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Lotus F1 hit by winding up petition from unpaid suppliers

The Lotus F1 team is facing a potential legal crisis in the wake of a winding-up petition from a group of creditors that includes gearbox component supplier Xtrac.

A hearing at Companies Court today was adjourned for two weeks in order to give the parties further time to talk.

If there is no resolution the case could lead to Lotus going into administration.

The judge has adjourned the hearing for two weeks,” an Xtrac spokesman told this writer. “This is in order to allow further dialogue during which we will continue to discuss all the options for resolution with Lotus F1.

Throughout the past 15 months, Xtrac has manufactured a significant quantity of parts in good faith to ensure the cars can keep running. We have enjoyed a long standing relationship with Lotus F1 and its management, and we hope to resume this once the now significant debt has been reduced and a positive outcome agreed.”

Lotus CEO Matthew Carter has downplayed the possible consequences, suggesting that the situation is simply related to suppliers being keen to get paid promptly after problems at other teams last year.

We’ve talked about it a lot,” he told this writer. “The smaller teams have talked about it, and the issues at Marussia and Caterham haven’t helped. There’s a hearing – in fact I think the hearing’s been adjourned – but it’s just usual creditors, it’s part of the process, it’s just where we are, it’s life.”

Carter denied that the situation might be disconcerting for sponsors.

We’re in a fairly good position in that we don’t owe – other than our suppliers which is normal run of the mill – we don’t actually owe a bank any money, we don’t have any loans outstanding or anything, everything that we owe is to to the shareholders.

It’s not as if there’s anyone out there who’s going to do anything silly. As far as what we can portray to our sponsors, we’re fine, we are where we are.”

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Could Ecclestone and Mackenzie lead buyout of CVC’s F1 stake?

Bernie Ecclestone has hinted that he might be part of a consortium that could take over CVC’s 35% shareholding of the F1 business.

Ecclestone indicated that CVC has faced a deadline to sell its stake, and has extended it twice. The business is understood to be valued at around $9bn, making the CVC share worth approximately $3bn. 

It’s like all hedge funds,” he told this writer. “They invest people’s money for a certain period. It doesn’t matter how good they do, they have to give it back. Maybe they re-invest again, maybe they don’t, I don’t know. They’re past their sell-off date. They have extended it a couple of times.”

He then suggested that even if CVC left the sport its chairman Donald Mackenzie could remain an investor in a personal capacity, in conjunction with Bernie himself and other investors – in what could be termed a management buyout.

Donald Mackenzie doesn’t want to sell, as simple as that. He loves F1, he loves the business, he doesn’t want to sell. He may have to sell his shares. Whether he’ll invest himself, maybe with me, separately, we’ll have to wait and see.”

Asked if he was interested in buying F1 back, Bernie said: “We’re talking.”

Curiously Mackenzie himself said that there was no deadline for CVC as the original investment had been repaid, and thus “the pressure is off.” He added: “We don’t want to sell.”

Meanwhile Ecclestone has acknowledged that a joint venture involving Qatar and US firm RSE Ventures is among potential buyers of CVC’s share of the F1 business. He considers RSE’s billionaire boss Stephen Ross as a serious player.

Lots of people have made approaches. He’s a proper guy, he’s a sporting guy, from a business point of view.”

Intriguingly the head of the Qatari motor sport federation said this week that he was close to finalising a deal to have a Grand Prix, despite Bahrain and Abu Dhabi having an agreement with Ecclestone that would prevent a third race being launched in the Middle East. Ecclestone acknowledge that the situation could change if Qatar invested in F1.

I think if they own the company there’s a very good chance of that happening.”

He added: “Or get the people from Bahrain and Abu Dhabi to agree. Then they wouldn’t have to buy the company.”

Dieter Hahn of German sports marketing media group Constantin Medien, who was involved in an expensive legal fight with Ecclestone, has also been connected to the RSE/Qatar bid. Ecclestone doesn’t see their history as an issue.

I can work with anybody. It doesn’t make any difference to me. He lost the case, so why should I be upset with him? If he was here now, we’d probably have dinner tonight.”


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“Wild card” compound selection coming in 2016

Pirelli has welcomed the F1 Strategy Group’s move to free up the tyre regulations from 2016.

While the details have yet to be finalised, a move is planned towards ‘wild cards’ – allowing teams to have some control over their choice of tyres at certain events.

The FIA would only say “increased freedom of choice for tyre compounds has been confirmed and the modalities are being finalised with Pirelli for 2016.”

However the intention is that at selected races teams will have a free choice of compounds, while at tracks where there is a question mark over safety – such as Monza – Pirelli will dictate the choice. For example the teams may have four wild cards to play at any four of 15 races where Pirelli allows a free choice. Those choices will be made well in advance, for logistical reasons. This particular idea was put forward by Red Bull Racing.

“It’s around that area,” Pirelli boss Paul Hembery told this writer. “The idea is to have certain wild card events and certain block-out events where it just wouldn’t be advisable due to safety reasons.

I don’t think we’ve got the final situation yet, but we’re getting closer to a solution that the teams are looking for, gives the sport what it needs, and allows us to maintain a level of safety on the choices that are made.”

Hembery said different ideas are still in play: “There are a couple of proposals being refined. A lot of it has been chopped and changed and consolidated. We’ve got a bit of time yet, it probably needs to be September time before we refine it. A couple of new ideas have come out in the last 24 hours that are even more interesting.

“But it’s all going in the same direction, to give the idea of some choice, and to allow flexibility for the teams while giving a guarantee that the race can be run because they’ve got a product that can do the race distance.”

As part of the change Pirelli wants to have an extra tyre in the range, known variously as an ‘ultra soft’ or ‘super super soft.’

“One little step next year might be a super super soft,’ technically speaking a supersoft for the Monaco or possibly Singapore that goes one step further than what we have at the moment.”


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Boullier thanks Strategy Group for extra Honda engine

McLaren boss Eric Boullier has welcomed the F1 Strategy Group’s decision to grant Honda an extra “free” fifth engine for 2015.

The rule change has been brought in on the basis that it applies to all future new entrants in their first seasons, and it has been applied retrospectively to Honda “for the sake of fairness,” according to the FIA.

Last year all drivers had five engines, and the figure was reduced to four on the basis that the manufacturers had gained a year of experience and thus reliability was improved.

While the McLaren drivers are already on their fifth or even sixth engine elements, the next ones can be taken without penalty.

“I’m happy that the F1 community has been giving a gesture of goodwill,” Boullier told this writer. “The problem was there was never any process about if somebody wanted to enter the sport after January 1 2014.”

The move is also a bonus for the likes of VW/Audi, who might be discouraged from entering by the sort of problems that Honda has experienced.

“Obviously F1 needs people to come from outside. It was a good Strategy Group meeting, there was a lot of positive discussion. There is more to come actually, which we can’t make public now, but it’s good. F1 needs to think not only about ourselves, but about the world.”

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Strategy Group looks at Saturday sprint for third drivers

One of the ideas considered by the F1 Strategy Group for 2017 is a Saturday sprint race for third drivers.

The FIA said yesterday that  “several exciting and innovative changes to the qualifying and race weekend formats have also been discussed and are being evaluated by FIA and FOM for a 2016 introduction.”

The third driver sprint would involve one entry from each team, with up to 11 cars – with the addition of Haas for next season – taking part.

The idea is that the top four finishers would progress to the Grand Prix on Sunday, and would be allowed to start from the back of the grid. Clearly these cars would also have to practice and qualify, which would give the teams extra track miles.

The complication is that teams would have to take a fully prepared third car to each race, and with the extra freight and crew clearly huge costs will be involved.

However the intention is that the sprint race would not happen at every Grand Prix weekend, and it would be logical for example to miss the early flyaway races when teams might not have enough new parts to fully service three cars.

An alternative path could be a sprint race for the race drivers which determined the grid for Sunday.

“I think it’s very embryonic in its discussion,” Christian Horner told this writer. “It’s good that there’s a discussion going on about that kind of thing. I think it needs to be fully and properly considered. It’s just ideas floating around at the moment.”


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Nico Rosberg: “I think it’s very normal to have doubts…”

Nico Rosberg says he’s keen to do well at Silverstone as it’s the home race of both the Mercedes race team and its engine department– and he also wants to attack the gap to title rival Lewis Hamilton.

Rosberg admits that he’s on a roll at the moment, and he wants that to continue as he chases down points leader Hamilton.

“It’s important for me to keep closing the gap to him,” he said at Silverstone. “And of course I’m going to try and do it here. It’s a good period for me in the season now, and I want to try and keep that going. He’s still 10 points ahead, and I need to keep digging at that way very quickly. Ten points is nothing if you look at the length of the season, so the chances are really good.

“It’s a little bit different for me as well, because I know how important it is for all my team colleagues. That means a lot to me, and I know that one of the best ways for me to give something back to them or say thank you for an amazing car that they built is to do a one-two here. A lot of their families will be here, and I’m very aware of that, so that makes it a special weekend.

“We were in the engine factory this morning, there were 400 or 500 people there, I’m not sure how many, and it was very obvious how excited they were about the weekend.”

Meanwhile Rosberg said that his Austrian GP win was an important step for him.

“It was a great weekend for me, for sure yes, especially because it was one of those that was not so difficult. And that was great to see, to really just be quicker in the race all the way through was cool. And especially it was great because that was the area where I needed to slightly work on after last year, race craft, and I made a nice step there. That’s been important for me to see.”

However he said he’s not been doing anything different relative to the start of the year to generate his recent success: “Unfortunately nothing, it’s just the way sport is. Sport goes in waves, and that’s the best explanation I have got it.”

He had an interesting response when asked if he faced any self doubts when times were hard.

“Doubt is always a part of it, but I’ve learned to always keep believing and push through and overcome the doubt. I think it’s very normal to have doubts. I think all of you have doubts that you are going to be able to deliver a great story this weekend, but you keep believing, and you push through, and you bang one out anyways, and do better than anybody else.”

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Strategy Group mandates F1 changes from this season

The FIA has confirmed that changes to F1 rules will be implemented this season following yesterday’s meeting of the Strategy Group at Biggin Hill, which was a follow-up to discussions at the earlier May 14th meeting.

Measures to increase the role of driver – especially with regard to starts – will be introduced as early as the Belgian GP, while the thorny issue of engine penalties will be addressed.

Honda has been given an extra “free” engine on the basis that all future manufacturers will also be allowed five engines in their first year, as Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari were in 2014.

Crucially the costs of engine supply to customer teams is to come under review. Prices went up considerably when the switch to hybrid power was made.

Work on 2017 technical regulations continues as the FIA seeks to make cars more exciting to drive and to watch.

The full list of measures outlined by the FIA is as follows: “Increased restrictions on driver aids and coaching received unanimous support and will be rapidly implemented, starting from this year’s Belgian Grand Prix – with a particular emphasis on race starts – and in 2016. These measures will bring back the driver in full control of the car, enhancing races excitement and unpredictability.

Following the Austrian GP, an overhaul of the power unit penalties has been unanimously agreed and will be submitted to the F1 Commission via an express fax vote for an adoption at the World Motor Sport Council in Mexico City next week, together with changes to the exhaust system that will improve engine noise for 2016.

Furthermore, it was agreed to allow an extra power unit per driver in the first year to any new manufacturer entering the championship and, for the sake of fairness, the measure will apply retroactively to Honda for the 2015 season.

Mandate has been given to the FIA and FOM to propose a comprehensive set of measures for power unit development and cost of supply, including full review of the token system, increase in race fuel allowance, limits on the usage of engine dynamometers etc.

Increased freedom of choice for tyre compounds has been confirmed and the modalities are being finalised with Pirelli for 2016.

A new set of regulations aimed at achieving faster and more aggressive looking cars for 2017, to include wider cars and wheels, new wings and floor shape and significantly increased aerodynamic downforce has been outlined and is currently being assessed by the teams.

Several exciting and innovative changes to the qualifying and race weekend formats have also been discussed and are being evaluated by FIA and FOM for a 2016 introduction.”


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