Do you want to know F1 secrets?

An Audience with Joe is back in London for the first time since the global pandemic began and, in the run-up to the British GP, Joe will be hosting an event at the Hollywood Arms in Chelsea. This is a small venue which means that F1 fans have a much better chance to ask questions in an informal and relaxed atmosphere. The event will take place from 7pm on Wednesday, June 29.

The event will run until 11pm, with a buffet dinner included. You can drink as much or as little as you like, with the drinks at usual bar prices. Tickets cost £45 per person.

Because the venue is relatively small, you need to book rapidly as tickets will run out. Don’t try to do things at the last minute as you might be disappointed.

The Audience in London will take place at the Hollywood Arms, 45 Hollywood Road, Lodon SW10 9HX (www.hollywoodarmschelsea.com)

To book tickets, click here

Green Notebook from Pierre Elliott Trudeau International

The ultimate accolade for any politician is to have an airport named in your honour, although to be quite honest if an airport was named after one or two of the modern politicians I would prefer to fly elsewhere, as the naming of the airport indicates the political feelings of the city.

These, of course, change over time. If you follow such matters you will know that Jan Smuts International in Johannesburg is now called Oliver Tambo International.

In a world where little history is studied, kids probably don’t know much about John F Kennedy, but they will travel through JFK, they might also know CDG, without knowing the first thing about Charles de Gaulle. It’s the same with Napoleon Bonaparte Airport in Ajaccio, Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv and so on.

Montreal’s principal airport, once known as Dorval, is now known as Pierre Elliott Trudeau International, a former Prime Minister of Canada, and father of the current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

It needs work…

I used to love the place because it was the entry point to a city that I have always enjoyed, although I have never been in the winter – and do not wish to do so. Why? Because in the winter Montreal is cold. It is so cold, in fact, that the mighty St Lawrence River freezes over, which is hard to imagine in the summer months. The extreme cold is why Montreal boasts “La Ville Souterraine”, the world’s largest underground city. This consists of 20 miles of tunnel in a five square mile area. From this network one can access bus, train and metro stations, apartment blocks, hotels, offices, universities, shopping malls, concert halls, cinemas, the Bell Centre arena and, of course, cavernous parking lots. The underground city provides access to 80 percent of the city’s office space and every day in the winter around half a million troglodyte souls traverse these passageways.

If it is pouring with rain in the summer it is very useful because you can get across town without getting wet, although you need good navigational skills not to get lost in the maze. The good news is that unlike the multi-level railway stations in Tokyo, where even Marco Polo would get lost, there are people in Montreal who speak English and French, although their accents can make them utterly incomprehensible.

Generally-speaking I have a rule not to write too much about the stresses or strains of international travel, because people don’t really want to know, but sometimes these stories are worth telling, in order to get the airline or airport involved to get its act together, by hearing things said publicly they do not wish to hear. The litany of incompetence during this year’s trip to Montreal was the worst I have seen anywhere in the world in 39 years of non-stop travelling. And the same kind of disaster befell many other people. All three partners in our e-magazine GP+, travelling on entirely different itineraries, suffered serious multiple delays (more than eight hours) getting into Montreal – and all three lost our luggage (including cameras). The lost luggage service was there in name alone and after waiting the whole weekend for my bags, which had been promised within 24 hours, we went to the airport on Monday, hoping to see if any progress had been made because it was impossible to get any other information. On the off-chance it seemed sensible to take a look in the baggage hall rather than believing the people there and, sure enough, there it was, standing out from the crowd of black bags as it always has done. Clearly no-one had even tried to look for it.

Suffice to say, by the end of the weekend we had all sworn never to do business again with Air Canada and while we may not be able to avoid the airports (although it had been at least 15 years since my last visit to Toronto, when similar incompetence led to the decision to avoid the place at all costs), this took the pleasant edge off what is usually a joyful weekend.

If you asked a cross-section of the F1 Paddock to list their favourite races, the vast majority would include Montreal. It is a quirky and cosmopolitan city and it has always felt like a big party, with everyone staying in the downtown area and enjoying life a little bit more than usual. It helps, of course, that the Grand Prix coincides with the annual graduation ceremonies and proms. It is a joyful time. It is also Canada’s biggest annual party with as many as 450,000 people coming to town, although only a third of them attend the race. The rest are there to party, to drink, to dance and to canoodle. It is the most important weekend of the year for the city’s entrepreneurs. Hotels are fully booked and prices are up to 10 times normal rates. The problem with this is that there comes a point at which even F1 people decide that there must be better choices, which means that the circus disperses more widely, rents cars which means that everyone is more constrained in what they can do, and the sense of community disappears.

And of course the weather does not help because if it rains at the circuit team people stay inside their hospitality units.

So gossip was thin on the ground. The race attracted a three-day cumulative crowd of 338,000, which was a decent score, and the US TV audience averaged 1.7 million viewers, up 50.6 percent compared to 2019, the last time the race was held. Most exciting was the fact that F1 blitzed all other forms of motorsport in the 18-49 age group in the US and that it was the most-watched Canadian GP in American TV history. This is important as negotiations continue for the Formula 1 TV rights for the United States market. The word in Montreal was that a decision is now close and that there are three serious bidders Disney (which owns ESPN and ABC), Comcast’s NBC, and the TV streaming service Amazon Prime Video. The deal will go to one company, rather than being split up as NASCAR does, although there is a possibility that a small part of the rights may be carved out of the main deal, to provide non-live highlights to other audiences and thus push up the numbers still further.

F1 growth is very exciting at the moment, but for those who are hoping to see a 2023 calendar, there is going to be a bit of a wait, with an announcement not expected until the end of July. There will be some changes compared to this season and it seems that at the moment there are two different drafts of the 2023 calendar: one with 23 races, the other with 24. At the moment both drafts include the Monaco Grand Prix, although it is by no means certain that this will still be there. The difference in calendars appears to be the Chinese Grand Prix, as it is hard to know what the Chinese are going to do because of their attitude towards the COVID pandemic. One of the draft calendars includes a Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, the other does not, but this obviously impacts on other dates. Both drafts apparently include a South African GP, underlining F1’s desire to have its first race on the Africa continent since 1993. This will be at Kyalami, near Johannesburg, but there are still questions that need to be answered about the race because of ongoing political problems in the country.

The other new race will be Las Vegas. Obviously if you have a 22-race calendar in 2022 and you add three races (South Africa, China and Las Vegas), you reach a total of 25, and so some of the current events must disappear. Fortunately Russia has taken care of itself.

At the moment, so they say, France and Belgium are not on the 2023 schedule so I’m not quite sure how we would get to 24 races, but I guess this might relate to a notional new race in France. The suggestion made by Stefano Domenicali last week in an interview with the French sports daily L’Equipe is that there might be a French GP in Nice. Domenicali gave no details, but the rumour mill threw up that the idea is to lay out a street track around the Allianz Riviera stadium, in the Saint-Isidore district, in the Var valley to the west of the city, adjacent to the ring road that loops around Nice, en route to Monaco and the Italian border.

It is a relatively new neighbourhood, carved out of what used to be farmland, with the stadium opening in 2013. It is the home of the local soccer team OGC Nice and is used also by the Toulon rugby club. The only link to motorsport is that there is a street named after the late F1 driver Jules Bianchi, who died in 2015, after a crash in Japan in 2014. This would be incorporated into the circuit.

The history of racing in Nice is quite impressive and pre-dates Monaco, as the first Nice Speed Week was held in 1897, and the celebrated Nice-La Turbie hillclimb, one of the biggest early events, ran from 1901 onwards. There were land speed records set on the Promenade des Anglais and there was a Nice Grand Prix in the 1930s and then again post-war. The 1946 race is often said to have been the first event run to Formula 1 rules.

This all sounds rather a good idea, as F1 has decided against continuing with Paul Ricard and it suits the French Grand Prix promotion company, which is not dependent on Ricard and is headed by Christian Estrosi, the Mayor of Nice.

It is also convenient for F1 that the idea has come up as it is in deep negotiation with Monaco. The celebrated street track is just 12 miles to the east of Nice and while the latter cannot put an F1 track through its port and streets, it could (and should) be conceived as a threat to Monaco if F1 cannot get the deal it wants with the Automobile Club de Monaco.

The shape of the 2023 calendar may be a little different to today, but the signs are that it will begin with a big test/F1 launch in Bahrain, followed a week later by the first race. There will then be a weekend off before a race in Saudi Arabia, followed immediately by Australia. It is not clear what will happen after that because this is the time when China would be fitted in, perhaps back-to-back with Baku, or with South Africa slotting in there. It is clear when one tries to piece together the calendar that there are too many question marks to have any definitive answers. What is clear is that it looks like F1 will have to do two Transatlantic trips each spring as Miami is stuck in May and Montreal will not move from its June date. This is inefficient in every respect, but F1 is bound by contracts it agreed – or has to renegotiate… The desire remains to try to regionalise the calendar more than is the case today.

The desire to grow F1 in the Americas is stronger than ever and current team owners are unwilling to sell because they feel that the value of the teams will increase dramatically as the sport grows and all have big dollar signs in their eyes. The logic is that US sports investors come wading to try to make a profit.

If you don’t have at least $1 billion, however, there is not a lot of point in even trying to buy a team at the moment. Having said that, building a new team costs about the same when you take into account all the money needed and, in any case, a new team is unlikely to be as competitive as a well-established one. This is the frustration that currently exists for a number of people keen to become team owners, not least Audi and Michael Andretti, not to mention Hitech Grand Prix and some others still in the shadows.

There is no appetite within the sport at the moment to add new teams because no team wants to reduce its share of the revenues (even if they are increasing) and take on more rivals. Michael Andretti’s only real hope of being granted a new entry would be if he could bring Ford or General Motors into the sport, then the doors would open very quickly and an 11th team could be put together and everyone would see value in adding another manufacturer to F1.

If one cannot buy an existing team and it makes no sense to build a new one, the only way for those with ambition is to invade the sport from within. At any given time, a number of F1 teams are not being run very well, and so there is always potential for outsiders to be offered jobs if the team owners think they could find better management, if indeed the owners recognise that there is a problem – which is not always the case.

If you look back you can see this happening in the last 15 years with the likes of Christian Horner, Eric Boullier and Frederic Vasseur moving up from the junior formulae, with others such as Franz Tost, Jost Capito, Mike Krack, Andreas Seidl and Otmar Szafnauer coming in from manufacturer roles, and Gunther Steiner from running a successful composite business in the US.

There are not many team principals who have come through the ranks, with the obvious exception of Mattia Binotto and Sauber’s previous team principal Monisha Kaltenborn and one can, I suppose, add family members to this, notably Claire Williams, although in the distant past there were also folk like Bob Tyrrell, Ken Tyrrell’s son.

Toto Wolff is unusual in that he is an investor who has moved into management roles.

This is where, perhaps, there is potential for takeovers, with people offering both money and management skills and then gradually gaining ownership of a team from within. That was a route that allowed Ron Dennis to take control of McLaren way back in the early 1980s and how Wolff got into an executive role at Williams. One suspects that Zak Brown may be doing something similar at McLaren but shareholdings do not need to be declared until they reach a certain level, so for the moment there are only whispers that he is a shareholder. Those who bring in big sponsorships can sometimes take shares rather than a big commission…

The other way would be new to F1, but not unusual in the business world where weak companies are  targeted by bigger players, who win control by buying up shares and gaining enough influence to oust the original owners. This is, to some extent, what happened when the late Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne won control of Chrysler back in 2014.

It was not unusual in the car industry for investors to kick out the founders of businesses. Henry Ford’s first company, the Detroit Automobile Company, was shut down by investors. His second, known as the Henry Ford Company, saw him ousted and the firm renamed Cadillac, and it was not until his third attempt that the Ford Motor Company emerged.

The same was true of Audi which emerged only because its founder August Horch was ousted from his own company in 1909 and so started a rival business called Audi. Horch in German means listen which translates into Latin as Audi.

Of the current F1 teams Mercedes, Ferrari, Aston Martin and Alpine all belong to listed companies, while there is now talk of McLaren being listed on the stock exchange at some point in the future.

It might not be easy but one can imagine someone seeing an opportunity to buy control of Aston Martin in this way in order to get control of the brand. Mercedes owns 20 percent of Aston Martin shares and, if it wished to offload these, a buyer could acquire them and then hoover up smaller shareholders (which make up more than 50 percent) by buying shares at a premium. Under current rules a purchaser would not have to declare a significant interest until they have 25 percent of the business, but there are all kinds of ways to gain control with, for example, debt-equity exchanges, in which debts are acquired and turned into shares, thus diluting the share value but making the company more solid. The devil is in the detail, but weak companies are exposed and disgruntled shareholders are prime targets.

There seemed to be little new on the driver front in Canada, although some of the known deals did get confirmed with AlphaTauri’s Franz Tost saying that Pierre Gasly will stay on in 2023. The other key point was that Montreal Otmar Szafnauer, Alpine’s team principal, said that that Oscar Piastri will be racing in F1 in 2023. This is no surprise as Alpine will lose control of the Australian if he does not have a race drive next year. There is presumably a date by which a deal must done by Alpine or Piastri can go to market as a free agent. Thus there is some pressure on Alpine to find him a seat.

The only obvious choice for him at the moment is Williams, where Nicholas Latifi will lose his drive at the end of the year, if things do not pick up. This has led to suggestions that Williams might change engines, but that makes little sense because it is too late for 2023 and that would mean only two years to get up to speed with the current engines in 2024 and 2025. It is probably better for Alpine and Williams to talk engine deals from 2026 and beyond. This is not a bad move for Williams as the team would become the second Renault team, rather than the fourth Mercedes operation.

It would also give Williams an impressive driver line-up and provide the team with time to develop its own young driver Logan Sargeant, who needs more time in Formula 2.

That aside there was little gossip in Montreal, although there were some interesting faces on the grid, including some people from Melbourne who had dropped in to look at the pit facility at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, as they need to start work on upgrading the facilities in Albert Park, which are now 25 years old and outdated. In much the same way, Steve Hill, the CEO and President of Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) was in Montreal to see how the Canadians run a Grand Prix. Las Vegas is making rapid progress in preparation for its first race in 2023 with the aim being to build a permanent three-storey pit facility similar to the one in Miami, with garages on the ground floor, hospitality on the second and on the roof, with Race Control and other necessary facilities integrated into it. This would be turned over to other uses for the rest of the year when F1 is not in town.

By Sunday night, everyone was keen to get home, although there were the delights of the airport and the flights home still to come. You know that tiresome moment at an airport when you (and your hand luggage) have to go through a security check. Working security is not an easy job – because people are in a hurry and do not like queuing. Things are bad at the moment and Montreal has adopted Disney-like policies of hiding queues. While one does not expect the security folk to be Rhodes Scholars, it is a job that can be done with grace or humour. It’s dull work, explaining why one cannot carry a whole tube of toothpaste, and confiscating nail scissors because they are lethal weapons…

With all the paraphernalia required by itinerant F1 journalists, it is not unusual to be stopped, but normally the security people quickly see that nothing is amiss and off you go to find the gate.

Alas, with a shortage of staff since the pandemic (the primary problem for all the troubles at the moment), there are new folk employed who do not have much experience. The security girl I encountered insisted that I had “a multi-tool” somewhere in my multi-pocketed bag.

“There isn’t,” I said, with as much patience as I could muster. No professional traveller carries a multi-tool. It is plain stupid. I’m not saying that she should instantly believe everything, but after 25 minutes going through my bag (no exaggeration), it all felt a bit too much, particularly as others were queued up behind waiting to have their bags inspected.

“You’ve already looked there,” I said, politely, on several occasions. She got excited when she found some pen refills, but could not figure out how these might be deemed to be murderous devices, although I was on the verge of showing her by that point. To be honest, I’ve known dogs that were smarter than this person, but finally there came a moment when she had to admit defeat. I was not a professional assassin, nor an international terrorist. She would not get promoted for finding my hidden weaponry. She shoved the plastic tray at me gracelessly, leaving the bag unpacked, as she did not have the mental capacity required to put it all back together again so it fitted. There was no “Sorry, I was wrong”, nor a “Sorry, I have wasted your time because I am incompetent”. With Air Canada at the moment there was no need for “Sorry, I’ve caused you to miss the flight”, because I doubt the airline managed to get a single flight out of Montreal on time last week.

As I walked away from this experience, I chuckled. There was one pocket that she never did find – even if it didn’t have a multi-tool in it…

Still, with every cloud there is a silver lining. The barman at least was good at his job…

Come and meet Joe in London

It has been a long time since the last Audience with Joe in London, as a result of the global pandemic. However, we’re back on Wednesday, June 29, at the Hollywood Arms in Chelsea. The format is as before: you ask questions to one of the most experienced F1 journalists, who hasn’t missed a single F1 race in 34 years.

I will answer questions as best I can – and if I can’t tell you, I’ll explain why.

The event will run from 7pm to 11pm, with a buffet dinner included. You can drink as much or as little as you like, with the drinks at usual bar prices. Tickets cost £45 per person.

The tickets are rather limited, so you need to book early, but the goal is to give everyone the chance to ask questions – rather than simply being there to listen.

It’s a great opportunity for me to engage with fans and the Audiences with Joe not only do that, but also allow fans to meet one another and have fun with like-minded people.

The Audience in London will take place on Wednesday, June 29 at the Hollywood Arms, 45 Hollywood Road, Lodon SW10 9HX (www.hollywoodarmschelsea.com)

To book tickets, click here

Green Notebook from a quiet valley in Normandy

Down the road from the ruined abbey and the picturesque duck pond, not far from an old farm where I sometimes go to buy exquisite charcuterie, there is a house that flies the Red Bull Racing flag at all times.

One day I must stop off and say “Bonjour”, and find out why there is such passion for the team in such a un-Red Bull kind of place. Perhaps they are Max Verstappen fans, or maybe it is Dr Marko or Christian Horner who stirs the passion. I doubt (very much) that there are Mexicans in the neighbourhood.

I smile every time I pass by, which is quite often these days, as it is on the route I like to take to get to the airport. The road (eventually) links up to the old Roman road (known as the Chaussée Jules César), that runs as straight a die towards Paris, and Charles de Gaulle airport. I am taking this route three times in eight days: once returning from Baku, once going to Montreal and once on the way home from Canada.

Baku was (how can I put this politely?) dull. It’s a nice enough place, if you don’t look too closely, but it was incredibly quiet for the F1 weekend, perhaps because it came after three busy races in Miami, Barcelona and Monaco.

Admittedly, most of the locals cannot afford tickets, and in F1 only those who are really keen on the sport make the trip. It is not the kind of place where there is much in the way of B2B action, although the canapés in the Paddock Club probably make Monaco catering look good.

If they wanted to offer $10,000 as a reward for spotting a VIP they would probably have got away without having to pay, although Flavio Briatore (who passes for an ageing celebrity) was probably there somewhere, picking up his commission cheque (or cash) for having put the deal together originally. I didn’t see him on the grid, which is where such people like to be seen. In truth, the grid was like high noon in Hadleyville, New Mexico, except that Gary Cooper had (unsurprisingly) decided NOT to forsake his darling Grace Kelly on their wedding day. So it really was rather quiet.

Stefano Domenicali was walking around with FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, without any celebs to shepherd around. It made me wonder what F1 is doing in Baku these days. In an era when F1 wants to put bums of seats and big parties, is Baku the place to be?

It is actually a really interesting place. It was the scene of the world’s first oil boom and although hydrocarbons are out of fashion these days, there is still plenty of the stuff to see in Baku. They have the pre-requisite silvery constructions that oil-rich places love, but there is old stuff too.

I concluded that Baku will need money to keep F1 interested, particularly at a time when the sport is heavily into “regionalisation”. Azerbaijan would fit into a notional calendar in April, perhaps on the way back from early season Asia-Pacific races, but it does not make a lot of sense in June.

Having Miami and Montreal in early May before the European season gets underway with Spain and Monaco (if a deal can be found for the latter) is much more logical. As Baku’s deal runs out after the next race, it is fair to say that the boot in this negotiation is firmly on the F1 foot. If Baku doesn’t want to play ball, it will lose the race. There is no negotiating position beyond cold hard cash. Still, Liberty Media seems to be interested from time to time in places with horse-choking wedges of greenbacks, even if they do not quite fit into the pristine world inhabited by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Although it doesn’t always seem that way, Formula 1 is listed on the NASDAQ in New York and so there always a risk that the regulators might deem it unfortunate to go to places that rate 128th on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). Now that Russia is gone from the F1 calendar, Azerbaijan is Bottom of the Pops on the CPI.

F1 has done much of what Baku wanted (putting the place on the international map), but tourism numbers have been slow to recover since the pandemic and have not been helped by the war in Ukraine, which has effectively wiped out all visitors from Russia and Ukraine. Russia was previously the major source of visitors to Azerbaijan. Without the Russians, the grandstands in Baku were, um, well, pretty unfilled.

Baku was pondering an Olympic bid a few years ago but with the International Olympic Committee already having deals in place for Paris in 2024, Los Angeles in 2028 and Brisbane in 2032, there no possibility of the Games going to Azerbaijan until at least 2036, which is a long time in the future.

And there are small signs that Azerbaijan is lss interested than once it was. The infrastructure for F1 was left up for the whole of last year and is now suffering from wear and tear – and the current contract ends next year. So some fancy footwork may be required to get a new deal. F1 is in two minds about the future. Money is good, but…

Anyway, the FIA World Motor Sport Council will meet in the week after Montreal and we should not expect a 2023 calendar by then because there is too much under discussion. Stefano Domenicali flew off to South Africa after the race in Baku to talk about F1 going back to Africa, a dal that would probably help the F1 share price.

Baku hasn’t changed much since we first started visiting in 2016. It is a little more welcoming perhaps. I seem to recall that the first visit involved an immigration officer with all the charisma  and humour of Vladimir Putin’s country cousin. This year the immigration officer was efficient and charming… and very beautiful. She was, in fact, the perfect antidote to the gormless rubber-stampers of old.

But, there are still lessons to be learned. The people in Baku are generally very friendly. The hotelier sent me a message warning that “the price of a taxi from the airport to the hotel is 10-15 AZN”. Sadly, I did not receive this (because it was too costly to turn on the roaming on my phone) and so I trusted the Taxi Desk in the Arrivals Hall where a dubious-looking individual assured me that 55 AZN was the going rate. Everyone got kinked. You can tell a lot about a country from its cab drivers…

Anyway, if Baku really wants to promote itself as an international tourist destination, it really does need to do something about the thieves who drive taxis. The hotel, of course, didn’t take credit cards and naturally the card was blocked after two identical transactions to get cash, because credit card companies assume that there is criminal activity if you try the same transaction too many times from a place like Baku. There is, you see, still a reputational problem…

Anyway, I could walk into the paddock from the hotel, so life was not too bad. The only problem was that nothing was happening.

The signing of Sergio Perez by Red Bull (announced after Monaco) meant that the focus in the F1 driver market has moved to the next most competitive teams. Barring upheavals, Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull are now settled for 2023. This means that the focus has shifted to McLaren, Alpine and Alfa Romeo. McLaren has Lando Norris under contract and Daniel Ricciardo should still be there, although his results have been very disappointing, for the second year running. Thus there is a possibility of change and the theory is that McLaren can have Colton Herta, an American, if he does well in F1 testing (which will soon begin). Is that realistic? Perhaps not. I can see Herta replacing Ricciardo in 2024 as the American still has so much to learn. 

Over at Alpine the signs are that the current two drivers will stay. Esteban Ocon has a contract and  the team is keen to keep Fernando Alonso. This means that Alpine must find Oscar Piastri a drive or risk losing him – which would not be very smart. I heard stories that Williams has done a deal with Piastri but, leaning against a wall in the paddock, I saw Mark Webber  (Piastri’s manager) talking in animated fashion to various people, which suggested that no deal is done. If it was done, Webber would have been somewhere else… Williams is the obvious spot for Oscar, but a deal must be done. It was interesting to note that Williams had very much a skeleton staff in Baku, with no sign of team principal Jost Capito, let alone the owners.

Haas might be interested in Oscar but the truth is that Ferrari has a say in the second Haas driver and as Mick Schumacher is not delivering the good, the word is that Haas will probably end up with Ferrari’s reserve driver Antonio Giovinazzi in 2023.

As for Alfa Romeo, no-one will wnat to drive there unless they can stop the cars breaking done. It is a really quick car but the results are less than impressive. In terms of speed, Alfa Romeo might be third in the championship nf the car workd properly.

So, the big story in Baku was that there wasn’t a big story, although the hyperbolic individuals in the F1 media decided to get excited about a possible salary cap. No-one seemed to know from where the story had come, which means that it was planted, but in truth it does make a lot of sense. Now that we have a budget cap (even if the top teams are whining about what they agreed), the exclusions make less and less sense. If you are slashing salaries inside a team, how can one justify going on paying vast sums to drivers and top people (these being excluded from the current cap)?

The fact that there is inflation and it is painful for the top teams is not that interesting, although one might ask the question about why no-one properly considered what impact inflation might have, presumably because there are not so many folk old enough to remember bad inflation in the world.

Anyway, there is an easy fix. Teams that are short of cash can simply turn off their wind tunnels for a few weeks… The purpose of the budget cap is to balance up spending and this is exactly what it is doing and the FIA and the smaller teams see no reason to change that because the big teams are having to pay more for their electricity.

No team is going to miss races.

Bringing everything under the budget cap is a good idea – and is already being used in any number of sports. What people in F1 miss is that there are many different ways to have a salary cap. And it does not mean that drivers will get less money. It is not an assault on their value, nor a restriction of free enterprise nor trade, it is simply a way for teams to better use their resources in a controlled fashion – which means that they will make more profits, and become more valuable.

What is needed is a step back from the F1 coal face. 

There are salary caps in the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, the MLS and many other smaller leagues in the US and in many other sports across the world. A salary cap merely restricts what a team can pay a player/driver. It does not restrict what a sponsor can pay. The only thing required to make it work is for the teams to give up the current practice of taking all the drivers’ marketing rights and all their time.

If they do that, which they must if there is to be a salary cap, then nothing is impossible and such an agreement would promote parity between the teams – and help control costs (and thus generate profit) even more. With a salary cap, each team has the same economic power to attract stars. Salary caps can be on a per-player basis, or as  total figure for all the players. It can be a combination of the two and it can also have different styles of cap, with hard caps resulting in punishment or fines and softer caps allowing teams to overspend on occasion, as long as they pay a “competitive balance tax” which means that they must contribute money to an industry growth fund if they overspend substantially. This discourages them to do so… while also providing funding that allows the sport to develop. Such restrictions are not necessarily only for drivers and might also include the highest-paid employees, so that a team might wish to invest more in engineers than in expensive drivers, as long as everything came in under the salary cap.

The F1 drivers argued in Baku that people will not invest in youngsters if there is no return on the investment. This was clever but was ultimately poppycock.  Teams will be looking even harder for the best youngsters because they will ultimately cost them less than paying for the stars. Thus one can argue that there will be MORE incentive to promote youngsters than is the case today.

The key is that the stars can mal money from endorsements and so investors who put money into youngsters will still get their share of the overall returns. They will not go hungry. Ths days driver may not be keen to run their own commercial operations but they can afford to pay people to do so, rather than relying on the teams.  Drivers can thus earn a lot and if they want more than the salary cap allows them, they can work a little harder to get it. It is actually more of a free market than is currently the case… So what it really means is that that there would be a realignment of the money flows, rather than a loss of revenue. It will add more value to the teams because they will have to pay out less, but it will not impact on sponsorship revenues, as long as the sport remains popular…

It may seem an odd thing to say but I think that F1 “franchises” are still under-valued. Yes, it might cost $700 million to buy an F1 team when two years ago one could pick up a team for $200 million, but things have changed. The budget cap and increasing revenues in the sport have made it more attractive and now the big guns of sports business are turning towards F1 because thanks to Liberty Media, they now understand the business model. In the days of Bernie Ecclestone, F1 teams were money pits into which owners threw their money, in order to become famous.

Today, they can still get to be famous but they can make money too. So the sport ticks a lot more boxes than it used to do. If you look around global sport there are some impressive deals being done. But it is a game only for the super-rich. The other day Rob Walton agreed to pay $4.65 billion to acquire the Denver Broncos, an NFL team. It is most expensive purchase ever of a sporting franchise. The fact that Walton and his family are worth $200 billion or more (thanks to Walmart) is not a big issue, but it is worth noting that he was a car collection worth $200 million and as even been known to race his own cars.

Walton’s deal beat the recent sale of Chelsea for a similar kind of number. The buyers were Todd Boehly, who owns three sports teams in Los Angeles: the LA Dodgers, the LA Lakers and the LA Sparks. What is less known is that Boehly is a partner in a number of businesses (including Chelsea) with another investor called Mark Walter, co-founder and CEO of Guggenheim Capital, and that Walter is the man behind Michael Andretti’s bid to buy an F1 team.

No-one wants to sell their teams for the kind of money that Walter & Co want to pay (this is because they were not as quick on their feet as Dorilton Capital and Lawrence Stroll (who picked up teams cheaply before other realised that the sport was going in the right direction). So today, investors either have to bite the bullet and pay to acquire a team, or they have to  somehow convince the sport that it needs new teams (which it really does not). Still, the Haas model – of buying in as much as possible – is a good one to get a nw team going. The problem is that there are not many Dallaras out there. Finding a partner to manufacture cars is key to success because trying to build up composite departments is REALLY expensive. Thus I was interested to see a deal between Lamborghini and Ligier in relation to LMDh chassis.

You might say: ‘What has this got to do with F1?” apart from the fact that there was once a Ligier-Lamborghini F1 car, but if you start digging you soon find that Ligier these days is a very impressive business. It is one of the four firms that were selected to build chassis for LMDh sports cars.

What is interesting is that Ligier’s parent company is called Everspeed, which is owned by French businessman Jacques Nicolet. The group also owns HP Composites, an Italian firm, which has more than 20 years of experience building composite chassis for motorsports and for road cars. It has done work for Audi, Ferrari, Bugatti, Porsche, Lamborghini, Minardi and some of the Italian motorcycle firms as well. To put it into perspective, when Dallara decided to build its own road cars, HP Composites did a deal to manufacture the chassis… So watch out for Ligier if F1 agrees to allow new teams. It may not be a team like before, but it could be a sub-contractor like Dallara is for Haas. 

Anyway, even if F1 was not big in Baku this year, the sport continues to gain traction in the world and Lewis Hamilton’s involvement in a movie project with Brad Pitt and Apple Original Films sounds interesting. Th only thing that alarms slightly is that Pitt is now 58 years old and although he obviously treats his body like a temple, age is age.  The script, it seems, is alsl about a driver who comes out of retirement to compete alongside a rookie driver. This means that Brad is a good 20 years older than the average F1 comeback merchant… One should perhaps remember at this point that Sylvester Stallone once made a movie along similar lines. He was 54 at the time. The movie, which ended up being about IndyCars because F1 realised it was not a good idea, was called Driven, although in the racing world it is now known as Drivel., and lives up to its name in spectacular fashion.

The problem with making fiction-based movie about racing is that reality is always stranger than fiction and so fiction is never convincing. Unless it is completely bonkers. It is also worth noting that the biggest movie about racing in recent years has been a cartoon called Turbo, which is about a snail who wins the Indy 500. If you kids or grandkids, you will probably already know it. If you don’t, check it out. It’s brilliant. Rubbish, but brilliant…

Right, I must stop now, as I need to work on a film script called “Escargot” –  a snail that wants to win Monaco. I should be able to bang something out before I head off to Canada.

And, in the worst case scenario, here in France, one can always add a little garlic and some parsley and eat the star…

Meet up in Canada…

F1 booming in North America, so there is sure to be a lot of demand for this year’s Audience with Joe event, the first post-pandemic Audience to take place in Canada. The format is the same: you get to ask questions to one of the most experienced F1 journalists, who hasn’t missed a race in 34 years…

The event will be on Friday night and will answer questions as best I can – and if I can’t tell you, I’ll explain why.

It’s a great opportunity to engage with fans and the Audiences with Joe not only do that, but also allow fans to meet one another and have fun with like-minded people. There is a whole evening of questions, plus a break for a buffet dinner. You can drink as much or as little as you like, but you buy the drinks.

The venue – where the audience has been since the start – is centrally-located, in the old port area of the city. And it is easy to get there from the circuit.

You will go to the track on Saturday with plenty of behind-the-scenes information about what is going on and why.

The Audience in Montreal will take place on Friday, June 17 at the Pub St Paul, 124 rue St-Paul Est, Vieux-Montréal, Québec H2Y 1G2.

To book tickets, click here

Want to know more about F1?

F1 booming in North America, so there is sure to be a lot of demand for this year’s Audience with Joe event, the first post-pandemic Audience to take place in Canada. The format is the same: you get to ask questions to one of the most experienced F1 journalists, who hasn’t missed a race in 34 years…

The event will be on Friday night and will answer questions as best I can – and if I can’t tell you, I’ll explain why.

It’s a great opportunity to engage with fans and the Audiences with Joe not only do that, but also allow fans to meet one another and have fun with like-minded people. There is a whole evening of questions, plus a break for a buffet dinner. You can drink as much or as little as you like, but you buy the drinks.

The venue – where the audience has been since the start – is centrally-located, in the old port area of the city. And it is easy to get there from the circuit.

You will go to the track on Saturday with plenty of behind-the-scenes information about what is going on and why.

The Audience in Montreal will take place on Friday, June 17 at the Pub St Paul, 124 rue St-Paul Est, Vieux-Montréal, Québec H2Y 1G2.

To book tickets, click here

Green Notebook from Solarium Beach

Monaco has always been a place that has lived off money from elsewhere, attracted by a scenic port surrounded by the high coastal mountain range, which shelters the town from cold northerlies. The fact that it faces south means that there is a warm microclimate so one can grow tropical plants and create exotic gardens.

The whole coastline – the Cote d’Azur – is like that and it became chic when wealthy members of the British aristocracy discovered that it was much nicer to spend their winters in the sunshine, rather than enduring British rain and fog – and that ghastly man Disraeli. They stumbled upon a small village called Nice, overlooking the Bay of Angels, and began to build villas. They soon added the Promenade des Anglais. Monaco at that time was remote and isolated. It was a fishing village with a castle on the hill above it. It was not rich and in 1856 Prince Florestan decided it needed more visitors and hit on the idea of building a bathing establishment and casino to pull in the deep-pocketed travellers.

His son Charles III thought the original building was insufficient and so built a much grander establishment on a small plateau to the east of the old port. Within a few years the Paris-Lyon-Mediterranee railway extended its railway line along the coast to Monaco and the area around the casino was renamed Monte Carlo (Carlo being Italian for Charles) and, hey presto, people began to arrive. Monte Carlo became the place to go to “break the bank” and it became tax-free to attract more wealthy individuals, including Americans and Russian emigrés. The Principality used sports to promote itself with the Monte Carlo Rally and then the Monaco Grand Prix. Then came the cinema. And when Prince Rainer married movie star Grace Kelly, the glittering image of Monte Carlo was complete. It has been riding that wave ever since.

But even surfers get old… so Monaco is forever building and tunnelling to make itself bigger and better. The elegant villas of old have largely disappeared now, as development has turned to tower blocks filled with tax-dodgers (or with empty apartments being used as residential addresses). Every time I visit I am reminded of Joni Mitchell’s famous song “Big Yellow Taxi” and the lines: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”.

But I still like Monaco, or at least I try to. At the moment they are building a whole new district in the east where there will be no cars, except in underground car parks. This will include a coastal promenade, 150 top-of-the-range apartments, villas and houses, a park, a port for parking yachts and lots of expensive new shops and restaurants.

Down in the old fishing village – now known as Port Hercule – they decided 20 years ago that they needed a way to attract more visitors and a new sea wall, known as the Nouvelle Digue, was built to allow cruise ships to stop by. Passengers swarm ashore and spend money. The Nouvelle Digue is actually floating (so they say) and was built in Spain (where labour is cheap) and it was then towed to Monaco and moored outside the famous harbour. On the outside of this concrete monstrosity someone decided that it would be great to create a “concrete beach”, giving access to the sea if one does not mind jumping in, and then climbing up a ladder to get back to floating “dry land”. They have added trees recently to make it less concretey, but concrete it remains.

Solarium Beach

Having said that, if you are looking for peace and quiet in Monaco, it is a good place to go as few people get excited about concrete beaches (perhaps it is a little ahead of its time) and it is close to town. There is even parking nearby in the Parking des Pecheurs (The Fishermens’ Car Park) where F1 folk park their cars and where the Formula 2 Championship paddock is located. The top floor doubles as an indoor kart facility, where the Chuck Leclucks of the future can learn their trade.

The problem is that there is no space in Monaco and Formula 1 always feels cramped. The Paddock is a quayside. Everything is too narrow and so the Automobile Club de Monaco (ACM) employs countless folk who are there simply to move everyone on. It’s a boring job, of course, and so these people tend to get blasé about how they treat others – and it not being a job that requires much in the way of education, they often have no clue who they are talking to. They all recognise the Prince and the ACM President, but they treat everyone else like dirt on their shoes. They are an anti-diplomatic corps.

So, the Monaco Grand Prix is the event  where the beautiful people cram into a small area which smells of fish, diesel and leaky portaloos. They trip over plastic cable covers that run everywhere, because no-once can be bothered to create mini trenches and the only people who are happy are those who get their kicks watching VIP after VIP trips over these things.

When you boil it all down, it’s slightly less glamorous than a motorway service area, without the space. But, for most of the world, getting into the Paddock in Monaco is just the coolest thing…

The one area where there is a space has been eroded over time by a VIP hospitality area that was crept along the quayside (it makes money and so is interesting for F1) and it has now largely taken up with an area where TV crews are allowed stumble over one another. Through this area sail the drivers, surrounded by their social media teams and PR folk, frantically filming and looking important, but actually being little more than human tugboats around sleek ocean liners.

These days the written media is less and less visible in the paddock because no-one allows them into the motorhomes any longer (the teams made sure that something good came out of the pandemic) and so most stay inside the tatty exhibition hall on the first floor of the fading pink building that runs down the quayside behind the paddock.

The press do not bother going out, except to get food.

It is supposed to be a media sport, but no-one wants the media. The odd thing is that F1’s new popularity comes from the Netflix series Drive to Survive, which takes people behind the scenes a little. But even this has major time constraints and so for those who really want to feel part of F1 the written media is the place to go, as it has untold acres of virtual space to tell the stories of life in F1 and to weave an interesting tapestry.

F1 people and teams don’t seem to realise this.

Many years ago I realised that there was no point in trying to find people in Monaco and I use a couple of places where I hang out and let the world come to me. Sometimes one has to swat away security people to do this, but such is life. Terriers biting trouser legs can usually be kicked away. Watching the big boss of F1 Greg Maffei struggling through crowded alleyways surrounded by workers, caterers, people who want to be noticed, security people and endless VIP minders, made me wonder if perhaps he might not feel the need to buy a chunk of Monaco to create the right kind of F1 facility – as he has recently done in Las Vegas for a cool $240 million.

One gets the impression that the rather tatty block behind the Paddock might be demolished and things reorganised, to spruce up the poor end of the Quai Albert Ier, giving Monaco a nicer space for events and F1 a better paddock. I am sure that such a scheme could make money because one can always sell or rent new apartments in Monaco to the rich – and some new apartments could easily be built into any development.

I see from the US that Roger Penske, the owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has also gone down the same path by buying the Speedway Monogramming property, that has existed among the Speedway’s parking lots, opposite the South Chute Tunnel, for the last 30-odd years. This means that one day soon, this will be demolished and the Brickyard can get the kind of  “front door” that such a facility requires.

Anyway for now we are stuck with a dingy Monaco Paddock, with a race track where overtaking in impossible. It was ironic that that this year’s Monaco GP slogan was “Let’s Race”, which, of course, is the last thing that happens on the current track… Add to this the fact that the TV coverage that is awful and advertising and hospitality are both sub F1 standard. And the race pays a much lower fee than all the others.

While we all love the concept of Monaco, it is one of the worst races – by a long way, although the ACM seems unable to grasp the concept that it is not the best race in the world. One good indicator of the arrogance in Monaco is that one never sees ACM people at other races looking at what rival promoters do… to learn. The ACM thinks there is nothing to learn.

Ah well, ignorance is bliss. F1 is telling Monaco it might not agree a new contract,  but the ACM thinks it is impossible that F1 would drop the Grand Prix. It is not impossible…

The Paddock did not buzz with news as a result of all the restrictions on movement, but the press conferences did see a performance worthy for an Honorary Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. This was Christian Horner explaining how tough life is for Red Bull with the F1 budget cap. It is almost tragic to have to report that this was lapped up by open mouthed media (yes, there are a few mouth-breathers in the media) who do not realise when someone is feeding them information for reasons other than admiration for what they write. Grown men had tears rolling down their cheeks as Christian soldiered onward with stories of Red Bull staff being laid off and how they would have to busk at the roundabouts in Milton Keynes. He stopped short of launching a TV appeal for little old ladies to send in their savings to help these lovely cuddly people, who would be cruelly wronged by the evil budget cap.

The truth is that while inflation is a problem, Christian & Co have forgotten to mention that F1’s business is largely conducted in US dollars, including the all-important prize money payments, much of the sponsorship and, the budget cap itself. He also forgot to mention that in the last 12 months currency traders have seen the dollar as the safe haven and so it has appreciated significantly against its European counterparts. Teams earn in dollars and spend in local currencies  (be that the Pound, the Euro or the Swiss Franc). If one looks at the numbers, inflation in Europe is about seven percent and might rise to 10 by the end of the year. The dollar has appreciated against the Euro by 15 percent, 13 percent against the Pound and eight percent against the Swiss Franc. Anyone who has travelled to the US recently will attest that it has become a very expensive place to be.

This means that teams have up to 15 percent more money to play with, in their local currency, than they used to have. Inflation has reduced the value of this extra money, but they still have more than they used to have.  It is true that many costs have increased impressively, particularly the costs of electricity, fuel, air freight and air tickets, but these are not the major items in team expenditure. This all means that claims for a higher budget cap are really only big teams trying to get more money to help them beat less well-funded teams…

Incidentally, Red Bull is now discussing building a new wind tunnel in Milton Keynes in order to stay competitive, at a time when wind tunnels should be a thing of the past. They are doing this, so Christian told me, because Lawrence Stroll needs one for his son. Someone really needs to whisper to the Canadian billionaire that you cannot buy the World Championship for one’s offspring. It has been clear for some time that Lance is good, but not quite good enough. It is a similar story with Mick Schumacher who keeps having big crashes while trying to out-do Kevin Magnussen. This is wearing thin for Haas and there is talk that it would probably like a different driver next year, although Ferrari does have a say in the matter.

The problem is that Ferrari has a gap in its young driver conveyor belt at the moment because the only Ferrari youngster who looks even vaguely ready for F1 is Robert Shwartzmann, a Russian. Antonio Giovinazzi is still there but he has been around the block a few times already. British driver Callum Ilott is still a member of the Ferrari programme, but seems to be settled in IndyCar (where he damaged his wrist last weekend when he crashed during the Indy 500) while the next Ferrari youngsters are Formula 3 drivers: including Arthur Leclerc (The Sequel) and Oliver Bearman.

The rumour in Monaco is that Mick’s people are now looking at other options for the future and that Aston Martin might be a good choice for him because he’s German, younger and less hairy than Sebastian Vettel, and he is not too fast for Lance.

The thing is that billionaires always seem to think that because they are billionaires they can be successful in everything. No-one dares to tell them that may not be the case. Similarly, it seems to me that billionaires should buy smaller trousers because having really deep pockets and high belts is never a great look.

But, hey, who decides what is fashionable? Money is always in fashion.

The recent fiasco with Formula 1 VIP hospitality in Miami seems to have led to a rethink about the way the system should work in the future. The deal in Miami allowed for the local promoter to select its own catering, and it chose a local firm because it was less expensive that F1’s usual supplier, the Austrian caterer Do&Co. The result of this decision was a lot of very unhappy VIPs, teams and sponsors, who all felt – quite rightly – that if one is paying $12,000 for a ticket to an event, one should expect top level hospitality. The problem for Formula 1 is that the guests do not know, nor care, about the sub-contracting arrangements. For them the Grand Prix was a failure of F1 itself and the danger of this is that the sport will get a reputation as being a rip-off – and that is clearly not what is wanted. The best way to maintain quality control is to dictate what happens. In future F1 will be doing that…

There was not much else. Former Formula 1 driver Kimi Raikkonen is going to race in the NASCAR Cup Series later this year. Now 42, the monosyllabic Finn will race for the Trackhouse team at Watkins Glen on August 21. The deal is part of a new initiative launched by Trackhouse called Project91, which will field a Chevrolet with #91 for a series of international racing drivers, in an effort to increase international interest in the stock car series.

Not everyone goes to Monaco because they want to be noticed. Some go to see the event because they have plans of their own to host races and DON’T want to be seen. This is a daft idea, of course, because in Monaco, everyone is looking at everyone else to see who they are, and anyone who believes that they can hide in plain sight is taking a big risk. If one sneaks on to a boat one can get away with it, if they crew don’t blab, but if you are in the paddock you can be spotted not only by the way you act, but also by how those around you behave. Years ago I developed a strategy for spotting these people. If I saw someone accompanied by leggy blondes with diamond earrings, this suggested that the gentleman in question was wealthy and I would rush up and say “Hello, I’m Joe,” and they would say: “Hello, I’m Such-and-Such” and we’d get chatting and I’d find out who they were. This worked very well with a man who replied: “I’m Steve. Steve Wynn.” He was in Monaco because he wanted to have a Grand Prix in Las Vegas and told me all about it.

I might have done the same thing this year with a chap in a Williams hat, as all the big cheeses in the team were fawning over him in the Paddock alleyway. I even heard one of them say: “This way, Peter” and that got me thinking. Back in the summer of 2020, when the Williams team was sold to Dorilton Capital, there was much interest and speculation about who was behind the mysterious investment firm. It was based in New York, but was clearly not an American firm. It was identified only as being a private investment office for an unidentified high worth family.

I got a tip that the buyer was a Jersey-based entrepreneur called Peter de Putron, but no-one in the team would talk about whether these stories were true. De Putron is so reclusive that there does not seem to be a single photograph of him on the Internet, which makes it quite hard to identify him. Did Peter’s pass say de Putron? I wondered. There is a picture on the Internet of his brother and the two people seemed to have some striking similarities.

I suppose I could have employed some ACM security person to be annoying and look for me, but in the end I concluded that with modern telephones one can take pictures that blow up very large. Anyway, to cut a long story short I am certain that de Putron is the man behind Dorilton – and I’ll not post any pictures of him because he does not want to be famous.

And now he owes me a favour… which is never a bad thing.

Among those in Monaco who were not hiding was William Hornbuckle, the CEO  and President of MGM Resorts International, one of the biggest casino operators in Las Vegas, over to take a look at how things are done. There was also a delegation of Africans (which is quite unusual in F1) and I was told that they were from South Africa, present to discuss the possibility of a new F1 event at Kyalami.

In my years in F1, I have always found that there is no better way to upsetting celebrities than asking them how they became famous. I don’t do it any more and am blithely unaware when I stroll past some pouting social influencer with a squillion followers, a cage fighter or a jingly-jangly bling-covered football player with tattooed nostrils. As usual, Hollywood’s finest (apart from Horner) didn’t turn up for the photo op in Monaco.

Flavio Briatore could not stay away, of course, dying as is he is for publicity and surrounded as always by fashion models of yesteryear, reminding us all about how much F1 has moved on since his inauspicious exit from the sport more than a decade ago. A formula 1 version of The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come…

Bernie Ecclestone was not there (he’s always been smarter than Flav) but he did manage to get into the news in F1 by being arrested while trying to get on a plane in Brazil with a small revolver in his luggage.

“I haven’t had any publicity lately and I thought I ought to do something to get some,” The Bernard told Reuters. Some in the cynical world of F1 think that this is possibly the real story.

Anyway, the race was interesting enough, but when we left on Sunday night I didn’t say: “See you next year” to the ACM folk, because I am not sure we will be back in 2023. I hope so, but if we are back I hope that there will be some changed attitudes. F1 is deadly serious about getting what it wants from Monaco – even if that hurts for a year.

The ACM should perhaps take note of advice from Joni Mitchell.

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone…”

Green Notebook from La Dynamite

La Dynamite is such a great name for a village. I’ve always been a fan of eccentric place-names and La Dynamite is certainly up there with Little Snoring, Middle Wallop, Écoute-s’il-pleut (Listen-if-it’s-raining), Droop, La Roue-Qui-Tourne (The-Wheel-that-Turns), Bachelor’s Bump or plain old boring La Machine.

La Dynamite is so-named because in addition to being a good place to have a picnic and watch butterflies doing their thing, it is also the site of a very large explosives factory. This is why there are not many houses in proximity as the “blast wave overpressure” in the event of an accident would probably knock down reinforced concrete buildings and blow human being well into next week. From what I can gather this has never happened at La Dyamite, although its sister works at the daftly-named Billy-Berclau, near Lille, suffered such an event in 2003, which led to its closure and the transfer of operations (by normal transportation methods, rather than by explosive wave) to an obscure part of Poland.

Anyway, La Dynamite is a good place to stop if you are driving the 400 miles from Barcelona to Monaco, as you do in F1 these days. It’s about 250 miles into the trip. You could stop at the wonderful walled medieval city called Aigues-Mortes, which is slightly more off the route. This was once a port from which Crusaders departed to the Levant, but is now miles inland from the sea, because of the Rhône river deposits vast amounts of silt at its mouth, or rather its mouths, – as there are two of them.

Between the Petit Rhône to the west and the Grand Rhône in the east, is the Camargue, land that is as flat as a board with briney lagoons and reed-infested marshes. It is a weird and wonderful place with rice paddies and salt lakes, flamingos and cowboys. The latter, known as gardians, spend their lives corralling the famous black bulls and white horses of the Camargue.

La Dynamite is where it is because 120 years ago the area was empty of people but the PLM railway (Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée) passed through, hauling visitors to the Cote d’Azur. This could bring in the components of dynamite and carry away the finished product to the mines of the Cevennes. Railways used to be useful and they are becoming so again as everyone sees them as being more sustainable than a squillion road cars, all puffing out nasty smells and ruining the planet.

History is always useful (despite what some politicians will tell you) and back in the days before everyone had two cars, racing took place on the roads in many countries. Britain, being eccentric, insisted before 1903 that any rival to the horse-drawn carriage should require a person carrying a red flag to walk ahead of the vehicle.  This handed leadership in road transport technology to the French, who allowed racing to take place on their public roads. In Britain things were liberalised after the Motor Car Act of 1903, but the 20mph speed limit on all public roads meant that racers had to go abroad, until someone with a lot of money decided to build Brooklands. The French raced everywhere and they often picked triangular circuits between towns with stations, which meant that the spectators could get close to the action.

Once more people had cars circuits moved to places where only cars can go, which is exactly NOT what is required in the modern day and age. Huge traffic jams are no longer considered cool and even that most green of competitions – Le Tour de France – has a problem because while the riders produce little pollution, the 14 million car-borne spectators out-do all other sporting events in the world in terms of pollution.

The tragedy of this is that the racing circuits which we now consider to be classic venues are largely beyond the reach of railways and putting in new ones is vastly expensive. Le Mans twigged this years ago when the city built a tramway to take thousands of spectators from the city’s railway station to the middle of the celebrated racing circuit.

Access is a problem for a number of famous F1 tracks, although Monaco and Monza are both served by railways, which makes life easier from them. But when it comes to places like Silverstone, Spa and Paul Ricard, it is a problem.  The tragedy of Spa-Francorchamps is that it once had a railway station in the village and the path of the railway is still there, although the tracks were torn up in the 1970s and the path left was turned into a cycling track. A station would be invaluable today.

I mention all this because both the French and Belgian GPs are at the end of their current F1 contracts and the signs are that neither event will be renewed. Paul Ricard is struggling to meet the fee demands from the Formula 1 group, but Spa is in trouble because despite support from the Walloon provincial government – which understands the value of the event for the region – the venue has serious problems with access. Spa has undergone a massive rebuild in recent months, in order to make it safer and to allow the track to run motorcycle races again, but the access problems will not go away. Last year’s Belgian GP washout created horrendous snarl-ups after the usual car parks turned to mud – and fans parked wherever they could. And then didn’t see a race… Obviously the weather does not help and although the hard core fans still love Spa – and so they should – it is not what Formula 1 is looking for these days. It is a long circuit but has a small crowd capacity of 75,000, which means that even when full (which it is thanks largely to the Orange Army that marches south each year from Verstappenland) it cannot produce the kind of numbers that F1 wants to see.

Adding more spectator areas might be possible, although ecologists would probably chain themselves to trees, but then access would become more of a problem because there are only so many ways in and out of the circuit… It does not help that the local police force has a reputation for imposing traffic management measures which seem to makes things more difficult, but some fellow with pips on his shoulder thinks he knows what he is doing and who are we to argue.

Spa’s Commercial Director Stijn de Boever was in Barcelona for discussions with F1, but the word is that the series promoter isn’t too keen on doing another deal, even if the provincial government ups the money, which it is willing to do. It may be considered a crime against humanity by hard core F1 fans not to have a race at Spa, but the sport wants to appeal to fans of all kinds – and Spa does not fit in this respect.

After the calendar disruptions caused by the pandemic, it is hoped that things will get back together more in 2023, but there remain question marks about China and how all the races will fit together next year. I bumped into Circuit of the Americas boss Bobby Epstein in Barcelona (he’s often there) and he said it was news to him that his race might move to the spring. It sounds more like there might be an Austin-Mexico-Vegas swing, but F1 teams don’t want more triple-headers if they can be avoided (as they were only supposed to happen during the pandemic).

The team bosses met with Stefano Domenicali in Barcelona and he explained that he would try to create a more regionalised calendar in order for things to be more efficient, more cost-effective and more sustainable (that word again). There are also the problems for the next few years with Ramadan, mentioned in the last Green Notebook, and so it could be that Australia will pop up at the start of the year again for a year or two to ensure that Bahrain and Saudi Arabia don’t upset local sensitivities… There could be a test in Bahrain and then a two-week gap to Australia and then the Middle Eastern races after that (before it gets too hot).

It would be nice to report that South Africa will be back in 2023 but it is going to be tough to achieve given the political instability in the country and the constant bickering that seems to exist within the ruling African National Congress party. These fights have become so bad that former President Kgalema Motlanthe recently said that the rule of the ANC, which has run the country since 1994, is coming to an end because it is steadily losing the support of the people. Against that background it may be hard to get a race up and running any time soon.

The basic concept of regionalisation is to have a calendar that groups the races so that logistical problems are less complicated. Thus the season would begin in the Middle East in the early spring, with Australia and another Asia-Pacific race (normally China) following on. There would then be a swift double-header in the Americas before the European season in the summer. With some of the European races being weeded out, that opens the way for Eurasia as well. After the summer break (which no-one wants to lose) it would be a second Asian trip (logically Singapore and Japan) although there is also the desire for a race in Korea, although there seems to be little interest in reviving either Malaysia or the Grand Prix that never was in Vietnam. After that the focus would switch to the Americas again in the autumn months, with the likes of Mexico, Austin, Brazil, Vegas and perhaps something in the Caribbean, and then the season would finish off with a pair of evening races in the Middle East, to maximise global TV audiences for the finale. This would mean that Asia and the Americas would each get two hits of F1 per year, which will help build interest.

The problem with all this is that Montreal in June gets in the way. In a perfect world Montreal would be twinned with Miami and held in May, when temperatures in Canada are a little lower. But that would move it off the traditional start-of-summer weekend, which makes it a big party for thousands of Canadians who don’t actually attend the race. The event is coupled with graduation ceremonies and proms and it is huge earning weekend for the city. Miami cannot go any later because of the heat in Florida in June. And Miami cannot have the Grand Prix in the autumn because of the NFL season that runs from September – January, which is the prime purpose of the Hard Rock Stadium. The Canadians have a contract that guarantees the current date and so to get them to change will be difficult, although the race promoter is now owned by Bell Media, which is also the F1 TV rights holder in Canada and so the date of the race may be negotiable given the other interests involved.

Monaco is still to be fixed as F1 wants more concessions and more money from the Principality and, if possible, a race track that allows for racing. Still, the race is no longer tied to the Ascension Day holiday and does not have an extra day, which makes it possible to be back-to-back with Spain, although it is a logistical struggle getting everything into and out of the pokey little paddock in Monaco, which is not VIP-friendly unless you have a yacht.

New races are adding to the prize money, but they also add to the costs and the human wear-and-tear. However at the moment this is not the primary worry in the minds of F1 team bosses. On Saturday in Spain, just after qualifying, there was a very low-key meeting in the McLaren hospitality unit, involving FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the FIA’s head of F1 Peter Bayer, Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto, Red Bull’s Christian Horner, Mercedes’s Toto Wolff and McLaren’s Zak Brown. Those involved entered and departed individually so it was not obvious – and the “smaller” teams were not part of the discussion. This was all about the impact of inflation on the F1 budget cap. Inflation was rising in many countries before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, because the global pandemic had created serious supply-demand imbalances. The war added new supply shocks to the global economy which we are now feeling with dramatic hikes in the price of many items and disruption in the supply chains. The big teams are arguing that $140 million is not enough (although, of course, they spend a lot more when all the exclusions are included). They have had to make serious reductions to adapt to the limits and now want to use the global situation to puff up the budget again. The FIA seems to be smiling and nodding and letting them have their say, but there are no signs that the federation’s cap will be doffed for anyone. This has led Christian Horner to suggest that the teams might not be able to afford the last few races and so will not appear, which is headline-grabbing but not realistic if Christian wants to keep his job. Still, given the amount of time he spends on Sky TV, he probably has a future in broadcasting if his days as a team principal ever come to an end (assuming, of course, that Sky is still around).

At the moment, the FIA seems to be more fixated an the question of jewellery, which seems to be a fight that is not really required, but must be viewed as arm-wrestling between the sport and the federation over who is the boss when it comes to the rules. Clearly, the boss of F1 is not Lewis Hamilton and so he may have to divest himself of his bling if he wants to race on in F1. This is sensible and logical – and safer – but Lewis seems to think it is against him, while others feel that it is a fight that F1 really does not need right now.

It is a time of change at the FIA and it is clear that we have not seen all the changes yet. More are expected in the weeks ahead as the new leadership cleans up the messes and structures left by the ancien regime. In the finest French traditions, some heads will roll.

As part of this process there is a new chief of staff at the FIA, with the appointment of 54-year-old British-born Anglo-Indian Shaila-Ann Rao. No-one seems to know what the difference is between a chief of staff and a CEO, but perhaps the President will explain that at some point once he has put out all the fires he has been fighting.  Rao is a lawyer who spent years in TV rights negotiation with TF1 and Lagardere before joining the FIA as Legal Director in 2016. She moved on two years later to join Mercedes AMG Petronas… but is now going back to the federation, presumably because it has a new president.

The FIA was much in the news in Barcelona thanks to Aston Martin turning up with cars that looked like green Red Bulls. The team has “previous” with regard to copycatism and so the feds had to go through the process of finding out how this had been done without anyone nicking any designs or using photographs and scans (which are no longer allowed). This was a lengthy process which has been going on for a while under the radar and the FIA boffins say that there is no evidence of any wrongdoing. Red Bull says that some of its IP has been downloaded by staff who left the team but while that can be proved, it is hard to prove that it was used elsewhere. However there is still the possibility of Red Bull taking action against individuals if they have breached their contracts, but showing that Aston Martin used the data is impossible. Cyber-security in F1 is well-advanced these days and there are almost certainly security markers hidden away in software to stop “cutting-and-pasting” of data. The fact that Red Bull knows about downloads says it all: there are elaborate systems that know exactly where all confidential information is, and who has accessed it. Everything is logged and there are multiple firewalls and multi-stage authentication techniques. Even if someone gets through all of this, the team will still know what data has been moved, which apparently it does… Espionage is thus a dangerous business.

Horner and his crew are good at technology and the word is that in order to stay atop the rigging in F1, the team is now aiming to build a new windtunnel on its campus in Milton Keynes, because it fears that others may catch up.  Windtunnels are huge, expensive, not sustainable and much work can be done these days with computational fluid dynamics (CFD), which simulates what windtunnels do. In a perfect world windtunnels would be gone but Red Bull still sees the value in them and has the money to spend on them… even if there are restrictions on how much they can be used. It would be better, perhaps, to ban them but then at least three teams would oppose this… because they are building new ones.

The budget cap has put value into the teams and the cost of buying a team has now risen dramatically, making life hard for those who want to break into the sport. At the same time, there is more demand as sports investors see the potential of F1 growth. Thus to get hold of a team today will cost about $700 million.  This basically means that a buyer needs to have a billon or so to spare in order to buy and run a team. Obviously some of this would be offset with sponsorship (which is getting better) and prize money (which is also rising), but it does mean that Grand Prix racing is an expensive business. Every now and then one hears from financial circles that a team is looking for investors (or buyers) but most of these rumours seem to relate to “fishing trips” with the owners dipping their toes in the water to see if anyone bites at a big valuation. The most recent rumour is that Alpine has been sniffing around for a valuation, although it is unlikely that the team would be sold. However, bringing in partners to share the burden (as Mercedes, McLaren and others have done) is not impossible. Renault is still very keen on electric vehicles, although the bosses believe that ultimately the future lies in hydrogen, and it is worth noting that in rcent weeks the Nissan Formula E programme has been moved from the DAMS headquarters near Le Mans to the Renault motorsport engine facility in Viry-Chatillon. Elsewhere the Mercedes Formula E operation is being moved out of Brackley now that the team has been taken over by McLaren. This rather sums up the state of the car industry at the moment. Some folk running one way, others doing the opposite…

There is little chatter on the driver front yet although Williams sources say that the team is not going to kick out Nicholas Latifi and replace him with Nyck de Vries before the end of the year. There is no guarantee that the Dutchman will sign for 2023 because he’s not a youngster willing to grab an F1 chance at any opportunity, but rather at 27 wants to make decent money from his career and can live without F1 if there is a high-paying job in sports car racing which would mean winning races, allied to a drive in Formula E. If one looks at Sebastien Buemi one can see that there are lots of options. The Swiss used to be a Red Bull-sponsored F1 driver. Today he still works with Red Bull in the simulator, but also has a factory drive in WEC with Toyota and a Nissan works drive in Formula E. Quite how he has managed to represent two rival Japanese manufacturers at the same time is not clear, but he’s probably pulling in a truckload of greenbacks as a result… and good for him.

Sign up for an Audience with joe in MONTREAL

F1 booming in North America, so there is sure to be a lot of demand for this year’s Audience with Joe event, the first post-pandemic Audience to take place in Canada. The format is the same: you get to ask questions to one of the most experienced F1 journalists, who hasn’t missed a race in 34 years…

The event will be on Friday night and will answer questions as best I can – and if I can’t tell you, I’ll explain why.

It’s a great opportunity to engage with fans and the Audiences with Joe not only do that, but also allow fans to meet one another and have fun with like-minded people. There is a whole evening of questions, plus a break for a buffet dinner. You can drink as much or as little as you like, but you buy the drinks.

The venue – where the audience has been since the start – is centrally-located, in the old port area of the city. And it is easy to get there from the circuit.

You will go to the track on Saturday with plenty of behind-the-scenes information about what is going on and why.

The Audience in Montreal will take place on Friday, June 17 at the Pub St Paul, 124 rue St-Paul Est, Vieux-Montréal, Québec H2Y 1G2.

To book tickets, click here

Green Notebook from Route 66

Yeah, I know. Route 66 does not go through Florida. In fact, if one is being 100 percent accurate, Route 66 no longer exists. It was removed from the US Highway System in 1985, decommissioned because it had been replaced by new Interstates along its entire length.

But it takes time for legends to die, a fact I was reminded of on Sunday – the 40th anniversary of the death of Gilles Villeneuve – in addition to being the first Formula 1 race in Miami.

The latter was, of course, treated on social media as the sporting equivalent of the Red Sea parting and Moses putting a pass around his neck and leading his flock on to the grid…

It seems that every commentator from Boca Raton to Sausage Gully in Australia overlooked the fact that this was not the first Miami Grand Prix. There were 11 IMSA races that used the Miami Grand Prix name between 1983 and 1993, not to mention a string of GrandAm races in the Noughties. Never mind. Media inexactitude was in fashion in southern Florida, which might have been a good thing given Formula 1’s pretty awful history in the United States.

The good news (I think) is that we are entering a new age. And while some of the Old School F1 types might hrmph at the idea that the Miami International Autodrome is not a patch on the old Nürburgring, or laugh at the idea that it made perfect sense to build a fake marina, the whole thing passed off pretty well despite the fact that southern Florida is flat as a (European) pancake and utterly featureless, it’s only saving grace in physical terms is a string of beaches, and some (but not all) human bodies which appear on them to catch some rays.

Anyway, to return to the point, US Highway 66, known as Route 66, was an important road that linked Chicago to Los Angeles, from 1926 until 1985. It became one of the great American icons, symbolising progress and optimism, not to mention the sense of freedom that came with the automobile.

It was more than just another highway. It unified the US and encapsulated the American Dream.

What does it have to do with Miami? Not much, except that today there is a sense of optimism and excitement across the United States about another great automotive activity… Formula 1, big news thanks to Netflix’s Drive to Survive.

The race was held on the same weekend as the Kentucky Derby and that would not have got as much coverage if it hadn’t been won by an 80-to-1 outsider, which was the equivalent of the Haas team winning a Grand Prix.

I find myself on Route 66 because F1 lives are complicated. They leave relatives and friends strewn around the globe, although the sport also provides a means by which one can see them from time to time, even if it means more time away from the homestead.

Unlike most of the F1 circus, I didn’t hightail it to the international departure lounge as soon as the chequered flag had been shown, but stayed on and joined the queues on Monday in the domestic terminal, and listened to Americans on their ways home. This isn’t difficult because Americans often talk very loudly and express their feelings for all to hear. Everyone had bought merchandise to reflect their support of one team or another, or the race itself, and it was fun to sit, plain-clothed, and watch all the interactions. The message was clear, they’d all loved it. It was cool, it was friendly and it had been fun. For many it was their first race – and they said they’d be back.

As there were not any VIPs on the flights I was taking, I didn’t hear the complaints about the poor quality hospitality experience. F1 can blame the promoter for not using Do&Co, the experts who know what it takes, but in truth a share of the blame should go to the sport itself, for not insisting that the Austrian firm be used, in order to ensure the highest standards and justify the wildly expensive Paddock Club tickets. A three-day ticket cost $12,000 a head, although they were changing hands on the black market at up to $35,000, a clear sign that the people buying were not there to go racing, but rather for some other ego-related activity.

Being there was what mattered.

To give you an idea, a Monaco GP Paddock Club ticket will cost you $8,000, while the average European race will mean about $4,500 for the privilege. It felt like every VIP in Miami was there to be seen to have been there, perhaps with a selfie with a driver, or the ultimate prize, a selfie with Gunther F*cking Steiner.

The crowd capacity was only 82,500, but only around 50,000 were in grandstands. The rest were VIPs. And everyone was paying a lot. One had to be impressed by the scale of the event. It must have cost a fortune to create the whole concept, but it will pay back massively over the next 10 years, once they sort out the glitches. The track was terrific (but needs some work) and the hype was mad, but that is America for you. The Miami Grand Prix was a festival of self-absorbed people, getting ready to tell their friends that: “You really should have been there”.

The sporting event was the peg on which they hung their overpriced hats.

From those of us from more reserved cultures it all felt a little much, but it was kind of magnificent in the same way. F1 often says it wants each F1 race to be like the Super Bowl, and this was definitely a step in that direction.

The paddock access, one can argue, went too far, which meant it was harder for those working. There was no possibility of quiet chats with team bosses because they were run off their feet by TV crews, selfie-seekers and VIPs who needed to be adored. Some of the team bosses, who don’t need the adulation, took to hiding in their cramped hospitality units. And we all began to wonder what on earth it is going to be like when F1 goes to Las Vegas next year, where they have elevated such activities into an art form.

The great news in all of this is that Formula 1 is healthier than it has ever been, and its getting healthier all the time. OK, it isn’t very chic, but in the end, who cares? This is the modern face of F1, brassy and filled with social influencers filming themselves and big watch-jangling types chest-bumping and talking about yachts. In the future, with a little more work on transportation, the crowd in Miami can grow considerably and there really is no reason why racing fans cannot enjoy themselves alongside the party animals, mermaids and fake body parts. They may not start screaming when they see a driver (which seems to be a hallmark of the new F1 fan), but they can see the stars working their magic on the circuit.

The news that there will be another two series of Drive to Survive and that Formula 1 itself will buy a piece of land in Las Vegas is all good for the sport.

I guess that the number of VIPs is a measure of how good an event is, a bit like finding a good breakfast in the United States. You can go to a fast food joint, but the best way to find a good place is to look for police cars. The more police cars there are, the better the breakfast – unless it is a crime scene. There were five police cars at the place I chose on the first day in Miami and the breakfast was excellent…

Inside the F1 Paddock there was not much time for meaningful chatter, amidst all the goings-on. There was the jewellery issue, which is obviously about safety and not about freedom of expression. The drivers banging on that drum need to spend more time in the real world. There was Sebastian Vettel showing off his crown jewels by parading in the paddock with his underpants over his overalls. If he wanted attention (or perhaps sponsorship from an underwear manufacturer) he succeeded, but it did not add much to the argument that F1 drivers be protected in case of fire.

And then there was Michael Andretti doing the rounds of the F1 big cheeses, hoping to be allowed a sniff of the action. It will not be an easy task to convince everyone and it is not being helped by the fact that it is all being done in the public domain, largely due to Michael’s father Mario, who seems to be happy to talk publicly about the project. At one point Mario told Sky they were able to pay the $200 million to enter. “You get nothing for that… But we are ready,” he said.

This is not strictly true. The $200 million is an anti-dilution fund which opens the way for a new team to immediately begin collecting prize money. This is valuable and means that new teams do not have to soak up pain for several seasons before being allowed to join the club. It also means that the teams will likely survive those early times, which was not the case before when most new teams went to the wall, when the owners found themselves running on air, like Wile E. Coyote, and then plunged to become a distant cloud of dust at the bottom of the F1 canyon.

This money is (in theory) divided between the existing teams, to offset the loss of prize money that would occur if they agree to divide the funds 11 ways, rather than 10. This effectively means that they must each agree to take a 10 percent cut and gain another rival. So there is little motivation to make their own lives more difficult, particularly among the smaller teams. There are other less obvious problems that would result from an 11th or 12th team. Additional space is needed and additional freight must be shifted. Thus facilities and logistics operations have to be expanded.

There is a stupid argument that Andretti might take legal action and that the anti-dilution provisions are anti-competitive. It is possible they are, but finding this out will take years of legal battles, will cost a fortune and will mean that if a team does eventually win, it will arrive in F1 one day with no friends, in a sport where alliances are important. So that is a non-starter because the important thing is to get an entry, which the $200 million does not buy. To get an entry one has to convince the FIA and the F1 group that what you are bringing to the party is worthwhile and (most importantly) will add to the show. Andretti has therefore to convince everyone that he brings value, helping to build the sport in the US. The Andretti brand is widely-known in the world of motorsport and has enjoyed a fair amount of success, winning the Indy 500 five times in the last seven years, but has not won the IndyCar title since 2012, although the team collected four titles between 2004 and 2012. It has enjoyed more success in Indy Lights, where the opposition is less intense. The team runs various other operations in other championships. However, much of the brand value of the Andretti name derives from Mario’s exploits as racer, albeit many years ago.

An illustration of the value of this came for me in Australia when I was asked to chat to a group of kids who are keen to get into F1. They had won the right to visit the F1 Paddock (a great prize). In the course of the chat Sir Jackie Stewart appeared, in his trademark tartan trousers, in the company of Mark Webber. Jackie gave a few cheery words of encouragement and then continued on his way. The kids seemed none the wiser. So I asked: “Does anyone know who that was?” The response was 100 percent negative. “Has anyone heard of Ayrton Senna?” I asked. The response was the same. For traditional racing fans this might seem appalling, but this is the reality of the modern world.

Success in other formulae and having loads of money does not guarantee success in Formula 1. 

The first step in the process is to get the FIA and the Formula 1 group to agree to open up a tender process. The team must then win that process. No-one in F1 wants a team that is simply a passenger. The business model is key in this process and Andretti seems to be trying to create a team that operates from a European base, but using a US-built chassis. The Haas model relies on Dallara to manufacture the cars in Italy and that firm cannot supply two teams, so Andretti must either build its own capability (which will cost a fortune and take time) or find another partner to do that work. There are specialist firms that could do it, but none of them has a proven track record in Formula 1, nor the level of infrastructure needed for F1. And this is where the project runs into trouble because building all this – and sustaining it all for a number of years – would require so much money that it is still a better idea to buy an existing operation and get rid of all these problems.

Andretti says that there are no teams available, although this is not strictly true as what he means is that there is no team available at a price he wants to pay. Audi is also in the market and obviously has more available cash.

If Michael was coming in with a US automobile brand behind him then he would be very attractive, but it is not likely to happen.

If there is enough money, F1 is not a closed shop as Lawrence Stroll (Aston Martin), Dorilton Capital (Williams) and Finn Rausing (Alfa Romeo Racing) might all sell. McLaren says it won’t, but it might if the numbers added up to a big enough total.

From an F1 point view, it is clear that the popularity of the sport is not dependent on a team, but rather on a successful driver, so what is really important for US growth is to find an American driver to get the country excited (as Max Verstappen has done in Holland, Sergio Perez in Mexico etc etc). Michael’s prize asset in this respect is Colton Herta, but the youngster seems to be a path to join McLaren in F1, while Andretti is also about to lose the last F1 American driver Alex Rossi, who is expected to join the McLaren IndyCar team in 2022.

On Sunday Michael was accompanied on the grid by Mark Walter, the CEO of Guggenheim Partners and Daniel Towriss, the CEO of Guggenheim Life, the parent company of the Gainbridge insurance firm

But money is only important if you spend it. The fact that money does not help much in success is also highlighted with a couple of other stories kicking about in the Miami paddock. One suggested that Williams is looking to change drivers for the second part of the year as Nicholas Latifi has not done a good enough job. Things are complicated by money that the Canadian brings and by contracts, but if it happens, expect Nyck de Vries to take the drive.

The other story along these lines is that of Audi, which is looking to buy a team. This has now been confirmed by VW group boss Herbert Diess. It is clear that Porsche will join forces with Red Bull and will effectively badge the Red Bull Powertrains engines in 2026, and there is speculation that there will be some kind of long-term option for Porsche to take over the whole team, if Red Bull decides that it has done enough in F1. Audi might come in sooner, because it has more to do, but it will be very difficult for the German firm to brand an existing team because of the current engine arrangements.

If, for example, Audi was to buy Aston Martin, it could not run Audi-Mercedes cars, as the two firms are clearly in competition in the real world. Ferrari is unlikely to agree to Audi badging one of its engines, Renault says it is not even thinking about such matters, while Red Bull Powertrains has a deal with Honda which precludes any customer arrangements before the rule changes in 2026.

Audi could build a current engine in addition to 2026 one, but that would be a little silly given the timescales involved and the best course of action would be to become a silent partner of a team and get things ready for 2026.  Audi appears to be focussed on acquiring either Aston Martin or Sauber. In both cases the branding would change but Audi could not be used because of the engine situation.

Buying the Aston Martin team does not make a lot of sense, unless the current owners wants to offload the car company – which may be the case given that neither the team nor the car company are doing well at the moment. Aston Martin’s Q1 results for 2022 make grim reading, particularly when compared with previous predictions of a resurrection led by the DBX, which was first unveiled in November 2019. Production began in July 2020 and Aston sold 1,516 DBXs that year. In 2021 the firm sold 3,000 DBXs, of which 746 were sold in the first quarter. This year that fell to 421, a drop of 44 percent, which suggests that demand is easing off. Other indicators are also not good. Overall sales in Q1 dropped 14 percent while net debt rose from £722 million a year ago to £957 million. The only real bright spot in the story was that sales of the expensive specials meant that overall revenues went up four percent. Although the company says that things remain on target it has dumped CEO Tobias Moers and has appointed the 76-year-old Italian Amedeo Felisa as his replacement.

The word is that Stroll and his investors are now actively looking for ways to sell the firm to Audi, which will give them a fig leaf of having saved the firm and handing it on to an industry major. The racing team is also very disappointing. The team was in a mess in 2018 when Lawrence Stroll bought it (largely to provide his son Lance with an F1 drive) and the 2020 results were good because the team copied the Mercedes design, which resulted in Sergio Perez winning a race, but since the transformation into Aston Martin the team has failed to deliver, dropping from fourth in the Constructors’ Championship in 2020 to seventh last year. This year it is currently ninth.  Lance is quick from time to time, but is not the full package and has been overshadowed this year by Sebastian Vettel, despite the fact that the German missed two races with Covid-19. Vettel is seen in F1 as being well past his best and prone to mistakes. Stroll is buying in talent and investing in a new facility which increases the potential value of the team.

The word is that Audi is now leaning more towards Sauber, which is for sale if the price and conditions are right. There is one key reason why this may be the best option. Sauber was owned by BMW between 2005 and 2009. It did well and was a World Championship challenger in 2008 before BMW pulled the plug after the global financial crisis. The people who were at BMW at the time thus know that the team could be a contender with the right leadership and the right resources. Audi CEO Markus Duesmann was one of the BMW F1 engineers in that era, and last year he appointed Australian Adam Baker, another ex-BMW man to formulate Audi’s motorsport strategy. Another man who was involved was Mike Krack, who is currently learning how to be a Formula 1 team principal with Aston Martin…

Many of the big names from Audi’s glorious motorsport past have retired now and the new generation have yet to prove their worth and there are some in Germany who think Audi’s reputation may now be a little overblown and the attitude a little bit too arrogant. Still, the people at the top understand the task in hand and seem to have the money to do the job… and they also know that Hinwil can produce competitive cars.

Other stories worthy of mention from Miami, include the suggestions that the FIA has now agreed to the plan to have six F1 Sprint races in 2023, although it is not yet clear where these will be.

Calendars remain the source of much F1 discussion at a time before the Silly Season really begins and the sport has still to finalise a race to replace Russia in the autumn. This will be Singapore – if it happens at all. The plan is to have a two-day race meeting on the weekend before the main event, with the first race taking place in daylight, the second at night. It is a good opportunity for F1 to trial a two-day event.

Interestingly, night and day are becoming an issue in Grand Prix racing for a rather left-field reason. There are some races that are stuck with certain dates and do not want to change: Miami, Monaco and Montreal being three of them. This means that F1 must fly backwards and forwards across the Atlantic, rather than adopting a more sensible strategy and creating a US “swing”, with several races paired up to reduce costs and wear-and-tear. In a perfect world Montreal and Miami would be linked, but Montreal does not want to move forward from its summer-opening festival and Miami doesn’t want to move earlier because of tennis.

Australia might like to regain its season-opening date, but the teams prefer to go to Bahrain so they can test and race in warm weather, without being too far from home, which means that when things go wrong, they can get stuff back to base more easily.  The night and day problem is because of the Muslim practice of Ramadan, the 30-day period during which they abstain from all the fun stuff and focus on religion and clean-living, at least during daylight hours. Going racing in Ramadan is obviously not a good idea. This year Ramadan was from April 1 until May 1, which meant that the Grands Prix in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia both took place before it began. The problem is that each year Ramadan moves and next year it will begin on March 22 and end on April 20, which means that the two races need to be on March 12 and 19, with the pre-season test on March 5. But the teams want a break after Bahrain to avoid what is in effect a triple-header and that would mean that the season would need to start in February in Bahrain, in order to get both races done before Ramadan. F1 argues that if the racing is at night, that would be OK, but this pragmatic approach might not square with all Muslim believers. And things are more complicated in 2024, 2025 and 2026 after which Ramadan will not be a problem again for F1 until the mid 2030s, when it will be happening in November.

This may explain why there is much interest in a race in Africa at the moment, because South Africa could, for example, take over pre-season testing and the first race at a time when the weather is best and there would be no jet-lag, and then F1 could return to the Middle East after that. The sport used to go to South Africa at the start of each year, although it has also started the season in South America in the past. One idea that is kicking around is a race in Colombia with a very solid project under development in the city of Barranquilla. The word is that this is funded with private money and will not need public funding, although perhaps the authorities will be asked to kick in some cash for infrastructure work. I heard in Miami that this would be called the Caribbean Grand Prix, which would create a race that could move around the region over time, if other projects can come to fruition. This would operate along similar lines to the European GP title, which has been applied to different events in different countries. Colombia has a couple of young drivers beginning to climb through the ranks: Sebastián Montoya (son of) and Nicolás Baptiste, who is a protege of Fernando Alonso. This event might also help F1 with its problem of fitting in races in the US time zones as it could twin with one of the US events, or with Brazil, to streamline the calendar a little.

The signs are that the new race in Las Vegas is going to take Austin’s date in early November, rather than being held at Thanksgiving, which will mean that it will go back-to-back with the Mexican Grand Prix, which will keep its Day of the Dead holiday weekend. This means that Austin will have to move to somewhere else on the calendar, and could be switched to the spring, to be twinned with Miami, because the end-of-season is becoming more and more congested with races in Asia, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Brazil and potentially Australia as well. Teams don’t like triple-headers and so an Austin-Mexico-Las Vegas swing would not be popular.

The Las Vegas at the end of next year and will be promoted by Liberty Media itself and so the profits generated will go straight into the F1 bottom line, without a promoter taking much of the loot and paying a fee. This is an important step as the Q1 figures for Formula 1 show just that these fees and hospitality earnings are important. This year the sport raked in $360 million in Q1, compared to $180 million in the same period last year. There were two races this year, rather than one in 2021. These were both held without any major crowd and hospitality restrictions, which was not the case last year. Hence the big increase. F1’s cash pile has also grown from $2.074 billion last year to $2.265 billion but the sport is about to splash out $240 million buying a 39-acre plot of land in Vegas, where it will build a permanent pit lane and paddock complex. If that sounds profligate, it is clear that there is more to this than meets the eye and we can expect to see the land being used for other things as well.

The investment sends a strong message to Las Vegas that F1 is serious about the relationship, which is currently just for three years. It also adds the asset to the F1 balance sheet (which is important for the bean-counter types in Colorado). The whisper is that the land – which is located between East Harmon Avenue and East Rochelle Avenue, and between Koval Lane and Kishner Drive – will feature permanent facilities that will give F1 an all-year presence in Las Vegas, converting into garages and hospitality units for the race. This could be an F1 showcase which would highlight the history, heritage and power of the sport with permanent exhibitions, although there is also obvious potential for such things as convention space and even may hotel facilities, in addition to retail outlets. If you think NASCAR Hall of Fame with garages, offices and so on, it is probably what will happen.

The price for the land is high as the current owners 3D Investments, which is run by the Daneshgar Family, paid $130 million in 2019 for the land and another adjacent 21-acre parcel, on which the Harbor Island apartment complex sits. The project they had went west with the pandemic, but they will make a killing on the F1 deal and will still be able to develop the apartment complex into something nicer. As for the Las Vegas race itself, work is needed rapidly to get everything done and the word is that the F1-owned promotion firm will be headed by Renee Wilm, Liberty Media’s chief legal officer, with the day-to-day management being done by F1’s Emily Prazer, who has been Head of Commercial Development of Race Promotion up to now.

Finally, I hear that the project will include a facsimile F1 paddock area on land north of Caesars Palace casino on The Strip, where the public will be able to get a feel for the sport, up close and personnel, without disrupting the actual operations.

This is good news for the battle-hardened F1 folk who fought through the Miami weekend…