

Anarchist in a Silver Arrow?

To most people Lewis Hamilton doesn’t look like an anarchist but it was accusation levelled at him by Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff after the race. With 15 laps remaining Hamilton, in a desperate bid to win the championship, slowed down his pace and tried to congest the field together. The backing-up tactics were designed to throw Rosberg into the claws of the increasingly quick Sebastian Vettel. 

A concerned executive technical director Paddy Lowe took to the team radio - a rarity - after Hamilton disregarded the initial pleas from Pete Bonnington, his race engineer, to pick up the pace. 

“Lewis, we need to pick up the pace to win this race,” said Lowe. “That’s an instruction.”

“I’m actually in the lead right now, Paddy,” replied Hamilton. “I suggest you guys just let us race. I am losing the world championship so right now I don't really care whether I win or lose this race."

Hamilton’s Machiavellian plan evidently didn’t succeed and it seems that the senior figures at the team took a dim view of his actions, and churlish post-race reactions to Rosberg. There are also rumours from the paddock that the German outfit may suspend him for going against team orders. 

"I'm in two minds at that stage," said Wolff. "The guy who is responsible for that company and the structure we have put in place, and the team that we have put in place and its values, it's pretty clear - it can't make a difference whether it's the first or the last race. It is very simple. Anarchy does not work in any team and in any company.

"We have invented those principles, those values and those objectives and it has won us races and it has won us championships. So this is one side.

"The other side, me the racer, says maybe I would have done the same. He had two choices - disappear in the distance and show that he's the quickest guy on the planet today and win the race, irrespective of what's happening in the back. Or decide the other way and bunch them up behind him.

"So this is why it's not clear cut, we have to calm down. There is so much going on in the background which plays a role in how we are thinking and this is why I don't want to express an opinion before I've actually made up my mind for myself.”

Brown joins McLaren 

Before the race in Abu Dhabi, the McLaren Group confirmed the appointment of Zak Brown as executive director, following the enforced departure of Ron Dennis. 

The 45-year-old American - who was present at the Yas Island Marina Circuit - will officially take up the position with the Formula One team in December. Dennis, the founder, chief executive and chairman of the company, has been placed on gardening leave by the board until the expiration of his contract in January.

It was in fact Dennis who was instrumental to convincing the American to join McLaren. 

“He [Dennis] was very involved,” Brown told SportsPro in an interview following his appointment. “He led it. Me coming in didn’t have anything to do with his leaving. He remains a big shareholder, so he’ll have plenty of opportunity to have his input and is someone who obviously has vast experience that I would be silly not to lean on, and I’ve got a great relationship with him

“I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Ron. And I hope we haven’t seen the last of Ron! I look forward to continuing to work with him.”

Brown had previously been linked with the chief executive role at Formula One Management (FOM) in the aftermath of Liberty's takeover of the sport, with whom he is believed to have rejected a senior position.

“I’ve had multiple conversations, beyond just two parties – I’ve spoken with Liberty at great length since they entered the sport and I have a history with them,” Brown continued. ”I think ultimately it’s more about why did I choose McLaren as opposed to why I didn’t choose others.

“The McLaren opportunity just ticked all of the boxes for me: the opportunity, the challenge, the situation. Ultimately, I was more comfortable that this was the best opportunity for me. I know the Liberty guys well and I think they’re going to be very good for the sport.”

McLaren-Honda, despite having two former world champions on their books, have seen extremely poor results on the track of late, highlighted by Jenson Button’s retirement in his final race after 13 laps. As a consequence the British team have been unable to find a title sponsor since the departure of Vodafone in 2013. 

Brown, an expert in Formula One sponsorship, is adamant that the search will be his first priority but a title sponsor is unlikely to be in place in time for 2017.

“If you look at our brand, the McLaren brand, it stands for a variety of things: excellence, leadership, technology, luxury, wealth,” said Brown. “I think any brand that has those same characteristics is going to be what will be best suited for us. It could be a financial company, it could be a technology company, a consumer products company. 

“But it has to be one that shares those same brand values.”

Red Bull on time with Tag Heuer deal

One constructor that will have a title sponsor next year is Red Bull Racing, who have extended with luxury Swiss watch brand Tag Heuer.    

The renewed deal will see Tag Heuer branding remain on the Renault power units used by the team, and will run through until the end of the 2018 season. Tag will also continue as the team’s official timekeeper, official watch, and official team performance partner, and next season’s cars will be badged as the Red Bull Racing-Tag Heuer RB13.

“I am very pleased to be extending our engine partnership with Tag Heuer today,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. “Tag and Red Bull Racing are two brands which both have a passion for racing and a drive to do things different, and this forms the basis of our partnership.

“The Tag Heuer motto of ‘don’t crack under pressure’ is something that we at Red Bull Racing live by day to day, so we look forward to helping them tell that story in the seasons ahead.”