Portugal confirmed

Formula 1 has announced that it will be returning to Portimão for the Portuguese Grand Prix on May 2.

Last October, Portimão joined the Formula 1 calendar for the first time when F1 returned to Portugal after 25 years away. The race had a crowd of 27,000. F1 says it is working hard with the promoter and the Portuguese Government on the qustion of fan attendance. A decision is to be taken by the authorities in the coming weeks.

“We are thrilled to announce that Formula 1 will be racing again in Portimão after the huge success of the race last year,” said F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali. “We want to thank the promoter and the Portuguese Government for their hard work and dedication in getting us to this point. We are confident and excited about our 2021 season, having shown last year that we could deliver 17 races safely and bring our millions of fans thrilling racing at a difficult time. We hope to welcome fans to Portimão again this season in a safe way and are working with the promoter on the details of that plan.”

A new idea in Bahrain

Bahrain International Circuit has launched the sale of tickets for the Grand Prix, and to ensure that the event can proceed in a safe environment – in line with the local government health advice – tickets are only available to those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recovered from the virus. This may not sound much but according to the government there have been more than 300,000 people who have received the first dose of the vaccine, which amounts to more than 17 percent of the population of 1.74 million. In addition to this around 124,000 have tested positive, with the country suffering 458 deaths. The country has already launched a digital vaccinbation “passport”.

A significant move in France

The Le Mans 24 Hours has been officially postponed and will now move from the planned June 12-13 date to the weekend of August 21-22. The decision has been taken by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) because it wants to be in a position to get as many spectators as possible.

In mid-February the French Ministry of Culture announced that it intends to allow events in France in the summer of 2021, but on very strict terms. The key restriction is that the organisers of events, whether indoor or outdoor, can only allow 5,000 spectators, with suitable social distancing measures. And these events will only be allowed to happen if the crowd is seated. The Ministry added that the rules may be changed and that there may be further reductions if the pandemic gets worse or conversely the maximum number of people allowed could rise if the situation improves. If the pandemic develops in a negative way other protocols might need to be adopted.

There are many other problems to be considered at the moment. All travel is restricted in France, except internally, but there is a nightly curfew from 6pm to 6am. There are severe restrictions on people travelling to France from outside the European Union (and that now includes Britain). One is not allowed to do it for holidays, family visits or even to stay in a second home. There are just a few exemptions for vital travel, but that does not include spectating at motor races. Le Mans is heavily dependent on spectators from the UK. Travel from EU countries is also complicated with a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours required and one must also make a sworn statement that one does not have any COVID-19 symptoms. At the moment the bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, pools, theatres, cinemas, museums and tourist attractions in France all remain closed. A number of cities have weekend lockdowns to try to stop visitors. And more are expected in the days ahead.

The ACO has concluded that delaying the Le Mans 24 Hours until August means that things could improve and the race could then become more financially viable, particularly as the vaccination programme is expanding rapidly and there is talk of a Europe-wide vaccine “passport” that could help to restart tourism. This would be a digital pass of some kind which would prove that a person had been vaccinated or had tested negative

The ACO decision is an interesting one and one must look at the Grands Prix of Monaco and France in the light of the decision. Monaco is due to take place at the end of May and while Monaco may not be worried about its race, they must take into account the fact that almost all the spectators would need to travel through France to get there – and that might not be easy. Many people would normally stay in France and travel into Monaco every day, but the problem is getting to France, rather than crossing the border. The French Grand Prix, which is currently scheduled to take place on June 27 at Paul Ricard, must also consider the situation in which it finds itself, as it cannot reasonably be held if only 5,000 spectators are allowed as this would mean a significant financial loss. Much of the funding of the race comes from public money.

Moving the Le Mans 24 Hours is easy enough because it is the biggest event in the World Endurance Championship and it can slot into a date during the F1 summer break. Moving the French GP is more complex. The F1 calendar is already tight in the latter part of the year and while the race is a big deal in France, it cannot simply switch to where it would like to be on the calendar, if there is a need to make a change.

Things vaguely related to the new Haas

Those of you who keep up to speed in the world of athletics – if you see what I mean – will recognise that Haas is a victim this year of the sanctions imposed on Russia by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for the country’s manipulation of data during investigations into doping allegations against its athletes.

This means that Russia cannot send a team to the Olympic Games (if they happen) in 2021 in Tokyo nor to the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022. It cannot compete officially in any World Championship sporting event until the end of 2022. The ban was originally for four years, but the Russians appealed and this went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). This body reduced the ban, but upheld it for two years. This has impacted on the Formula 1 world because the FIA is a signatory of the WADA code – and has been since 2010. Thus Russian drivers have to compete as “neutral athletes” and the country’s flags cannot be displayed on the cars, although the athletes clothing/car livery can feature the national colours. The WADA ruling should also mean that “Russian Government officials/representatives may not be appointed to sit and may not sit as members of the boards or committees or any other bodies of any Code Signatory”, which should mean that General Victor Kiryanov can no longer sit as a member of the FIA World Motor Sport Council, if he remains the managing director of Rostec, a Russian state-owned company. The ruling also states that officials/representatives may not attend World Championships organized or sanctioned by any signatory.

The playing of the Russian national anthem is also not allowed if a Russian athlete wins (Not much likelihood of that in F1…) and an alternative tune (Swan Lake or something) should be played instead, while a white flag (presumably) is hoisted on high. The anthem is the one thing I will miss, although I think the Russians deserve the punishment, because the Russian national anthem is by far the best in the world and stirs parts of me that other national anthems simply do not reach. Perhaps to cheer me up, they might consider playing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau if Nikita does miraculously win a race this year. Why? Because the Welsh anthem, which we call “Land of My Fathers” is about the only one that gets close. They both leave the plodding British national anthem a long way behind.

Still, there is some hope on Sunday afternoons as while God Save the Queen will no doubt play a fair bit for Sir Lewis, we have the chance at least to listen to Germany’s splendid anthem for the winning Constructor. I am a fan of Joseph Haydn’s “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser”, also known as “Austria” in hymnbooks. This was once the Austrian national anthem before the German’s purloined it to become “The Deutschlandlied”.

Anyway, to get back to Russia, it all rather begs the question what the Russian Grand Prix will be called this year as under the WADA rules this would need to be changed to the Sochi Grand Prix or perhaps the Grand Prix of Krasnodar Krai, although President Vlad might conclude that the Putin Grand Prix would sound rather cool, although one needs to be careful with that name when French commentators get involved, as Putin and putain can be confused. Putain is a very rude word in French (and has several different meanings). This, by the way, can also lead to problems when ordering Quebec’s famous poutines, which are a mess of French fries and cheese, with gravy on top. For those of a linguistic and culinary bent, the word is also the root for “puttanesca”, which means hooker (not in the rugby sense) and is a recipe developed, so they say, because the ladies of the night in Naples would go home and put everything in the fridge into their late night meal, thus creating pasta alla puttanesca…

In addition to being Russian at an unfortunate time, Mazepin has also made his life rather difficult in recent months because of a video posted of his hands wandering in places where some think they should not have wandered in public. The fact that the woman in question posted comments suggesting that it was all just fun and games was ignored by the critics and some seem to think that Mazepin is a sort of anti-Christ. The truth is that he’s just a rather silly boy, who did things that he did not seem to understand might upset the delicate sensitivities of lots of social media-aged crusader types, who have obviously never made mistakes in their perfect and pure lives. The lesson has been learned I am sure. He would be rather dim if it hadn’t.

In the meantime, because we won’t hear it in F1 in 2021 or 2022, here is the wonderful uplifting Russian national anthem, sung by the Alexandrov Ensemble. Sadly, many of them (64 in total) died on Christmas Day 2016 when the plane they were travelling on crashed into the Black Sea, shortly after taking off from Sochi.

Lawrence Stroll’s dream comes true

The launch of Aston Martin Cognizant F1, which is he revamped version of Racing Point, was an interesting affair. I’m all for F1 teams doing things differently for launches – not the same old thing a la Alfa Romeo – but this one was a funny old mixture. Let us put things into perspective here. This is the old Jordan team – 30 years on. It has always had good people behind the owners, and it was an act of genius (Well done, Otmar Szafnauer and Andy Green) to work out that one could legally copy the 2019 Mercedes and, with Sergio Perez driving and Mercedes falling over its bootlaces, it was possible to win a race last year in Bahrain.

This is the team that was once owned by the Midland Group, the Dutch car company Spyker (whatever happened to them?) and, of course, Vijay Mallya, who continues his fight to avoid being sent home to India, where presumably the full force of India will mean that he goes to jail. It is five years since he fled his home country and although he has lost one court battle after another, he is still in England and appealing – although I cannot say I find him appealing at all…

The team became Racing Point under new owner Lawrence Stroll although, to be quite honest,  I never really understand the Point. It sounded like a holding pattern until the man came up with a plan. It was always going to happen.

Stroll’s billions came from being “a branding guy” and so we waited to see what the team would become. Nasty folk said that it was all just a vehicle for his son Lance, but Lawrence has bigger ambitions than that.  Lance has some talent, but is still working to create the full package, but Lawrence has now bought himself the sexy Aston Martin brand and is aiming to do with it what he did with Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors etc.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but I think it is fair to say that I was not waiting for Santan Dave to say “We’re gonna tell you a story…”

If it sounds like I have heard of Santan Dave, I apologise, because I did not have a clue who he was, which I put down to the fact that I have lived in France since long before Santan was even conceived. Thankfully, that nice Mr Google helped me out and I discovered that he is a 22-year-old relevant rapper from Brixton, who I suspect might not necessarily appeal to the average Aston Martin buyer. That segment was a bit odd and an indication that perhaps Santan wasn’t fully aware of Aston Martin’s history in F1. He talked a lot about that rosy place called history, but I guess no-one told him that it might be best to avoid talking about Aston Martin and F1 in the same sentence, as the story does not glow in any golden way…

With that segment finished (happily), we were presented with a presenter. I know that face, I thought. She’s not an Sky F1 presenter doing some freelance. She’s a proper film star. Actually, I’m very fond of Gemma Arterton because she made a film called Gemma Bovery some years ago which was shot in my local village. The result of this was that the fountain that the film-makers installed is still there and it adds to the charm, fake though it may be.

Sadly, poor Gemma Bovery choked to death on bread from the very boulangerie where I often buy my bread, although I continue to buy it, based on the principle that the film was fiction and they won’t kill me with their baguettes…

Anyway Gemma Arterton was involved with Aston Martin even before then because she was a Bond girl, having played Strawberry Fields in “Quantum of Solace” in 2008. She has since gone on to enjoy success in films such as Tamara Drewe, while also doing work prize-winning work in the theatre.

But there was more to come. We had James Bond himself – or at least Daniel Craig – and the American football legend Tom Brady.

And, to cut a long story short, we ended up with questions from fans about whether Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel prefer cats or dogs. Both said that they prefer dogs (as does Gemma), but I would have answered the question with: “Fried or boiled?” – just to throw the cat among the pigeons.

This, however, was all colourful confetti around the happy couple: Lawrence Stroll and Aston Martin.

“I’ve dreamed about this day for a very long time. I’ve always been a car guy, since I was a child,” the bridegroom said. “I’ve always loved racing, too. My first dream was to own a Formula 1  team. My second dream was to acquire a majority shareholding in Aston Martin Lagonda. Today is about the merging of those two dreams. So, as I say, today is all about dreams, and it shows that dreams really can come true, in the shape of our new AMR21.

“Aston Martin returning to Formula 1 after an absence of 61 years will have a powerful effect on the sport, the media and the fans, commanding global attention. 

“The team who designed and built our new Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 car – the 500 men and women who conceive, manufacture, build and prepare our cars so that we can go racing at the pinnacle of global motorsport – has always punched above its weight. Now, as the Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 Team, it has the power with which to punch even harder. This is just the beginning. The team is pushing forward, and our ambitions are limitless. We now have the pieces in place, the people and the partners, to make real progress.

“The Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 car is our group’s highest expression of performance, innovation, engineering quality, attention to detail, and teamwork. I have great confidence in Otmar [Szafnauer], Andrew [Green] and all who work for them. I firmly believe we have the perfect blend of experience and youth in Sebastian [Vettel] and Lance [Stroll]. An ethos of fierce ambition and unshakeable dedication is shared by every single team member. It is exhilarating to see – and to feel.”

Andrew Green, who was one of the original Jordan Grand Prix design team, back in 1990 summed things up well, I thought.

“When I was a young boy, my first toy car was the James Bond Aston Martin DB5 – with the ejector seat,” he said. “I still have it and had always dreamt of owning one, so Aston Martin has always been a big part of my childhood. Cut to where I am now, and every day I walk into a factory with the Aston Martin logo over the door. To be the Technical Director of the Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 team, it’s the dream come true, it sends shivers down my spine.”

Mine too…

One hopes that Aston Martin F1 will be a success and will drive huge success for the car company. But it should perhaps be noted that last week Aston Martin Lagonda reported its financial figures for 2020, during which the firm sold 4,150 cars, 32 percent down on 2019. The company is hoping to sell 6,000 cars in 2021 and wants to get to 10,000 by 2024 or 2025.

Aston Martin booked a loss of £466 million before tax for 2020, compared to a £120 million loss in 2019. Revenues were down by 38 percent. There are high hopes for the DBX SUV and from F1 and James Bond is expected to help out in September with the launch of the much-delayed new film “No time to Die” in September…

F1, the NFL, jaw surgery and fiction

The shift to electronic communication in Formula 1, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to further erosion of media access to the people who matter in the sport, with no possibility these days of quiet chats in the F1 paddock and PR people controlling most of the available output.

This might deliver the right corporate message – which is, of course, what they are paid to do – but it does mean that questions that they don’t want asked, do not get asked. In any case, all answers end up going to everyone and so basically it is all syndicated content, which means that many of the F1 journalists don’t ask the questions they want to ask, unless they wish to grandstand and promote themselves – or their publications (which some do).

This can be quite frustrating for those trying to dig out the real stories in F1, but we must accept that things change and so we must do what we can.

In the past I have sometimes described some of the PR people in F1 as being like offensive tackles in American football, their job being to protect the player charging forwards with the ball, by taking out the opposing defence before they can tackle him.

They are like anti-missile missiles, aimed at the journalists who are aimed at the team people.

To illustrate this, today was the Alpine launch. The big question for me with regard to Fernando Alonso was why was the Spanish driver not able to take part in a virtual car launch. It was clear that not everyone involved was in the same country, so why was Alonso not joining in from his home in Switzerland?

For me this was extremely odd and got me asking whether perhaps Alonso could not take part because of the need to heal his damaged jaw. Ask a doctor to tell you how long it takes to mend a fractured jaw that required surgery and they will generally say “six weeks”. Fernando crashed his bicycle on February 11 and had surgery in Bern the following day. That means that there is less than a month between the operation and the Bahrain test.

Can jaw bones heal that quickly?

And if they can, why was Alonso not taking part in the launch? The only real explanation that made any sense was that the technique of repairing jaws involves wiring them together while they heal. That would mean that Alonso could not easily take part in the launch as the treatment would then be obvious and that would inevitably create speculation about whether he would be ready in time for the first race, six weeks after the crash.

So I tried to ask the electronic question: “Has the FIA agreed to allow Alonso to test in Bahrain, as his recovery after jaw surgery has been far more rapid than is usually the case?” This was ignored the first time I asked. The second time I deliberately added a second non-controversial question. And what happened? The hard question was skipped over and the easy one was answered, which highlighted the fact that the asking of questions what not being done on a first-come-first-served basis.

There was not much point in the circumstances in asking: Why could Alonso not take part in a virtual launch? So I didn’t bother, but it was interesting to see that the team has opted for Dany Kvyat as the reserve driver. He’s right up to speed with current F1 cars and is available. The team said that his inclusion in the team was a very recent decision, but added that there was no plan for him to test in Bahrain. But plans are not realities – and they have built-in deniability.

There is a disconnect here somewhere. A minor jaw injury can heal without the need for medical intervention, but a more severe break will often require not only surgery but also supportive medical devices around the jaw. The recovery time can be longer if the jaw is used too much. Alonso had surgery and yet everyone is saying that he will be back in time for the test, having been cured in  four weeks, rather than the usual six.

We will see. F1 drivers are fit and recover quickly, but the fact that the team wants to avoid such questions serves to underline the suspicion that we could end up with Ocon and Kvyat doing the testing – and Alonso on the back foot from the start of the season.

Alonso did post a video a few days ago that suggested that he can talk normally, but if that is indeed the case, why was he not doing the virtual launch?

Call in Miss Marple, Jules Maigret, Sherlock or Hercule Poirot…

 

 

 

Eighth title is not Lewis’s priority

Sir Lewis Hamilton (although he has yet to tapped on the shoulder with a royal sword) says that winning a record-breaking eighth Formula 1 World Championship is not his priority.

“I still love what I do,” he said. “I am in the fortunate position that I don’t have to commit to multiple years and I chose to have a one-year deal. It doesn’t mean I am not committed. What I am really focussed on is the diversity issue. It is not going to change overnight and what is really important is that we are actually delivering and taking action. That’s my driving force this year. On top of that hopefully I can deliver some good performances.

I don’t want the record to be the deciding factor. I got into racing because I loved racing and that has to be at the core of what I do. Winning an eighth title is the ultimate dream, but I am not going to make it the deciding factor if I stay. When I put the helmet on I still have that smile when I leave the garage.”

Hamilton admitted that he is not very keen on the simulator and has done only about 30 laps with the new car.

“The problem with the sim is that we have a new tyre. It can give an idea of what the tyres model is, but right now it’s guestimate of what the tyre might feel like. The aero package has shifted and we have lost rear downforce and that can play a significant role. The tyres are probably about eight-tenths off last year’s tyres. That might lead to more thermal degradation and you might see more stops. But that’s all guessing.”

Hamilton said that he had had a quiet winter.

“I kept to myself,” he said. “I was focussed on my recovery and getting myself back to full strength. Getting my deal done and working on personal relationships I have.”