Ingram's Flat Spot On Mullins by Jonathan Ingram Who is Parris Mullins and what should we expect from him should the 27-year-old former Ferrari salesman from Silicon Valley continue to participate in Formula One? US F1 Team's now ...
Ingram's Flat Spot On
by Jonathan Ingram
Who is Parris Mullins and what should we expect from him should the 27-year-old former Ferrari salesman from Silicon Valley continue to participate in Formula One?
Mullins was well known within the US F1 team, but it wasn't until his 11th-hour effort to save the Americans' spot on the grid that he became a more public figure.
Although the negotiations with Toyota, Dallara, Jose Ramon Carabante and Zoran Stefanovic failed to pan out, Mullins made progress as a serious player in F1. He quickly became well connected, much like he has done in Silicon Valley. It's said that the Rolodex of Mullins, i.e. his contacts in the northern California area via mobile phone, is formidable.
In phone conversations while working on news stories about the fate of US F1 and later discussions about his future prospects in F1, Mullins came across as a person both deeply respectful of F1 and its traditions and ambitious to help move the sport forward. He's knowledgeable, honest and articulate in a manner that suggests the relatively younger breed in the F1 paddock now represented by Christian Horner or Stefano Domenicali.
When it came to expanding his contact list in F1, it helped that Mullins represented Chad Hurley, the co-founder of YouTube and primary investor in US F1. But on his own accord, Mullins got along well in the offices of Formula One Management's Bernie Ecclestone in London and Ferrari's Domenicali in Maranello.
"When Chad and I reached out for help, Bernie took every single meeting and phone call from us," said Mullins of the last-ditch efforts to save US F1. "He was willing to flex his muscle and get things done."
What I found most interesting about Mullins were his comments about how US F1 founder Ken Anderson and his sporting director, Peter Windsor, failed to demonstrate the proper respect for the offices of F1 in general. Anderson and Windsor regularly missed meetings attended by the other teams. Anderson often used the excuse of being too busy in the U.S. to fly to Europe. "They disrespected the sport," said Mullins, who by contrast quickly built a rapport with the movers and shakers.
Why was Mullins talking with Ferrari during his travels in Europe while trying to procure a chassis for US F1? He was looking down the road toward future possibilities if the Hurculean effort to land a chassis for US F1 was not successful. Mullins points out that Ferrari supplies power to two other teams and North America is the company's largest market. So there's a natural inclination to consider future possibilities.
"The big question is how do new teams enter the sport and if a start-up is even possible," said Mullins. "It's about prior knowledge. You have to piggyback on existing knowledge from competing the year before and the years before that. Is it possible to have a bright idea from scratch? Maybe it's possible for Adrian Newey."
It was after the US F1 debacle that Mullins concluded that connecting Silicon Valley and sponsorship in F1 meant working with an existing team, not a start-up. The effort continues to not only get involved with an existing team, but to push the operating model for F1 teams on behalf of potential sponsors.
"People are going to have to be much more creative," said Mullins, who believes F1 needs a younger focus. "They'll have to show sponsors more than in-focus TV time." He believes some new ideas will flow from F1's recently formed commercial working group and some from his own perspective. "The sport needs a more imaginative approach at attracting sponsors and to explore different forms of media," he said. "Obviously, social media is one of them."
Is Google, where Hurley is CEO of subsidiary YouTube, a potential sponsor in F1? The sport, said Mullins, would have to make a commitment to a greener future. "I think Google would love to have its brand in F1, but you're talking about people who drive a Toyota Prius and are concerned about their carbon footprint. They're trying to lessen the impact on the environment and remain high-tech at the same time, something that F1 is fully capable of doing, to a degree of course"
"You've got KERS," he continued. "All it takes is a couple of solid ideas to transform F1's image into something a bit more green, but there also needs to be an effort to make these ideas relevant to road cars. Things like regenerative braking or ceramic brakes, that's huge."
As for timing, Mullins doesn't discount the possibility of re-entering F1 with an existing team before the year is out -- either through ownership, sponsorship or both. "I'm talking with interested parties who are very keen to enter the sport," he said.
The recent rumors have focused on the sponsor-me-white entries of Peter Sauber and his operation in Hinwil, Switzerland. Because of the withdrawal of partner BMW, the team's early struggles and it's lack of sponsorship, it has been assumed Sauber is a logical target for anybody looking for a partnership because of the solid Swiss technical operation and the team's well known reputation in the racing business.
Recently, Nicolas Todt has been rumored as a possible candidate to merge his ART team from GP2 with the Swiss operation instead of trying to enter F1 next year through the nomination process. Alas, there's that issue of financing.
It is clear that Luca di Montezemolo's recent comments about an American-backed customer car Ferrari in F1 are a result of conversations initiated with Mullins back in the days of the US F1 rescue at the beginning of the year, which now seems like ancient history. The Ferrari president made sure to stop in and visit when Mullins met with Domenicali in Maranello and it is presumed that the conversations have continued by phone.
Where the conversations lead one can't know due to the kaleidoscopic world view in Maranello. But I suspect we haven't heard the last from Mullins in the fast-moving world of F1.
Jonathan Ingram can be reached at email@example.com.