The Miami Grand Prix is positioning itself as one of Formula 1’s natural homes for wheeling and dealing, and there was no shortage of off-track action around Hard Rock Stadium to get paddock chins wagging.
The unfolding championship battle between Ferrari and Red Bull Racing of course stole headlines, but McLaren’s woeful on-track performance obscured big news for the iconic heritage brand off track as Volkswagen attempts to establish itself as a Formula 1 force for the second half of the decade .
Watch every practice, qualifying and race of the 2022 FIA Formula One World Championship™ live on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try 14 days free now >
And you couldn’t blame the German marque for trying to muscle in on the action. Formula 1 is having a moment not only in the massive United States market but globally. The sport’s never been healthier, and with regulations set to tighten the competition in the coming years without sending costs spiralling, it might be now or never to turn interest into reality.
The stars were out to play in Miami.
And that was part of the problem, as organizers reportedly failed to plan for the hospitality demands that the rich and famous bring with them.
According to F1 journalist Adam Cooper, the quality of service in the Paddock Club was labeled a ‘s*** show’ as teams and sponsors were left fuming.
“A lot of good things about Miami but teams and sponsors not happy with the quality of service in the Paddock Club, run locally rather than by the usual F1 organisation,” Cooper tweeted.
“Tickets are $13,000 ($A18.7k) so people expect 5 stars… First world problems I know, but lessons to be learned.”
Cooper later added: “If anything I underplayed this yesterday. Some senior marketing people told me it was a ‘shit show’ and that wealthy F1 newcomers/potential sponsors won’t be coming back after a bad first experience.”
FERRARI ISSUES RED BULL RACING COST CAP WARNING
We’re five rounds into 2022 and the championship is about to enter a new and important chapter: the European season.
The Spanish Grand Prix is traditionally when teams have brought their first major update packages of the year. These upgrades are set to pack a more powerful punch than usual under these all-new rules, with early gains expected to be substantial as teams rapidly develop an understanding of their cars.
But there are two divergent approaches to the development game between Ferrari and Red Bull Racing.
Because Ferrari is keeping its powder dry for one major update package in Spain, Red Bull Racing has been bringing new bits to just about every race so far, and as a result the RB18 has pulled ahead on pure pace.
“It’s true that Red Bull have improved their car since the very start of the season, and they introduced upgrades,” said Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto. “If I look at the last two races, maybe they have got a couple of tenths per lap faster to us.”
But Binotto isn’t too concerned about being overpowered in a development war. Since last year F1 teams have been restricted in how much they can spend in a year. Theoretically every team has the same amount of firepower at their disposal.
“Now I have no doubt that, in order to keep the pace, we need to develop ourselves and introduce upgrades.
“I hope, because there is as well a budget cap, that at some stage Red Bull will stop development — otherwise I will not understand how they can do that.
“We do not have the money to spend for upgrades at each single race … not because of an inability but because of the budget cap.
“So we need somehow to try to focus development on when we believe it’s the right moment and the right spending.”
The cost cap has added a new element to the gamesmanship between the teams. Though no constructor can know for certain what another is spending, the longer the championship stays close, the more likely we are to see this kind of niggle between teams. Just think about the rampant speculation about Mercedes’s rear wing in the final races of last season — it ultimately amounted to nothing but generated substantial tension and friction as the title fight went down to the wire.
MCLAREN REFUSES AUDI PURCHASE MOVE
After years of speculation, Volkswagen is finally on a path to F1 via its Porsche and Audi brands, but the final steps still need to be cemented before an official announcement can be made.
It’s practically an open secret that Porsche will partner with Red Bull Racing through its Red Bull Powertrains division and enter the sport as an engine supplier, but Audi’s route into the sport is less clear.
Ingolstadt is reportedly aiming to start an engine program as well as run a team, but rather than break ground on a new factory, it’s been sussing out options to buy its way into the sport through one of the smaller squads.
For the past six months McLaren has been the favorite to do a deal.
McLaren CEO Zak Brown admitted in January he’d been talking to Audi about the potential of a partnership but that nothing was certain, his company having denied two months earlier that a deal to sell to Audi had already been done.
Reports in the German media in April suggested Audi has returned to the negotiating table with an increased offer of €650 million ($980 million).
MORE FORMULA 1
STANDING STILL: Ferrari’s problems laid bare in Miami
FOUR GOATS: Sport world loses it over epic image
‘THAT’S YOUR JOB’: Hamilton’s salty rebuke as Mercedes ‘breaking point’ nears
But over the Miami Grand Prix weekend Brown said definitely that the historic Formula 1 team wasn’t interested in selling.
“Our shareholders are very committed to McLaren,” he said. “We did have conversations with Audi, and we’re not for sale. We’re very committed to our future and we’re doing really well on the track.
“Shareholders are making substantial investments to give our team the resources we need to get back to the front, and commercially we’re doing really well. Morale in the team is really good. We don’t have any interest in selling the racing team.”
“We’re McLaren F1. That’s what we’re going to remain, and we’re going to remain owning the racing team.”
The news will come as a relief to McLaren fans and long-term F1 followers who respect the McLaren brand, and not only because the team’s continuous history will remain unviolated.
While the arrival of car manufacturers is always greeted with create excitement, these big auto brands inevitably leave when the going gets tough or when marketing priorities change. Had Audi decided to up stumps after consuming McLaren, the historic team may have been irretrievably damaged.
Attention now turns to Williams and Sauber, though the two most likely to do a deal with the German marque, though Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll has confirmed he’s also been talking to Audi.