13 November 2013
Kate Walker: Massa-ve attack
In her latest exclusive column for Crash.net, Kate Walker looks at Felipe Massa's move to Williams for the 2014 season…
Used to keeping her eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes F1 a political melodrama, here columnist Kate Walker takes a look at Felipe Massa's move to Williams for 2014...
Stay cool, Felipe baby – they're bringing the white visors to Grove.
The paddock heaved a sigh of relief on Monday when it was confirmed that one of the sport's most popular drivers had been granted a stay of execution. Rumours about Felipe Massa and Williams first started doing the rounds in Singapore, when it became common knowledge that Rob Smedley was in discussions with the Grove-based racers to make the move from Maranello.
Given that Smedley and Massa have one of the most affectionate (some might say co-dependent) driver-engineer relationships in F1 history, it was assumed that were the Briton to switch teams, his Brazilian charge would surely follow. All that needed to be done was to find a way to back out of the PDVSA deal, hopefully picking up some replacement funding along the way.
Massa is not a pay driver by any stretch of the imagination. He never has been, and says he never will be.
But that doesn't mean that Massa's contract doesn't bring new funding opportunities with it.
As a BRIC nation, Brazil is – in theory – a great place to start hunting for cash. But like the other BRICs, Brazil's economy is not as healthy as it once was. Recent years have seen the country move to a resource-driven economy, heavily dependent on the export of raw materials to China. But as China's public purse has begun to contract, so too have the finances of those countries that depend on the formerly unstoppable powerhouse.
There is no public money to invest in racing drivers, as the cash earmarked for sport is already being used for the World Cup-Olympics double-header in 2014 and 2016. Internal issues relating to income inequality and the chasm between haves and have-nots mean that other investment is being concentrated on education, healthcare, and other public services. Which is just as it should be.
Which is why Williams are focusing their attention on the private sector. It may not be booming as much as it once was, but there is still plenty of money to be found as long as you know where to look. And that's where Globo comes in.
Like Sky in Europe, Globo has invested heavily in Formula One. The Brazilian broadcaster brings a team of people to every race, and has blocked out hours of TV time each season for high quality, in-depth F1 coverage. But without a Brazilian driver to support, that investment was beginning to look somewhat foolhardy – even passionate countries prefer to have a national hero to cheer on.
Recent months have seen all sorts of rumours doing the rounds, with a popular version saying that Globo had offered free prime-time advertising slots to companies willing to invest in securing Massa a seat. While that is highly unlikely to be the case, there is no denying that Globo's accountants know exactly which Brazilian firms have money to spend and an interest in spending it around Formula One.
By working with Williams to engineer introductions to the people in charge of the purse strings at those companies, Globo will be able to justify their F1 investment while Williams will be able to secure their own financial future long past the date the PDVSA severance pay runs out.
Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to Crash.net. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, she keeps an eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama.
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