I have a friend. We’ll call him Phil (which is, by the way, the name I use when I order a specialty coffee at Starbucks. They would say, ‘Can I have your name please?’ to write on the container and I would say, ‘Norris,’ and they would say, ‘Morris?’ so now I just say Phil.)
Phil likes what I’ve been saying about Lotus being broke and Fernando Alonso going to McLaren but doesn’t think I’ve got the chess game figured out correctly. Phil is one of several people who have my ear when it comes to this stuff. He looks at situations and he looks at the layers and, all of a sudden, the penny drops.
He maintains that Bernie Ecclestone is orchestrating the whole business and that the teams and the drivers are probably in on it (and I say if Phil is correct, the NASCAR race-fixing mess is child’s play).
Anyway, follow along.
According to Phil, Ecclestone is concerned that the house of cards known as Formula One is very close to collapsing under huge financial pressures. There has never been anything as perilous before. Sure, individual teams have been on the brink but never the series.
Right now, four teams – Marussia, Caterham, Williams and Sauber – are on the grid only because their pay drivers have been able to fork over millions of dollars of support. Nico Hulkenberg is expected to flee Sauber at the end of the season because they haven’t been paying him and his 2014 replacement will be a Russian teenager with no track record and questionable talent but vast sums of money.
Strangely enough, however, Ecclestone isn't worried about them. It’s some of the others that require his amazing ability to manipulate. Here is Phil’s scenario:
Kimi Raikkonen announces he's leaving Lotus for Ferrari (has happened), Alonso announces he's leaving Ferrari for McLaren (will happen) and Sergio Perez announces he's leaving McLaren for Lotus (will happen).
Lotus is broke, says Phil. Last weekend, Raikkonen confirmed a rumour that’s been around for months: he wasn’t being paid because Lotus doesn’t have the cash. He was quite happy to accept the job offer from Ferrari because he knows they’re good for the money.
Ferrari made the move, though, knowing full well that this would force Alonso to move on.
Alonso, in fact, says Phil, does opt to go to McLaren and takes the Santander millions with him. This is okay, however, because McLaren now doesn’t have to worry about dumping Perez.
Perez takes the Mexican millions – the millions that were intended for McLaren – to Lotus instead. Lotus is once again solvent.
Meantime, Formula One has always given Ferrari more money than it gives any of the other teams. It’s the "F1 house team." In return for the bait and switch with Raikkonen and Alonso, Bernie makes sure that the coffers are well topped up at Maranello.
In the end, says my friend Phil, Ferrari has a No. 1 driver and money; McLaren has a No. 1 driver and money; Lotus has a driver and money.
Everybody’s happy. And the guy behind the curtain, working the levers of F1 just as he’s been doing for years, is none other than Bernie Ecclestone.
Thanks Phil. Food for thought, as always.