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Boycott Talk, Money Woes Are Top Topics At COTA

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 2 2014

There was action both on and off the track at the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas. (Photo courtesy of the Circuit of the Americas)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

AUSTIN, Texas – All the Formula One happy talk here about packed grandstands, TV momentum and a possible second U.S. race date were brake-checked Saturday at Circuit of The Americas, where “boycott” became the buzzword of the third annual United States Grand Prix.

Fueled by a contentious news conference Friday among five team principals, the Lotus, Force India and Sauber organizations reportedly were considering a boycott of the third annual event in Travis County. Those teams are locked in a dispute with the governing FIA over escalating costs and overall monetary disparity between the front and back-row constructors – a point driven home by the withdrawals earlier this week of the financially strapped Marussia and Caterham F1 teams from the USGP.

Lotus Team Principal Gerard Lopez may have triggered the rumor mill Friday during an hour-long news conference with four peers during which the current system was alternately bashed and defended. “And now is the time to not be talking about it but the time to be acting about it, so we’ll see what’s going to happen in the next couple of weeks,” Lopez said.

“Well, I mean, if we don’t act now together then you have to ask yourself what else needs to still happen?” said Monisha Kaltenborn, Sauber’s team principal. “You look at simply the facts – we are sport here, in my view still one of the best global platforms, we have turnovers of billions of dollars and the sport as such, together with our stakeholders, are not in a position to actually maintain 11 teams.”

Bob Fernley, Force India’s deputy principal, reportedly told Sky Sports F1 that a boycott was the final option. But the issue continues to fester, to the point that the driver’s championship battle between Mercedes AMG teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg became a sidebar.

“No comment,” Rosberg said of the rumor at the end of his pole-winning presser. “Because I have not heard

Amid all the talk of a possible team boycott at the USGP, Mercedes had a big day at the Circuit of the Americas on Saturday.

anything about this and it would not be the right thing for me to even comment on something like that.”

And your thoughts, Lewis? “Same.”

For the record, a field of 18 cars – the smallest for an F1 race since the 2005 Monaco Grand Prix – participated in Saturday morning’s third/final free practice and knockout qualifying. Rosberg earned his ninth pole of the season via a hot lap of 1-minute, 36.067-seconds around COTA’s 20-turn/3.427-mile layout. The German’s time was 0.376-seconds quicker than Hamilton, who has a 17-point championship lead over Rosberg with three races remaining.

Rosberg and Hamilton not only presented Mercedes with its sixth 1-2 front row of the season but also set the stage for a standing start that will send the teammates blasting up COTA’s signature front straight hill and into the Turn 1-lefthander. It’s a moment that could decide not only the race but Rosberg’s pursuit of his first F1 championship.

“First-place today is awesome but you know the race is what counts,” said Rosberg, a second generation F1 star and winner of four races this season. “I finally got there on setup, together with my team. Nailed the lap, got the lap really well, so it all worked out.”

Hamilton, the 2008 World Champion, acknowledged that an issue with brake temperatures cost him time during Q2 and Q3. “But even if that wasn’t the case I think Nico was too quick today,” said the Brit, who has won nine races this season, including four in a row. “Obviously, Nico did a great job today.”

As for Sunday, Lotus driver Romain Grosjean said he was preparing to contest the entire 56-lap/191.947-miler beginning at 2 p.m. (CST). “Yes, far as I know,” said Grosjean, who finished second here last year to four-time/reigning World Driving Champion Sebastian Vettel of infiniti Red Bull Racing. “That’s why we’ve worked all the weekend. That’s what I’m here for. I didn’t even know about these rumors. There has been a bad experience already at Indianapolis a few years ago, so we are here to race and I think we’re going to race. I’m sure we’re going to race.”

The Frenchman was referring to the 2005 USGP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where only six of 20 qualified cars competed due to safety concerns with tires supplied by Michelin. That debacle hastened F1’s most recent exit from the USA, which has seen 10 venues host the series.

”Well, you’ve got to love controversy, don’t you?” said Gene Haas, the NASCAR team co-owner whose Haas F1 Team is scheduled to contest the 2016 season from a base under construction in Kannapolis, N.C. “I mean, Formula One is about 50 years of controversies and exotic cars and six-wheel cars and 1,000-horsepower cars and rules. Year after year there’s always a pressing event, so I think this is just another of those pressing events.”

In addition to Lotus’ Lopez and Sauber’s Kaltenborn, the panel included Vijay Mallya of Force India representing F1’s small teams. Toto Wolff of Mercedes and Eric Boullier of McLaren carried the ball for the sport’s big boys.

“I have been very vocal about this,” said Mallya, whose drivers are Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Sergio Perez of Mexico. “I have said that you can’t have Formula One with only manufacturer teams. You need smaller teams, it’s part of the DNA of Formula One for several decades and the FIA on one hand, and the commercial rights holder on the other hand must both work closely to ensure that it is viable and sustainable going forwards.

“We’ve talked about cost caps a number of times and finally I think the large teams or the manufacturer teams were opposed to it. But I think that was a good initiative that didn’t quite see the light of day to make any meaningful difference. On the other hand, as far as the revenue share is concerned, I think it’s probably a unique sport, where the participating teams get the least amount of revenue compared to the income. When you compare it to any other sporting activity globally, we unfortunately are at the rough end. I am very sad that two teams are no longer with us on the grid here in Austin and I think such a thing should not be allowed to happen _ and that’s my firm view.”

Lopez termed the losses of Marussia and Caterham “pretty unfortunate” and promptly elaborated. “Number one _ the distribution model of revenues is completely wrong,” said Lopez, whose drivers are Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela. “Whether the size of what is distributed or not is right or wrong is debatable and Vijay has mentioned one side of the thing.

“But then, you know, when you’ve got teams showing up to the championship that get more money just for showing up than teams spending a whole season, then something is entirely wrong with the whole system. And so that cannot be allowed to happen, number one. The second thing is the cost cap. We always find excuses not to have a cost cap. There are reasons why certain areas should not be capped but there are also reasons why certain areas should be. And, again, now is the time to be acting rather than talking about it.

“And finally, this is an odd sport. We say things and then we tend to do the opposite. I’ll just give one example. The birth of the new engines happened when we started talking about cutting costs and so forth. The fact is that the new engine, which from a technology perspective is a great thing, the costs were passed on to all the teams. In our case this year, between the engine and development we probably spent something like $50-million to $60-million. That’s not cost-cutting in our books, that’s essentially throwing money out the window.

“At the end of the day, the revenue split, the capping of costs have an immediate impact on the sport and not taking decisions has had an immediate impact on the sport in the last couple of weeks with two teams disappearing.”

Force India’s driver lineup features German Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico. Referencing the idea of the big teams possibly being asked to add third cars to fill-out the grid, Kaltenborn said, “It’s time that we focus on reducing the costs. Like Gerard has said, if you don’t want to do something, you’ll never get to a point where you agree. But you really have to ask yourself what is being done to the sport here? We are sending out messages where fans are being involved in topics they really don’t want to talk about. They should be talking about the excellent races we have, what a great experience it is to come here but yet they are discussing financials, costs, teams going into administration.

“This is a very bad image we are creating to the outside. We need to look at the equitable sharing of the income we have so that you can really maintain more teams than just the big ones. We also need to see on the technical side that there is a certain stability and continuity there, because you often hear from bigger teams that whatever we have agreed has always led to more cost. But you should first of all see who has agreed to it _ it’s usually the high-end. So everything is lying there but it is high-time we take some action now.”

Mercedes’ Wolff _ whose drivers already have clinched the Constructors’ Championship for the Silver Arrows _ questioned if anyone can float a plan that would bridge budget gaps that could range from $70-million for a team like Marussia to $250-million for Scuderia Ferrari or Infiniti Red Bull.

“So, if you want to start with a cost cap, how do you do that?” Wolff asked, rhetorically. “Where do you cap it? And if you cap it on the lower end, well, do you make two-thirds of the people redundant in the big teams? How does it function? That’s one point.

“The other point is, how do you control it? The competition is so fierce at the very top that the cost cap…the cost cap was never implemented because there was no way of policing it and controlling it. Some of the teams have various setups, various companies all around the world _ multi-nationals behind them in Japan, in Germany, in Italy. If you look at Ferrari, they have a severe issue of being transparent enough to cope with a cost cap. Because it is so competitive…how do you control that?

“Obviously, two teams disappearing, I have an emotional and pragmatic view. The emotional view is that there is personal drama behind it. There are families who need to pay mortgages, there are kids going to school and these people don’t have any jobs today anymore and that is a drama and it is painful and I am sorry for that.

“The rational side of things is that we have seen in the past that teams come-and-go. We have seen great teams who have folded, went into liquidation or administration. Great names _ Brabham, Arrows, Ligier, Prost, Larousse, Leyton House…I mean there are 20 others. That was part of Formula One. But when Formula One was opened up for new teams to join, you can’t compare the agenda of the teams. You know in our case we are representing a multi-national car company. This is a branding exercise, we are showcasing our technology.

“And on the other side if you look at Marussia and Caterham when they joined the sport it was an entrepreneur deciding to join Formula One and maybe underestimating what it meant joining the field. You have other examples, such as Vijay, who is extremely successful in his business and who had the stamina and size enough to cope with the challenges until today.

“So I think it is time to sit down and reflect and think what can we do? Because the remaining nine teams are part of the DNA of Formula One, they are heart-and-soul _ names like Sauber , Force India and Lotus need to stay in the business. But I think there are…like in any other sport, like in any other industry, this is the pinnacle. This is the pinnacle of motor racing and if you want to compete at the pinnacle of motor racing then you need to have the resources of competing here. This is a high-entry barrier sport.

“I can come up with many ideas which can be short-term solutions but it comes back to the principle and what’s been said before _ whatever you give to the teams, they are going to spend it.”

McLaren’s Boullier reiterated that central to Formula One’s DNA is relentless competition. “Each of us wants to beat everybody,” said Boullier, whose lineup features 2009 World Champion Jenson Button of England and Kevin Magnussen of Denmark. “We are competitors. If we compete with a bottle of water, if we compete with a Formula One team, we want to beat the others _ and we will do it by any means. So, this is normal. Even, actually, as you say in the back row, they want to still compete and actually beat everybody. I’m pretty sure we can sit down and agree drastic decisions altogether _ but this has to be led by the governance body and by people who are running the show. Not the competitors.”

FIA Formula 1 United States Grand Prix qualifying around the 3.4-mile/20-turn Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, with car number in parentheses, driver, country, chassis/engine, and time/gap:

1. (6) Nico Rosberg, Germany, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, 1-minute, 36.067-seconds

2. (44) Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, 1:36.443/0.376-seconds

3. (77) Valtteri Bottas, Finland, Williams Martini Racing/Mercedes, 1:36.906/0.839-seconds

4. (19) Felipe Massa, Brazil, Williams Martini Racing/Mercedes, 1:37.205/1.138-seconds

5. (3) Daniel Ricciardo, Australia, Infiniti Red Bull Racing/Renault, 1:37.244/1.177-seconds

6. (14) Fernando Alonso, Spain, Scuderia Ferrari, 1:37:610/1.543-seconds

7. (20) Kevin Magnussen, Denmark, McLaren/Mercedes, 1:37.706/1.639-seconds

8. (7) Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, Scuderia Ferrari, 1:37.804/1.737-seconds

9. (99) Adrian Sutil, Germany, Sauber F1 Team/Ferrari, 1:38.810/2.743-seconds

10. (13) Pastor Maldonado, Venezuela, Lotus F1 Team, 1:38.467

11. (11) Sergio Perez, Mexico, Sahara Force India F1 Team/Mercedes, 1:38.544

12. (22) Jenson Button, Great Britain, McLaren/Mercedes, 1:37.655

13. (27) Niko Hulkenberg, Germany, Sahara Force India F1 Team/Mercedes, 1:38.598

14. (25) Jean-Eric Vergne, France, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Renault, 1:39.250

15. (21) Esteban Gutierrez, Mexico, Sauber F1 Team/Ferrari, 1:39.555

16. (8) Romain Grosjean, France, Lotus F1 Team/Renault, 1:39.679

17. (26) Danil Kvyat, Russia, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Renault, 1:38.699

18. (1) Sebastian Vettel, Germany, Infiniti Red Bull Racing/Renault, 1:39.621

Penalties

Button _ Five places for gearbox change
Kvyat _ Five places for engine component change
Vettel _ Pit lane start for taking sixth power unit

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 2 2014
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