Another busy race weekend in Belgium and a day travelling home… The race in Belgium was a good one and there was a fair amount happening in the paddock, although some of it was rather vague. The most interesting stories as far as I was concerned were the Lotus v Lotus situation, the future of Silverstone and the plans for a Belgian/French GP alternation. There are various other bits and bobs, including the news that Jean-Eric Vergne will be doing some Friday driving this year from Korea onwards with Scuderia Toro Rosso, an indication that he may end up racing there next year. This would mean that he might move into pole position to take over from Mark Webber at Red Bull Racing in 2013, rather than Daniel Ricciardo depending on the results achieved. That is certainly worth watching as Red Bull does tend to put its drivers under pressure to see who does best. At the moment the Buemi/Alguersuari pressure cooker at Toro Rosso is yet to produce a clear winner.
There was also a lot of talk in Spa about one or more of the other up-and-coming French drivers getting into F1 next year. Romain Grosjean won the GP2 title and so he is an obvious candidate for a ride with one of the teams with a Renault engine, which in 2012 will be Red Bull Racing, Lotus Renault GP, Team Caterham Air Asia (or whatever Team Lotus becomes) and AT&T Williams-Renault. The problem for Grosjean is that although Renault and its partners (notably Total) may pay for a Frenchman, he might not be the first choice because Charles Pic, who is fighting for second place in the GP2 series, is rather better connected in many ways. Grosjean might be managed by Eric Boullier, the boss of Lotus Renault GP, but Pic’s family business GCA Trans is the primary transport company for Total and has a fleet of 7,000 trucks that need replacing from time to time. The firm tends to buy hundreds of trucks each year from companies such as… Renault.
There is a fourth Frenchman on the way up at the moment, Ferrari test driver Jules Bianchi, but he needs some better results if he is to break into F1. There was much talk at Spa of the planned deal between the French and Belgian GPs to alternate their races from 2013 onwards, with France getting the event in 2013, 2015, 2017 and so on, and Belgium being on the calendar in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018. Given the costs of races these days this makes a lot of sense as a way to keep both on the F1 calendar but as a race fan I would hate to see visits to Spa slipping to every two years. Spa is such a great track that it would be a shame not to have it every year. Still, in F1 it is always money that talks loudest and so we will probably have to put up with this situation until the current mentality changes nd someone works out that providing fans with cheaper tickets produces bigger crowds and it is possible to gain additional revenue by selling fans more reasonable merchandise. This is more of an American model of the sport but it has the advantage of allowing circuits to invest and build bigger stadiums…
If ever these was evidence that cheap tickets work well, one needs only to look at the recent Renault World Series race at Silverstone, which attracted a crowd of 120,000 (yes, that is the right figure) because tickets were free to those who registered for them on the Internet.
There was talk that the France/Belgium deal would be announced at Spa, but the politicians involved seem to be a little wary of announcing anything involving public money and motor racing at the moment because of the uncertain times in the European economy. I would expect an announcement when things settle down a little more and there are fewer political dangers involved in such a deal.
That leaves Silverstone as the great mystery of the weekend. You may read elsewhere that no deal has been done, but this is not correct. From what I can understand the BRDC has entered into an exclusive and confidential agreement involving a third party, which is why no-one is saying anything. This has led to speculation about the Ecclestone Family being involved because that is the kind of way that they do business, but there are plenty of other possible partners. I was told that it is a private bid which has some family links with the BRDC but I have yet to fathom out who this might be. In any case, the deal will mean that there will be money for the circuit’s redevelopment programme, which should guarantee the long-term future of the venue. And that has to be good news.