Winning for nothing

The A1 Grand Prix Series needs to raise its game by upping the cash prize. Something strange happened last month. The first season of the A1 Grand Prix Series came to an end in Shanghai, with Team France running away with the championship. Except that nobody noticed.

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By  Anil Bhoyrul Published  April 16, 2006

|~||~||~|The A1 Grand Prix Series needs to raise its game by upping the cash prize. Something strange happened last month. The first season of the A1 Grand Prix Series came to an end in Shanghai, with Team France running away with the championship. Except that nobody noticed. There was no wild celebration on the streets of Paris. No dancing by the Eiffel Tower. No emotional homecoming for the victorious team, and not much in the way of media coverage to talk about. This, you see, is the danger for the A1 Grand Prix Series: nobody cares. Season two gets underway on October 1st this year, and the first race is a 25,000 sell out. That is a good sign for the sport’s founder Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum, who deserves a great deal of credit for his achievements so far. However, as he is about to find out: doing it is one thing - doing it again, though, is quite another. The first race may be a sell out, a couple more will probably sell out, but that’s about it. More worrying are the rumours that not all 25 competing nations are ready to sign up again. You can see why: France, the runaway winners of the first season, took home just US$1.62 million in prize money. Their team budget was nearly double that, while around US$100 million was forked out to buy the team’s race franchise. It made great business sense for Sheikh Maktoum, but surely the prize money - which totals just US$1 million between all teams in each race - is far too low. In fact, ridiculously low. No wonder Team Indonesia, which over the entire course of last season won US$30,000, is thinking long and hard about whether to enter the second season of A1GP. Still, the A1GP has shown it has a place in motorsport for many years to come: the fact that Sky Sports and ESPN have signed up again, and the sport is regularly drawing live audiences of nine million per race, is proof of that. In time, bigger advertisers and sponsors will follow. This has only been one season after all. But crucially, Sheikh Maktoum must increase the prize money available, or he will find he owns a sport with no sportsmen.||**||Space cadets|~||~||~|I have been receiving a lot of stick from some readers lately, who accuse me of “over-hyping” the Virgin Galactic project. This, you may recall, is Sir Richard Branson’s plans to send people into space, all for the trifling sum of US$200,000. It appears I have opened a can of worms here, given that many local engineering companies are actually looking at the commercial space market themselves. And they don’t appreciate Virgin Galactic stealing all the limelight (which I admit I have assisted in). Many of these Virgin Galactic rivals have claimed that the US$200,000 for a space trip is too much. Well, think again - that includes the six days intensive training period, the first class return tickets to the launch pad in New Mexico and the experience of a lifetime. I think it’s an absolute bargain. I also think that many of Virgin Galactic’s rivals have sold nothing more than publicity stunts. To this day, I am waiting to see details of the planned Space Adventures launch in RAK. All I've seen so far is a few fancy drawings. And nothing more. It’s time to put up or shut up.||**||Steady on...|~||~||~|As you will read elswhere in this magazine, the question of succession is beginning to loom at Harrods, the luxurious London store owned by Egyptian tycoon Mohamed Al Fayed. Al Fayed has been in charge of Harrods for nearly two decades, and deserves every credit for totally transforming it. The big question, though, is what happens next? He isn’t getting any younger, and as we report, his 21 year old son Omar is being groomed for the top. That’s right, 21 years old. Omar is a fine young man — I have been lucky enough to meet him a couple of times. But, I am sure he won’t mind me saying so, he really doesn’t have what it takes to run Harrods. At least not yet. This is a US$2 billion empire, which controls many individuals jobs and futures. Any handover should be done responsibly — to an experienced chief executive for at least five years, while Omar carries on learning the ropes.||**||

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