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IMG_0051Wow… This time of year one is really rolling with the punches in Formula 1. Three races in four weekends – and a lot of folk did not go home between Austria and Britain. A lot also went to Goodwood, so they have had no time off at all. After the secret promotional event in London last week I had a busy weekend at Silverstone (always busier than other Grands Prix as one knows more people) and then on Monday morning I headed off for Dover to get the boat home, Eurotunnel being prohibitively expensive – and less agreeable – at this time of year. If you pay a little extra on the ferry and get access to the club and priority boarding, the P&O ferry can be great. There is something comfortingly old-fashioned about the Peninsular & Orient and if one can leave all the school coach parties downstairs, it’s really rather enjoyable. There was even a sundeck on this trip…

The drive down to Paris that followed was fairly swift, although someone who had not listened to Jean Todt, managed to have an accident big enough to involve a helicopter landing on the motorway. Fortunately, I was listening to autoroute radio and was I was able to get off the road before I arrived at the closed section and got stuck in a jam. Thus a detour for a few kilometres of French countryside near Abbeville was agreeable enough and then it was back on the fast road. The reason to rush home was to do with summer holidays for small people and the last few days have been all about opening up a house, blowing-up paddling pools, dealing with plumbing, cutting back jungle and so on. These are all things that get lost in the 24/7 lifestyle that is Formula 1.

However, the green notebook was there, leering at me, a reminder that F1 life goes on as well.  I did get an email from the FIA, which caused my heart to sink. The decision has been taken to use the halo head protection system in 2018. I consider this to be utterly foolish for the sport. It has come about because in the summer of 2016 the sport voted to do something about head protection. A year on, no other system has been sufficiently researched and so we are stuck with the halo, but because there was a commitment to do something, failing to do so might have created grounds for a negligence claim and so the halo has been pushed through. One hopes that this is just a phase and that the hideous halo will soon disappear and be replaced by something sexier. I am all for protecting the drivers, but not to a ridiculous extent that threatens to damage the sport because the halo looks so awful. Millions of people play sport every day, and, inevitably, some suffer injury or pain. Most players and spectators accept this risk. You cannot ban dangerous sports because otherwise it would be done illegally and be more dangerous and so one must accept that some people want to take risks and are aware of the possible outcomes. Racing drivers know that they can die (even if they don’t REALLY consider the possibility). Danger is the thing that is popular. The F1 machines today are incredibly safe. They have been for a long time. Yes, there are still risks and flying wreckage is definitely important but where is the limit? People have a choice if they go racing, they sign a whole series of waivers and the reality is that very few accidents that occur in the normal course of racing give rise to a claim of negligence. If there is deliberate disregard for the rules or if nothing has been done to solve a known problem then there are possible claims, but there must a line drawn somewhere. And I think the halo is too much, it’s just plain ugly. F1 cars should be sleek and sexy and the shield is far better in that respect. I hope that the halo gets thrown out quickly and the shield can take over before the fans start walking away.

The key point about F1 is that people want to watch gladiators. They don’t want whingers who have to have the day off if they break a toenail. They want heroes. The other day, for example, Alexander Albon, one of Britain’s rising stars, suffered a broken collarbone after end-over-ending while training when his mountain bike hit some exposed roots. A collarbone is not easy (as we saw some year back with Juan Pablo Montoya), but Albon was back in action three weeks after the shunt (about half the normal recovery time). That was heroic.

F1 stars throwing wobblies, and behaving like primadonnas, whining on the radio to Charlie and so on, does not help the image of the sport… Nor does the halo.

Anyway, back to the notebook. There is, first of all, a note about how pleasant it is to be back in Middle England, a place where things have not changed so much, in bucolic backwaters with daft names, garden fetes, pony clubs and all the rest of it. Silverstone is still just an overgrown airfield, the child of the austere post-war age, but it is still a great place and to see the 2017 cars going through Becketts at full tilt is impressive. As I said before, the sport is all about heroes, doing things the rest of us cannot do…

I realized on the ferry home that I had not read a newspaper for days and had no idea what was happening in the world outside F1. Tut-tut. I was delighted to see that the Conservatives in the UK are now beginning to slit one another’s throats over Brexit and there are more and more warnings. A Japan-EU trade deal is deemed to be a threat to the British car trade… and so on. I noticed with interest that McLaren is expanding a facility it has at IDIADA in Spain, where it tests its road cars, and I could not help but wonder whether future engineers will have EU contracts, rather than GB ones… It’s a sensible hedge in case things get worse.

I saw also that Roger Federer had won Wimbledon for an eighth time, which pushed Lewis’s fifth British GP win off the back pages. What can you do?

The major chat in F1 circles at the moment is all about engines and it is getting interesting. Sauber seemed to have the basis of a deal with Honda (it was announced by Honda and they tend not to be silly) but the word is that in order to get Frédéric Vasseur Sauber has had to agree to switch engines. Fred might like Mercedes and he is very close to Toto Wolff, but it seems that the F1 Commission needs to give permission for more than three supplies and one can see that this will never happen. The F1 Commission cannot agree on whether to open a window, let alone rules and regulations.

Given the political power of Mercedes (in terms of votes) one can see Renault and Ferrari wanting few Mercedes teams and more teams with their engines to give them more political clout. So Sauber will need to stay with Ferraris next year, probably 2018 versions  of the engine, and the word is that F2 rising star and Ferrari protégé Charles Leclerc will be snapped to drive. Pascal Wehrlein will move on, which is probably sensible…

This means that McLaren’s only choice is to stay with Honda, or switch to Renault. No-one wants to see Honda kicked out of F1, least of all Honda, and the word is that the Japanese firm may do a deal with Toro Rosso (or perhaps even buy the team) so that they can remain in F1 until they can get the engines up to speed. Red Bull needs only insert a clause in any Toro Rosso deal saying that Red Bull Racing can have the units if they become competitive and Red Bull’s engine problems would be solved. It is a big if, but it is better than drifting on as is now happening. I have heard that there is still no real contract between Red Bull and Renault because of discussions over oil companies and so on, but going straight to Honda would be a bit radical so letting Toro Rosso take the pain, or selling the team (which Red Bull has wanted to do for a while) makes sense. That would mean McLaren with Renault engines, which would be just about OK, even if it would be a bit of a risk for the Renault team. Still, they are getting beaten at the moment by Red Bull, and sometimes Toro Rosso, so clearly they need to improve. Would a McLaren-Renault be sufficient to keep Fernando Alonso? Does he have any other real choices?

Fred Vasseur going to Sauber is a brave move for him, but given the time he took to negotiate the deal, it is fair to say that he must have got pretty much everything he wanted. He will, no doubt, get a flat in Zurich and live there a lot of the time, but he will also spend time back in his native France, where the wine and cheese is better (for a Frenchman). One would suggest that he has also been given the choice of engineers and drivers he wants. The owners of the team are awfully keen to point out that there is no favouritism towards Marcus Ericsson. They were so keen to point this out that they recently had a meeting for the whole team to explain that the evil media was making up stories about favouritism. The odd thing is that Wehrlein was not there. Some say he was not invited, but maybe he just forgot and spent the day shopping in Migros… It was all a bit odd really.

It will still not be easy to get the best engineers in Switzerland but that will be down to Fred’s ability to bring in the heavy-hitters. One expects that he has also had financial guarantees to pay for his plans, or at the very least he has the right to find money on his own account, if the mysterious owners do not want to pay more than they must. Fred has some cred in F1 circles, but it remains to be seen if this is enough.

Has McLaren finally decided to split with Honda? Who can say? But it is fare to say that the team has given the Japanese firm plenty of chances to improve. I would guess that there are two design teams busy in Woking, one for one engine, the other for the other. A decision must come back September. Going to Renault is not a great option for Woking, but it would be better than where the team is now and my feeling is that in 2021 the team will have its own engines . McLaren is already making its own road car power units and it is only logical to go down this path in the future. That will add to the value as and when there is a McLaren IPO is 2022 or 2023.

Elsewhere the rumours of the sale of Force India have increased with the suggestion at Silverstone that this summer Austria’s Andreas Weißenbacher will become the new force in the team. Vijay Mallya may stay on as a minority shareholder but it is clear that Subrata Roy of the Sahara Group is going to give up his shares to raise money to keep the Indian courts from sending him back in jail. At the moment Roy’s empire is gradually being taken apart by the Indian authorities and his property is now being auctioned. Selling his 42.5 percent share in Force India would help raise a decent sum and Weißenbacher might also buy out the Mol family in Holland, which were involved in the team in its days as Spyker, which still owns 15 percent. No doubt, if Mallya keeps his shares, there will be options for Weißenbacher to buy them as well.

Who is this Weißenbacher character? An Austrian. He owns the BWT brand and sees F1 as a good way to promote his water products. The company has revenues of $650 million and earnings of around $10 million per annum, which is not much in F1 terms, but Mallya has run the team for between $10-20 million a year (thanks to his prize money and cash from sponsors). BWT began sponsorship in motorsport in 2015 with a DTM car for Austrian Lucas Auer. The programme expanded to two cars in 2016 and this year funds Auer and Edoardo Mortara.

Auer, the son of Gerhard Berger’s sister Claudia, is currently fighting for the DTM title with Audi’s Mattias Ekström and will take part in the upcoming Hungaroring F1 test for Force India and, if all goes well, he could replace Perez in 2018 if he gets a superlicence. Auer is 22 and finished fourth in the F3 European Championship in 2013 and 2014 before switching to DTM.

Gene Haas uses F1 to sell his machine tools and so there is no reason why Weißenbacher would not do the same with his filtration, demineralisation and lime-scale protection products. He also manufactures metering pumps and distillation devices and is in the process of building up new business in the development of membranes for automotive fuel cells. And, of course, being an Austrian, he can always get advice from Toto Wolff…

The suggestion that Perez may depart Force India (under its new name) is fairly simple. He’s under pressure these days from Esteban Ocon. He does not want to stick around and get beaten as Ocon gets better and better. Perez could go to Williams next year (taking his sponsors with him) or he could get an offer from Renault, which wants Ocon back, but cannot get him. Perez and Hulkenberg has been a good combination in the past…

We’ll see how it pans out, but this was the gossip at the old airfield.

British GP 17 cover.jpgLewis Hamilton copped a lot of flak before the British Grand Prix for missing the F1 street event in London, but on Sunday at Silverstone he gave the British fans what they wanted most of all – a dominant victory. Hamilton took pole position and led the entire race while his team-mate Valtteri Bottas worked his way back to second place, overcoming a five-place grid penalty for changing a gearbox. It was not a day which Ferrari will remember happily as Kimi Raikkonen ran second most of the day, only to suffer a puncture on the 49th of 50 laps. He managed to recover to third, but a lap later the same thing happened to Sebastian Vettel and he tumbled from fourth to seventh. This meant that Hamilton closed to within one point of the Ferrari in the Drivers’ Championship.

As usual Silvesrtone produced a great race, with plenty of high-speed action.

– We interview Lewis Hamilton

– We look at the future of the British Grand Prix

– We celebrate F1’s secret promotional event in London

– JS is happy to meet Lightning McQueen

– DT writes about happiness

– The Hack examines the Perpetual Trophy

– Plus we have the fabulous photography of Peter Nygaard.

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

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

If you are a reader of GP+ magazine, you will have known about a big for a Grand prix in the London Docklands, which we published back in the Monaco GP edition. Following the Silverstone decision, we thought it might be a good idea to let fans download it to see the sort of thing that is out there. There are believed to be two or perhaps three bids in and around London and I have heard vague rumours of another city in the UK, but I don’t know any more than that. Having said that, Liberty Media wants to have destination cities and in the UK there is an argument that only London really meets that status.

Anywhere, here is our docklands story:

London GP

If you wish to know more about GP+, go to www.grandprixplus.com

I had a most enjoyable time in Trafalgar Square (and its environs) yesterday with the F1 Live event. It was a great success, despite the requirement of total security which meant that it could not be announced more than 24 hours in advance and, for reasons that escape me, the organisers were not allowed to announce the names of the bands playing, presumably to stop the square becoming overcrowded. To be honest I only knoew one of them – The Kaiser Chiefs – as I don’t listen to the radio much and I don’t live in England.

I was around from fairly early in the day and my biggest problem was actually parking as my favourite car park in London (apart from the price) is just off Trafalgar Square and access was somewhat difficult as a result. However, after asking a series of different policemen I discovered that things were complicated buy the fact that there was a state visit in the morning by the King and Queen of Spain and the police from all over the London region had been called in to line the route. There were a different set of road closures to those in the afternoon… I was staying in the area but I could, I suppose have driven out of town and taken a train back in, but it did not seem a sensible use of time. In the end, an act of God intervened and I found an empty parking space above ground, with an easy escape route from the area and having gone through the process of paying by phone I felt comfortable that the money-grabbing Westminster City Council would not be able to charge me. The last time I was in London, they slapped a parking fine on me at 01.19 on a Sunday morning when I was parked in what I believed to be a perfectly legal space. I wrote back to them saying that it was clear that road safety was not their priority at that time of day and any council that employs people to dole out parking fines at that hour is clearing not doing it for any reason other than revenue-generation. I pointed out that there was no indication of the suspension of the parking signs as they claimed and asked them to prove the hour at which the suspension sign had been posted. That one went away…

Anyway, once that was done I could relax and enjoy the show and wandered around the various displays and bumped into lots of F1 people, including the former driver Perry McCarthy, who had turned up to have a look. The Mayor of London was there too and I sneeked into the VIP area and saw that the place was filled with race promoters from all over the world. There were in fact 19 different promoters present with only Australia, Singapore and China not represented. Yes, I know that makes 22 races but I guess the 19th was someone with a project…

After a bit of chit-chat and some Heineken 00 I decided to wander down to the F1 Paddock, which was on a back street next to the Old Scotland Yard, where most of the current F1 mob were hanging out. It must have been a nightmare to organise all of this but the pass situation was a little clumsy, although F1 people being good at workarounds, we all eventually ended up where we wanted to be by subterfuge, knowing the right people or simply being as bold as brass and walking past bemused gate people.

The health and safety people were much in evidence, looking important and shouting into radios and thus it was somewhat amusing when René Arnoux set off in the wrong direction on the course becanse the man from health and safety was busy pointing at a marshal to get them to wave a flag, which René mistook for an instruction to drive that way… Later, bless him, Daniel Ricciardo gave the fans what they wanted, which was noise, tyre smoke and doughnuts, despite everyone having beent old that doughnuts were not allowed. I went to congratulate him and he said that he hadn’t done any doughnuts but had done one of those things with cinnamon on top. Besides, he added, what is the definition of a doughnut. A classic F1 response, delivered with a big Aussie grin. Good man!

I am told that Daniel also provided the humours in the driver briefing when someone asked “Everybody here?” and he replied: “Yep, everyone apart from Lewis”.

This was a bit of a black eye for Hamilton because he really ought to have more nous than to go away from an event for his fans. It is was not a smart thing to do and while one accepts that there was a lot of free will going on from the teams to Liberty Media, there will have to be arrangements made if there are going to be seven or eight of these events each year around the world, which I believe will be happening in the years ahead. The drivers get paid a lot of money and I do not think it is unreasonable for them to give a little bit more back to the sport.

Anyway, the event was a triumph and was great for F1. When I giot back to mt car to sneak away, I found the inevitable parking ticket because Westminster Council is incapable of working its own payment system… Class.

Here are a few pictures I took.IMG_0758IMG_0726IMG_0748IMG_0763IMG_0769IMG_0732

IMG_0051The last couple of days have been pretty busy, as a result of plans having to be changed for various reasons. I was planning to drive from Austria to Belgium, spend the night there and go on to England on Tuesday morning. At one point I was even hoping to be able to get to the UK of a media preview of the new Williams F1 film, but that went out the window when I had to divert to Paris for an evening and then drive to England on Tuesday. I arrived and drove up Whitehall, where crowd barriers and plastic crash barriers were already being put into place. Trafalgar Square itself was a hub of activity. This morning I went down there to sort out accreditation and saw the last car to arrive: amusingly, this was a Sauber, seemingly the team being last at everything at the moment. Still, there was good news with the announcement of Fred Vasseur as the new team principal, in addition to roles as CEO and managing director of Sauber Motorsport. This presumably means that he is not going to be in charge of the Sauber technology unit that they are trying to develop at the moment.

Knowing Fred, I am quite sure that the last three weeks has been a time of negotiation in order to get exactly what he wants in the role, because he did not wish to find himself in a position like he had at Renault, where he had the job title but not really the freedom of action nor the same vision as the bosses. So, hopefully, this time that is all in place. I think it is a huge risk for him because of the nature of the Sauber team, which is unlike any other in the F1 Paddock. It is rooted in Switzerland in more than just name.

Sauber played a big part in my weekend in Austria, largely because I had, let’s say, a lively discussion with the owner, who did not like what I had written about the team. He made the fatal mistake (as do many blog posters) of accusing a journalist of bias. Hell hath no fury… When he asked me why I had not got his views on the subject I replied that if he came to more races it would be helpful. He asked why I did not call to which I replied that getting the telephone number of a vastly wealthy but reclusive individual, who does not even wish to be named, was not exactly the easiest thing to do. I explained to him that I had taken the only course available and spoken to his representative and taken into account what he had said, but apparently this was not good enough. So we did not really get on. When I asked him to explain what the supposed targets that Monisha Kaltenborn failed to meet, he told me to mind my own business. When he asked me to name my sources, I told him it was none of his business. He ranted, in a rather condescending fashion, about how Formula 1 people in general don’t understand business, cannot read balance sheets and P&L statements. The point he missed is that F1 teams employ clever people to do that for them and what is most important is leadership and passion. Everything else is secondary to this and believing that teams will be successful if they have the right corporate structures and that F1 is just like any other business is not a sensible approach when one looks at history and sees how much money was wasted by corporate giants Toyota and British American Tobacco, or when one looks at the mistakes that Red Bull, for example, made in F1 before eventually getting it right. There is a very long list of people who have arrived and said that F1 is the same as any other business, only to depart with their pockets emptier and their egos dented. Being rich is obviously a big advantage in life, but it doesn’t mean you know all the answers, which is a mistake that billionaires often make. What it does do is give you the chance to screw up and then buy yourself out of trouble.

The other element that the invisible team owner misses is that going into the F1 business means that one is buying into a media and entertainment business. And trying to be invisible in a media business is a bit like wandering into a minefield, wearing a blindfold and juggling balls in the air. You might get out of it without your cover (and other bits) being blown, but it’s not a great idea. We all know (if we have half a clue) who the owner is, but some of us have deferred to his wishes to remain anonymous, in order to have a good working relationship with him. However, berating journalists because they don’t write what you want to hear, is not a good way to develop working relationships and, to be honest, right now I really see no reason why I would want to keep the name secret any longer.

However, let us leave that for a while and see how things develop. Right now, I am not minded to send him a Christmas card (not that I know where to send it) and I doubt he’ll be sending me one. We will see how things develop. I wish him well, if only because I love the Sauber team and believe that they are largely good people – racing people – who understand what it takes to run an F1 team. Sauber is still in existence after 25 years (it’s written in the side of the car). It is the fourth longest-standing team which has kept the same name and been around every season behind Ferrari (1950), McLaren (1966) and Williams (1977). Most of those who come into F1 as team owners underestimate that task and concentrate on the wrong things. In some worlds having money means that people respect you, but F1 is not one of them… What earns respect is knowing how to spend it.

One man who has spent money well in recent years (even if it is not always his own money) is Vijay Mallya. He may have some difficulties with the authorities in India but in F1 terms, he has done a good job. He does suffer a little from a superiority complex (not unusual in those who have inherited great fortunes), but he has managed the team well and the results are there to see. Mind you, it’s soon going to be 10 years since he took charge so time is also an element in this. The team has recently set up a load of companies in order to prepare for a new identity in 2018. These have all been called Force One but it appears that this is just a holding name and that these companies will all change their names when the new team name is accepted by the FIA and the Formula 1 Commission. The process will begin in September when Force India will request a name change. There will then be a stage during which agreement must be reached with the F1 Commission members and then an entry can be made in October with the team’s new name.

The one thing about driving to races is that one gets time to think a lot without interruption, although there are inevitably distractions with traffic jams and so on. In a way this is also relaxing because one can take off, leave the motorways and travel a little through the regions. At one point I found myself in a monster jam and headed off on a road down because the mighty Danube, visiting scenic spots and places with strange names, such as Fisching. I was also amused to see signs to Recyclinghof, presumably because the Germans do not have a word for the concept. Once in Austria, I think the best story of the weekend was not Bottas’s lightning start, but rather the adventures of Anglo-Thai rising star Alexander Albon, who has been one of the stand-outs in Formula 2 this year, admittedly, slightly overshadowed by his long-time rival Charles Leclerc, who is doing amazing things with Prema. However, one also gets the impression that the Prema cars are a bit special, which makes it rather hard to judge who is the best of the bunch. Albon would (probably) have won a couple of races this year had the Safety Car not intervened at inopportune moments. Then, just before the F2 race in Baku, he was out training on a mountain bike, along with Britain’s other big hope for the future George Russell. Albon hit some exposed roots during a fast downhill section and went end-over-end and broke his collarbone. The injury required surgery and the insertion of a titanium plate and six screws, but desperate not to be out for too long, he started training immediately and with a little help from medical wizardry involving ultrasound. The doctors were so impressed by progress that he let him return to action in Austria, having completed only around half the normal healing time required. He qualified third in the first race and finished fifth and then was second in the second, moving himself up seventh in the championship, despite having missed two races. Heroic stuff.

During my drives I did manage to overtake the Safety Car, although I did not risk punishment because it was on the back of a truck, transporting it to Silverstone. Actually there are several Safety Cars, in case one breaks down. I also overtook half the population of Holland, which had travelled to Austria to watch Max. You had to feel sorry for them because they drive 1100km to see their hero taken out at the first corner and then drove 1100km home. It is amazing how many supporters Verstappen has and one has to ask: why him? Why do Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso not have a similar travelling armies, as Michael Schumacher once did?

The race to get the F1 circus to Silverstone was as impressive as ever as 280 trucks rushed from circuit to circuit. When I left the Red Bull Ring at 01.43 on Monday morning there was an F1 truck leaving every minute. If you do the numbers that process could have gone on for four hours and 40 minutes, although the stragglers probably did not get out before midday Monday.

En route to Silverstone was the secret F1 promotional event in London. It was a secret because of terrorist threats, which is entirely understandable, but I did love the concept of a secret promotion. It’s a bit like the new President of France Emmanuel Macron, who was a merchant banker and a socialist, a combination that does not compute at all.

Sauber has finally announced that Frederic Vasseur will be its new team principal, amid rumours that the deal announced with Honda may be cancelled. This is an odd story in that it would mean that Honda would be out of F1 if McLaren does not stay with the Swiss team. It is unlikely that the Formula 1 group would allow that to happen. So Honda will either stay with McLaren or stick with Sauber. In theory Sauber could switch to Mercedes or stay with Ferrari and that decision will be based not only on money but also on politics.

F1 in London

I’m on a boat going to the UK and an delighted to finally be able to give details of a live F1 event in London on Wednesday. There will be stuff happening from midday in Trafalgar Square and cars running in the dark evening on Whitehall!