Even though this year's Formula One calendar features only seven events on the continent, much is always made of the sport's return to Europe after the early fly-away events in Australia and Asia. It is a chance for teams to add upgrades to cars and to take full advantage of their always-impressive 'motorhomes'. Formula One's heavyhitters were out in force, too, with Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo making an appearance on Saturday, and Red Bull's Dietrich Mateschitz and Mercedes chairman Dieter Zetsche also strollingthrough the paddock. The Circuit de Catalunya, the traditional start of the European portion of the season, saw a significant year-on-year boost to crowd numbers this time round, with 218,331 attending over the weekend, up from around 185,000 in 2012. A crowd of 94,831 saw home favourite Fernando Alonso sweep to a classy victory on Sunday.
Time for a recap
Just ahead of first practice on Friday morning, the Lotus team unveiled watchmaker Richard Mille as its new official timing partner. The brand effectively replaces TW Steel, the brash Dutch company having switched from Lotus to Force India over the winter. Richard Mille, already a sponsor of Premier Leaguesoccer team Manchester City, becomes the ninth watch company active in Formula One. Rolex is in the first season of a deal with Formula One itself, while only the Caterham and Toro Rosso teams do not have an association with a watch firm. Tag Heuer has been with McLaren since 1985, Oris joined forces with Williams in 2003 and Certina has backed the Sauber team since 2004. Other deals are more recent: Casio signed up with Red Bull Racing just as it was becoming a championship force in 2009, Hublot partnered with Ferrari at the end of 2011 (its deal with Formula One ended last year), Armin Strom and Marussia got together in 2011 while last May Mercedes signed a three-year deal with IWC Schaffhausen, before Force India lured TW Steel away from Lotus early this year.
The cost of power
Tyres may have, again, been the talking point after the Grand Prix in Barcelona but engines were also on the agenda during the weekend. Formula One is facing a fundamental change for 2014, with a switch to 1.6-litre, V6 turbo engines, and there are concerns amongst the customer teams that the costs may be prohibitive. German specialist publication Auto Motor und Sport reported over the weekend that Renault plans to supply engines for between €20million and €23 million annually, Mercedes €17million to 19 million and Ferrari €15million to 17 million. Force India has already confirmed it will stay with Mercedes, while Marussia is expected to opt for Ferrari engines with current supplier Cosworth not manufacturing a new-spec powerplant. Most intriguing of all, however, is McLaren's position. A Mercedes customer for the first time this year, the team is understood to have allowed a renewal option with the German manufacturer to slip. It now appears allbutcertain the British team will work with Honda from 2015 onwards, with the Japanese manufacturer returning to the sport for the first time since its disastrous stint as a fullyfledged team owner came to a halt at the end of 2008. Honda is also likely to be looking for customers elsewhere in the pit-lane once its return is inked – depending, of course, what they charge.
States of play
Formula One in America is a frequent topic for this diary and the last few weeks have seen potentially significant movement on that front, with good news for the Circuit of the Americas(COTA) venue in Texas, continuing uncertainty about a proposed event in New Jersey and even rumours of a Formula One race on the streets of Long Beach. COTA, which hosted a brilliant debut US Grand Prix last November, has made the final shortlist to be the next venue for ESPN's X Games, an indication that its diversified strategy for revenue generation outside Formula One is taking shape. Meanwhile, New Jersey races officials have added Chris Pook, the founder of the Long Beach Grand Prix and a former chief executive of CART, as a special assistant to chairman Leo Hindery. Pook is likely to give organisers more of a direct link into Bernie Ecclestone who, speaking in Barcelona over the weekend, said it would likely be another “couple of months” before any decision is made about the street race for 2014.
The marketability factor
Three current Formula One drivers are included on SportsPro’s 2013 list of the 50 most marketable athletes in the world, which is revealed this week. Lewis Hamilton, fresh from his move from McLaren to the relative commercial freedom of Mercedes, is seventh in the list, which ranks marketing potential over the next three years. World champion Sebastian Vettel is ranked 12th, while Hamilton’s replacement at McLaren, Sergio Perez, is included for a second successive year. The Mexican, who is 24th on the list, features primarily because of the potential of his home market, although his move from Sauber to McLaren is likely to do wonders for his profile in the coming years. A fourth Formula One driver, Robert Kubica, is 49th in the rankings as he continues to make his international motorsport comeback after two years out with injury. Kubica, who reportedly drove the Mercedes Formula One team simulator recently, might be the most value-for-money bet for sponsors of all should he make what would be a remarkable comeback to the sport. The full SportsPro most marketable athletes list, produced in association with Eurosport, can be found here.
The Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona marked the beginning of a shorter-than-usual European portion of the Formula One season. SportsPro takes a look back at the key talking points at an event attended by nearly 95,000 and many of the sport's heavy-hitters.