Race Weekend Central

Formula One Slipstream Saturdays: Nice Guys Don’t Finish First

About ten years ago or so, I set up a business with a gentleman who’d become well known on the UK series of Dragon’s Den. Now forgive me explaining if you have the same in the US, but it’s a series where a group of entrepreneurs and multi-millionaires meet with aspiring business owners who are looking for investment. The perpetually terrified prospective business partners pitch their ideas to the “Dragons” and spend the next few minutes being grilled to within an inch of a Philadelphia Cheese Steak and then leave the arena with either a healthy investment in their business (for exchange of a less healthy percentage they give away) or the mocking laughs of the dragons and the TV audience in their ears. You get the format…

Now the guy in question that I went into business with (no, I wasn’t on TV, fear not) was the one of the four that had clearly been chosen to be the “nice guy.” The counterpart to the aggressive Scottish gym owner, the terrifying Thatcher-esque female and the rather smug telecoms man. He was the soft, kind voice. The type that would let you down gently. He was the nice guy who’d built himself up from nothing. It was a lovely concept – nice guys get to be multi-millionaires too. But…..well……it just wasn’t true. In reality he was a smiling assassin (and likely still is). Being in business with him, you quickly realized he’d sell his grandma if it meant he could get an extra dollar for it. You see, had he been as nice as his on-screen persona, it’s incredibly unlikely that he’d have bulldozed his way into the position he was in.

And so we found over the past few weeks, the same is (unsurprisingly) true in the rarified atmosphere of Formula One. There had been a sea-change in the teams over the last few years, as the no-nonsense old guard – the likes of Ron Dennis, Frank Williams, Patrick Head, Jean Todt and even Ross Brawn were beginning to move out to pasture. Much to the relief of newspaper columnists (and perhaps team staff too), they were being replaced by the far more approachable and amenable figures of Martin Whitmarsh, Stefano Domenicali, Christian Horner and Claire Williams. We even talked about this in a previous column and questioned whether the ‘nice guys’ could last.

Now we have our answer.


First for the chop was Martin Whitmarsh. Rather like a political protestor in North Korea, Whitmarsh just… well… appears to have disappeared. Or have ‘been disappeared’. As news filtered through that Ron Dennis was coming back into the F1 fold, fears grew for Whitmarsh. Those fears were quickly realized, and the genial Englishman was replaced by the rather more hard-nosed (and rather more successful) alternative.

This week, too we heard of the demise of Stefano Domenicali from Ferrari too. As supporters will be all too painfully aware, the fortunes of the most famous team in F1 have really taken a downturn in recent years, and Domenicali has now paid the ultimate price, to be replaced by the hitherto unknown Marco Mattiacci – previously the head of Ferrari’s North American road car division. He’s already made a bit of a stir, resolutely wearing sunglasses in the pit lane for the whole of the free practice sessions for this weekend’s forthcoming Chinese Grand Prix. Let’s just say, it wasn’t sunglasses weather…

“Hang on” I hear you say, “you said Christian Horner – and he’s hanging on pretty well”. Agreed. Indeed he is. But then Christian seems to have done something that the other two haven’t (and I personally think Claire Williams might be able to do this too). He’s got nasty. He started off nice, friendly and always (perhaps too much) up for a chat with the TV crews. Now, however, he seems to be showing his thorns too – not just in the paddock, but in his private life too. F1 watchers were all……………..shall we say, surprised………..to learn that Horner had got together with perpetual trouble-finder and ex-Spice Girl, Geri Halliwell, six months after the birth of his first child. Sad news indeed for his family. We’ll watch that one develop with interest.

And what of this year’s most successful team, Mercedes – well they’ve moved Ross Brawn on, but you’ve got the giant Toto Wolff in charge there alongside nobodies idea of “nice”, Niki Lauda. I think they’ll be fine.

All Hail The Americans

So in other news, it seems that finally we’re going to get that all American team in F1 for 2015, and I need your thoughts on this one please! NASCAR team boss Gene Haas has had his (lot’s of alliteration there!) application accepted, and may be teaming up with Dallara for next year to give F1 a go.

Give me your thoughts on this one people. Is he nasty enough to make this work??

Enjoy the race!


About the author


Andy joined Frontstretch in 2012 as our lead correspondent for Formula One. Adding a little international flavor, the Englishman pens a weekend column called Slipstream Saturdays looking at the latest news within racing’s biggest world series. A promoter by trade, the longtime fan still catches NASCAR on occasion, but his heart will always be connected to open-wheel.

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