Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Asiacentric Formula

Let us start with India.

Formula 1 has been grabbing some attention since 2005. Narain Karthikeyan’s seat with Jordan (Midland F1 actually) was the initial boost. 2005 also saw Tata Consultancy Services’ (TCS) association with Ferrari for providing IT and engineering services to the team. And although Vijay Mallya’s Force India has been a recent newsworthy perspective, his Kingfisher label was part of a sponsorship package in 1996 with Benetton (as a beer brand) and with Toyota in 2007 (as aviation).

And Star Sports, a cable sports station for Asia, had its name etched on the 2004 Toyota team. Here again, Star TV set a precedent for Star Sports when they sponsored the Footwork team in 1995.

And now we have the Indian Grand Prix lined up for 2011 with Bernie Ecclestone calling for Karun Chandok to be given a drivers seat as an invitation for the market in India.

And Mallya has played his part well too. He knew something that we did not. He severed the engine deal with Ferrari and jumped ship with Mercedes. The move paid off. Mercedes was the engine for 2009. Giancarlo Fisichella’s move to Ferrari this year was unquestioned and without much hassle is a testament to the inner workings of the severed deal of Force India with Ferrari. More importantly Mallya has played his cards right with the FIA. With the FIA vs FOTA war in full surge, Force India played their political mask on by supporting FIA. Why? Mallya is the Chairman of the Federation of Motorsports Council of India (FMSCI), a standing member of FIA. And recently he was also elected in the FIA World Motor Sport Council succeeding for one of the fourteen places from forty one candidates for a four year term.

And Tony Fernandes, a Malaysian entrepreneur with a bit of Indian blood, has used the Lotus name for entry in 2010. Former Minardi driver Alex Yoong has been named as deputy team principal. Lotus also announced the appointment of Riad Asmat, GM, Proton Holdings Berhard, as Chief Executive of the team.

And to start some sort of rivalry, Force India and Lotus have been disputing over Lotus’ tunnel model which has allegedly produced the Lotus 2010 car similar to that of the VJM-02.

And Williams announced that the team has signed a deal with the Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) to create a Williams Technology Centre in Doha.


The Middle East
The oil rich beautified expanses of the desert has been involved in Formula 1 for quite sometime. In 1979 for instance, Frank Williams managed to get some sponsorship from the Saudi Arabian airline Saudia. Shortly after which they managed to win the 1980 championship.

Etihad, the flag carrier airline of Abu Dhabi, today has Ferrari as its billboard.

Mercedes Benz will enter the 2010 Formula 1 World Championship with its own team. Daimler AG and Aabar Investments PJSC have taken over 75.1 per cent of the Brawn GP team with Aabar taking 30 per cent. With 9.1 per cent, Aabar is the biggest single shareholder of Daimler AG.

Qadbak-Sauber may have roots in Pakistan with the Shafi and Hyat families. Although that is a big hush-hush.

Demand and Competition
Bernie is playing simple economics. If the demand is high, so are the costs. Grand Prix in Europe has been a bit tight with many tracks in the doldrums. The uncertainty of the Silverstone, the demise of Donington, the musings put forth by the new FIA president Jean Todt over the comeback of the French GP, spiraling attendances at Turkey or even the alternate German GPs held at NĂĽrburgring and Hockenheim. Europe is swept.

And across the Atlantic. Canada’s interest resurgent with a massive cut in price (from $175 million to a Bernie-crushing $75 million) desperate to get a Grand Prix in North America and conversations of a street race in New York.

So what Ecclestone is trying to do is create a market in Asia, where the money is. And then have them compete against each other. Each trying to get hold of one of Bernie’s twenty races, at the cost that does not remind him of his deal with the Canadian organizers.

Malaysia, Singapore, Japan (Fuji or Suzuka), China, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, India and South Korea are the possible eight entries for the 2011 Formula 1 season. Whether we have seventeen races or Bernie’s twenty, eight is a considerable amount. Formula 1 may see a dichotomy in its rostrum of events with the European leg and the Asian leg.

In say five years…

Romain Grosjean tests his Renault F1 car in the desert in Dubai

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