Monday, October 27, 2008

MotoGP: Sete and his Shady Sponsors

Sete Gibernau is returning to MotoGP after an absence of two years to ride a Ducati for the Onde 2000 team. The bike was unveiled bearing two names, those of a convicted fraudster and a small African country ruled by one of the world's worst dictators. Has MotoGP taken a step too far in its search for financial backing?

The name of the first sponsor is Francisco Hernando, who owns the Onde 2000 property development company. He is known in Spain as "El Pocero" which translates as "The Well Digger". This is a reference to his origins as a manual labourer digging wells and sewers. Despite being virtually illiterate, he owns the grandest yacht in Spain and is the mastermind of huge property developments. [El Mundo (Spanish)]

Hernando's rise from poverty to boss of a multimillion Euro property empire would seem like a marvellous rags to riches tale, if it were not for the controversy which has dogged him. "El Pocero" was convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to four years imprisonment in 2007, but managed to stay out of jail by paying the tax man 3 million Euros. [El Pais (Spanish)]

His grandest property development is at Seseña, just outside Madrid, where more than 13,500 apartments were built. Of course, the Spanish property market crashed hard this year, with Seseña being described as a ghost town by a BBC reporter who visited. The number of residents is estimated at less than a thousand, with people trying to sell the apartments at a loss. [BBC]

So how is a Spanish property developer finding the cash to sponsor a MotoGP team, when his flagship development plan lies in tatters?

Now is when our story turns sinister.

Francisco Hernando is maintaining his property empire by building in foreign countries. One of the countries he has linked up with is "Guinea Ecuatorial", or Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony in Central Africa. This tiny country has a population of around half a million, and is ruled with an iron fist by Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who appears in 11th place in Parade Magazine's list of the World's Worst Dictators (having dropped out of last year's top ten position.) [Parade Magazine]

Although Equatorial Guinea holds "democratic" elections, Obiang's party wins every time (with 97% of the vote in the 2002 election). His rivals do not stand against him, as the system is so corrupt that they cannot possibly win. [BBC] Opponents of the ruling regime risk torture and death. This gives Obiang god-like powers over his countrymen, and crucially, total control over the country's oil and gas reserves.

Equatorial Guinea's annual income from selling oil is estimated at more than 4 billion US dollars. With a population of just half a million, this means the country is theoretically one of the wealthiest in Africa, with a GDP per capita close to that of Portugal and nearly twenty times that of neighbouring Cameroon. In fact, the discovery of oil has led Equatorial Guinea to record the second highest growth in GDP per capita in the world for the period 1975-2002. However, the people of Equatorial Guinea are among the world's poorest, subsisting on around one dollar per day. [BBC]

Obiang and his family, on the other hand, are rich beyond most Westerner's wildest dreams. At one stage, it was discovered that Obiang had deposited $700 million of oil money in a bank in the United States, where he was educated. More than $2 billion is hidden in foreign bank accounts. [IRIN] His son Teodorin, who is known for his flashy lifestyle, owns a record label in the US, and has splashed out millions on fast cars. [London Times] Western governments, particularly the United States, stay out of Equatorial Guinea's affairs because they benefit from the country's oil boom. [Slate] A group of bungling British and South African mercenaries recently tried to overthrow Obiang, not because he is evil, but because they had been promised oil contracts if they succeeded. [The Independent]

Less than half of the people in Equatorial Guinea have access to clean water. A simple visit to a doctor would cost many weeks' wages, and is therefore impossible for most people. [IRIN]

The country's infant mortality rate is terrifying. Twenty percent of Equatorial Guinea's children die before they reach five years old. [UNICEF]

Why is Equatorial Guinea sponsoring a MotoGP bike when its children are dying in their thousands? How low will MotoGP sink to ensure there is another bike on the grid in 2009?


Nicebloke said...

Oh man, that is ugly. Thanks for the insight. As usual, an excellent post.

Jimmy said...

Yep, that's how far people will go to run a bike in MotoGP.

peejaywill said...

What a depressing statement from the pundits on Moto2 on Eurosport today (1st May 2010) that the teams will not accept any advance on standard, traditional MotoGP engineering because it is “too risky”. What a re-confirmation of the incredible, ridiculous conservatism of motorcycle sport and industry? Often in the forefront of engine design, it has always been old-fashioned and miles behind the rest of the technological world on the chassis. As the pioneer of disc brakes, cast wheels and the twin spar frames in the ‘60s and ‘70s it is indescribably frustrating to see it is still the case. And how ridiculous that, after decades of improving the stiffness of the motorcycle chassis, they are messing about at great cost with making frames less stiff because tyre technology enables the bikes to be banked over to angles that don’t allow the traditional telescopic sliding front fork to work because of its inherent friction. The problem, and therefore the cure, is with the suspension. And I can tell you why constructors have never been able to properly make use of carbon/Kevlar/and other structural composites. It is because there is no imagination as to how to properly take advantage of CNC machining, CAE and computer vehicle dynamics. And if it is all about “risk management” the teams take the risk in every race of not winning. Not winning is a certainty for most of them but they won’t take the big opportunity of winning with some imaginative engineering based on solid knowledge stealing a march on old fashioned thinking. I can design a winning bike at less than the obscene costs that the teams are charged by the current constructors (some of whom are probably similarly frustrated). Peter Williams >

Jimmy said...

Thanks for that, Peter.

You make interesting points about the strange use of a frame as its own suspension.

I think it is sad that there's not much innovation in Moto2 chassis (some of them look like they're straight from the farmyard). Still, it's encouraging that there are a lot of different manufacturers involved.

Hopefully the risk avoidance is because everyone has started cautiously and genuine innovators will get a chance in future years. At least they'll know what kind of lap times to aim for.