It is with great sadness that we must report the death at 73 of former Grand Prix driver Patrick Tambay, one of the most charming and charismatic racers of the late 1970s and 1980s.
Tambay was educated in France and in the United States and was an old school gentleman. He came to prominence through support from Elf, after he won the celebrated Volant Elf racing school prize at Paul Ricard and moved quickly up the racing ladder to become a star of Formula 2. There were so many Frenchmen at that time that he struggled to break into Formula 1, but was helped on his way by a relationship with Carl Haas, for whom he raced Formula 5000 and then won the 1977 CanAm Championship for the team. He made his F1 debut at the French GP in 1977 with Surtees but then moved on to Theodore, run by Teddy Yip, who had a good eye for racing talent. His promise was such that McLaren signed him for 1978 and 1979, although these were not good years for the team and in 1980 he had to return to CanAm with Carl Haas, which led to a second CanAm title.
He was back in F1 in 1981 with Theodore and then with Ligier but was then out again until the traumatic 1982 season when Gilles Villeneuve was killed and Tambay was drafted in at Ferrari to replace his friend. Tambay was godfather to Jacques Villeneuve and later played an important role in his development after his father had been killed. His first victory for Ferrari came at the German GP the same weekend that saw his team-mate Didier Pironi seriously injured in another terrible crash.
He won a second victory for Ferrari at Imola the following year, but he was dropped by Ferrari to make way for Michele Alboreto in 1984 and then moved to Renault, although the team was then past its best and he failed to win any more races. In 1986 he joined Carl Haas’s Beatrice Lola team, although it did not last long. He stayed out of racing for a couple of years after that, building up a sports promotion business but then returned to drive a Jaguar in the 1989 World Sportscar Championship, which led to a fourth place at Le Mans. He would go on to become enamoured by desert raids and competed regularly on the Paris-Dakar, twice finishing in the top three. He was breifly involved with the Larrousse team in 1994 as a partnership with friend and business associate Michael Golay but that did not last long.
He went on to a long and successful career as a TV commentator, while also serving as the deputy mayor of the town of Le Cannet, in the south of France. His son Adrien took up racing and achieved some success in DTM. Sadly Patrick was afflicted by Parkinson’s Disease for the latter part of his life, which meant hat he stayed out of the public eye as he found it difficult to communicate.
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Jean le Bon might sound like a rock star, but he wasn’t. He was just a king, and not a very good one, although for reasons now lost in time he earned his name, which means John the Good.
Medieval kings make Vladimir Putin seem like a decent and reasonable fellow. They were basically murderous thugs, constantly fighting for land so that their kingdom could be bigger than the one next door, which belonged to some psychopathic cousin. Wars were profitable for individuals if one plundered enough stuff. The kings told everyone that they had God on their side and if you didn’t agree with them they would string you up from a tree, if you were lucky. We won’t go into too much detail about what happened if you were unlucky, suffice to say that it was a grisly way to depart this earth.
The reason I mention Jean le Bon is that I happened to be passing by Poitiers the other day. It was there in 1356 that Edward the Black Prince (named presumably after his Johnny Cash-style fashion choices, rather than his genetic make-up) defeated Jean le Bon in so devastating a fashion that Jean was captured and ransomed by the English for an astonishing three million crowns, which was equivalent to the English royal revenues for five years. It was probably the most significant victory of the 100 Years War, although Crecy and Agincourt always seem to get the glory and Henry V had better PR than The Black Prince. Mind you, history is a funny thing because if you ask the average Englishman about the significance of Formigny or Castillon (two battles that they lost) they will most likely reply: “Don’t they play for Chelsea?”
The F1 season may be over but normal life must now catch up and so it is a time to visit long-neglected relatives and other similar activities. This involved a trip through rain storms and rainbows to Aquitaine, by way of Le Mans and then the A10 autoroute. This modern road has little to offer, but the old RN10, which runs parallel to the motorway was the Mother Road of global motorsport, down which the early races thundered until 1903 when no fewer than 261 automobiles set off to race from Paris to Madrid. The performance of these frail and often dubious feats of engineering was diverse. The development was then moving so fast that the most advanced machines were capable of 100 mph, a concept which spectators struggled to comprehend. The dusty roads made vision almost impossible for the drivers and huge crowds were largely uncontrolled.
It was a recipe for disaster.
Even today, the exact total number of accidents and casualties is not really known. There were over a dozen crashes involving fatalities, often multiple, to both the racing crews and bystanders and a total of 40 dead is not an unreasonable estimate. One of them was Marcel Renault, who ran off the main road just south of Poitiers, while passing a rival at high speed, having failed to see the corner ahead. The Renault went off over a ditch and rolled, the driver suffered head and neck injuries. There were no medics, of course, and so the competitors who arrived at the scene did what they could. Leon Thery found a bicycle and went in search of a doctor, while Maurice Farman organised for Renault and his riding mechanic to be carried 200 metres to a farm in the hamlet of Bourdevay, just off the main road. Marcel died there two days later.
The race was called off at the end of that appalling first day and city-to-city racing died with it. Thereafter races were held on circuits.
Passing Le Mans earlier in the trip reminded me that the city is not just about the celebrated 24 Hour race, for which it is best known today. Le Mans also served as the venue for the very first Grand Prix, which took place three years after the Paris-Madrid disaster, on a large circuit was laid out on a triangle of country roads to the east of city, running from Champagné to a hairpin on the way towards Le Mans which sent the racers off to the east to Saint-Calais, then north to Vibraye and La Ferté-Bernard, and then south-west back to Champagné.
This was won by a Renault, driven by a mechanic called Ferenc Szisz, or Szisz Ferenc if one hails from his native Hungary.
The 1906 race is not the only link that Le Mans has with Grand Prix racing because after World War I a different track, to the south of the city was used for the first major motor race to take place after the war. This would be the basis of the circuit used for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and, much to the chagrin of the French, the event was won by America’s Jimmy Murphy, driving a white Duesenberg.
When you look at the history of the place and the geographical location of Le Mans, within easy reach of Paris by car or train, with a tramway that runs right into the middle of the circuit, one can only wonder why France has struggled to find a venue for Formula 1 for so many years. There is even a short version of the Le Mans track, known as the Bugatti circuit, which runs through the sandy, pine-covered area south of the impressive pits, grandstands and paddock. This hosted one Grand Prix, back in 1967, but it was not considered a very good circuit at the time (not surprising given its rivals Reims and Rouen) and few spectators turned up. That mean that the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, which runs the track, turned its back on F1 and continues to look down on F1 to this day, there is no doubt that if a race was held there today it would be a great success and would give Le Mans a more valid claim to be the racing capital of the world.
But club presidents quite often do not see the wood from the trees and so Le Mans steers clear of Formula 1. Liberty Media isn’t really bothered about France, despite the country’s history as the birthplace of motorsport, and probably views Le Mans as a provincial city of little interest, rather than being “a destination city”. It is a shame…
Not many people know that there is a direct link between Alpine, which today waves the French flag in Formula 1, and those early days of the sport. One of the Renault mechanics in those days, who sat alongside Szisz on several occasions, was a fellow called Emile Rédélé, who was a pal of the company boss Louis Renault. After the war, as Renault began expanding into a mass market car company, Louis sent Redele to Dieppe to open one of the earliest Renault dealerships. Emile’s son Jean grew up as a mad racing fan but Renault showed little interest in the sport and so Jean Redele began converting 4CVs into racing machines in the late 1940s. These were quite successful and in 1951 he set up Automobiles Alpine and began producing roadgoing versions of the cars. They were sexy and successful Renaults. Later Redele took Alpine into single-seater races and won in Formula 3, Formula 2 and at Le Mans, in addition to being successful in international rallying with wins on the Monte Carlo Rally and World Rally Championship success.. Alpine even built the first prototype for Renault’s F1 turbo programme in the 1970s but in the years that followed after Renault bought the brand it was left to fade away and was not revived until Malaysian aviation magnate Tony Fernandes decided to expand into the car business and did a deal with Renault to revive the road car brand and provide the same basic car for his Caterham operation. When Fernandes ran out of money, Renault was left with a half-finished project and decided to go ahead and so Alpine began again and the F1 programme today is the next chapter in the story and a key part of Renault’s strategy for the future.
Renault’s progress has been slow but it is moving forwards and having overtaken McLaren this year in fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship is now focussing on closing the gap to the big three: Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari. It is an epic challenge but in F1 empires rise and fall and one never knows who will get it right. Mercedes had a tough year in 2022, while Red Bull Racing flew away with the titles, while Ferrari should have done a great deal better than it did. This is the big story at the moment as Ferrari decides what to do for the future. While there is no question that mistakes were made in 2022, both by the team and by the drivers, the idea that a change of management is a good idea is probably not the smartest thing to do, as it will mean another period of getting things in whatever order the new incumbent thinks is best and then seeing if it works. By the time all of that is done it will be halfway through the 2023 season and there are no guarantees that the result will be any better than in 2022. A new person will also probably want his own people around him and that will take time. If you look back in history Jean Todt took control of the team in July 1993 but Ferrari did not win a World Championship until 1999. If anything the cycles of F1 success are these days longer than they used to be and so changing a lot is not a good idea, unless the new person concludes there is no choice. Mattia Binotto may not be Toto Wolff, but he has overseen an upshift in Ferrari performance thanks to providing stability and a culture in which people are willing to take risks and come up with new ideas.
Binotto was fortunate (probably) to survive the cataclysmic 2020 season – the team’s worst for 40 years – which was the result of the secret deal that was struck with the FIA regarding the Ferrari engine, after the controversies at the tail end of 2019. He was probably saved by the fact that there was an interregnum following the unexpected retirement of chief executive officer Louis Camillieri and the long wait before Benedetto Vigna took over nine months later. Vigna, who has no background in racing, is now 15 months into his time as CEO and one can only hope that this is not his decision because 15 months in F1 is not sufficient to understand how it all works. And, as many executives have learned over time, it is not like any other business and those who think it is, usually end up with omelettes on their heads. Binotto has been around the block enough times to avoid the obvious pitfalls and the last couple of months have been pretty unpleasant to watch as the bullets have landed closer and closer to his dancing feet.
It has felt like some strange modern version of the auto-da-fé, a ritual process used by the Inquisition centuries ago during which getting rid of heretics became a sort of public entertainment, which included a mass, a procession, the reading of the sentences and then finally the punishment, including the ultimate sanction, which was to be burned at the stake.
As to what happens after the Binotto’s funeral pyre burns out, we will have to see. The only people who seem to want the job are people who are not qualified to do it. There have been some pretty wild rumours which I think probably reflects Ferrari’s struggle to find a suitable replacement. It is a poisoned chalice, with far more chance of failure than success, unless the chosen one is given complete freedom and the high-ups at Ferrari are kept out of the equation. Todt did it by insisting that he be left alone and was able to develop the right atmosphere within the team. I cannot see why those who have been there before would want to go back and reprise the roles they had 30 years ago. An outsider is unlikely to work because it will take years for a newcomer to understand the politics that goes on down there. Perhaps the best chance is to have someone with some industry clout, who will take the flak and let the team get on doing what it is doing. Obviously there do need to be some changes because the mistakes made have often been repeated… which is never a good sign.
In the interim, the other F1 teams will continue to accelerate away, racing one another and sniggering quietly at Ferrari’s misfortunes… Still, a massive failure can be a good source of motivation. In the end, the departure of Binotto can only be seen as the result of the top management thinking they know best. Binotto would not have left if he had felt protected from on high. Clearly he did not.
In order to have any success in Formula 1 a team must feel that it is a team. It is ultimately irrelevant whether Binotto was fired or resigned because the cause is the same.
The next chapter of Ferrari history will judge not only whoever drinks from the chalice that is offered, but also the people who offer it.
Those who read The Good Book, admittedly rather a small group in the Formula 1 world, may know that in Genesis one can discover that the Land of Nod is located east of Eden, and was where the nasty Cain was sent after murdering his brother Abel. It was probably not flowing with milk and honey. In Hebrew the word “nod” is linked to the verb “to wander”, which means that heading off to the land of Nod can mean living the life of a vagrant in the desert.
The English, however, purloined the expression centuries ago to use it to describe the warm and fluffy realm of sleep, where dreams can get pretty interesting. This is a curious use of a dismal concept but it appears to have derived from “nodding off”.
Given that I have been wandering around in desert lands to the east of Eden, and I have been nodding off (or perhaps crashing out is a better description), I think the location for this Green Notebook fits the bill in several different ways.
Abu Dhabi was a tough weekend for those who have toiled from Singapore to Japan to Austin to Mexico to Brazil and to Abu Dhabi (and various points in between) in the last month and a bit. It has been pretty brutal. Things were made a little sillier in Abu Dhabi because the only people who could afford to stay in decent hotels were those who have trust funds, or oil wells in their back garden. Fortunately for the teams, they left flights and hotels out of the cost cap (go figure) so they won’t have to move out of their wildly-overpriced digs for fear that it will impact on their spending…
Hotel prices in Abu Dhabi are now so silly that more than a few of us stayed in Dubai, which is 64 miles to the north-east of Yas Island, on a decent road across the desert, with a speed limit of 86 mph for most of the route. Doing this each morning and each evening is a little tiresome but needs must.
The last trip, at about two in the morning on Monday, was the easiest and we arrived at Dubai International Airport without any drama. An empty airport is once again a thing of beauty now that the world has started to travel again. The following hours were spent in the lounge, finishing off and filing stories, trying to stay awake and then, as dawn was breaking, it was time to hop on to a plane home. I was asleep 30 seconds after hitting the seat.
When I walked in the door at home nine hours later, I was soon gone again for another four or five hours, and then, after waking up for dinner, I slept through Monday night as well, which was quite an achievement given the time confusions of recent months. The end of the F1 season really is like that, particularly this year.
There was a graphic on the world TV feed that claimed that 2022 was the longest ever Formula 1 season. I have not checked the numbers, but I am not sure that is true given that in the 1950s and 1960s there were a lot of first races in January and February and finishes in October and November. It would be shame to let the facts get in the way of a good story, but when it comes to the film and TV world, it is fair to say that truth is quite often an early casualty.
On the grid in Abu Dhabi I have often wished people “Merry Christmas” because as soon as the race ends everyone takes off in every possible direction and to a large extent you don’t see them again before Christmas. Most people take the greeting in the spirit that it is intended and so we end the year with a smile, but when I tried it out on Mattia Binotto the reaction was pretty much what I would have expected if I had called him “a boofhead” instead. It was somewhere between a scowl and daggers flying from his eyes like tracer bullets. I thought this rather odd, but was not going to let it ruin my good mood but on reflection I concluded that either he was very tired and needed some time off (although he was not in Brazil), or that the stories that he might soon be replaced as team principal at Ferrari could possibly be true. Whatever the case, I felt that he has no great future as a Father Christmas, even if he used to wearing red clothing and doling out jolly platitudes.
Prior to this interlude I had discounted the Ferrari upheaval story, on the basis that it sounded so ludicrous. Everyone (and their family pets) had denied that such a thing could be possible. Even Ronald McDonald denied he was in the running for the job, although I did hear that Ferrari sounded out the yachtsman Max Sirena, who has been leading the Luna Rossa Challenge team in the America’s Cup in recent years. The company stated that the rumours about Binotto were all “totally without foundation” and once that was on the record it would be pretty hard to go ahead and guillotine the bloke without looking like a bunch of liars.
Who knows what will happen now? What we do know is that Abu Dhabi was a moment of farewell for a number of F1 folk: Sebastian Vettel drew much of the spotlight, but it was also farewell to Ross Brawn, although he has said goodbye before and then come back again. This time there was no song and dance. An even quieter farewell came from Formula 1 chairman, Chase Carey, who is expected to hang up his chair soon and retire. Chase stepped back from his role as CEO when Stefano Domenicali took over, but has remained as chairman.
As far as I am concerned, Chase is a worker of miracles and his achievement will stand forever in the annals of the sport for convincing all the teams that a budget cap was a great idea. The result is that teams are now all worth upwards of $800 million (probably more) and that many of them will be posting profits when they get around to filing their returns. The sport should put up a statue to Carey for doing that, and add another for Sean Bratches for getting Netflix to undertake “Drive to Survive”.
Formula 1 is now so popular in the United States that Liberty Media boss Greg Maffei last week told financial types that there are certainly rumours of a fourth race in the United States, in addition to Austin (which runs until at least 2026), Miami (2031) and Las Vegas (2032), and that the Mayor of New York Eric Adams had offered F1 the chance to host a race on Randalls and Wards Island.
As the name suggests this used to be two islands until someone filled in the waterway between them. It is now largely parkland although across the top of it runs a major motorway connection that links the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan with what is still called the Triborough Bridge, although it has been named after Robert Kennedy for many years. Maffei said that the idea is “probably not our perfect venue” and that “it’s hard to see that they’re going to shut Central Park for us”. He added that trying to get a race in New York was “a fight we don’t need to have”.
The message was fairly clear: “Mr Adams. Do you have a better offer?”
Meanwhile, down in Miami, the success of this year’s race – even allowing for some teething problems – has resulted in an acceptance in Miami that the event is a “jolly good thing”. The critics who opposed the race have melted quietly away as it has become clear that it was a huge success. Miami Dade County voted last week to raise the cap on the amount of money that can be given in grants to Hard Rock Stadium, partly because of the Grand Prix. The cap was originally set at $5 million per year over a 20-year period, although this has already snuck up by $1 million to recognise the success of the Miami Open Tennis Tournament. The County now says that it will make a grant of $4 million for each Grand Prix, each World Cup Final and each Super Bowl, with $3 million for other big events. The annual cap is now up to $7 million a year.
This has been done at a time when the County needs to find a new naming sponsor for the FTX Arena, where the Miami Heat basketball team play. This follows the collapse of FTX, which had agreed as $135 million naming rights deal for 19 years.
Elsewhere, Liberty Media has quietly announced that it is going to split to the Atlanta Braves baseball team from the group and create a new unit called Liberty Live. This came about because some investors argued that the value of the Braves was being held back because of the complex structure of shares and various cross-holdings within Liberty Media. They even argued that F1 might gain in value if it was an independent unit, but it remains tied for the moment to the Xfinity media operation. The split off will mean that none of the three Liberty units will hold shares in the others.
The driver market in Abu Dhabi offered no real surprises as Haas confirmed Nico Hulkenberg and Williams Logan Sargeant, Daniel Ricciardo will become Red Bull reserve driver and if he wants the job, Mick Schumacher will become the Mercedes reserve driver. Things should now be quiet on the driver front until Fernando Alonso falls out with Aston Martin early next year.
The big story of the next few weeks (Ferrari eruptions aside) is that there is unlikely to be a Chinese Grand Prix in 2023 and thus F1 must decide what to do about the one-month gap that will appear in the calendar between Australia on April 1 and Baku on April 30. The logical thing would be for Baku to move forward a week and take place on April 23, which would then get rid of the difficult Baku-Miami back-to-back that was being planned. Baku does not want to move, argung that the weather will not be great, but it is an easy race to move because few spectators attend. And if Baku does not want to go on hosting a Grand Prix, F1 might not be too upset because although the fees from Azerbaijan are high, the strategic value of the race is somewhat limited.
The Chinese have been hoping that they might find a gap in the F1 calendar in the autumn but there is no sign of that happening although the recent shenanigans about beer and the FIFA World Cup has done Qatar no good at all, as changing the policy about alcohol sales two days before an event begins is not necessarily the best way to win friends and influence people. It will cause major legal headaches for Qatar, FIFA and Budweiser. Money may smooth over some of the pain, but a settlement will not come cheap. The other thing that this will do is to make other sporting bodies very, very, wary of doing deals with Qatar and such behaviour will mean that the country will need to pay much higher rights fees to attract tournaments in the future. I doubt this will impact much on F1 because the sport is not obviously keen on promoting alcohol, but you never know…
The other announcement of note in Abu Dhabi was no big surprise as F1 gave details of its plans for an all-women series which it will help to fund. The Formula 1 Academy will feature five teams Formula 2 and Formula 3, each running three Academy Formula 4 cars, at seven events (each with three races). These races will be held on Formula 1 tracks but only one will be held in conjunction with a Grand Prix. The logic in this is that what the girls need more than anything is track time and the aim will be to get women from this series into Formula 3 within a couple of years. Formula 1 says that it will pay €150,000 towards the budget of each car, with the drivers required to provide another €150,000, with the teams providing the rest. This is rather different from the W Series, which ran into financial trouble this year.
The only other story that reared its ugly head in Abu Dhabi was surrounding Red Bull’s order to Max Verstappen to move over and let Sergio Perez get back ahead on the last lap of the Brazilian race. Max refused and made it clear that there was a very good reason for his actions and the team knew exactly why it happened. This was obviously about some gripe that Verstappen had with Perez and there were soon reports claiming that this was because Sergio had deliberately crashed in qualifying in Monaco and deprived Max of his chance to take pole position (and therefore win). The team jumped in to try to stamp out fires but made things worse by saying that all of its discussions were private and that it was not anyone’s business why it had all happened. This simply fanned the flames because there was no reason to keep secrets unless, of course, admitting things might have caused all kinds of other problems. The whole thing petered out because the FIA showed little interest because while one can prove from data that a crash was suspicious, one cannot prove an intent to crash and one dare not punish a team and damage its reputation if the evidence is not 100 percent certain. So, I guess that we can expect a new rule at some point which will stop drivers benefiting from crashes on the last lap in qualifying. In the interim, Perez came out of this one smelling like a fish market and Red Bull’s attempt to divert attention by trying to turn the whole story into a campaign against nasty social media, looked like someone trying to get past a security man by pointing in the sky, looking shocked and crying “Wow! A flying elephant”.
You can call us F1 observers cynical, but over time we have seen a lot of tricks with smoke and mirrors, and off-stage flashes and bangs to try to disguise sleight of hand.
In the words of the song: “I saw a peanut stand, heard a rubber band, I saw a needle that winked its eye. But I think I will have seen everything, when I see an elephant fly…”
You must remember this… the last six weeks have been brutal on F1’s travellers, with races in Singapore, Japan, Texas, Mexico and Brazil and all the other stopping off points along the way. Now, as we cycle backwards in mid-air (like Wile E. Coyote trying to reach the edge of a canyon) and head the other way through the time zones, we are all getting rather tired, and so people are saying and doing strange things
As my plane hurtles through the darkness, somewhere in the night sky above Casablanca, I can say without any need to reflect that I am weary, if only because I have watched too many bad inflight movies, of which there are plenty at the moment. Content is king, so they say, but good content seems thin on the ground and I am slightly worried about Brad Pitt making F1 movies as his latest hit, about a pacifist assassin called Ladybug (honestly) is set on a bullet train in Japan. Before I turned it off, I did begin to hope that the lethal serpent, which slithered about like an F1 reporter, might bite him and end the movie prematurely.
With this is mind, I see that Formula One has appointed a head of original content to help expand F1’s production and to build up new relationships and partnerships within the movie and TV world. Isabelle Stewart has a long history as a fixer in this world, so we can look forward (hopefully) to some quality projects in the future. F1 is staying smart by working to find content that will drive the sport forward when Drive to Survive goes stale, as eventually it may do. Having said that, people are a little strange about what they like and if The Archers, the radio show about “everyday country folk” is still going after 71 years, or the TV equivalent Coronation Street, set in a cobbled street in a Manchester suburb, has survived 62 years, a couple of years more that the US’s General Hospital and the slightly younger Days of Our Lives, there really is no reason that the show cannot be going when Guenther Seiner is retired to a rocking chair on the shores of Lake Norman.
There is no harm in looking for ways to keep F1 in the spotlight. There is plenty of room for racing movies and documentaries, but also potential for cartoons and content that will inspire younger fans to follow F1 in more than virtual form.
I also half-watched a movie about Elvis Presley, the message of which, it seemed, was that people are happy to be fleeced if they leave with a smile on their faces. This was the philosophy of Elvis’s manager Colonel Tom Parker, who was not – inevitably – what he appeared to be. I really didn’t like the character that Tom Hanks created, but blaming the actor is like saying the media is the problem when it delivers truth… On social media one man’s truth is another man’s poison. What can you do?
Anyway, it seems that Parker was not what he appeared to be and was in reality a Dutchman called Andreas van Kuijk.
In general terms, I like the Dutch, although I always laugh at the line from an Austin Powers movie: “There are only two things I can’t stand in this world: People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures, and the Dutch”. It is genius.
There are people out there who see evil in everything that Max Verstappen does, and others who think Lewis Hamilton is nasty. The virtual battles going on between their fans are ugly.
It struck me as rather odd that Max did not give back the position that Sergio Perez had given him in the closing laps in Brazil. It seemed at face value a rather self-defeating thing to do. But it was clear from what Max said that there was a very specific reason for it, and that the team knew what it was.
It did not take long for a couple of Dutch reporters to claim that this was all because Sergio crashed deliberately in qualifying at Monaco and screwed Max’s chance of taking pole position. At the time I have to admit that it did not seem suspicious, but I did write that it was “ironic that Perez ended up third” and that Max was frustrated by his team-mate’s crash. History relates, of course, that Ferrari messed it all up with poorly-timed tyre changes and Perez was able to win and while Max was third in the end, he was not a happy bunny. I have no idea whether these claims are true, but it would explain Max’s remarks after the race, and Red Bull’s reticence to explain what he meant by them.
I think it would be wise for the FIA to do two things: investigate what happened and see if there is any evidence that could prove the claim (which is probably impossible because odd data can simply mean a mistake). The Singapore scandal of 2008 was something we suspected but could not prove and it only became fact when Nelson Piquet Jr admitted it to. Secondly, and more importantly, the FIA should adjust the rules so that one cannot profit if you crash on a final run in qualifying. The fastest lap time should be taken away, just in case it was deliberate.
The Perez-Monaco story also includes elements of the other big story after Brazil which came out of Italy when the celebrated Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Mattia Binotto will soon be replaced because of all the disasters at Ferrari this year. This, one might understand, but the idea that Frederic Vasseur would be a good replacement makes the story seem either ridiculous, or an indication that the high-ups at Ferrari are actually the real problem. You might think that this is harsh and Frederic is the obvious choice, but I am afraid I really don’t see that.
As I wander the paddocks of the world, I have found that if one is looking for Vasseur the best place to find him is usually at Mercedes where – no doubt – the multiple World Championship-winning Toto Wolff is getting Fred’s advice about how to best run a racing team. I cannot remember the exact details, but one of them was a witness at the other one’s wedding, and so having the Ferrari team principal as the best buddy of the Mercedes F1 boss seems a wholly unlikely situation.
The key point, I fear, has nothing to with that. F1 is a numbers game when it comes to success. You are only as good as your last result and in the five years that Vasseur has been running the Sauber/Alfa Romeo team, with funding from one of the richest men in the world and from Alfa Romeo, the team has managed to collect just 181 points. That is 36 a season, which is 10 fewer points than Red Bull scores on a good F1 weekend.
Having said all of that, I think I have reached the conclusion that Ferrari could put Liz Truss in charge of the F1 team and it really would not matter. Despite not winning a World Championship title for 14 years and with all the mistakes that have been made this year, the company continues to sell cars and make pots of money. Ferrari has just published its Q3 results for 2022 and despite the world’s car markets being at best dodgy, it reported earnings up 17 percent compared to last year, to an eye-watering $427 million. Ferrari expects to make about $1.7 billion this year.
So, frankly, who cares who is running things in F1, if the performance has zero impact on the brand or the sales? To see Vasseur dress up in a red suit and jump into the bubbling cauldron with some vegetables and watch him turn into a pot-au-feu and be devoured by the Italian media, will be a spectacle that will keep fans amused while the other teams do the winning… as usual.
Quite how and why Ferrari is so successful is a mystery that Sherlock Holmes would struggle to solve, even with the help of Enola. And it is a risky business to think that one can emulate what Ferrari does. Some years ago I heard Steve Wozniak talking about self-driving cars and artificial intelligence. He made a very good point: how can we hope to build artificial intelligence if we do not understand how the human brain works?
Aston Martin has been trying to do what Ferrari has done for 60 years longer than Ferrari has been in existence. It has declared bankruptcy no fewer than seven times (in 1924, 1925, 1932, 1947, 1974, 1981 and 2007) and each time it has been rescued by someone who believes that they can make the difference. James Bond has been doing his best to help, but even 007 cannot fix this conundrum. Printing money is not a trick that many can achieve.
Lawrence Stroll and his Yew Tree consortium are brave to try and stubborn as well, but they seem committed, at least until it gets too painful to continue. Their position as the biggest shareholder in the firm has been undermined in recent months by refinancing, which has diluted the shareholdings of those involved. This has been done largely to try to reduce the company’s debt load and to make sure there is sufficient cash to keep the doors from closing. Sales have been impacted for various reasons, notably the global pandemic and the resulting economic upheavals that have been impacting the car industry, with logistical problems and difficulties with parts supply chains. The firm is expected to suffer pre-tax losses that will be twice those in 2021 but they are standing by their ambitious long-term growth plans. Yew Tree’s share was down to 19 percent, with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund owning 18.7 percent and China’s Geely having 7.6 percent. In order to stay in control Yew Tree has now spent around $35 million to buy an additional 4.25 percent on the open market, admittedly because the share price is low, thus boosting its share to 23.3 percent and thus maintaining control. This matters only because Aston Martin Lagonda is reckoned to be paying around $28 million a year to the F1 team, although it is not owned by the company, of which the shareholders are rather different. If Aston Martin decided that the F1 investment was not worth it, that could cause considerable problems for the team.
Any how, back to Ferrari, I would argue that some things are just not fixable, at least not in any short-term fashion. I think the team is a bit like Sao Paulo.
When I first visited, back in 1990, it was a really horrible city. This was due to millions of Brazilians leaving the farms where they worked to move to the cities to find a better life. Many had no money and lived in shanty towns. These were everywhere. Because of poverty, crime was awful and it was dangerous to walk around in a lot of neighbourhoods. People used to joke that Brazil was a country with a great future – and always would be. But it was a city of life and passion and much of this was focussed on Ayrton Senna, a Paulista. Even after he was gone, the Brazilians kept on loving Formula 1 and the only thing that made the trip to Brazil each year worth the pain was to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the wonderful races that Interlagos produced, some of the greatest we have ever seen. I hope we always come back for that reason alone.
Today Sao Paulo – like Ferrari – is better than it used to be. Much has been done. The favelas have faded, transportation is better. There are leafy parks and cycle paths. There are bright shiny glass-fronted tower blocks and shopping centres. Today there are many more neighbourhoods where one feels safe, but you only need to go a block or two in the wrong direction and you find yourself back in a place you do not want to be. But the locals are proud when you say that it is better than it used to be. This is not to say that I am a fan of the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere, which now boasts around 22.4 million people. It has wonderful jacaranda trees and an energy that is hard to find elsewhere. There really is nowhere like it.
Most of F1 these days stays in the Morumbi area, where a large representation of a Christmas tree stands outside a glitzy shopping centre. It reminded us all that the end of the season is finally upon us. We are all tired. Stefano Domenicali spent much to the weekend without a voice and Lando Norris looked rather grey all weekend. We all just want to get the season finished.
Morumbi is nice enough. It is where Senna is buried (below), if you can find the place.
The thing you need to know about it is that Brazilians use the letter r in a rather different way than the rest of the world and so Morumbi sounds like Mohumbi, while you must say Hubens Bahichello if you want the Brazilian to understand who you are talking about. If you wish to go to the Autodromo by taxi, you have to say “Ow-toe-drome – Oh!”, which sounds like you might have stubbed your foot. If you say Bom Dia (good morning) you have to say “bonjee-a”. The language is complicated, but it is all still worth it, if you can get into Interlagos. Just for the passion.
It was nice to see Bernie Ecclestone wandering about, even if we are all supposed to tut-tut and say that he is horrid because he likes Vladimir Putin. Bernie is farming coffee in Brazil these days (or at least getting someone else to do it while he watches) but he’s unbelievably sprightly for a man of 92. When I mentioned he was looking well, Mr E, gave a little twinkle and said that it was all down to his clean living ways… which made us both giggle. The ultimate laugh, however, was that Bernie was there not because of what he did for F1 for so many years, but rather because his wife Fabiana, was the highest-ranking FIA official at the event, now that she is the Vice President of Sport (Latin America). I have no doubt that Bernie ended up in the corner office…
The paddock gossip was minimal, with stories suggesting that Portugal could replace China in 2023. This is not going to happen. So, race fans, be prepared to have a four-week break from F1 next year between the Australian GP on April 2, and the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 30.
It would be a good time to plan a holiday…
The Germans are rather worried that they are about to lose their two active F1 drivers, with the retirement of Sebastian Vettel and the fact that Mick Schumacher is about to be drop-kicked off the F1 playing field. The good news is that Nico Hulkenberg will be slipping into the cockpit of the second Haas. This will confirmed some point soon.
There has been chat for a while that Daniel Ricciardo will be joining Mercedes to help out. There is some logic in this, but the latest whispers in the wind are that Mercedes may be convinced that taking on Mick would be a good PR move. We shall see.
Daniel has also been mentioned as a possible reserve at Red Bull, where he learned to be the character that he is. We will have to see about that. Other stories suggest that the role is going to be given to Norway’s Dennis Hauger, who Red Bull hopes will become an F2 winner in 2023 after a rather average season in 2022. It seems also that Enzo Fittipaldi is joining the Red Bull flock (if the collective noun for Red Bulls is a flock, rather than a herd) and that he may also be named as Haas’s reserve driver as his brother Pietro is hoping to go racing in the United States, where there is nice IndyCar drive going if one has the money to pay Chip Ganassi what he wants (which is rather a lot).
Anyway, now it’s off to the onomatopoeic Abu Dhabi “do”, where hopefully things will be less stressed than they were a year ago.
We will say goodbye to Vettel, who is planning a career saving the world and raising awareness for exploited folks and minorities, by selling teeshirts supporting his campaigns, at a thoroughly unreasonable €70 a pop. I’m all for good works and charitable gestures, but I am troubled by the idea of spending €70 for a teeshirt, even if it miraculously turns into artichoke soup after being used a few times.
Still, Ferrari can demand such prices, so there is hope for the rest of us…
I bounce through Miami International Airport every now and then, and it always makes me smile when I see the airport code MIA. For me this acronym means Missing In Action. Quite often, one feels a little like that when one is jumping around between the time zones.
When I find myself in MIA with time to kill, I will walk through the terminal, which has crushed shells in the flooring (see below), presumably to make it more durable, as well as quite pretty to look at. When I get to Gate D4, I hide myself away in the Islander Bar and Grill. There’s nothing special about the place but for reasons that I cannot quite fathom it feels like a safe haven and one gets a hint of Caribbean life, with some dishes that originate from the islands. It used to serve conch and other such delicacies, but these days the menu is rather less Gulf Stream and a little more mainstream.
I had a few hours to kill in MIA on the return from Mexico City (it’s cheaper when you do not fly direct) and I was pondering the Mexico F1 weekend, as I munched my way through some Cuban spring rolls. It struck me that Islander can be viewed as “I slander” and that one of the themes of the Grand Prix had been defamation, largely in relation to social media and how toxic a world it can be. This came up in the post-race press conference.
“I think it’s just the sport is more popular so there are more people watching, so more people are writing,” said Max Verstappen. “I think it’s just that. It’s not great that they are allowed to write these kinds of things so I hope we can come up with a kind of algorithm that stops people from being keyboard warriors. Because these kind of people… they will never come up to you and say these things in front of your face, because they’re sitting in front of their desk or whatever at home, being upset, being frustrated, and they can write whatever they like because the platform allows you to. That can be really damaging and hurtful to some people and it’s not how it should be. Social media is a very toxic place.”
Lewis Hamilton was also quite vocal on the subject.
“Social media is getting more and more toxic as the years go on and we should all come off it, ultimately,” he said. “Mental health is such a prominent thing right now. So many people are reading the comments, the stuff that people say, and it is hurtful. Fortunately I don’t read it, but the media platforms need to do more to protect people, particularly young kids and women. At the moment they are not doing that so I think this will just continue.”
And Sergio Perez agreed.
“They don’t understand that we are also human beings. And I think this has got to stop,” he said. “And, obviously, as a sport, we need to also be responsible of what we post, by ourselves. We all have a lot of followers so it’s very important that we try to get the sport in the right way because Formula 1, it’s a great sport and has great values, but has to do more in that regard.”
I could not agree more. One cannot post anything without someone taking offence, or gnashing their virtual teeth. The other day, I saw a tweet which suggested that researchers at Stanford University, a very fine institution, had come up with what they considered to be the image of God. It all sounded very unlikely and the image looked a lot like Fernando Alonso. In fact, it looked so like Fernando that I concluded that it was a fake story but, just to be sure, I did a little surfing on the web and discovered that the image had nothing to do with Stanford and was simply a 3D rendition of Alonso that one can buy on the web, if one feels the need to part with money to own a non-fungible token.
I have always struggled with NFTs because while I understand that an image can be considered special and valuable, when you buy a virtual piece of art, you are getting absolutely nothing part from an image that anyone who knows how to use a screen shot can also have at home. If you buy a painting you are at least getting some canvas, wood and paint.
I guess it is just about belief, similar to thinking that a bit of paper is as valuable as a piece of gold.
Anyway, Mexico City is all the fault of an Aztec deity with the easy-to-remember name of Huitzilopochtli, who said that the best place for the tribe to settle would be when they saw an eagle, perched on a prickly pear cactus – in a lake – and eating a snake.
Well, blow me down, this is exactly what some of the Aztecs saw in a swamp in the valley of Mexico. So they built a city called Tenochtitlan, created “floating gardens” on which to grow food and settled down to enjoy life, sacrificing people from time to time to stop the gods from making the ground shake, by ripping out the still-beating hearts of the victims. OK, they gave us popcorn and chewing gum as well, but the sacrificing stuff was not a very nice way of going about business.
Thanks to the hungry eagle, the settlement now known as Mexico City was founded (and the Mexican flag created), although in the modern world, the place is anything but perfect. It is in a flat valley at 7,000ft, surrounded by volcanos that rise as high as 16,000 feet. It is sheltered from winds but has no drainage so that when water descends from the mountains it has nowhere to go and causes floods. These conditions are not very helpful because a concept called temperature inversion means that air pollution is trapped and when the warm air near the ground does escape it creates violent thunder storms that cause more floods.
And that’s without the earthquakes…
Despite these disadvantages, Mexico City has grown and grown. Today there are 22 million people living there (21.8 million of which are Checo Perez fans). Pollution used to be really horrible back in the 1980s but the Mexicans have done a decent clean-up job by building a very efficient mass transit system, although the traffic is still pretty awful. Mexico City is reckoned to be only the fifth most congested city in Latin America (avoid Bogota, Lima, Recive and Santiago) – but it is still a very congested place.
And yet visitors come to enjoy its cosmopolitan charms, its energy and its historical places. In the old days, everyone in F1 used to stay at the airport hotels because they were there to race and didn’t care about the fancy hotels downtown. Today they want to stay in the wildly-expensive places and so have to spend additional money on police escorts and waste time getting through the traffic in their cars. One of my favourite stories of the Grand Prix weekend was that Carlos Slim Domit, the billionaire petrol head, who has funded much of Mexican motorsport in the last 20 years, and is largely responsible for Sergio Perez surviving long enough in F1 to get a decent seat, decided that he didn’t want to sit in traffic and so took the metro to get to the circuit. Fortunately, this was so unexpected an act that nothing bad happened…
If you want to make friends in Mexico you don’t need to learn a lot of Spanish. If you can say “Checo” and give a thumbs-up, they will be happy and proud. However one gets the feeling that it isn’t just Perez. Mexicans love racing. The support for Perez is spectacular but it is not quite the same as success-chasing supporters of Max Verstappen, who will fade one day if Max stops winning.
For Mexicans it seems that there is also plenty of national pride about the Grand Prix. It is a great event. It won the prize for being the best Grand Prix for five consecutive years between 2015 and 2019 (the award has not been made since), and the promoter has just signed a new three-year deal and the future looks rosy. The main focus these days is to build up the festival (ie money-making activities) around the event. Already it coincides with the colourful Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) and so visitors can combine the two, which will bring more revenue to the city and thus enable F1 to ask for more money. This is exactly what Liberty Media’s vision of F1 is – and it is working.
There is a developing problem, however, with the secondary market for tickets, which can get to daft prices because so many people want to come to the races. This presents a challenge for the organisers because if they sell cheap tickets these will end up nurturing touts. One can raise the prices to squeeze out the scalpers but if the demand is strong enough there will still be a margin for them.
The problem in Mexico City is that the Grand Prix cannot sell any more tickets and there is no space left for more grandstands. The logical thing to do in the circumstances is either to sit back and enjoy the situation, or to try and repeat the success elsewhere. With six races in the American time zones in 2023, there is probably still room for one more (which will mean one being lost in Europe) and although having two races in Mexico is not a realistic ambition, there is no reason why the promotions company cannot go elsewhere in the region and help out countries that do not know how to do it.
Anyway, the reason the new contract is short, is because there is an election in 2024 when the mayor of Mexico City Claudia Sheinbaum gets to the end of her term of office. It looks like she is going to stand for the presidency and so the Mexico City could get federal funding again and perhaps return to being the Mexican GP.
Perez is so popular in Mexico that his father Tono thinks it could win him votes in he presidential election and he says he standing for the role. This will not happen because he is in the same party – called MORENA – as Sheinbaum and Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, who are probably a little more attractive to voters than Perez’s dad, enthusiastic though he may be…
Mexico will at some point need to look for a new driver to support because Perez is coming up to 33 and while he is eight years younger than Fernando Alonso and could, in theory, go on forever in F1, there may come a point at which Red Bull will think that a youngster might do a better job. You can cheer until you are hoarse, but Sergio is nowhere close to Max’s pace. He’s solid, he’s older and (perhaps) wiser, but there may come a day…
Mexico does have Pato O’Ward, who is nine years younger than Perez and a very bouncy individual. He is under contract to McLaren in IndyCar until the end of 2025 and is the same age as Lando Norris, which is two years old than Oscar Piastri, while Alex Palou is two years older. So, McLaren has an option that could one day make Mexico happy. A successful driver can make the sport very popular in their own country. We have seen that in Spain (with Alonso) and in Germany (with Michael Schumacher), but it doesn’t always work because Sebastian Vettel never appealed to German fans in the way that Michael did. I have asked a lot of Germans about why this is the case and the answer seems to be a class thing. Michael was a working class hero, who rose to fame at a time when Germany needed figures to unite around. It all happened just after the reunification of East and West and, so they say, this is what made him such a huge phenomenon. That, and a lot of victories…
Today we have China’s Guanyu Zhou but the Chinese are not yet getting excited. Things are a little complicated because I sense a new kind of caution in F1 about China. The 2023 race is going to be called off because of the zero-COVID policy. The Chinese leadership cannot let F1 bust all the rules without it stirring up trouble and that is the last thing that they want. So the race will have to go and maybe in 2024 they will get round to easing the lockdowns and getting on with life.. At the same time I feel that the view of China is changing. It is no longer viewed the investment opportunity it once was and lots of Western companies are winding down their operations. China’s failure to condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine has not gone down well in the West and President Xi’s combative attitude towards Taiwan is worrying. F1 cut all ties with Russia soon after the invasion of Ukraine – and would likely do the same if Taiwan was attacked.
But, worse than that, there is a wariness about China that the leadership has created. I am sure they don’t give a monkey’s about F1, but it could mean that F1 will moved its targets to places in Asia where it is easier to do business. Yes, China has 1.4 billion people, but India has about the same… Perhaps if the Indians can get rid of their red tape and F1 might look again. Perhaps not.
Next year, probably, we will have American Logan Sargeant trying to do the same thing with the USA. Colton Herta seems to have disappeared from the scene and I am told that he has just been signed to a vast new contract ($7 million) which is unheard of in Indycar. Perhaps if there is ever an Andretti F1 team Herta might make F1, but right now it is all rather doubtful.
F1 continues to build in the US and this week at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, the leading automotive trade show, Williams F1 is going to be present. Next weekend there will be a launch party for the Grand Prix in Las Vegas.
Sargeant’s situation remains uncertain, which is a little ridiculous. The gap between the penultimate Formula 2 race meeting and the finale is a massive 10 weeks (from September 11 to November 20). This is one of number of flaws that Formula 2 suffers from: it is expensive and the cars are not always reliable and so the championship can be impacted by mechanical failures, which is not what you want when one is trying to develop the best drivers and technical issues distort the results. Secondly, the gap at the end of the year means that a number of current Formula 2 drivers need to wait until after the last race to see whether they qualify for an F1 super licence or not. They do not want to commit to returning to Formula 2 in 2023 because there is no real point in doing another season if one finishes well in the championship, but as they don’t know where they will finish, they cannot commit. Felipe Drugovich has already won the 2022 title, having collected 241 points thus far. This means he cannot be caught by the second-placed Theo Pourchaire, who has only 164 points. There is maximum score of 39 points for an F2 weekend, which means that Pourchaire is not safe in second place because Sargeant (135), Jack Doohan (126), Jehan Daruvala (126) and Enzo Fittipaldi (126) could all beat him. There are five other drivers who might be able to overtake Sargeant for third place, if they score maximum points and he fails to score: Liam Lawson (123), Frederik Vesti (117), Ayumu Iwasa (114), Juri Vips (110) and Dennis Hauger (98).
So there are 10 drivers who could finish third in the championship. Sargeant needs to be fifth to qualify for his licence and thus be able to take up the Williams F1 drive that is on offer to him.
The problem with this is that while the drivers wait to see what will happen, the 2023 drives are beginning to fill up with drivers who know what they need to do. The same mistake is being made again in next year’s calendar.
The paddock chatter in Mexico was largely about the cost cap, until the decisions were handed down, after which it ceased to be news and sank beneath silently the waves.
There was a bit of talk following the Audi announcement that it is jumping into bed with Sauber, a surprise to no-one. What is interesting about this is that the announcement said that Sauber will “undertake the planning and execution of all race operations during the 2026 Formula 1 season”. Cutting through the waffle, this means that Audi is hedging its bets, but you can understand why. If a manufacturer comes in with full branding there is a risk that if it all goes wrong, the company will look bad. Toyota is a good example of how not to do it. Mercedes dived in head-first in 2010 when it acquired Brawn GP but Brawn was the World Championship-winning team at the time, whereas Sauber is nowhere near achieving that.
Prior to that, back in the 1990s, Mercedes hid behind Sauber before becoming Sauber-Mercedes in 1994.
When Sauber was bought by BMW at the end of 2005 the team remained BMW Sauber, rather than being a straight BMW team, but if things had gone better it might have been transformed, but it seems that the sporting bosses had over-promised and the BMW board decided it was wasting its time and quit.
The other big question at the moment is what is going to happen with Audi’s sister brand Porsche, which was hoping to enter F1 in league with Red Bull. In recent days there have been rumours that Porsche could buy into Williams. This is not serious. Williams’s owners have shown no intention, despite several approaches, to hand over control. Williams would like to have manufacturer support in 2026 – but Porsche does not have an engine and, so they say, does not currently have the capacity, the people nor the time to build an engine for 2026.
Hence the Red Bull deal…
Porsche does have some knowledge of F1 engines because back in 2017 the VW executive board commissioned the firm to build a prototype F1 engine. This was going to be used from 2021 onwards but the impact of the VW diesel scandal shifted the group towards electric motorsport. The dynos that Porsche had planned to use were sold to Red Bull.
When Audi announced its F1 plans, its boss Markus Duesmann was asked if Audi and Porsche could collaborate, the obvious thing to do if one is being cost-efficient. But that would be far too easy for a complex company like Volkswagen. Audi does not want to work with Porsche. It is a flimsy argument to say that they cannot because integrating chassis and engine is impossible. If you look at the technical regulations about power unit mountings, these must consist of six studs connecting to the survival cell. The precise nature of the rules includes coordinates of where the studs must be placed, which means that different engines can be used with different chassis. This was created to make it possible to change engines without huge costs being involved and so integration is a lot easier than it might appear.
Since Duesmann made these remarks a couple of months ago, much has changed: the Red Bull-Porsche deal has fallen apart, but Porsche boss Oliver Blume has taken over as the boss of VW Group, while still retaining his role at Porsche. This means that Blume is Duesmann’s superior. Well, that’s the theory. Logically, if he went to the VW board and suggested that Porsche and Audi share the same technology, it would be entirely logical for that to happen. You can argue that this is not the way that Porsche does business, but then badging a Red Bull engine was not at all a Porsche kind of strategy.
The simple (but difficult) solution is for Porsche to be given whatever Audi has. One can stick a different badge on the cam covers and who will know the difference? Obviously Porsche would then need to invest in people and machinery so as to develop along its own path, but this might be a good starting point.
However, when it comes to VW politics, nothing is ever simple…
Money is not the issue.
Money is an issue in some parts of F1, notably the cryptocurrency firms, following on from the catastrophic loss of investor confidence in the sector last summer. Bitcoin has tumbled from $60,000 to $20,000, while Ferrari sponsor Velas has seen its market cap tumble from $1.2 billion in January to just under $100 million. F1 sponsor Crypto.com has also been suffering and has recently laid off around 30 percent of its staff and has cancelled a big sponsorship deal with UEFA.
Conversely, the more traditional money transfer businesses such as Haas’s new sponsor Moneygram or the likes of PayPal and Western Union are booming, along with a string of newer money transfer firms.
F1 is famous for looking at problems and finding solutions, so perhaps we will see some new names popping up soon.
The other day Alejandro Soberon, the race promoter in Mexico, came up with a brilliant concept about F1 and the environment. F1 is busy trying to convince everyone that it can reach zero emissions by 2030. This is a good idea, but it is pretty meaningless if one does not count the emissions created by F1’s spectators. One can try to get people to use mass transportation systems (as Carlos Slim did in Mexico) or one can try to convince them to switch to emission-free cars. But, if one thinks about the problem, one can already argue that Formula 1 is carbon neutral. How? Well, Soberon argued, if one only counts the people attending events, you are missing a trick. F1 is responsible for them, sure. But F1 is also responsible for keeping people at home to watch races, rather than going out on Sundays to have drive in the country, picnics, shopping trips and so on. So one needs only to find a way to measure how many people stay at home because of F1 and work out the environmental damage avoided and one can quickly see that the number of spectators will quickly be outnumbered by the number of TV viewers.
Staying home is something that more and more media F1 media are now doing, which means that most of the coverage comes from people who use what is spoon-fed to them, or copy what those who still travel are producing, although obviously they do not pay for it. This means that the travellers foot the bills but publications won’t pay what they used to. Anyone who travels the world at the moment knows that the costs are now horrendous. Flights are double what they used to be, hotels (particularly at F1 races) are off the clock. Hire car prices are bonkers. This is the cost of F1’s success, the result of the pandemic and businesses trying to make back what they lost.
This can get you down sometimes. I see all the followers on my social media feeds and I ponder the fact that if all them were to purchase a subscription to the JSBM newsletter (http://flatoutpublishing.com/jsbm/) just once, not only would they get a unique news every week for a year – much more than appears in the Green Notebook – but I would then never have to worry about F1 costs again.
Ah, in a perfect world, where social media was a positive thing…
Mauro Forghieri was one of of the greatest Formula 1 designer of his era – a lengthy period – overseeing championships for John Surtees in 1964, Niki Lauda in 1975 and 1977 and Jody Scheckter in 1979. His cars won 54 Grands Prix and seven Constructors’ titles. He was a hyperactive, arm-waving Italian, but he understood engines and chassis, which made his pretty unique in the modern era, if one can say that the modern era stretches back the the 1960s.
The son a Modena pattern-maker who worked with Ferrari in the late 1930s on the Alfa Romeo 158 project, Mauro was brought up in the town made famous by Ferrari before going to nearby Bologna University to study mechanical engineering. He graduated with a doctorate and began teaching, but his ambition back then was to go to California and get a job in aerospace. His father His father Reclus suggested to Enzo Ferrari that he hire the youngster and so Mauro took up the offer of a job at Ferrari in 1960.
Less than two years later he was put in charge of the entire racing department, following the walkout of almost all of the team’s top personnel in 1962. Forghieri was 26. He spent the next 25 years toiling for the Maranello team, designing cars and engines. He introduced a number of brilliant ideas and is best-remembered for his his 3-litre flat-12, which proved so successful in the hands of Niki Lauda.
There were good times and very bad times. Enzo Ferrari was a man who appreciated engine designers more than he did chassis engineers but he was a great supporter of his bright young design genius, who did both. The high point came in the mid-1970s when Lauda drove, Montezemolo managed and Forghieri designed. The relationship survived Lauda’s horrendous accident in 1976 and he came back to win again in 1977, despite the fact that Old Man Ferrari thought Niki would never be as good again. Ferrari was wrong. Lauda departed as a result.
The Forghieri cars competitive in 1978 and 1979 and a new hero emerged – Gilles Villeneuve. But Mauro’s chassis designs lacked modernity. He needed help and eventually, in 1981, old man Ferrari was convinced to take on British designer Harvey Postlethwaite, a man who truly understood aerodynamics. He and Forghieri produced the Ferrari 126, which had brute force horsepower and gradually, thanks to Postlethwaite, acquired some aerodynamic subtlety as well. In the traumatic 1982 season the Ferrari 126 C2 was the class of the field and yet Ferrari failed to win the title because of the horrendous accidents that killed Villeneuve and maimed Didier Pironi.
As the sport became more and more manufacturer-driven, Ferrari was left behind and in 1984 the team won just one race. By the start of 1985 the politics within the team reached fever pitch and Forghieri was shuffled away into the role of director of Ferrari’s “advanced research office”, leaving Postlethwaite in charge of F1 engineering. he would stay another two years before deciding that he would be better off working elsewhere and became technical director of a new company called Lamborghini Engineering, whch had been set up by former Ferrari team principal Daniele Audetto.
The Lamborghini car company had been bought by Lee Iacocca of Chrysler that year and it was decided that the company should build an F1 engine to help sell its supercars. Mauro designed a new normally-aspirated V12 engine for the new Grand Prix formula in 1989 and a deal was struck with Gerard Larrousse. The engine was unveiled in April 1988 and runs for the first time in the back of a Larrousse at Dijon in December with Philippe Alliot driving. The engine showed potential with Alliot finishing sixth in the Spanish GP and that autumn a deal was struck for Lamborghini Engineering to supply a car and engine to Mexican businessman Fernando Gonzalez Luna in 1991. In June 1990 Luna disappeared with $20 million and the team collapsed. Audetto managed to convince Italian financier Carlo Patrucco to take over the programme and early in 1991 Forghieri was named technical director of Modena Team. The arrangement was short-lived and Forghieri soon returned to Lamborghini Engineering to develop the V12 engine, but the Americans soon lost interest.
In 1992 Forgheiri was asked by the national electricity company Enel to design an electric minivan, but he was soon back in the world of internal combustion engines as technical director of Bugatti Automobili where he remained until the end of 1994 before he established his own Oral Engineering with former Ferrari engineers Franco Antoniazzi and Sergio Lugli. Together they designed automobile, motorcycle, marine and even kart engines and components. Later Forghieri would be one of the technical experts involved in the Senna Trial, but then, in his sixties, Forghieri quietly disappeared from F1.
Yes, I know that’s not how you spell cemetery, but what can you do? That’s the way it is. Mr Dunkin didn’t know how to spell doughnuts, but that didn’t stop money being made. Planet Earth somehow manages to keep on turning despite bad spelling and stray apostrophes. Whoever created the sign for this particular boneyard (see below), maybe 150 years ago, was rather better at carving than he was at spelling.
Jolly Cemetary is so-named not because it is a happy place (except perhaps at Halloween) but rather because it is in a place called Jollyville. Now you might think that this would mean it ought to be called Jollyville Cemetary, but a little research revealed why this is not the case. I assumed that Jollyville was a scenic place with a name derived from the French language, as “jolie” means “pretty”, but I discovered that it is actually named after a former Confederate soldier from Tennessee named John Jolly.
He was looking for somewhere quiet to live after the war and found a large chunk of land in the middle of nowhere, away from humankind. The land was next to a trail that headed north and there were some passers-by and so he built a general store and opened a forge. Later he gave some of his land to build a school and a graveyard which was named after him, while the settlement became known as Jollyville. The trail became the Jollyville Road and went on to become US Highway 183, although it went nowhere interesting through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska before stopping in a one horse town in South Dakota.
These days Jollyville has been swallowed up the voracious city of Austin but the greedy hoteliers in the city have forced anyone without a trust fund to leave town and seek refuge in over-priced dives in the suburbs.
Until the 1960s Jollyville was barely a village. It was quiet, a place with horse ranches and pecan plantations and plenty of old oak trees. Today it is very different and developers have made piles of money building houses. The area boasts a rather odd area where the streets are name after English things: there is Heathrow Drive, Shakespearean Way, Sherwood Forest and I even found Downing Street.
The reason I know all this is because the dive in which we stayed backed on to Jollyville Road and the name sounded interesting. Readers of the Green Notebook will probably know that I love the United States, my son is actually a US citizen. I think of the States as an amazing country, but some of the people who live in this great place have very some strange views of the world. Having said that I believe that something like 38 percent of all Americans have never had a passport and another 26 percent no longer have a valid passport which means that around 210 million Americans either never travel or have not travelled recently. This means that their view of world is formed entirely by the media. I am not saying it is wrong not to travel if one is happy with one’s own country, but it does lead to some odd attitudes and behaviours because the more one travels, the more one learns and the more tolerant one is to new ideas and different cultures.
This unworldliness was highlighted on Thursday when we went to check into the aforementioned hotel and were told that the fact that we had paperwork indicating that there were two rooms booked, confirmed and guaranteed was irrelevant because there was only one available and if we did not like it there was nothing that they could or would do about it.
After many years of travelling, I have had a few adventures with booking problems. My favourite (if one can have a favourite nightmare) was when I turned up one year for a weekend at Monza to discover that I had been booked into a place for three nights. The problem was that it was a restaurant, not a hotel…
On another occasion something had gone wrong and so the hotel staff converted their boardroom into a bedroom. They were people who cared about doing the job properly. The receptionist in the Jollyville dive – let’s call her Brooke – was different. She said it was because there was an F1 race and there were few rooms available in town. Yes, we said, we are aware of this. It is why this booking confirmation was made many months ago. Not having a room was stressful, of course, but the worrying thing was that the only alternative would be to pay the going rate elsewhere – and that would be thousands of dollars. It is not unusual for unscrupulous hoteliers to cancel reservations in order to get more money, but you cannot cancel confirmed reservations that are guaranteed. Well, Brooke decided that she could. It was just tough. We should have come earlier. She accepted that the reservation did say that the rooms were confirmed, and guaranteed without pre-payment, but said these terms did not refer to the hotel. This was patent nonsense, of course.
It was clear that she had sold the room because someone else came along willing to pay more money and she figured that we could somehow be brow-beaten into accepting the situation. She even threatened to cancel the second room if I did not stop telling her that her behaviour was unprofessional. This, she said, was disrespectful. We pointed out that we too felt a lack of respect and made the point that two hard-bitten world travellers are not going to be bullied by some rank amateur and refused to accept such a situation. She had to fix it. At one point she slammed the door of the office in an act of frustration that we would not accept her diktats. She then decided to call the police, on the basis that we were being “rowdy”. Our response was: “You’re kidding!”
The conclusion we reached while we waited for the police to arrive was that Brooke was completely out of her depth and not meant for a career in the hotel business. Officer Kim (number 6789) duly arrived and seemed a little astonished that rather than finding himself faced by gun-toting rednecks there were two calm and lucid international visitors, who explained in a coherent fashion that the hotel was in breach of a contract and was unwilling to solve the problem. Officer Kim was an intelligent fellow and tried to find a solution although clearly there was no solution possible. So we ended up sharing the one available room for that night with no guarantees that we have two rooms for the weekend.
In the morning, within a matter of minutes, without Brooke, the problem was solved and apologies made. We did not see her again and hopefully she is now working in a job to which she is better-suited. Shovelling manure in a stable might be a good career path… but if she wants a reference for any job I am very happy to give one, but she might not like what she gets.
This was all rather stressful and down at the Circuit of the Americas things were a little tiresome as well. The big story was the dull cost cap. Otherwise there was some vague interest when the Ferrari drivers put on cowboy hats, although it would have been fitting if other team members had been made to look like cowboys, given some of the team’s adventures in recent years.
Daniel Ricciardo rode a horse (complete with a pass in the name of Horsey McHorse) into the pit lane, before riding off into the sunset…
Zak Brown and Mario Andretti drove old McLarens around, the old boy showing Zak that owning cars and driving them quickly are two entirely different things. Zak may have been feeling a little bit uncomfortable, not because fitting into the car was probably a bit of a challenge, but rather because a legal letter had landed on his desk from Red Bull, which was of the opinion that an open letter Brown had written to the FIA President was a direct public accusation of cheating. There were a couple of things amiss with the letter. Firstly, the FIA President should not be involved in any way in the cost cap discussions, so Zak’s letter looked a lot like a PR stunt; and secondly defamation is not limited to literal and obvious meanings but includes inference which an ordinary, reasonable reader would draw from the words. In his subsequent remarks to the media he was rather more circumspect, saying that he did not know the facts of the case and that his letter was based on the idea that ‘if these types of things have happened’ it would not be right.
“I didn’t mention any teams. It was a general response,” he said.
Christian Horner was obviously not impressed, nor were Red Bull’s lawyers.
“It’s tremendously disappointing. For a fellow competitor to be accusing you of cheating, to accuse you of fraudulent activity, is shocking,” Horner said. “It’s absolutely shocking that another competitor, without the facts, without any knowledge of the details, can be making that kind of accusation.”
He made the point that Red Bull had been on trial by the media and that this had been stirred up deliberately by rival teams.
My view is simple: how can one have a sensible opinion if no-one actually knows the details? They are confidential. The whole affair has been spun into a whirlwind of controversy, more of a dust devil than a tornado, but a lot more than the sport needs. We all want the sport to be fair, rules to be respected and to see punishments that fit crimes, but in this case there has been far too much spinning and briefing going on, and it looks like a serious attempt to undermine and discredit Red Bull, in order to weaken their challenge in the future, rather than being a discussion about what is right and wrong. They are angry about this, and you can understand why.
Most of what you will have read is information that is being leaked to a hungry media by people with agendas. Everyone sensible wants this issue to go away. It isn’t good for the sport and it is fairly normal that there might be a few “grey areas” when there is a new regulation that is quite vague in terms of details. Interpretations can be different and so the accusation that this is all deliberate is really not helpful. The FIA has already said that the team has been cooperating all along the way, it is just that they do not agree on interpretations that have emerged since the accounts were submitted.
The good news is that there will not be any back room deals, as we have seen before (allegedly) because FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem campaigned on the basis that “transparency is vital to good governance and accountability”. Most fans are really not interested in financial details: about differed corporation tax, how unused parts are categorised, argument over health benefits and catering costs. Dull stuff.
Far too much of the ongoing process has been conducted in public, when these are supposed to be confidential matters. What is important is to discover how other teams got to know what was in Red Bull’s submissions. Somebody, somewhere has been leaking information. This is wrong. Similarly, using such information to create bad impressions is very dubious behaviour, particularly as the “facts” are very woolly. So there is work needed on getting the Cost Cap process properly defined and executed, although I am confident that things will be better in the future. Regulations often need tweaking.
This was a point that the FIA made in what was a very good report into the happenings at Suzuka, where no punches were pulled and good explanations given about what went wrong, who was at fault and how things can be fixed. Hopefully, this will become the norm in the future.
The big news was that Brad Pitt was wandering around. He looks good for a 58-year-old and if Tom Cruise (60) can play a Super Hornet F/A 18F pilot and Daniel Craig can still be James Bond a 54, there is no reason that Pitt cannot be a fictional F1 driver at his age, although it will make Fernando Alonso look like a spring chicken.
Brad and some of his crew met with F1 team bosses and others to explain their movie plans, which will feature Pitt as an old driver struggling against a young charger. The filming is due to start next year with the three US races likely to be heavily featured.
A successful F1 movie would, of course, be of enormous value to the sport as it gets cooler and cooler to US viewers. F1 is now so cool that I spotted Liberty Media boss Greg Maffei wearing an F1-branded shirt, which is something I’ve not seen before, as he likes to be incognito. The problem with movie-making is that sometimes films are not the hits that Hollywood folk think they will be and F1 really needs to avoid a Sylvester Stallone-like disaster 20-odd years ago when he produced an IndyCar film called “Drivel” – Oops, sorry, I meant “Driven”. That film was truly awful although IndyCar has done better since then, notably with “Turbo”, an animated feature about a radioactive snail who wants to win the Indy 500.
I know that sounds like a dead cert disaster, but for kids under the age of eight, radioactive snails are clearly very interesting, as “Turbo” has been a big hit.
I did hear an interesting story that Pitt was in town not only to chat and do some subtle promotion, but also because he is rather keen on Liberty Media kicking in some investment money for the movie. Given that Liberty recently spent $240 million to buy a plot of land in Les Vegas, on which to build a pit lane and paddock area for future Grands Prix, this is a pretty sensible thing to do, as F1 wants the movie to be made and they are never averse to a little profit if such a film becomes a success.
Pitt is big star, but one got the impression that F1’s new mega-star Gunther Steiner is nearly as big these days. Everyone wants a selfie with the bemused Steiner, who is still trying figure out how he became a sex symbol. The Haas team produced some Gunther Steiner teeshirts for the weekend – the first team principal merchandising in the history of the sport, so they believe – and the website blew up as squillions of fans scrambled to get their hands on one…
The paddock was awash with money, with billionaires two-a-penny and mere millionaires being the new working class. There are reckoned to be more than 3,000 billionaires in the world today and while I’m not a great celebrity watcher, nor indeed a Hello magazine reader, I would guess that there were dozens of them present in Texas. At one point I did see the bizarre sight of John Elkann, the chairman of Stellantis (the merged Fiat-Peugeot) and Ferrari, doing a selfie (below) with someone I didn’t recognise.
I asked around and no-one seemed to know, but after a few moments I asked a passing billionaire who this person might be and was told that he was none other than Andrea Casiraghi, the son of Princess Caroline of Monaco, and fourth in line to the throne (or whatever it is that Princes sit on) of Monaco. That was the kind of paddock Austin was with loads of rich people, some tubby social influencers with silly hats on, lots of school leaver-age people wearing shirts that said “F1 Experiences Expert Host” and a sprinkling of scruffy media types. I am not quite sure how one qualifies to be an “F1 Experiences Expert Host” but if there’s money in it, I might have to offer my services…
There does seem to be piles of US money being spent in F1 these days and the new ESPN TV deal is a nice one for F1, as it is rumoured to be worth 16 times more than the current deal. The new deal will bring in around $4 million per Grand Prix with an average live US viewership at the moment of about 1.2 million. This is rising all the time while NASCAR’S numbers are sliding downwards from year to year. These days the American stock car series averages around 2.9 million live views a race, for which it earns in the region of $22 million per event. This is an interesting comparison because there is clearly potential for another massive hike when the new ESPN deal ends in 2025. Just suppose, if F1 earned half of what NASCAR does per race, the revenue from F1’s US TV rights in 2026 could be $246 million a year…
This is why the deal is for only three years.
The other big announcement in Austin was Haas’s new title sponsor for the next three years, MoneyGram International Inc, a money-transfer company which is in competition with similar firms such as PayPal, Western Union, Wise, Green Dot, WorldRemit, Remitly Global and Skrill. It’s a tough market with plenty of competition. The F1 sponsorship is a major push from Moneygram following its acquisition earlier this year by a private equity firm called Madison Dearborn Partners for $1.8 billion. This included paying off MoneyGram’s debt of $800 million and taking it off the NASDAQ stock exchange, to allow the firm freedom to grow and not waste its energy on pleasing investors and reducing regulatory, governance and accounting rules and costs. How much of this was down to the Haas brand? And how much was thanks to the Gunther brand?
Dear God, we’ll have Steiner-branded underwear and loo seat covers next…
There were various other smaller announcements including a McLaren deal with a company called Seamless Digital, which will introduce a system that will allow branding to change on parts of the cars DURING races. This is a clever idea which has been around since it was developed by the Media Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 20 years ago. It has never been used on F1 cars because of the weight of the film of “electronic paper” which can change where “electronic ink” appears. With the in-car cameras of today McLaren is going to use it in very small areas, such as helmets and haloes, to get sponsorship that can change from one shot to another. It is still only available in black, white and shades of grey, but there are hopes that one day the concept will be able to change multi-coloured images.
Elsewhere, there are suggestions that F1 will come up with a scheme to replace the W Series in an effort to help develop young female racers. F1 is not keen on the idea of segregating women in their own championship, believing that it is better for them to sink or swim in the mainstream. It was offered the W Series several times, but declined to buy it for this reason. However, the sport does not want to be accused of not doing anything in this respect, as happened the other day when Lewis Hamilton started talking about how some of the money being generated by F1 should be used to “help out in that space”. Rather than using the existing cars, the word is that F1 could make it compulsory for existing Formula 2 and Formula 3 teams to each run a pair of Formula 4 cars in order to create a championship that would run concurrently with F1 events. This would include an age restriction to avoid the problems that the W Series has of older drivers dominating but not being good enough to move on. This will provide women with track time when they need it most and potential role models for girls to be inspired by. Formula 1 people generally have a very open view on the subject and believe that if a women with the right skill-set comes along and is quick enough she will be welcomed in F1 with open arms. The problem is finding the right girl(s). The idea being floated seems to be a cost-effective way to continue the search.
The Chinese Communist Party Congress in Beijing, which has been taking place in the last few days, saw a very clear statement that the Chinese government is going to continue with its zero-COVID policy. This means that it is almost inconceivable for there to be a race in Shanghai in 2023 because of restrictions on spectators and, more importantly, the quarantine requirements that the F1 circus would face, which are currently impossible to fulfil. If the government makes an exception for F1 it will stir up discontent in the population, which the leaders want to avoid. In short, until the government eases off on restrictions it is unlikely that a race will happen. If it drops from the calendar in 2023, China will not be replaced.
And while it was a sad weekend for Red Bull, with the death of Dietrich Mateschitz, who has been a key member of the F1 world for many years, this all overshadowed the death of another man who had a similar impact in the sport half a century ago. Aleardo Buzzi, who died at the age of 92 was the man who called the tune at Marlboro from the very first stickers on Jo Siffert’s March in 1970, to the successful times with McLaren and Ferrari, not to mention the funding dozens of young drivers, many who made it into F1. Buzzi retired from Marlboro in 1992.
People forget very quickly.
I guess if you want your name to live on after you go, the best thing to do is to have a cemetery named after you.
Travelling in Japan is never dull, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes: you know where to go, and what to expect. For many in the F1 world, travelling in Japan means taking a train because it is more efficient (and cheaper) than chauffeurs or hire cars. This often means that one visits the station at Shiroko, close to Suzuka, which is on the Kintetsu Line, between Nagoya and Osaka. You then take the train in whichever direction you require, changing to the Tokaido Shinkansen at Nagoya if you want to go to Tokyo.
The trick at Shiroko is to buy a ticket on a Limited Express. When you first hear that you think that the Limited Express may not be as fast as an Express. The reality is the opposite, a Limited Express is faster because the number of stops is limited.
It is one of those funny quirks one has to learn…
Your ticket tells you all you need to know: exactly where you should sit, the departure and arrival times and the price. Japanese trains are never late and so you can get off with confidence at the station you want, based on the time on the ticket. In 37 years of visiting the country I’ve only ever been on one train that was late, which is something that railway workers in other countries really ought to consider.
Anyway, 90 minutes after the Kintetsu Limited Express for Osaka leaves Shiroko, it pulls into Namba station. The tannoy plays some soothing music and a female voice says: “Namba desu”, which translates as “This is Namba”.
What she does not tell you is that Namba is not one station, but rather six, all linked by underground tunnels, escalators and stairways, with a multi-storey department store called Takashimaya and shopping malls called Namba Parks, Namba City and Namba SkyO, each of which has multiple levels. The result is a labyrinth that would warm the heart of even the most cold-hearted of moles. Somewhere in these tunnels you can find almost everything that a modern urban dweller could possibly want. Of course, for a gaijin (the word that the Japanese use for “foreigners” – although I have also seen it translated as “alien”, which I much prefer) it can be a little overwhelming. This is to be expected if one comes from a world where stations are two-dimensional and trains line up side-by-side from Platform 1 to Platform 9 ¾.
Japan is not like that.
Perhaps you have heard of the Dutch artist MC Escher, who made the initials MC cool long before Mr Hammer (aka Stanley Burrell) rapped on the door of Celebrityville and they let him in. Escher created drawings of buildings that were impossible but looked right, using tricks with perspective. Escher may have designed Namba Station. The weird thing about it is that it becomes more complex the more you know about it.
It is often flooded with streams of busy people, who all seem to know where they are going and who all seem to be travelling without any luggage. However, if one follows the signs and keeps calm it is not so bad. Trying to explain it to others is more complicated than teaching a German to understand the rules of cricket, but when you get to know Namba, you realise that it is quite brilliant. In Japan they don’t have grimy railway arches, with lock-up garages inhabited by dubious folk. They have shiny shopping malls.
The goal when navigating Osaka Namba is usually to get to the Nankai Railway’s Rapi:t service, which is an evil-looking train, which goes from Namba to Kansai International Airport (otherwise known as KIX). It is retro and at the same time futuristic. In fact, it looks like Darth Vader after he has fallen into a pot of dark metallic blue paint (which looks a little purple in some lights). It is fast and very convenient, although perhaps I should add that the name is pronounced “rapido” not “rapit” for reasons that were probably logical to Japanese people 30 years ago when Darth Train first rolled his wheels.
It has been three years since we were last in Japan and it seemed initially that a great deal had changed. The rush hour no longer seemed very rushed. Trains were half-empty. People were staying at home more. The whole place seemed a little unkempt and run down. Everyone was wearing masks, even if they are no longer compulsory. Without the bustle, Osaka seemed to be lacking energy, and I felt the same way when I got to Suzuka. There were still the eccentric fans (of course) but the Paddock did not have the zing one is used to. I couldn’t work out why this was until a chance remark from someone in the F1 group came like a bolt of lightning. The problem at Suzuka was that Suzuka hasn’t changed from three year ago. And F1 has. There are times when the endless throbbing music in the Paddock can get on your nerves, but it is energising. Suzuka had none of that energy.
The other point I discovered is that Suzuka may not feel like a small event, but it is.
The media who attended the race were few in number, because of restrictions entering the country, but there was nothing to stop the Japanese fans buying tickets. The place seemed pretty full, but then you realise that the grandstands are concentrated in the same area and so it feels crowded, but the numbers do not bear out that impression. To give you an idea, the three-day attendance figures in recent months have been Canada (338,000), Silverstone (401,000), Austria (303,000), France (200,000), Hungary (290,000), Belgium (360,000), the Netherlands (305,000), Italy (336,000) and Singapore (302,000)
In Japan, with no reduced capacity and no requirement to wear masks outdoors, the total was only 190,000 over three days. Despite this there were some pretty awful traffic jams during the weekend. It probably did not help that during the three pandemic years Suzuka Circuit Motopia, the amusement park alongside the track was closed. In an effort to cut down costs, the hotel at the track closed many of its facilities and quite a lot of rooms were demolished, which meant that people had to find alternative accommodation.
The whole complex is owned by Honda and while they are keen on F1 – particularly as they are winning the championship this year with Red Bull, it is clear that Suzuka is a pretty rural place. There are paddy fields between the houses and even stretches of open land, which is rare indeed on the flat in Japan.
Anyway, access to Suzuka is difficult and even if everyone loves it, the track is not keeping up with the way F1 is developing and while there are no serious rivals among the other Japanese circuits, there may soon be rivals because Japanese cities are waking up to the idea of hosting F1 races as a way of reviving visitor numbers (as noted in the last Green Notebook). It seems like Osaka is not the only city interested, and outside Japan there are a string of projects across Asia, all hoping to become part of the F1 circus – and willing to buy a stacks of gambling chips to be allowed to sit at the F1 table. In many ways this is a good thing because it means that F1 can be a little bit more choosy and more demanding. They can get more money and facilities they want to fit requirements, such as public transportation, which is now something essential for F1 as it seeks to be carbon neutral. The biggest problem for any sporting event these days is how people get to the venue. The crowd numbers mentioned above are only impressive if the fans all travel on mass transportation systems (or bicycles). F1 may be designed to sell cars, but it does not want people to use them…
In any case, the great circuits of old, the classic venues, are not really fit-for-purpose these days. Monaco, Montreal, Albert Park, Singapore, Mexico, Zandvoort and even Baku are good. Monza, Suzuka and Barcelona do have railways that pass nearby (although the capacity is small in all cases). The Middle East tracks do not attract many spectators, but places like Silverstone, Austria, Paul Ricard, Spa, Hockenheim, the Hungaroring and the Nurburgring are not much good. Such places can survive (perhaps) if they buy great chunks of Amazonia and do not cut down the trees, or they can do what Le Mans did and convince the local authorities to put in mass transit systems, but they need to do a lot in other respects to remain interesting.
One of the big talking points after the Japanese GP was that of recovery vehicles. It is not really surprising given that in 2014 Jules Bianchi died after colliding with a tractor at Suzuka. Recovery vehicles frequently share the track with racing cars when a race is running behind a Safety Car (as was the case in Suzuka) but this also requires the drivers to act in a responsible manner if they are not in the peloton behind the Safety Car. So, normally this would not be a problem. But if conditions are difficult and visibility poor it is not a good idea to send out tractors until everyone is moving slowly. After Bianchi’s accident the FIA appointed a panel to look at how to avoid the problem again. This was chaired by former F1 engineer Peter Wright, then the President of the Safety Commission. The panel, which produced a 396-page report, included Ross Brawn, Stefano Domenicali, Eduardo de Freitas and GPDA President Alex Wurz. They concluded that “it is imperative” to prevent a car ever hitting a service vehicle and made a number of recommendations, including avoiding races taking place during local rainy seasons. Their ultimate conclusion, however, was that the blame for the accident rested with Bianchi because he was driving too fast. There were many changes made after that crash, including the introduction of the Virtual Safety Car, but it was only good fortune that avoided a similar scenario in Suzuka this year.
So, it was correct to punish Pierre Gasly for exceeding 125 mph on “multiple occasions” and 155 on one occasion, but it is clear that other solutions must be found to stop any possibility of it happening again. The use of the red flag has increased in F1 (and it is not always popular) but the drivers have said that there should be no risk of such a thing happening in the future, which could increase the number of red flags. One understands why drivers want to minimise risk, but then watching them racing in those early laps after the restart (when they could see almost nothing) does make you wonder about their self-preservation instincts. It is a thorny question. However, it is safe to say that using big heavy tractors in such conditions is not smart. Using cranes is not really the solution because that adds to the risks for circuit workers and one might argue that perhaps the best idea is to not race at Suzuka in October. Still, there is little we can do to control the weather, unless we have indoor Grands Prix.
Now there’s an idea…
It is, of course, easy to blame the FIA for everything. This is the usual fall back position for folk who don’t really understand the federation. To be fair, this attitude betrays a basic ignorance of what the FIA is and why things are happening. People do not understand how much work goes into trying to ensure that everything is safe, balanced, easy-to-understand and consistent. It is a real Sisyphean task and some might even suggest that anyone wanting to do it has masochistic tendencies (let’s not dwell on that too much…), but it is a job that needs to be done, and it is not easy. Could it be done better? Of course, one can always improve things. That concept is at the very heart of F1 thinking, but so much depends on the people involved. Those who say that F1 should break away from the FIA and regulate itself (and few intelligent people in the teams do) simply do not understand what it takes. There are lots of people who think they know the answers, but many of their solutions have been tried before and are not used because they do not work. The idea of having a permanent steward is one such concept. That was tried and within a year teams were complaining about bias. Having a lot of different stewards meant that few knew all the rules and few had experience which is why the system of having a small pool of stewards in constant discussion is the best idea. There are of course differences of opinion, but that is normal among any group of referees.
Quite often those who criticise do not even know the difference between the Race Director and the Stewards. They are not the same thing and have very different roles.
There was enormous confusion at the end of the Japanese Grand Prix about whether or not Max Verstappen has done enough to win the World Championship. Neither he, nor the Red Bull Racing team, was certain and for around 15 minutes after the chequered flag was waved no-one really knew. There were a string of different issues that caused this to happen. The first point is that new regulations were introduced this year, following the Belgian Grand Prix debacle last season. However these changes were not included in the 2022 FIA Formula 1 Sporting Regulations at the start of the year, and did not appear until the end of April when “Issue 6 “of the rules was published. So you needed the right rulebook…
Secondly, you needed to remember that there were points awarded for the last four races, (thus a maximum of 104 points for four wins and four fastest laps) but a lot of folk forgot that one can also score points this year in the one remaining Sprint race…
And then there was the question of how many points should be awarded for the Suzuka race. Logically, there was a new sliding scale to cover various lengths of race. But these were ultimately irrelevant because the wording meant that if a race was red-flagged and then restarted, the event would be for full points – even if it lasted for only three laps without a Safety Car. So, the scales of points in the later version of the rulebook were all irrelevant because the race ended under a chequered flag (as opposed to a red one) because the time limit was reached. The Japanese GP ran to only 52 percent of the planned distance, but the wording meant that full points had to be awarded because the race had resumed after a red flag and had not ENDED under a red flag. This makes no sense at all, but it is what the rules say. How did that happen? Well, writing rules is not easy because one needs to imagine every possible scenario and if you miss something that could happen, you can be left with your trousers round your ankles. One must consider not only what the rules say, but also what they do not say.
So, yes, one can blame the FIA for a rule that did not cover what happened in Suzuka, although it should perhaps be added that the person who wrote the rule (whoever it was) has probably already gone from the federation because there has been a great deal of change since Mohammed Ben Sulayem was elected to the post of FIA President in December last year. Matters were not helped by the fallout from Abu Dhabi 2021, then the Ukraine Crisis, not to mention some fairly serious internal political battles within the FIA, not just between the old and the new. The new people who have been brought in since the change are still finding their feet, and not every call they have made has been right, nor has the federation communicated things well.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and you cannot rebuild Rome in a day. Change is afoot but in the interim there is a state of flux that needs time to calm down. The signs are that there will be a new more egalitarian and sensible FIA in a year or so, but there must first be a vigorous flushing out of bureaucrats that Jean Todt loved to have around him. In my experience most of the people who work for the federation in F1 (with a few exceptions) are very competent and work hard. They care about what they do. The stewards do it for free, but they are always working amongst themselves to make things better. They are constantly slighted and disrespected by almost everyone. They are an easy target.
When it comes to decisions about the F1 rules these days, most of them are made in close consultation with the teams. The budget cap rules took an age to finalise with all the legal people from the teams involved at every stage. The reason that the penalties are vague is that this is what it took to get the agreement through. The cost cap is an essential element for F1 and one which will bear fruit for the teams in the years ahead, but it is an agreement that still has some sharp edges that need to be rounded off. Like most things in life, a little time and work is required to get a perfect fit. And in case you wish to fire off accusations that I am defending the governing body because I am worried about keeping my permanent F1 pass, you can get lost. I’m simply trying to explain why things are difficult and how they came to be as they are.
The key point about the financial regulations is that they are doing what they were intended to do. Yes, there are some discussions about how Red Bull has defined certain things – and these have been creative. But if you look at the Mercedes AMG Petronas financial returns for 2021 which show that revenues rose from £355 million to £388 million, from additional F1 “prize money” and from additional sponsorship, which comes because the sport is growing. The team dropped its spending from £325 million to just under £300 million, reflecting the new budget cap rules despite an increase in the number of races. This meant that the design and engineering staff had to drop from 906 to 831 as the team sought to be more efficient. Some were redeployed in other parts of the empire, some took early-retirement, I believe.
This meant that not only did Mercedes not have to put any money into the team, which makes it a slam dunk to keep going because of the value F1 brings (internally and externally) for the team. It also meant that the team made a profit of £68 million, a big hike. This meant that there was money to buy the land on which the factory is located from previous owner Adrian Reynard, thus removing rental costs in the future. This is why teams now have huge valuations and that the sport is so healthy. Anyone who is serious about getting into F1 needs to make an offer to an existing team that is impossible to refuse. There are a few teams that are overly laden with debt and need more cash, others where circumstances are changing. There is very little logic in starting a new team because it will cost more to get it to a competitive state than it will if one buys an existing team. There is a lot of delusional thinking going on amongst those who think they should be allowed to have entries. In many ways they are being protected from themselves, just as the super licence rules exist as they do to stop people who are unqualified for the role of being an F1 driver being allowed to come in an embarrassing themselves.
Anyway, the driver market is all but done now and attention is beginning to turn to what could happen in 2024.
Alpine has taken the plunge with two French drivers who have not always got on in the past. Time will tell if this is wise but I am told that in an effort to keep friction to a minimum both drivers have been informed that they can have family at only two events a year, and that the two families cannot attend the same races…
We have just two drives to settle (for now): the second Williams (which must wait until Abu Dhabi because of licence questions) and the second Haas, which will probably be announced in Austin, where Haas has a big event planned to reveal a new sponsor. It would be logical to name the second driver then…
Stefano Domenicali had a quiet meeting with Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Sunday. There as been vague talk for some time about a possible F1 race in Rwanda and with problems impacting the recent bid from South Africa, Rwanda might be in a position to step in. I reported on this in my JBSM newsletter back in April, in he following terms: “The country is located in the Great Rift Valley, just south of the Equator, between Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly known as Zaire).
“It is best known internationally for its civil war in 1994 during which hundreds of thousands of the Tutsi tribe were killed by rival Hutus, following the killing of President Juvénal Habyarimana (a Hutu), when his plane was shot down by a ground-to-air missile. The war ended when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Tutsi organisation, overthrew the government. Since then the country has been politically stable under President Paul Kagame, who led the RPF, who took power in 2000. He won a landslide victory in elections in 2003 and was re-elected in 2010 and 2017. Under his leadership the country has prospered with GDP per capita going from $631 in 2000 to $2,214 in 2020.
“Kagame’s plan is for the country to become a upper-middle income country by 2035, and a high-income nation by 2050, as a result of a transformation from agricultural to a knowledge-based economy. Kagame sees Singapore as a role model for economic development. The country was deemed by the World Bank in 2020 to be the second easiest place in Africa to do business. It has also scored highly on the Corruption Perception Index, which rated it the fourth best country in Africa and was deemed the second safest country in Africa in a Gallup Global Law and Order report in 2018.
“The country wants to build up a luxury eco-tourism industry and more than $1.5 billion has been invested in developing the sector.”
It is no surprise therefore that Kagame was in Singapore last weekend, on a three-day visit to Singapore to “deepen bilateral ties”.