F1 Business Diary 2014: the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

24 November 2014 | Posted in Notes & Insights | By David Cushnan | Contact the author

F1 Business Diary 2014: the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton became just the fourth Briton to win multiple world championships as the curtain came down on a tumultuous season in the Formula One soap opera, at one of the sport's most spectacular locations.

Although the constructors' championship was secured last month in Russia, unsurprisingly Mercedes' top brass descended on Yas Marina for the final instalment of the drivers' world title battle between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg on Sunday in Abu Dhabi.

This has been a remarkable year for the German manufacturer - Hamilton's victory on Sunday, enough to secure his own second world title, was the team's 16th in 19 races this year - and the Formula One team's exploits have inevitably spawned a major marketing drive, dubbed 'Formula Won'. But it is worth remembering that Mercedes' presence in Formula One goes beyond the clichéd 'win on Sunday, sell on Monday' mentality. "Ever since the invention of the first automobile by Karl Benz, our company has been a force for innovation in the automotive industry," noted a delighted Dr. Dieter Zetsche, the chairman of Mercedes' parent Daimler and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars - not to mention the owner of perhaps the world's most remarkable moustache - when the dust had settled on Sunday.

"Right from the start, Mercedes-Benz regarded racing as a proving ground for some of our most important developments. The new Formula One regulations on hybrid power units have taken the sport in the same direction that the automotive industry was heading. Formula One is carrying out pioneering work in areas that will also be of great importance in the car industry of the future."

The power of goodbye
Mercedes' relationship with McLaren, which began as long ago as 1995, formally came to an end on Sunday, with Jenson Button's fifth place sealing the British team's fifth place in the championship, ahead of another Mercedes customer, Force India. McLaren's relationship with Honda, around which there is much anticipation, began with a brief run at Silverstone last week and will continue at this week's two-day test in Abu Dhabi.

Mercedes, meanwhile, will continue to supply engines to Williams and Force India in 2015 and is poised to begin a new relationship with Lotus. The Enstone-based team ended its own 20-year partnership with Renault, which yielded world championships for Michael Schumacher (in 1995, when the team was called Benetton) and Fernando Alonso (in 2005 and 2006, when the French manufacturer owned the team outright), on Sunday.

Stuck in the ice age
There are those in Formula One who believe that every utterance from the mouth of Bernie Ecclestone is a carefully chosen message, delivered for a reason, and part of some wider plan that mere mortals couldn't possibly get their heads around. There are others who believe that Ecclestone, who has recently turned 84, simply says the first thing that comes into his head, regardless of whether it contradicts something he said a week earlier.

The general consensus, however, is that his view that Formula One should not chase a younger audience, delivered in a remarkable interview with Campaign Asia, was, at best, nonsense. Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner, an Ecclestone ally, perhaps summed it up best when he said: "What you have to remember is that when you're 84, a 70-year old is still pretty young".

For now, though, with no central focus on what was once called 'new media', Formula One's teams are left to their own devices. And, despite restrictions on the use of footage, they, by and large, do a superb job, as this 2014 video retrospective from Mercedes neatly demonstrates.




No smoke without fire
Ferrari finished the 2014 season without a victory, the first year the Italian team has not won a race since 1993. And on the weekend an understandably frustrated Fernando Alonso departed - the Spaniard is almost certainly bound for McLaren-Honda - speculation about yet another management change began to bubble.

Marco Mattiacci, the head of Ferrari North America, was parachuted into the Formula One team in April, after the dismissal of team principal Stefano Domenicali. However, Luca di Montezemolo, the man who took that decision, was himself effectively deposed by Sergio Marchionne, the head of Ferrari parent Fiat, a few months later. Now, speculation in the German and Italian press has indicated that Mattiacci, a suave man but one who has undoubtedly taken a huge risk in jettisoning Alonso and bringing in Sebastian Vettel, may not survive the winter.

Former technical director Ross Brawn, who has enjoyed a year off after leaving Mercedes, has, inevitably, been linked with a return, but the other name linked with one of sport's most prestigious jobs is Maurizio Arrivebene. Arrivebene, who was in Abu Dhabi, has close ties to Ferrari: he is the European brand manager for Marlboro, the company which pours millions into the Italian team each year, despite legislation restricting tobacco advertising.

In truth, though, Ferrari may not be alone in deciding a winter of upheaval is necessary to try and get on terms with the sport's new three-pointed star.

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