Rumours, hard questions abound at Monaco GP
Speculation on F1 and other matters lands Mallya in a spot of bother. Joe Saward writes.india Updated: May 29, 2012 01:18 IST
The Monaco Grand Prix is the big race of the year for the commercial people in Formula 1. You can sell ice to the Eskimos if you wine and dine them on a boat in Monaco harbour during the Grand Prix weekend. The only problem, according to the sponsorship people, is that not all the people are serious about F1. Some are simply giving the impression that they have money, in order to have a good time.
Every year there are always plenty of rumours doing the rounds in Monaco and this year we had the added chit-chat about a new Concorde Agreement, and about the planned Formula One flotation, with its 487-page prospectus - including 19 pages of risk factors!
It was also the first time this year that Formula 1 has seen Vijay Mallya and he seemed to be very keen to be seen and to try to revive his flagging image of being a mega-wealthy mogul. On Sunday he seemed unusually keen to get into every possible photograph as he shepherded film star Antonio Banderas around on the grid.
At the same time, rumours floated around that the team is for sale again. He appeared in an FIA Press Conference in the course of the weekend and explained that he had been away from the sport largely because of his job as an Indian MP. He also talked about the start of the Indian Premier League cricket season, and entirely neglected to mention that he has had one or two financial difficulties with his business empire.
Some of the F1 media are rather savvy than Mallya supposes and he soon found himself being assaulted by questions about Kingfisher Airlines and its problems. He said that he did not understand the correlation between sporting interests, which are personal in nature, and his business interests. Not satisfied with the answers, a German reporter tried a more blunt approach and asked how Vijay could justify having a luxury party on a huge boat when "people are waiting for their salary for weeks".
Mallya looked harassed and explained that his companies did not "cross-subsidise" one another, because that would violate all principles of corporate governance.
This seemed a most odd reaction given that the majority of the names on his F1 cars are brands from his own business empire, but no one bothered to make this point. He said that the party was a promotion for his United Spirits company. It was most unusual to see an F1 team boss being cross-examined by the F1 media about things unrelated to the sport. The same day the High Court in London discussed the Force India team's failure to settle the legal bills that it had been ordered to pay after the recent trial.
There were lots of other good rumours in Monaco. People whispered that Mark Webber will move to Ferrari for one year and that will then be replaced in the Italian team by Sebastian Vettel for 2014. The conspiracy theorists said that Lewis Hamilton would leave McLaren to join Red Bull Racing.
Another rumour worthy of mention was that Bernie Ecclestone and Chris Pook will get together in 2015 to do a deal with the City of Long Beach, California, to revive a Formula 1 Grand Prix there.
And so it went on. The news that Group Lotus has run into some trouble with its CEO Dany Bahar being suspended, while investigations take place, was a talking point in many motorhomes. Coming just a few days after the news that the Lola company, another great motorsport brand, had gone into administration, the stories from Lotus underline that we live in difficult times.
Well, most of us do.
The writer has covered every grand prix for the last 25 years