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Wolff: F1 misses ‘the odd hand grenade’ from Ecclestone

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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff says the paddock misses “the odd hand grenade” thrown by former ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone since the takeover of the series by Liberty Media.

Ecclestone’s long-running stint as F1’s CEO came to an end in January when Liberty completed its $8.8 billion takeover, installing American executive Chase Carey as the sport’s new chief.

Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will mark the end of Liberty’s first full season at the helm, with its approach differing greatly from that of Ecclestone.

Numerous changes have been made, including a greater investment in marketing and infrastructure, as well as more obvious alterations such as a new F1 logo, set to be unveiled after today’s race.

Asked about the changes felt in F1 over the past year, Wolff said that the paddock missed Ecclestone’s more direct approach and off-the-cuff remarks, with Liberty taking a different, more long-term approach to its management.

“12 months ago Bernie was around. We miss the odd hand grenade flying through the paddock, but this is new times and what we need to do is support the new owners and the management to grow Formula 1,” Wolff said.

“I wouldn’t want to predict what will be in 12 months from now. There are some things that have been kicked off, some good, some less so to us, but most importantly we are all stakeholders of this fantastic sport.

“Coming back in 12 months I would like to wish that this sport is growing in audiences, growing in fan appeal and that’s basically it.”

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner echoed Wolff’s comments, saying the fruits of Liberty’s current efforts would begin to show in the coming years.

“As Toto says, many things have changed. This time last year Bernie was still running the show, and obviously in January the business was sold and a new management structure came into place,” Horner said.

“I think what’s been quite interesting and quite dynamic about that is that there has been a steep learning curve for the new guys involved but they have embraced ideas and concepts.

“They’ve come with a very fresh, unbiased approach and while they have been going through a learning phase, a building phase over the last nine or ten months, a lot of things that may seem trivial have changed – just how we deal on a day-to-day basis.

“I think what is going to be fascinating is to see the lessons that been made this year, the infrastructure that’s been put in place, the people that have recruited, how that’s going to affect future years.

“Because it’s not going to be just next year, it’s going to be the next three to five years.”

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

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