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In the case of Michael Schumacher, it’s all about the (insurance) money

Published January 6, 2014

Prosecutors in France held a media conference Wednesday morning to announce what their investigation into Michael Schumacher’s skiing accident has discovered to date, which is not a lot (click here for the report).

The champion Formula One driver remains in a medically induced coma following the mishap in the French Alps on Dec. 29.

And why are prosecutors involved? Because of what F1 revolves around: money.

You can bet that Michael Schumacher is insured to the hilt against everything from accidental death to loss of income because of disability. The company (or companies) insuring him will want to know exactly what happened and where to point the finger of blame – if there is any.

The Schumacher family, you can imagine, wants this nailed down as well, as does the insurance company (or companies) providing coverage for the resort where Schumacher was injured.

There’s an awful lot riding on what prosecutors determine actually happened. And it’s because of the millions at stake that police are conducting the investigation. In a situation like this, about the only impartial investigation possible would have to be conducted by them.

You will recall that almost before Schumacher was airlifted to hospital shortly after the accident happened that a resort spokesperson was telling media that Schumi had been skiing off-piste (translation: in an ungroomed, unmarked or unpatrolled – maybe all three – area). In other words, it was his fault that he was injured because he wasn’t skiing on established runs, the resort seemed to be saying.

Schumacher was wearing a helmet cam when he went down and the family has handed this over to the investigators. Reports of a second video proved to be false.

Meantime, the focus seems to have shifted from concern for the ailing athlete to what really happened out there? And there’s a cat-and-mouse game doing on between reporters and Schumi’s manager, who’s determined to try to control the messaging.

After retired driver Philippe Streif left the hospital last weekend and told reporters that a doctor had said Schumacher’s life was no longer in danger, manager Sabine Kehm hit the roof. She said no one was to seek information from anybody except her and/or the attending physicians and that she would conduct media conferences when there were developments.

Then she turned around and told a German news agency that there had been a slight improvement in his health. That was a nice little beat for the news agency but left the competing media with egg on its face. It is this misunderstanding of the role of media by PR people that results in reporters trying to get information any which way they can - such as dressing up like a priest to try to get into his room, as one journalist reportedly did.

Meantime, what’s known officially is this. As of this writing, Michael Schumacher, arguably the greatest racing driver who ever lived, remains in critical condition and in the fight of his life.

Yes, there’s concern. But the focus is on the  financial implications.

It’s always been thus, though, when it comes to F1. Remember that embarrassment called the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis in 2005 when the cars using Michelin tires all withdraw from the race after the formation lap? Michelin had told them it could not guarantee the safety of the product beyond 10 laps (Ralf Schumacher had been concussed during practice when a tire blew out, initially raising concern). As a result of that, the insurance companies covering the drivers of the Michelin cars told them that if they raced and something happened, they wouldn’t be covered. None of them was willing to take the risk – and can you blame them?

My friend Brian Stewart’s favourite expression is: “It’s all about the money.”

He’s so right.

There’s an interesting story on some Internet racing sites about how Mark Webber thinks it’s getting harder and harder for Australian drivers to make it all the way to Formula One.

He talks about how positive cigarette sponsorship was in developing young drivers in his day and how wealthy individuals in emerging societies (Russia, for instance) are  helping to support driver funding now.

In the version on the Racer.com site, it notes that Webber first tried European racing in 1996 when he drove a season in British Formula Ford. It goes on to say that ”he then reached F1 via British Formula 3, a stint in Mercedes’ factory sportscar team, and Formula 3000.”

All true – except that the most important reason Mark Webber made it to Formula One was that the owner of the Minardi F1 team that signed him was Paul Stoddart, an Australian.

I’m not saying that Mark Webber wouldn’t have made it to F1. But I am saying  that it’s kinda strange the most important reason for his success was left out of these stories.

Am I the only one who’s wondering if there’s a correlation between the two stories about the Lotus F1 that are out there these days? That the team will miss the first test of the new 2014 cars in three weeks in Spain? And that the CEO of the company is no longer the CEO? Bit of a coincidence, don’t you think?

The winner of the NASCAR Camping World Series truck race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last Labour Day weekend, Chase Elliott, will race for a full season in the Nationwide Series this year with sponsorship from NAPA Auto Parts. Elliott, son of the legendary Bill Elliott, will race for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team, JR Motorsports. Two things: Chase Elliott will not find a better teacher in NASCAR than Dale Jr. That’s one. Two is that NAPA will continue its involvement with NASCAR racing but save a few bucks in the process. Sponsorship of a car in the Nationwide Series is less than half of what it costs to run in the Sprint Cup, where NAPA sponsored Martin Truex Jr.’s Michael Waltrip Racing team car until bowing out last September as a result of the MichaelWaltripGate scandal.

Sam Hornish is no longer a Roger Penske driver. Officially. He’s going to share a Nationwide Series ride this season with Kyle Busch. They’ll drive for Joe Gibbs Racing. Penske, of course, is the successful racer and businessman he is because he lives by the credo, “effort equals results. ” In other words, if you try hard enough, you’ll succeed. If you don’t, you won’t. Roger got tired of waiting on Sam, apparently.

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