The F1 teams are testing today in Bahrain but not many people stayed on to watch as they have been away from home for somewhere between two weeks and a month, depending on whether they stayed out in Asia between Australia and Malaysia. There were a lot of F1 folk on the Emirates flight out of Bahrain at 03.50 on Monday morning. It is not a great time to be at an airport but it meant that one could be home by lunchtime on Monday. Well, that was the theory… We went straight from the track to the airport, after we finished off GP+, stopping at the hotel only to pick up the bags and pay the bills. We were still hammering away at the computers (doing other stuff) in the lounge. Sadly, there was morning fog in Dubai and that meant that the plane stayed on the ground in Manama for around four hours (I was really not paying attention as I was either sleeping or working, or doing both at the same time). The end result was that we arrived in Dubai after most of the connections had been missed. There were a few who managed to bully (or bullshit) their way onto planes that were spooling up to leave, while the airport staff told the usual lies about why fraught passengers could not board a flight that was still there. For most of us, however, it was six hours in the lounge (no great burden) and we were finally off in the mid-afternoon to arrive at our various destinations late at night, some with luggage and some without.
A short sleep later and I was able to do one of my favourite things: walk through the town square where I live, nibbling on a croissant on my way home from the boulangerie. It struck me that Spring had definitely sprung. My “garden”, a solitary mint plant on the kitchen window ledge, is keenly growing in order to give up its leaves for mojitos and other such delights. It was then off to the Chinese consulate in Paris, having been instructed to go there by the folks in Shanghai. There is a certain irony in this as the consulate is on the Rue Washington… As expected, no one had any idea what I was doing there. Supervisors were not there to be consulted and heads were scratched. They would call, I was told, so I went home again and, literally as I walked in the door, the phone rang. I needed to go back to the Consulate again (for my fourth visit so far this year). Oh joy! So I went back to Paris again… and with the promise of a visa by Friday if I pay extra charges – I decided to enjoy Paris in the Spring. Oddly, there were a lot of Chinese people. I hoped (secretly) that they had had lots of griefs with their visas.
As I wandered down the Avenue des Champs Elysées it struck me that anyone who tells you that motorsport does not sell road cars is not on the pace at all. The celebrated piece of road – probably the most famous in the world – features no fewer than five of the busiest car showrooms on earth. The most famous of these is the Atelier Renault (literally the Renault workshop) which has been the company’s primary showroom since 1910. In 1962 it became Le Pub Renault, with the big idea being to have a car showroom with a bar and restaurant attached. This attracted millions of visitors until 2000 when it was revamped as the Atelier. They say that 25 million people have visited the facility in the last 14 years. They have a Red Bull F1 car on display at the entrance and the staff inside wander around in Red Bull team uniforms.
A little further up the road is the Rendez-Vous Toyota, a pretty similar establishment described by the company as being “the unique brand flagship of Toyota in Europe”. This is reckoned to have had 11 million visitors in 16 years. Once again motorsport is in your face, with a Toyota TS030 Hybrid Le Mans car in prime position, hoping to lure punters into the showroom. This is the car that won five WEC races in 2012 and 2013, driven by the likes of Alexander Wurz (with whom I was flying home on Monday).
Across the road from this is the Mercedes-Benz Gallery where the Stuttgart firm has another pretty similar (but rather more flashy) showroom. Pride of place at the moment is not a Mercedes F1 car (which surprised me) but rather the only road-going CLK-LM car built. The only other car of this type, built in order to homologate the racing cars, was used for crash-testing and so this is a unique machine. It is based on the CLK-LM which won the FIA GT Championship in 1997 and 1998.
The Peugeot Avenue facility is nearby, although this is currently closed for refurbishment. This claims to get close to three million visitors a year and you can buy all kinds of stuff there, including the traditional Peugeot-branded spice grinders, in addition to more modern designer gear. Further down the Avenue there is Peugeot’s sister brand Citroën’s C42 showroom, the whackiest of the lot with audacious architecture and a pretty innovative way to display cars. This opened in 2007 and has already had 10 million visitors… The five-storey building has what looks like a corkscrew going up the middle with cars on top of one another all the way up to a fancy atrium.
The bottom three cars on display were all motorsport related, the most interesting being the new WTC challenger, known as the C-Elysee WTCC, which will be campaigned this year by Sebastien Loeb, Yvan Muller and others. If one relates all this to modern Formula 1 it is fairly clear that the sport is best-served by having motorsport technologies that are used in the roadgoing machinery. The world does no long wants thumping great V8s that scream outrageously. The motorsport fans might like them, but then the average motorsport fan these days is a middle-aged man and car companies are forever chasing a younger audience… which is something that F1 needs to consider before all of its fans die of old age.