Formula One - On And Off Track Week 38

Formula One - On And Off Track Week 38

Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent

Story Highlights

  • Formula One’s musical chairs
  • Boullier puts Kubica under pressure
  • Indian Grand Prix tax problems solved


Formula One’s musical chairs


Formula One is no different from anther sports like soccer or football, if the results don’t match the expectations, the trainer is dismissed, in Formula One the technical director or the chief designer gets the boot and this year and next year there will be many changes in the technical department of many teams.

Yesterday McLaren announced Williams’ technical director Sam Michael will join the Woking-based team in 2012 as their new Sporting Director, a role previously held by Dave Ryan, who spent 35 years of his life working for McLaren, but was sacrificed like pawn after the Lewis Hamilton lie-scandal during the 2009 Australian Grand Prix. His position was still vacant and McLaren have now found the perfect candidate to finally replace him.

Sam Michael joins McLaren
Sam Michael joins McLaren

Photo by: xpb.cc

The news was a complete surprise, but of course good news for the man himself. Luckily for him McLaren does appreciate the technical knowledge and vast experience Michael has gathered in his almost 18 years of working in Formula One. “I'm extremely excited to be joining McLaren,” Michael said in a McLaren statement. “They are one of the all-time greats of Formula One.” Michael will be working with both McLaren divers, but also with other senior members of the staff like Technical Directors Paddy Lowe and Neil Oatley, Managing Director Jonathan Neale and Engineering Director Tim Goss.

Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh commented, “I’m very pleased to welcome Sam as an important senior addition to our race team. He’ll bring a very valuable blend of experience and expertise to our pitwall, and will also enrich the technical management we provide for our drivers. I’m certain he’ll work extremely well with our senior technical management team, which I firmly believe will now become the strongest in all of Formula One.”

More technical wizards had to give up their job lately, Scuderia Ferrari were also not happy with their results in 2010, and dismissed Chris Dyer who was Fernando Alonso’s Race Engineer, in January 2011. Dyer was held responsible for Ferrari’s nightmare during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix when Alonso lost the title to Sebastian Vettel. Dyer was replaced by Pat Fry, who was lured to the Reds after spending almost 17 years at … McLaren.

Fry has been Mika Hakkinen’s Race Engineer during his championship years and started his job at Ferrari in July 2010, and worked together with Chief Designer Aldo Costa who in his turn in 2005 replaced another famous Formula One designer, Rory Byrne. Unfortunately for Costa, Ferrari held him responsible for the poor results earlier this season, and in May Ferrari announced Costa had ‘relinquished his position as technical director to take on new responsibilities within the company’, which in plain English meant he was fired.

Aldo Costa is on garden leave
Aldo Costa is on garden leave

Photo by: xpb.cc

Headhunting is also a familiar practice in Formula One, most notably was of course the switch Adrian Newey made in 2005 when he moved from McLaren to the Red Bull Racing team, who certainly have not regretted luring the British designer to their team, everywhere Newey goes championships are won and he must be by now the most wanted designer in the history of Formula One.

In 2010 another technical wizard, James Key, moved from Force India to the Swiss Sauber team, where he replaced another Formula One legend, Willy Rampf, who retired that year. Mark Smith took over his role at Force India, but one guessed it already, Smith left the Indian team in July to join Team Lotus, where he works with Mike Gascoyne, who is also no stranger when it comes to swapping teams.

Gascoyne started his career at Tyrell, and worked for Jordan and Benetton, then made a surprise move to the Toyota Formula One team in 2004 after the Japanese company had offered him a salary he could not refuse. He later went to Spyker, later renamed Force India after Vijay Mallya bought the team, but left at the end of 2008 after he was put on garden leave. He returned to the sport in 2010 as Technical Director of Team Lotus.

Ferrari is good in luring McLaren personnel to Maranello, for both teams it looks like a game. Greek-born Nicolas Tomazis worked for Ferrari from 1997-2003, then was ‘hijacked’ by McLaren where he worked two years, but Tombazis returned to Ferrari again in 2006, and was lucky to escape the fate that awaited Costa.

But, speaking in environmentally friendly terms, Formula One’s technical staff is fully recyclable, and evens the ones who left the sport in disgrace return to the scene of the crime. Mike Coughlan, who was a key figure in the 2007 spy-scandal involving McLaren and Ferrari, has been hired by Frank Williams after he had spent some time in the United States working for Michael Waltrip Racing.

Mike Gascoyne - Team Lotus
Mike Gascoyne - Team Lotus

Photo by: xpb.cc

Coughlan will of course take over the duties of Michael, and with Michael now leaving he is in charge of the design of the 2011 Williams contender, which should bring Williams back to the top of Formula One. It is rumored Michael will already make his appearance in the McLaren garage during the last five races, and this mutual agreement of course means both Coughlan and Michael can start their new job immediately, despite the fact Michael is still officially under contract with Williams until the end of the year.

Ex-Renault Pat Symonds was also ousted from Formula One after the Singapore crash-gate scandal, but also has returned and is now a consultant for the Marussia Virgin team, and it is likely he will again physically return to the Formula One paddock next year.

Costa has been named in connection with Mercedes GP, not a surprise as he has worked with Ross Brawn for many years at Ferrari, and after Costa recently revealed he had completely severed his ties with Ferrari, it is more than likely he will be seen in the paddock again, but now wearing gray and not red. And last but not least, Chris Dyer paid a visit to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza last weekend, and hinted a return to Formula One is ‘possible’, again the name of Mercedes GP has been mentioned, as he also like Costa has worked many years with Brawn, who is looking for enforcements for the German team, as they still aim to battle for the title next year. As one can see, the Formula One technical staff is just like one big happy family, hopping from team to team, either to bring good fortune or bad luck, but it has to be said, they are all highly trained professionals who all have earned their place in the sport.

Boullier puts Kubica under pressure


Robert Kubica, the star of the Lotus Renault team before a horrific rally accident put him out of contention for the 2011 title, has been given an ultimatum by his employer Lotus Renault, as Team Principal Eric Boullier this week hinted he is running out of time and needs to know if the Pole will be fit to drive in 2012.

Rober Kubica and his manager Daniele Morelli
Rober Kubica and his manager Daniele Morelli

Photo by: xpb.cc

Kubica’s manager Daniele Morelli has until now done an excellent job by keeping him out of the wind so he can fully concentrate on his recovery, Kubica has only given very short interviews on a few occasions, but not knowing his exact condition now seems to backfire on him. Kubica had hoped he could drive the black and gold car in September again, but more operations to give his right arm and elbow more mobility means he is still recovering, as his last operation was just one week ago, and a return in 2011 it certainly not possible.

Although Morelli has said ‘Renault have given us assurances’ for a seat in 2012, it is rumored he has in fact no contract at all for 2012. Although all involved would love to see the sympathetic driver back in a race seat, Boullier has now imposed a deadline of five weeks. For Boullier the problem is simple. He has to lead a Formula One team and he simply needs to know whether Kubica is fit to drive or not. “I will be flexible because I really like Robert and it will be good for him to return,” Boullier said about the deadline.

“But in the middle or end of October I need a clear confirmation. My problem is that I cannot miss the opportunity to have Robert back, but at the same time I need to defend the interests of my team,” Boullier said about the dilemma he now faces. And added, “I need to have the best driver lineup I can have, or the best I can afford. I am not expecting him to be as fast as last year, because I know that when you are off the track for a year it is hard to come back. Besides, when you suffer a serious accident as he did, it is not easy. But I need to understand if he can do it.”

Morelli still remains optimistic, and asked about Kubica’s progress he said, “It's good news. His nerves must complete their recovery. But it's just a question of time.” But he remained a bit mysterious, “We think he can put on a helmet [soon] to give a message on what he can do.” Morelli expects Kubica will soon show what he still can in a simulator, or in a fast road car.

Bruno Senna, Lotus Renault GP and Eric Boullier, Team Principal, Lotus Renault GP
Bruno Senna, Lotus Renault GP and Eric Boullier, Team Principal, Lotus Renault GP

Photo by: xpb.cc

Unfortunately for Kubica and his manager the situation is a bit more complicated than that, Bruno Senna has made his Formula One return with the Lotus Renault team, has scored two good results during the last two races, and on top of that, although both Senna and Boullier have denied it, the Brazilian has also brought a lot of Brazilian sponsor moneys to the team, and as Boullier is the Team Principal and not the team owner, his superiors could be tempted to sign Senna, and not Kubica.

Indian Grand Prix tax problems solved


The India Grand Prix faced a tax problem, not the promoters of the race had tax problems, but the teams who will attend the inaugural Indian Grand Prix scheduled for October 30 were confronted with a tax problem. The problem is simple, teams who travel to a Grand Prix, bring all their equipment to what is basically a foreign country, and normally have to pay an import tax. In all other countries, customs have created an ‘exclusion zone’ which means teams can bring their equipment without paying tax, as long as all the equipment the bring goes back after the race. Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) chairman Whitmarsh told in Italy that authorities in India are not that forgiving, and wanted teams to pay tax when they entered the country, and would get their money back when they left again.

Buddh International Circuit
Buddh International Circuit

Photo by: Jaypee Sports International

This meant with all the expensive equipment, teams had to pay a huge tax bill, as the tax is two percent of the value of the equipment, some teams could not pay that and Whitmarsh recently remarked, “You don't go somewhere if you're going to be penalized. We have been unable thus far to get assurances from the Indian tax authorities that this manner will be resolved in a satisfactory manner.” The problem is that the Indian authorities have classified the Formula One Grand Prix as entertainment, rather than a sport, and this means teams have to pay taxes. The Indian government has refused to change its stance, which could lead to a possible boycott.

But a solution has been found, race promoter Jaypee Sports International Limited said today. “JPSI has full support from the government, the sports ministry and the customs department for the F1 event scheduled for October this year,” they said in a statement that was issued today. “We have an in-principle approval from the customs department for creating a customs bonded area for F1 equipment that will be temporarily imported to India.” Which means the team now has their ‘exclusion zone’ and don’t pay taxes. On top of that, JPSI has hinted they will pay, if necessary, the taxes themselves, which means the India Grand Prix is still on, on a completely overhauled state-of-the-art Buddh International Circuit.

Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One: On and off track”

Formula One - On and Off Track week 37

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1
Drivers Michael Waltrip , Mika Hakkinen , Fernando Alonso , Ross Brawn , Lewis Hamilton , Robert Kubica , Frank Williams , Mike Gascoyne , Sebastian Vettel , Bruno Senna , Adrian Newey , Martin Whitmarsh
Teams Red Bull Racing , Team Lotus , Sauber , Force India , Williams , Michael Waltrip Racing
Tags bouman, costa, coughlan, indian gp, kubica, michael