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MontrealIf you are going to be in Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix and want to know more about F1, there is a great opportunity to ask someone who knows the sport inside out. I have attended and reported on every Grand Prix since 1988 and there are a limited number of places for fans to come along and ask any question they like about the sport. The numbers are restricted to make sure everyone gets the chance to ask their questions. The event takes place on the Friday of the Grand Prix and is a convivial night out, meeting other F1 fans and learning about the sport in a fun environment. There will be a break to have a buffet dinner and you can drink as much or as little as you like. And if you are in the mood to party, there is music downstairs, after the event is finished. The Pub St Paul is located in the old port area of the city and is easily accessible.

Joe’s 2017 Audience in Montreal will take place on Friday, June 9 at the Pub St Paul, 124 rue St-Paul Est, Vieux-Montréal, Québec H2Y 1G2.

To book tickets, click here

A new podcast…

I am now working with a new podcaster (missedapexf1) and if you are interested you can listen to my thoughts about the Monaco GP, life inside F1 and what’s required to be an F1 journalist. The podcast is here and there is even video to be found here.

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IMG_0376The week of the Monaco Grand Prix is a good time to launch a book about the race and thus Malcolm Folley’s “Monaco – Inside F1’s Greatest Race” is well-timed. This is not a history of the event but rather a collection of different stories and reminiscences of the author and a number of high profile Formula 1 names, including Niki Lauda, Damon Hill, Sir Jackie Stewart, David Coulthard, Nico Rosberg and Olivier Panis.  There are also discussions with people involved in the organisation of the event, with a sponsor, a photographer and even a travel agents. Folley spent many years as the Chief Sports Writer of the Daily Mail and was around F1 a fair amount in the old days, although not really in the modern era. Nonetheless he knows the subject well and has written an engaging and interesting book about the goings-on that surround Monaco.  The race is the most celebrated on the F1 calendar and it is a place that every F1 fan should visit if it is possible at some point in their lives. People say there is no overtaking at Monaco and that it is a boring track but anyone who says such a thing has obviously never been there and seen what the drivers do as they hustle their cars around the circuit. And, of course, there is the atmosphere of the place and the sense that anything can happen (as we saw in 1996 when Olivier Panis drove through the field to win a completely unexpected victory).

Monaco – Inside F1’s Greatest Race is published by Century, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It retails for £20 and can be found if you click here.

The future of Silverstone as a Formula 1 venue is anything but certain. There is a contract until 2026, but this has a break clause at the end of 2019, although the Formula 1 group needs to informed of any break before this year’s Grand Prix in July. Representatives of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, which owns Silverstone, were present at the Spanish GP for talks with the new F1 management and while there is talk of a better deal for the British track, nothing is yet decided. The BRDC had been trying to sell the rest of its land at Silverstone and remain only as the operator of the races, but this idea was shelved in February when the last of the bidders dropped out. The BRDC will go it alone once again and is now looking at ways to generate more revenues from its assets.

The change of management at Formula 1 is obviously a promising development but the club has also managed to find the funding for its Heritage Experience, which is due to open in early 2019. It has also secured a multi-year contract to host the British round of the World Rallycross Championship from 2018 onwards, using part of the Stowe circuit and its infield. These developments strengthen the argument in favour of the development of an on-site 4-star hotel with 225 rooms. This would be located next to the main entrance, backing on to what used to be the Abbey Corner. In order to move in this direction the members have agreed a deal with MEPC, which leases a lot of the original circuit land, to swap an area now owned by MEPC, which had been earmarked as retail, to a different location, away from the main entrance and accessible from the Dadford Road. In exchange for this the BRDC will take back 7.7-acres of land behind the Silverstone UTC, at the northern end of the track.

The club is also planning to push forward with a plan to lease 13-acres of land on the outside of the circuit between Copse and Becketts to a development company, in order to construct 60 luxury villas designed as short stay accommodation (and a clubhouse). Once completed these would be leased, proving the club with a large capital sum once the development was completed and then a share of the ongoing rental fees. There are also projects for a family entertainment centre next to the Heritage Experience and several possible ‘brand centres’for car manufacturers.

The aim with all of this is to clear up existing debts and to create revenues for the future so that the more expensive elements on the Masterplan (the hotel) can be developed. Does it mean that Silverstone will not action the Grand Prix break clause? These moves would suggest that the BRDC is not ready to give up the Grand Prix just yet, but it will be a while before we know that for certain…

There is a small public offering going on in relation to shares in the Formula One group. Shares of the company are listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange in New York, where they are currently trading at $32.95. Around 20 percent of the business (35.6 million shares out of the existing 173.9 million) will be sold in order to reduce the debt of the company, and specifically to get rid of a specific high-interest loan which the previous owners took on. Liberty is offering around 12.2 million (worth just over $400 million) of its own shares and the other stockholders have agreed to sell 23.5 million (worth around $775 million). The shareholders will take their cash, while Liberty will puts the money into the debt repayment. If the offering is oversubscribed they have agreed to sell an additional $176 million in shares, with Liberty selling shares worth $60 million and the other shareholders an additional $116 million. This will have an impact of the shareholding structure with CVC reducing its shareholding from 14.4 percent to eight percent, Waddell & Reed dropping from 7.7 percent to 4.31, LBI (the old Lehmann Brothers) will drop from 4.8 percent to 2.6 percent and the Ecclestone Family Bambino Trust reducing it involvement from 3.1 percent to 1.7 percent. Norway’s Norges Bank will also reduce from 3.7 percent to 2.1 percent. Overall, the other shareholders will reduce their share from 39 percent to 22. Bernard Ecclestone has less than one percent of the business.

IMG_0051The Spanish Grand Prix was a fascinating race for many different reasons. The fight at the front was interesting and Ferrari was left confused by a ‘magic’ pit stop that Mercedes strategists called as the Virtual Safety Car was ending. This was not magic at all, just genius and came from the very sound logic that a pit stop when a VSC is ending is a great idea because there is the possibility to travel faster over the same piece of track as your rival has done when the VSC is still in operation. Thus, as Sebastian Vettel watched the VSC deltas, Lewis Hamilton came into the pits. When the race was on again, Vettel pitted as normal and was surprised to find Hamilton there beside him. He rebuffed the challenge in a fairly forceful manner (some might say it was rude) but rude moves are allowed these days and so Lewis had to use a tyre advantage to win the place back a few laps later. Once he had the track position then the victory was complete because Vettel was stuck behind him.

I have a scrawl in the green notebook after a conversation I had with Sauber strategist Ruth Buscombe on the Friday, which says that the race in Barcelona is usually ‘dictated by track position’. This is because overtaking is so hard when the cars are as evenly-matched as they are today. Ruth was right about that and during the race, I watched her pull off the same trick with Pascal Wehrlein doing “a lesser-spotted” one-stop strategy. The Sauber is a slower car than its rivals but Wehrlein kept going when most of his rivals stopped and he was able to use his tyres carefully enough to move up to seventh place when he finally pitted. He lost one place to Nico Hulkenberg, but gained that back when Valtteri Bottas retired and then held off his other rivals until the finish. He did lose one place with a five-second penalty for entering the pit lane in a cack-handed manner, but bottling up its rivals gave the team its first points of the year. Track position was indeed the secret…

Ruth also came up with one of the best quotes of the weekend when she told The Guardian that the strategist being a woman is irrelevant to the drivers. “It is so competitive in this paddock,” she said, “they don’t care whether it is a woman or a chipmunk talking to them.”

In my experience strategists are clever people and while they may have some at Ferrari on the racing side, their PR work continues to amaze everyone. When the team appeared to pull off a fabulous PR stunt on Sunday by finding the weeping Kimi Raikkonen fan and letting him meet his hero, investigation revealed that the idea had come from the Formula One group and, it appears, from Sam Tremayne, who is in charge of social media at FOM, who communicated it to communications manager Joanne Revell in Spain, who put the idea into action. We concluded that if enough journalists weep on television, perhaps we might get some effective communication from Maranello…

I was talking to a senior person in the F1 world about this problem (and it is a serious one) and he reckoned that it is because the team people are so frightened of saying anything, that the team has simply decided to say nothing. Frightened of what? Being given the heave-ho by Signor Marchionne? I have bad news folks. One day Ferrari will drift back a little in competitiveness and Marchionne will lop off the nearest head, come what may… and there’s the problem. Autocrats may get things running better than average folk, but it’s not fun.

Fun was a word that also appears in the notebook, describing the world of F1 since the new people took control back in January. Barcelona was the first big occasion when the new philosophy could be shown to the world with fun stuff like zip lines, teeshirt guns and wandering minstrels. There were cartoonists working on the walls and all manner of fan-friendly stuff. The circuit was bustling with life and enthusiasm and the general attitude inside the paddock was positive.

In GP+ I used the description as follows: ‘F1 feels like it is on the move once again and that is a good thing after too many years of what now feels like Soviet-style control. In F1 the wall has come down’. That really is how it feels…

The F1 world still has plenty of uncertainty. It was worth noting that the paddock was full of race promoters. I reckon that almost all of them were present to try to have talks with the new guys. This created a number of talking points.

The Brazilian GP looks like it is on its last legs. Brazil is not a happy place at the moment. The people have lost faith in the traditional politicians, who all seem to be tainted by corruption scandals. These have disrupted politics and the economy and sporting events are in the spotlight because of money wasted on the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. The city of Sao Paulo wants to sell the Interlagos circuit, but no-one wants to buy it, at least not for a Grand Prix. The Prefeitura de São Paulo has funded the race for many years, with support from local sponsors and from the TV company Globo, a privately-owned free-to-air TV network. For whatever reason, Globo no longer wants to be involved. The viewing figures are great despite there being only Felipe Massa in the field, indeed Brazil accounts for 20 percent of the overall F1 viewing, so it is important. However, I hear that race promoter Tamas Rohonyi is selling up in Brazil and returning to Europe (he is a Hungarian). The Globo TV deal continues until 2020 but it is increasingly likely that the TV coverage will have to continue without a race. This is not the end of the world, but it is not great. The key to getting a race going is usually having a good driver and so what Brazil really needs is to find a way to get Felipe Nasr back in a car…

Elsewhere, I hear that Singapore has agreed terms to go on for another contract, or at least is close to doing so.

In Germany, things are rather complicated because Hockenheim is only really interested in holding a race every second year. At the same time the Nurburgring, which is actually the best venue, does not seem to want F1 at all. The other choices are in the east and none of them really offers much hope: Lausitzring, Sachsenring and Oschersleben all have serious drawbacks, either in terms of access and infrastructure, or in the design of the track and the funding available.

There is also a note in the book suggesting that the solution might be found in Nürnberg, where the annual Norisring races take place on a track laid out in the old Nazi Party rallygrounds, known as the Reichsparteitagsgelände. Each year the DTM manages to attract 123,000 spectators over their race weekend. The track is too short and the facilities are poor, but the city has 3.5 million people, there is a railway station next to the track and it is in an urban parkland, where they are used to big events and where a few upgraded lakeside roads could increase the track from 1.4 miles. The whole thing would then be reminiscent of Montreal or Albert Park, two of the most successful F1 venues.

There are no rumours about this idea, but I think there should be. Besides, I’d love to hear the commentators trying to say Zeppelin Strasse and Otto Ernst Schweizer Straße at speed…

Meanwhile the question of the British GP rumbles on with the BRDC trying to decide whether to action the break clause in the existing contract. On paper there is no real alternative. Jonathan Palmer runs most British circuits and he’s smart enough to know that a GP is not the best thing for everyone. The Circuit of Wales seems to have a large element of fantasy in its story and the idea of street races in London are simply not sensible. Silverstone can hope for government money (hope being the operative word) but the track is stuck with access problems which mean that it will never be possible to have public transport.

In an age where the idea is to take racing to the people, one needs very different circumstances and (as mentioned about) the Melbourne and Montreal models work best. However, I did hear whispers in Spain that there might be a new idea in London coming out of the left field, with tons of Chinese money behind it. The reference I heard related to London City Airport and when I started investigating it was immediately obvious that the only possibility for anything there would be in land that is on the north side of the Royal Albert Dock, between the ExCel exhibition centre and the University of East London, Docklands Campus. This is a large area of derelict post-industrial land. When I dug a bit deeper I discovered that this is also part of what has been declared the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone, with special deals for developers (I remember F1 trying to use these in the past in Korea) and I discovered that this particular piece of land is due to become the Asian Business Port, a home for Asian companies as they look to do business in Europe. The goal is to create a whole new district with commercial, retail and high-end residential developments, designed for Asian heavy-hitters, who will fly in and out of London City Airport in their fancy private jets. The blah-blah suggests that the project will create a new waterfront district with 20,000 jobs and improve trade links with Asia (cue government cash to help alleviate Brexit disasters). The whole thing seems eminently sensible with transportation links including not only several stations on the Docklands Light Railway but also the soon to be opened Elizabeth Line (otherwise known as Crossrail), which will the area link directly to Paddington, Heathrow Airport and even as far as Reading. There is clearly the potential to thread a race track through the new streets and on the waterfront and noise complaints would be largely negated because of the airport next door. It all seems to add up. That means it probably won’t happen, but one can see how it might if there was some good salesmanship involved. Monaco-upon-Thames… Hmmm…

The thing about the new Formula 1 group, and its parent Liberty Media, is that they do business at a level that is very different to the old ways of the sport. They don’t just do a deal with a TV company, a race promoter or a big sponsor. They look at the big picture and who these people are, and what synergies there might be. So, for example, US broadcaster NBC, is a subsidiary of cable company Comcast. This owns TV and radio stations, movie studios, including Universal and Dreamworks, plus theme parks, resorts and digital properties such as the video streaming website. The French channel Canal+ is part of the Vivendi-Universal group, another of the world’s largest multinational mass media empires, which is involved in the music, television, film, video game, telecommunication, ticketing and even video hosting businesses. If Liberty Media wants a big music act to play a Grand Prix they can get one very easily from Vivendi-Universal and can also build up business between Vivendi and Liberty Media subsidiary Live Nation, which sells tickets and controls venues, while Vivendi supplies the acts. And so it goes on… F1 recently did a deal with CAA Sports to help find sponsorship. CAA is a division of the world’s most influential entertainment and sports agency CAA, based in Hollywood and responsible for an astonishing array of A List clients in the movie world, in music but also with TV video games. So, if F1 wants David Beckham and George Clooney to walk on the grid they need to call CAA. Similarly, if a movie company wants Lewis Hamilton to do something for them, then CAA can help. It is all synergy.

It is still a bit early yet for the driver market for 2018 but there is already chit-chat about who might do this and who might do that. Obviously, Mercedes and Ferrari might both have vacancies and so everyone is looking at the options. With Red Bull underperforming, the major targets for recruitment would seem to be Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, although Mercedes youngsters Esteban Ocon and Pascal Wehrlein are both doing well. Red Bull will tell you that their drivers are contracted, which is true, but contracts often have performance clauses which allow the drivers to get out of their deals early if a team does not deliver what they need. The word is that Red Bull drivers are promised “a winning car” and that they will finish in the top five in the Drivers’ World Championship and that the team will finish in the top three in the Constructors’ title. I hear that a driver can leave if two of the three clauses are not achieved. Max Verstappen is currently sixth in the Drivers’ championship and the team is third, the Red Bull is not going to win a race this year, except in exceptional circumstances. Therefore…

Finally, there was a minor kerfuffle in Spain because some Spanish do-gooder politicians have been trying to legislate on the use of grid girls, on the basis that the ladies seen at MotoGP events seem to do demeaning things. The argument was that there ought to be a dress code and that there ought to be an equal number of both sexes represented (let’s not get into transgender arguments for now). This is something that I find annoyingly presumptious on the part of those who flog this horse. In F1, grid girls are usually dressed in a sensible and sober fashion. It is a job that the girls want to do because it helps them with careers in modelling and so on.

If these activists are so keen on equality, how come they are not complaining about the Guards outside Buckingham Palace. None of the Guards are women. They wear daft uniforms and their job is not really to guard,but rather to march about and be photographed (I know someone will write in and say that some women from the Royal Horse Artillery have stood guard over royal residences, but I am referring specifically to the scarlet-coated Guards Division). They are a tradition, selling the royal family, Britain and indeed London as well. And yet none of them are women. Grid girls sell F1. It’s a tradition…

Which is more sexist?

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We were a bit slower than usual today, thanks to Spanish technical problems…

The Spanish Grand Prix was a straight fight between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel after Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen tangled at the first corner and Valtteri Bottas disappeared in a cloud of steam… The two fought a fantastic strategic battle with Mercedes winning the day after Ferrari’s tried an overly aggressive strategy. Red Bull looked like there had been an improvement in qualifying but in the race Daniel Ricciardo was nearly a minute behind in the race, but as others had fallen by the wayside, he took third ahead of the two Force India drivers. Nico Hulkenberg, local hero Carlos Sainz and the Sauber of Pascal Wehrlein, which took eighth after some brilliant driving and a great strategy. The German was even able to overcome a five second time penalty for being a little too enthusiastic when entering the pits. The remaining points went to Danii Kvyat and Romain Grosjean, while McLaren and Williams failed to score. McLaren is now the only team not to have a point this year.

– We look at Alonso’s adventures at Indy

– We talk to Carlos Sainz Jr

– We talk to IndyCar boss Mark Miles

– We remember Joe Leonard and Sir John Whitmore

– We look back at Ballot

– DT looks at the changes in F1

– JS enjoys Spain and an F1-branded plane

– The Hack on the revival of Brabham and DRS

– Plus we have the fabulous photography of Peter Nygaard

GP+ is the fastest F1 magazine. It comes out before some of the F1 teams have even managed to get a press release out. It is an e-magazine that you can download and keep on your own devices and it works on computers, tablets and even smartphones. And it’s a magazine written by real F1 journalists not virtual wannabes… Our team has attended more than 2,000 Grands Prix between them. We’ve been around the block a few times and we know the history of the sport and we love to share it all with out readers at a price that is a real bargain. We believe that by attracting more people at a sensible price we can achieve so much more than all those who exploit the fans. In 2017 you’ll get 22 fabulous issues for £32.99, plus the 2016 season review completely free of charge.

For more information, go to www.grandprixplus.com.