- The Inside Line
The gathering stormKate Walker April 10, 2014
With the success of the Bahrain Grand Prix now behind us, and the in-season only hours from completion, what lies ahead for Formula One?
The coming weeks will prove to be interesting both on- and off-track. As far as the racing goes, there's no reason to expect that Mercedes will be anything other than strong at the next grand prix in Shanghai, where Nico Rosberg secured his maiden grand prix victory in 2012. Whatever progress the teams have been able to make in the Bahrain tests will be more evident when the F1 circus returns to Europe, and where new components can be flown in and swapped around with ease.
Off-track, the sport remains as political as ever, although April will see a lot of lawyerly action. First up is Red Bull's appeal of Daniel Ricciardo's disqualification from the season-opening grand prix, scheduled to take place on 14 April at the FIA headquarters in Paris.
While there was speculation that Red Bull might drop the appeal in exchange for leniency from the FIA regarding Sebastian Vettel's four-letter description of the sound of the new era, in his meeting with the defending champion in Bahrain the FIA president was more concerned with expressing his disappointment with Vettel's word choice than he was in punishing a freely-given opinion.
Red Bull last month said that as part of their defence strategy they would point to the fact that Technical Directives are the opinion of the race director, and not regulations, and speaking to the media in Sepang Charlie Whiting said that "Technical directives are opinions - and always have been - given by the technical department to the teams. Normally they've been happy to follow that, and it's always been clear that they can be contested in front of the stewards. For years it's been like that, it it's been contested probably five times. It's right to say that they are not regulations, but they are there as the opinion of the technical department, and that is how most teams feel the sport is run. But it can be contested in front of the stewards."
The outcome of the appeal will not be known until next Monday at the earliest.
And at the end of this month, the Munich court will start to hear evidence in Bernie Ecclestone's bribery trial. Having spent several years putting their case together following Gerhard Gribkowsky's conviction for receiving a bribe from the F1 supremo, the prosecutors are confident in the charges they have brought. However, it does not necessarily follow that Ecclestone will be convicted, nor that a guilty verdict will lead to a prison term.
What is certain, however, is that for the duration of the trial the sporting side of Formula One will receive comparatively little coverage in the newspapers, with even the most thrilling of races taking a backseat to the rather drier evidence being presented and debated by lawyers from both sides.
Because Ecclestone has the highest profile of anyone in Formula One, with name recognition that far outstrips any of the drivers, there is a very real risk that whatever the judge decides, the sport as a whole will be brought into disrepute simply through its association with Ecclestone. Certainly there are already a number of unsigned sponsorship deals and announcements being held back pending the outcome of the case, and whether or not the verdict shows that Formula One is a suitable arena for blue-chip investment.
Also taking place this month is a Marrakech meeting of the World Motor Sport Council, although it will be a meeting held in isolation, with no linked meetings of either the F1 Commission or the F1 Strategy Group. This means that any regulatory changes agreed on by those groups will need to get WMSC approval and ratification via fax vote. Given Todt's recent comments promising that the manufacturers, teams, and FIA would work together to change the noise of the power units via the traditional (and proper) regulatory process, the fax machines in the Place de la Concorde will be working overtime very soon.