The Big Macs were off the menu at Kizad at 03.27 on Monday, but at least the place was open. It had been a very long day and nearly 12 hours since a quick teriyaki lunch had been wolfed down in the Honda hospitality area. A lot had happened and there had been no time to eat. Blood sugar levels were low.
Even then, there was still more to be done and I knew I would be pushing through to sunrise before the flow of words could finally come to an end, and would then need to rush to DXB to get the plane home. I needed a little extra time because I wanted to spend 39,000 miles on an upgrade, but (would you believe) I was 137 short and so needed to talk my way upstairs…
Such is the real story of F1. Behind the imagined glamour, there is a huge amount of hard work and very long hours. Perhaps when we were in Kizad Nico was out dancing on tables somewhere, but for most of the F1 circus, it was time for bed.
A fast food joint in the small hours of a morning is always a sterile place. Kizad seemed to be a one-camel town on the motorway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but when I asked my pal Mr Google about it, he pointed out there is more to it than 29 palms, a gas station, a Tim Horton’s and a Macdo. It would be nice to be able to relate that it was named after a celebrated pirate who retired inland with seven wives after the Royal Navy sank his ship in 1809, but the truth is rather less romantic. There was no Captain Kizad nor a netball team of Mrs Kizads, named Monday, Tuesday etc. No, Kizad is an acronym for Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi and if someone hadn’t planted the trees, there would be nothing out there in the desert apart from spiny-tailed lizards, feral goats, grasshopper mice and kangaroo rats. One day, so they say, there will be a maglev passing through Kizad, whisking people from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in 11 minutes, but it won’t be stopping there. Anyway, they had quarter-pounders with cheese and so those were dinner. Or was it breakfast? Or, if one can have brunch, why not dinfast?
Soon, with dinfast done, we were on our way again and by four we were back at work in a hotel in Dubai. It had been quite a day, but my notebook had only a few post-race scrawls because I didn’t have time to leave the press room more than once. I found a happy Paddy Lowe and asked him why the team had felt the need to be involved in the race. He explained that the sole reason was that Sebastian Vettel was in a position that meant the team’s predictive software was telling them that they would lose the race and they were informing Lewis what was required to avoid that happening. Lewis knew, of course. He had it all under control. I didn’t get the impression that Paddy was too worried about the whole affair, but I guess that a fantastic championship showdown with remarkable talents there for all to see was simply not sufficiently negative for the newspaper writers of the world… No, Hamilton defied team orders and should be fired and endless blah blah blah followed. No wonder some in F1 don’t like the media.
One of the problems I have when writing this column is that some of my scribbled notes mean nothing to me when I try to decipher them. There is “Keith” for example. I have no idea what that was supposed to mean. There is also “Sir John Something” and “Dany Bahar”, which both seem to relate to people I saw or heard were there. There is a note that reads “Derek Holland – Texas Ranger” which either means that a US law enforcement agent was in the paddock looking for someone (Vijay perhaps?), or there was a baseball hero in the house. Other notes read “BGP safe”, which related to Brazil. There was “hype” and “Rio H pm” and also “M has candidate”. These were all reminders for me to turn into news stories. This time, there were also some real left field items as well, such as “Herbie Dorking”, which related to Herbie Blash’s life history, unless there is a verb “to dork”. There is also a note that says that I should look up “Frequency Response” as being something important in the future development of the automobile industry. I haven’t done it yet, but it is all to do with cars replacing power stations. When you stop and think about it, cars are all little power stations and most of the energy they produce is wasted, which is why F1’s recovery systems are so important in the modern age. If you ask my mate Google about V2G, he’ll tell you and you’ll see why F1 technology will be so very useful in this area.
There is another note which says “occupancy rates Tgiving”, which relates to a city that wants a Grand Prix in order to fill its hotel beds over a quiet weekend. However, as Thanksgiving usually corresponds with the Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, which has a contract to be the last race of the year until at least 2022 it is unlikely that F1 will be filling any Tgiving beds elsewhere in the foreseeable future. There were also some notes made following a conversation about Jean Todt’s background, which I felt were worth noting down. The more you know about people, the easier it is to understand them and explain why they do the things they do. I’d love to meet some folk who were at school with Bernie, but I guess these days they are few and far between. Still, I have met a lot of very interesting folk along the way, from many walks of life, who have told me stuff about the Bernard, so I cannot complain.
The Abu Dhabi GP was my 500th World Championship race and although the numbers are not really so important to me, it was nice to be congratulated by so many people in the course of the event. I was given not one, but two cakes in the course of the weekend: one by Toto Wolff (right) and the other by Frankie Mao.
The Mercedes folk (notably Bradley Lord and Rosa Herrero Venegas, known as “Trouble”) very kindly organised a little “do” to celebrate this landmark in my F1 career and we had a fun time and even managed to avoid throwing cake at one another. Even Niki Lauda turned up and we had a discussion (without conclusions) about whether we thought he had done more GPs than I had. He didn’t care what his number was, just as he never really cared about his trophies. The thrill was not in the numbers.
Frankie is China’s only full-time F1 writer and his was a generous and sweet (literally) personal gesture. I am not sure that I was wildly happy with the person who stuck some cake in my shirt pocket at that point, but I survived, thanks to some complicated work with water and a hand dryer in the Media Centre loo. I was also given a card signed by colleagues, friends, drivers and legends, thanks to the efforts of my GP+ business partner David Tremayne and a teeshirt which suggested that no-one in journalism these days can spell anything right – which Kate Walker organised.
On the grid I bumped into someone else who was celebrating his 500th Grand Prix and Tracy Novak of Manor GP kindly took a picture of what 1000 GPs looks like. Well done, Josef Leberer (right), the mad Austrian fitness trainer, masseur and nutritionist to the stars of the F1 world over the last 30 years, notably the late great Ayrton Senna. You can see the cake stain in this one…
Anyway, back to the green notebook. There is a note that says “TAG engine wording” which relates to the announcement that Red Bull and TAG Heuer have extended their relationship until the end of 2018. It is interesting to note that there was no mention at all of the fact that the engines in question are supplied by Renault and one wonders if the team could run a completely different engine under the TAG name – if one were to be available. You may recall back in the 1990s that Sauber ran Sauber V10s in 1993 while the engines were being developed into what would be called Mercedes V10s in 1994. Sometimes big manufacturers want to hide development years.
There is also a note that says that François Fillon won the primary for the French republican party. Fillon is a man who ought to be very useful for the sport if he ever becomes President of France because he is a motorsport fan, has raced himself, sits on the FIA Senate and is the brother of Pierre Fillon, the President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest. It is also worth remembering that in the last 12 months another Republican politician called Christian Estrosi has become President of the Conseil Régional de Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA). This is a very powerful position as French regions have a great deal of influence over their own terrains. This is the same C Estrosi, who appeared on Formula 3 grids alongside the likes of Gerhard Berger in 1984, who was also raced Grand Prix motorcycles for a time, his best finish being fourth in the 1978 French 500cc GP. With Renault back in F1, and some pro-motorsport politicians with clout, we should keep an eye on a possible return of the French GP, particularly as there seems to be little or no hope for Germany.
A lot of my notes relate to races with various stories about Malaysia, Brazil, Singapore, Las Vegas and about the Miccosukee Indian Population, as they are known, who own a 20,000-acre tract of land which can be developed in what is known as Alligator Alley, to the west of Ft. Lauderdale in Florida. The Azerbaijanis also want to tweak their race and get the date away from Le Mans. They also want a name change from the European GP because they seem to have finally understood that this title is utterly daft.
Azerbaijan is about as European as Britain these days…
There is a note that says: “Gut signed by Manor”, which pretty much says it all. This makes sense in that he has money and the team needs it, but also because Manor is about to be sold to a Mexican-American fellow, who will be looking for sponsors on both sides of Donald Trump’s mythical wall. We all know him, actually, but until the deal is actually signed it seems that no-one wants to say the name Tavo Hellmund out loud. Tavo has been busy in recent years promoting the US Grand Prix in Austin and the Mexican GP and has been rushing around in the US trying to build race tracks in suitable places. In his spare time, however, Tavo has been quietly negotiating with Manor to buy the team. It’s been going on for at least 18 months, but the price has never been right and Tavo is never going to pay more than the team is worth. Anyway, this time he seems to have managed to get all the planets aligned and if all goes to plan at some point soon there will be announcement. Whether Tavo will be in the spotlight remains to be seen, but like Zak Brown (with whom he raced in British F3 many years ago) Tavo wants to be a player in the big game in F1. It should be noted that Mr E will like this as, I am told, he used to bounce young Hellmund on his avuncular knee way back when Tavo’s dad Gustavo was the promoter of the Mexican GP. So, he’s a Bernie man and with some cash, a Mercedes engine and a new car, Manor should be stronger next year. This is necessary as Sauber is getting stronger too.
In fact, they all are, as happens in F1. If you take your foot off the gas, you fall behind. Fans never understand just how tough it is to run a competitive F1 team, and what it takes, and tend to be overly judgemental. Ferrari is doing a terrible job, people say, but they really aren’t. They are just not doing as well as Mercedes and Red Bull and they are clearly lacking in clever presentation skills, although poor communication must always been blamed on the management because they can change the situation easily enough.
And so, another season ends and it is time to bolt the door and take some rest…