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Frankl F-1 Report – Inside MONACO at 75



By Nicholas Frankl
Senior Motorsport Editor
The Auto Channel

The annual pilgrimage to the Monte Carlo F1 Grand Prix didn’t disappoint this year. The world’s “Shi-Shi Pooh-Pooh” descended along with the F1 drivers, teams and all the sponsor CEOs to celebrate this unique and historic pageant.

I was warned by one of the top drivers a week before the race, over drinks at the Sir Norman Foster designed $150m Yacht Club de Monaco (now the epicenter of all social as well as sailing and rowing action in the Principality), that there wouldn’t be a single overtaking maneuver “in anger” as the cars were simply too wide. “Like trucks on a narrow street”, he said. He was about right, too! It was a ‘boring’ race by comparison to other great battles that have been fought on these largely unchanged streets since the race’s inception in 1929. It lacked the drama of Moss vs. Ferrari, Senna vs. Mansell, Prost in the rain, Senna into the barriers at Portier, Olivier Panis’ win (when his wife didn’t have a dress for the prize giving and it was 5pm on a Sunday!), to name but a very few.

Raikonnen dominated qualifying and probably knew as soon as he’d crossed the finish line Saturday at 3pm that he likely wouldn’t be seeing it first come Sunday afternoon around 3.45pm if teammate Vettel was still in the running! If you had a deal like Kimi (circa $25m/yr, Ferrari company car, top class machinery and evidently some job security) then you, too, would agree to drop the odd position for the benefit of the prancing stallion World Championship hopes. Hamilton and his Silver Arrows were well off the pace with serious tire, grip, and balance issues that saw him post his worst qualifying for years, down in 14th spot. I don’t think the Pirelli tires are very good (no one does) but you have to work with them and build them into the car, they are critical to the car’s performance, so it’s interesting to learn that Mercedes sent a test driver to do tire development over the winter whilst Ferrari sent Vettel and he even visited the Pirelli factory for some ‘Italian team building’. This reminds me of Michael Schumacher in the Bridgestone days when he invested enormous efforts into both tire and relationship development.

I would never have believed that team boss Arrivebene would have the ability to put a Championship-winning car together, but he’s really pulled a fast one and surprised the paddock – if not the world of motorsport. The whole team should be proud. Perhaps the vice-like pressure exerted by FIAT chief Marchionne was exactly what they needed?

Speaking of paddocks and personalities, it still amazes me the human effort and mega financial cost that the teams expend on building their egocentric motorhomes. The original design and development is in the tens of millions and it takes a small army roughly a week to assemble these 3-4 story gin palaces so that team personnel, drivers, owners, media and most importantly select sponsors (read CEOs and check-writing execs) can swan around in the lap of luxury. They add no value to the fan experience (except for jealous wonderings about what they are and what happens inside them) and they don’t, so far as I’m aware, make the cars any faster! F1 teams outside the top 3-4 constantly struggle for money and this would appear an obvious saving with little impact on ‘the show’. Talking of showbiz, which is what F1 is, I did get the chance to chat with Sean Bratches who is 1/3rd of the dream team now running F1. He’s ex-ESPN and was retired before getting a tap from new supremo Chase Carey. “It’s a 50-year-old start-up”, he exclaimed, referring to F1. Explaining just how little innovation Bernie and his team had introduced over the past ten years - tried and tested rather than digital and A.I. - he launched into a passionate and well-rounded marketing plan including much-improved fan integration with the teams, pitlane and paddock, probably with sponsors like Heineken, too, plus movie collaborations (Cars 3 features numerous F1 drivers including Lewis Hamilton), theme parks, video games and a total relaunch of online and social media activities. Already the paddock atmosphere has changed significantly: the old guard ‘paddock policemen’ have been ‘retired’ and drivers and teams are enjoying new found freedoms like posting Instagram videos and curating their own fans.

I’ve been saying for many years that the sterile working environment in the paddock combined with a bad show and mediocre fan experience would bite the sport and it certainly has, with few if any independent promoters, empty grandstands and expensive tickets. The new management team will have a major and, I believe, positive impact on the sport.

Until next time

About Nicholas Frankl

Nicholas Frankl has attended more than 250 F1 Grand Prix in the past 30+ years (1st race age six weeks). He has been writing for The Auto Channel since it started in 1995/6. He managed the Asprey/Ferrari partnership from 1996-99 working closely with Todt, Irvine, Schumacher and Stefano Dominicalli. Visiting the Ferrari factory annually he has a deep insight into the inner workings of the team. He is also an three time Olympic sportsman, having qualified and driven a two-man & four-man bobsleigh in Lillehammer 1994, Nagano 1998 and Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympic Games. He has raced cars in the UK and USA, competed in the Cannonball, Gumball and Bullrun rallies, is a certified private pilot and member of both The Royal Automobile Club and Automobile Club of Monaco. Throughout his life he has visited the majority of F1 tracks and shared drinks and many fun times with many of yesterday’s legends and todays hero’s.

A Word from Nicholas:


So where does bobsleigh fit into this mix?

Well, that's me. Gilles Villeneuve I may never (unfortunately) be, but the next best thing (I'm told - and in fact can vouch for) is Formula One on ice. 1994 saw me competing as driver of the first Hungarian bob team in the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and then onto two more Olympic Winter games. Why am I telling you this? Well, if for no other reason than that you'll at least understand how I gain some insight into the sport we love. Strangely enough, the F1 boys have a real respect for their ice cousins; the speed, G' forces and exhilaration are quite similar. This, however, is only my "off season" hobby. The reason for this intro is to allow me to say HI, From here on I hope we’ll become firm friends, as I follow the F1 circus around the world and you get to pick up all the details. Not just the results, but the gossip too and the first-hand natter you just don't get from the usual sources.

Thanks to my father, whose stories you'll also be reading, I've grown up in the world of motor sport and cars - in fact instead of a birth certificate, I think I was born with a pit pass. It's the sort of life that if you enjoy our sport is tough to beat, so I thought this would be a good way of sharing the fun.