casspanel

Last night I was on a panel at Cass Business School (ranked #3 in Europe for Finance Research), which was something of a privilege, coming from a rival business school – Cranfield (ranked #1 in UK for Executive Education). I was in very good company with top F1 bloggers Joe Saward and James Allen, former CEO of Mercedes GP, Nick Fry, Leadership expert Dr Amanda Goodall and F1 technical guru Gary Anderson – why on earth have the BBC dropped him from their F1 coverage? Gary’s ‘cut off’ lap time predictions were always the highlight of qualifying as far as I’m concerned.

The panel was expertly chaired by Dr Paolo Aversa from Cass and we had a great time putting the world of F1 to rights, helped along by a great audience with lots of knowledgeable questions. Of course there was much to talk about – the new power units (I guess the term engine will now be consigned to history); what lies in store for Bernie (the view here was never underestimate him, and he will be back fully in charge by the end of the year); what’s going to happen at McLaren regarding the appointment of a new CEO (one or two people were a bit coy about this one, so maybe we’ll have an announcement soon); and will Lotus get the financial backing it needs to stop haemorrhaging great people. All in all there was much to discuss and that’s the great thing about F1: technology, finance, strategy, creative interpretations of regulations and above all people, and as Nick Fry reminded us, at the end of the day, it’s people that make the difference.

 The debate over the 2012 Bahrain GP seems to have split many in the F1 fraternity between ‘yes it was the right decision’ – led, unsurprisingly, by those who were party to the decision e.g. Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone and supported by other commentators such as Jackie Stewart and Martin Brundle. On the other side were those who leaned towards ‘no it was the wrong decision’ – largely led by the UK press e.g. Richard Williams (Guardian), Byron Young (Mirror) and Tom Cary (Telegraph), and then there were those who were rather stuck in the middle and undecided – e.g. Damon Hill and, I have to admit, myself. One thing does seem certain, that F1 is a bit of an irrelevance in a country which is trying to deal with such deep seated problems, never have discussions on the details of DRS technology seemed so trivial and out of place.

There are two questions which seem to be hanging in the air. First as to whether it is right to place the teams and all those working in F1 into such a potentially volatile situation, and of course there are different views as to how much danger they were really in, the Force India incident was undoubtedly traumatic for those involved, and everyone was glad that F1 personnel were largely unaffected by the troubles in Bahrain. The second question seems to have been whether or not F1 can help or hinder in such a situation. It certainly seems that the unimpeded access which the F1 journalists appeared to enjoy allowed the opposition access to publicity which had previously been denied to them. The fact that, just as the F1 teams were leaving Bahrain, a Channel 4 News Crew was detained by the authorities suggests that the door may have been opened a chink for F1, but it is now being closed up again. However there will be a continued debate about whether or not there should be a Bahrain GP in 2013 (which has probably already started), and from that point of view further scrutiny will be brought to bear on the situation and the progress of the opposition in obtaining reforms. Time will tell. But one thing is clear, anyone who thinks a global sport, such as F1, is in some kind of vacuum and can ignore the political context in which it operates, is well and truly out of touch with reality.

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