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Ferrari boss on racing Schumacher, tyre and money problems
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Ferrari boss on racing Schumacher, tyre and money problems
Posted By: James Allen  |  12 Mar 2010   |  7:53 pm GMT  |  21 comments

I had breakfast this morning with Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali in his office at the track. Well, he invited me for breakfast, but to Italians that means coffee.
The conversation was wide ranging and covered Michael Schumacher’s defection to Mercedes, the new teams, the financial situation in F1 and the serious problem of who will supply tyres to F1 next season.


On Schumacher he said that that it felt “strange” to be racing against him and that he had not yet seen his former colleague at the track, but that he intended to today. “Racing against Ross and Michael is difficult; they are friends of mine,” he said. “I was disappointed (when Schumacher signed for Mercedes) but that’s life. It is strange to see him in grey. We mustn’t forget what we have done together. Now he has a new challenge and we have a new challenge and we must stay in front of him.”

The most pressing problem facing the sport at the moment is to find a new tyre supplier for next season. Many engineers have expressed annoyance that the situation has been allowed to develop to the point where we are in March and still don’t know what tyres the teams will use next year.

Unless Bridgestone can be talked around to continue, this means that the designers will be having to guess many things when laying out the design of next year’s cars. But worse than that, it is too late for a new company to come in and make tyres for next season. Michelin could do it, having been in the sport until relatively recently. But not many people are talking about them at the moment.

For Domenicali there is only one possibility and that is paying Bridgestone for tyres,
“For sure we are late,” he said. “The only possibility not to be late is to keep the same tyres as this year. That’s the pragmatic way. I don’t see the possibility of having the tyres with no payment and that is another problem for the teams. At this stage, I can’t see how it will evolve in a different way. ”

FIA president Jean Todt said today that he can imagine two suppliers battling in f1, but Domenicali said that having a tyre war in F1 “wouldn’t be possible” for next season.

The FIA and FOM both have a stake in this situation and Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone were observed in intense discussion with Bridgestone management today attempting to resolve the situation. Bridgestone want money to stay and will need to be provided with an elegant way of reversing their pull out announcement. But it seems that the discussions may also be about what else F1 can offer them, to boost the promotion they get and offset some of the financial side; things like involvement in the FIA Make Roads Safe Campaign.

Domenicali also expressed grave concern about the financial situation in F1, with so few new sponsors coming in over the winter and many smaller teams like Sauber, unsponsored,

“The financial situation is difficult, it’s a real problem,” he said. “There are no big brands that have invested in F1, we are one of the only teams who have good brands that work with us, because they feel loyal to our brand and see a future. It’s a big concern that we need to address. We need to address the show and the model as a business.”

The lack of sponsorship is something that has shocked many F1 insiders. Things may be looking rosy on the track, but behind the scenes there are some problems which need addressing fast.

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21 Comments
  1. Tifosi says:

    James will you do an article about your prediction on who will win the WDC & WCC and who will be in runners up position?. I think it would be interesting to know who you fancy to win the title.

    Thx and keep up the great work :)

  2. newnhamlea1 says:

    ah ha! a spark of hope, the f1 tyr war may yet return, i realy think it can be only a good thing for F1, in my opinion, bridgestone have got lazy and have been able to churn out any old tyre, also it is nice to see more technichal competition.

    1. Rich C says:

      Not gonna be a tire war. B’stone have quite properly served notice and will need to be coaxed back in, if they stay at all. You cant say they got lazy because you have nothing to compare them to. And their competitors are not exactly lining up in droves to replace them!
      I dont know how they got paid if at all but it seems they were *the major sponsor of the series, and quite un-sung for it.

  3. JohnRav says:

    While on the topic of Tires, how about a tech article or future post about the effect of the new rule going form 14 sets of tires to 11 for the race weekend.

    Combine that with full full loads (in the race and no fuel in Qualifying) seems like it could be big.

    Last year I know Kimi was caught out of Q3, as he was trying to save an extra set of primes for Q3 and only ran once in Q2. Massa too maybe?

  4. Alias James says:

    I think 2009 was a bad time for a sponsor for F1, remember all the FIA/FOTA political warfare, drop-outs of the large car manufacturers, as well as the global financial crisis on all fronts.

    2010 is definitely better, saw brands like CNN, LADA, and HP come back in. As for Sauber’s case I read in one of recent stories that for them it wasn’t a case of lack of sponsors, but rather lack of time as they did not get to negotiate with many of them due to the way they had to salvage the team after BMW pulled out. But certainly expect lots of sponsorship from Japanese based firms due to the presence of Kobayashi in the team.

    Likewise, HRT and F1 in general could expect a lot of sponsors from Indian-based firms (in due time). One would expect TATA to come back in for Karun Chandhok, also surely Bruno Senna would be really good marketing brand, just a matter of time. And talk about Vitaly Petrov, the first ever Russian driver, even managing to getting Vladimir Putin involved in the sport.

    Then mention Michael Schumacher, the interest he has already created by returning, and imagine how it will bring greater renewed enthusiasm and increased interest from the sport as the races begin tomorrow, and possibility of bringing in so many potentially more sponsors.

    There was the marketing promise of USF1, Youtube as a major outlet, they blundered in every possible way which is a really big disappointment. However, I do hope it might create some kind of ‘rebound’ effect, there might be emergence of some other kind of US based interest, considering their IRL/CART problems were recently solved, and US economy coming back.

    With a new FIA president on board, probability of more universally appreciated race decisions, regulations and stewarding with help of former drivers. More refined politics, a more business-worthy FIA! new races at Korea, Rome, India, return to Canada, where fan base is bound to be MUCH, MUCH more than compared to Turkey?

    Even the upcoming F1 video game in September, after the F1 license finally being released from SONY who managed to do nothing at all with it for the last 5+ years, and now acquired by the billion-dollar earning company Codemasters, it is bound to generate more interest in F1 all around, in every possible way.

    Then mention new information technology, like your excellent Twitter service, which allows fans to be closer and even more connected to F1 as never before. Just read today that F1 web traffic today was extremely high for one site in particular, with web views coming in from an unexpected source – Estonia! Then apart from twitter, the F1 live timing (for mobile devices), the continued LG surveys and so much more information available now than ever before.

    All in all its incredibly exciting time for F1, and all the things listed above, if I’m not mistaken, all came to being in this very season, whereas it was mostly pretty much the same in previous years.

    I think soon its gonna be a great time to invest for sponsors, and great time to be a F1 fan again.

    Godspeed.

    1. Martin says:

      Your analysis make sense. As far as I’m aware, IRL still has a big problem in that no one is watching, therefore sponsors are hard to get.

    2. Steve Rogers says:

      Brilliant analysis, well-informed and interesting – I will watch the sponsorship as a sport in itself now after reading this :-)

  5. Mike Dawson says:

    This is quite interesting. The financial situation may be bad, something might need to be done quickly. Yet, do Ferrari and the other well funded teams want to make the changes quickly? Are they interested on finding a solution for the long term good of the sport?

    I suspect that there is more money available than first meets the eye.

    1. Brace says:

      If your eye meets bernie’s pocket, you might meet the money too.

  6. FaithHealer1 says:

    I hope Bridgestone stay, they’re a good, fair company who don’t try and start any fireworks with teams or the FIA. I personally would hate to see a tyre war back in F1, as teams would tend to be competetive only due to what tyres they were running, not anything else. The more level playing field produced by the single tyre manufacturer has, in my opinion, really helped the closeness and excitement of the last few seasons.

  7. rpaco says:

    Well apparently today Schumi has said that he was not quick enough and has to raise his game.
    Obviously he is till getting back into it, but whether he can reach his former level (where it was said that he only needed to concentrate 80% on his driving leaving 20% to think about tyres fuel consumption and the position of his rivals on the track), is unlikely simply because he is now the old man of F1. Reports say that he looked tense and irritated, if that is actually the case ha may make mistakes. Remember how he always went off in practice finding just how far over the normal line, HIS line was, to do that he had to be in absolute control with absolute confidence in the car, its early days yet, maybe he will be that good again but it was not the old Schumi who was driving today.

  8. F1 Kitteh says:

    I think Stefano might be in for a surprise when his sponsorship contracts come to renewal time, and find the sponsors to be pushing back on the fees. Honda, Toyota, BMW, Bridgestone, etc those are only warning shots. There is value in F1 but not at the level where the money used to be at. It is just inconceivable to build a business that counts on increasing ticket prices by 8% or whatever a year when inflation is closer to 1%. The numbers do not add up and money doesn’t come out of thin air. It is not possible that Ferrari alone can find and spend 10x more than anyone else without destroying the series, therefore I believe it is more likely that costs and budgets will come down dramatically soon, whether the players like it or not.

  9. Sikas says:

    You say the “breakfast” was just coffee, but there is clearly a plate of pastries on Stefano’s desk. That’s not bad.

  10. Silverstoned says:

    How to attract a big sponsor? Team principals sometimes get this the wrong way round.

    (imho) for the Sponsor the key is: Viewer Numbers.
    Keep the viewers and fans happy and the sponsors will flock in.

  11. Adam Taylor says:

    James, Im just putting it out there, but what would the problem be if the teams (FOTA) or even the FIA brought the rights to the tyres (moulds/factories etc) and carried on with the same tyres next year. Im not sure about any contract disputes but this solution would solve many problems.
    1) Teams wouldnt have to spend a fortune re-designing there cars (especially if they had gone in a different direction) to match the tyre characteristics.
    2) They would be able to develop the tyres at the rate they want.
    3) The employees would have a good chance at keeping their current jobs within the set-up.
    4) They could sell the rights to a tyre company for branding purposes. This would save Pirelli for example, a lot of money and would be very cost effective as they would be involved with Formula 1 on the branding side, but would save a lot of money from having to set up the tyre factory/facilities.

    1. Martin says:

      Although the tyres are not at the cutting edge of what Bridgestone can do, I suspect that there is still intellectual property that it wants to protect. Your plan could still work, with some degree of Bridgestone control.

      In tennis there are situations where a play uses one brand of racquet, but is painted to look like another.

  12. Rich C says:

    “…and many smaller teams like Sauber, unsponsored”

    I lol’d. So all of a sudden the Big F are concerned about the health of the smaller teams? I guess he didn’t get the memo from Montewhatsit!

  13. jack_faith says:

    Of course the economic climate is hardly conducive to new sponsors but I wonder if also companies look at F1 as more trouble than its worth. Undeniably prestigious but what a carry-on. You can see Bernie Ecclestone’s point about F1 being in the news always being a good thing but the political stuff, and other shenanigans, can be a bit distracting from the business of racers racing. You get into watching the memorable moments half expecting some issue to arise thats casts a pall over race-craft.

  14. Racergil says:

    I absolutely love the business of F1. Clearly when an insider and team boss like Domenicali rings the alarm bells, there is cause for concern. In the business of F1, things happen very quickly, due to the vast sums of money in play. There is a clear negative trend in the high profile pull outs over the course of the last few years. The manufacturers, numerous sponsors, and potentially Bridgestone now, have signaled an alarming situation, that has been exacerbated by the FIA’s, and Bernie’s propensity for shooting themselves in the foot. HRT and teams of this calibre are not the solution. Lets hope that Jean Todt sorts this out.

  15. Andy C says:

    James,
    totally off tpopic but it made me smile. On your Twitter service darren Heath was wondering if Robert kubica had a personality bypass at birth ;-)

    who is the most interesting guy to interview and who of ex drivers was the worst?

  16. Curro says:

    Michelin is the best solution but or course it’ll never happen with Todt as head of the FIA.

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