Notebook from Luxembourg

It seems that every year, on the day after the Belgian Grand Prix, I take someone to a railway station or an airport. Last year I went to the spectacular Liège-Guillemins, designed by one of my favourite architects Santiago Calatrava, who is most famous for his extraordinary City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, where once we went racing. This year it was in the other direction, to drop someone off at Luxembourg Airport at Findel, which I happen to know was used for various motor races in the 1940s and 1950s (not that this matters at all). The trip from Spa is about 75 miles and when I agreed to do this I wasn’t really thinking about it and imagined that it was (sort of) on the way home. It is due south of Spa and Paris is to the south west but what I did not bargain for was that the roads are quite slow because everyone seems to have lost interest in joining the Belgian motorways with those of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Still, it was a lovely day and the route was pretty picturesque and the place names were wonderfully charismatic and all mixed up when it comes to languages: Grufflingen is not far from Troisvierges (which translates as ‘three virgins’) and so on… I did consider pottering over to a very weird area, to the north east of Spa, where they have a magnificent series of bizarre enclaves, with bits of Belgium in Germany, look it up. This was caused by Belgian railways and moving frontiers. In some cases the railways are still there, but in others they have been pulled up and there is just a corridor of Belgian territory passing through what is now Germany.

In truth, we probably would not have had a Spa racing circuit were it not for the moving border. In this region are three areas of land, known as the East Cantons (about 280 sq. miles of land) which were deemed to be in Prussia after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. This meant that Francorchamps was the last village before the German frontier (which was located at the top of the hill at Les Combes) and so not many people used the road – because they didn’t want to go to Germany. As an aside, this is why the original Spa track in the 1920s and 1930s had a hairpin called the Virage de l’Ancienne Douane (literally, the Old Custom House Corner). It is still there, but the circuit now goes straight up the original hill and is known as Eau Rouge…

Anyway, after World War I, the East Cantons were annexed by Belgium, in reparation for war damage, and things were generally tidied up (although this left some Belgian rail lines in Germany!) This meant that there was a triangle of little-used public road from Francorchamps to Malmedy and Stavelot and back to Francorchamps. And this is what was spotted when Jules de Thiers, the managing director of the La Meuse newspaper and Henri Langlois Van Ophem, the chairman of the sporting commission of the Royal Automobile Club Belgium, discussed while having lunch one day at the Hotel de Bruyeres (now the Francorchamps Racing Hotel – although it has closed down).

Hotels are a problem in these parts and the locals seem to think that they can pluck any figure out of the sky and the F1 fans will pay it. This year we moved out of our grotty old hotel in a village called Basse-Bodeux, which is little more than a roundabout of a place, when they decided to double their prices. We went in search of alternatives and found that demand outstrips supply and so one gets ripped off whatever you want. However, there are limits for what sane (well, vaguely) people will pay for miserable places that have not changed since 1974. We ended up in a place that ought have been renamed the Villa Marie Celeste. It was in Spa town and looked like a hotel but when we arrived we found a darkened house. The door was open and we wandered around inside and eventually found some keys on the fireplace with an incomprehensible note about who should have which room. In the end we rang the emergency number and spoke to a rather confused individual who did not seem to understand that accommodation is a service industry and expected his guests to be understanding about his expensive incompetence. The key to Room 7, he explained, might have a big number 1, but that not actually the key for Room 1. And I could have Room 5 because there was no key for Room 1… Of course, Room 5 has a photographer in it. Ah, the joys of this F1 lifestyle. Room 1 did have a key, but I had to go through a bundle of dozens of keys to find it. At no point did we ever see a member of staff. Each morning breakfast was laid out but no-one was ever there. I considered nicking various things on Monday morning in revenge for lack of service, but concluded that the place had nothing I wanted – and never will have. Still, I suppose the Internet worked, even if the room did not run to a desk and chair, so all my work was done sitting or lying on the bed (which meant that I fell asleep too much).

‘opeless, as they say in these parts…

So what is going on in the F1 world. Oddly, it was rather quiet, apart from the obvious Ferrari signings. This means that Charles Leclerc, the dominant force in Formula 2 this year (and a Ferrari protégé), will almost certainly be squeezed into a Sauber next year, which will mean that Pascal Wehrlein, the faster of the two Sauber drivers, will be shoved out. If there is logic in all of this, it is very well-hidden. I understand that Sauber’s Swedish owner wants to bang the drum and fly the flag for his own nation, but it is not necessarily a good idea. It does rather depend on the pool of talent available, but when your population is less than the number of people who visited Disneyland in California last year, it is tough to find a competitive one. Marcus Ericsson is a pretty decent driver, but generally he is not a match for Wehrlein and so logic says he should be on the move, and not vice versa. Others say that it would be wiser to hire Felix Rosenqvist, who they argue is a better choice.

One can see the same sort of thinking going on in Japan quite often and I would argue that this is actually the biggest problem that Honda faces in Formula 1. One simply cannot compete if one does not have the right kind of talent, and finding that sort of talent within one single nation is very difficult. Honda only seems to use Japanese people, and it has very few foreign research and development engineers. They are also operating in Japan, out of the main vortex of F1 development, and so new ideas take longer to filter through. This is a problem for all non-British teams (although there is a mini-cluster of expertise around Ferrari in Italy) because hiring in the right people is more difficult. This is why Scuderia Toro Rosso now seems to have 140 people (about a third of its staff) working in the UK.

Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost did himself no favours in a press conference in Spa when asked about talks with Honda. It is very clear that the two parties have had discussions and I hear from multiple good sources that the price being asked by Red Bull was too high. Honda does not want to own a team but does not really have a choice after having broken up with Sauber. It might be helpful if Toro Rosso was bought by someone else who wants a free engine and some cash as well, but Honda continuing to dream that things will be patched up with McLaren is not realistic. And if that policy continues I can see Honda getting itself into a position where it has to leave because it cannot find a partner. The rules may say that no engine manufacturer can have more than three engine supplies but it is down to the FIA to decide what is best for the sport and that is not a hard discussion: losing Honda is less damaging than losing McLaren. The Woking team clearly wants to go with Renault in 2018 and it is really hard to argue that McLaren has not been fantastically patient with Honda. But the McLaren-Honda legend was formed in the 1980s and the world has moved on and after three years waiting, McLaren has realised that it is not going to happen and now feels that it needs to switch to Renault next season in order to keep Alonso, important technical staff, sponsors and – most importantly – credibility. There seems to be a final Honda push to try to create better engines but time has basically run out. Everyone needs to know what they are doing next year. Renault needs to know whether to have three or four supplies, the teams need to know what to design and something had got to give. It may get ugly, but sometimes that has to happen. Toro Rosso is obviously up for sale but Honda needs to move quickly in case someone else snaps it up. I have heard various rumours suggesting that the team could be sold to an Indonesian called Ricardo Gelael, the boss of the Fast Food Indonesia company, which owns the KFC franchise in a country with 261 million people. He has 570 restaurants and, oddly, sells music CDs with his chicken and chips. He has annual sales north of $365 million and his son Sean is in Formula 2 and unlikely to rise further unless his Dad do something dramatic. He already has a testing deal with Toro Rosso and there has been talk of a KFC-liveried car (some artist has probably been talking).

The danger for Honda is that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) might pounce on Toro Rosso in order to secure a team for its much mooted Alfa Romeo F1 team. Toro Rosso is perfect for that. There has been some talk in Italy about Prema Powerteam, currently dominant in Formula 2, might move up to F1 and perhaps this is the way that will be achieved. Ferrari technology bought by Alfa Romeo, which is no longer a sister company, but features the same management and shareholders, and so that makes sense for everyone. Ferrari gets some money in exchange for technology and Alfa Romeo gets a quick F1 team. Alfa Romeo sales are not meeting expectations at the moment and so Fiat and Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne needs to push harder to make the Alfa Romeo brand sexier.

Elsewhere, much attention has been focussed on Force India because the pink cars have been colliding rather a lot. This is daft because without the crashes Force India would have scored far more than 103 points and while it is not going to challenge Red Bull for third, even with Max Verstappen breaking down all the time, it should keep an eye open for late season dashes from teams that ought to be doing better than they are, notably Williams and Renault.

A lot of folk were upset that Perez was not punished for the second collision with Ocon (not least of them Ocon himself), but if you check out the footage, you will see that Esteban had his right front wheel on the white line before Perez hit him, which means that he was not in the right place and should have backed out of it. Having said that Perez must take some blame because he should have given his team-mate room and did not. So there was fault on both sides… The interesting thing now will be to see if Perez stays at Force India. He might not want to run away from the challenge, but he has seven seasons of experience and is widely considered to be very good, but is under increasing pressure from a kid who has been in a good car for only a dozen races. Renault wants to get Ocon back, but Vijay Mallya’s price to release him looks like a ransom note and Renault cannot justify paying it. Thus it will probably go with Perez, who is cheaper and is followed everywhere by Mexican sponsors… He might also choose to go to Williams to replace Felipe Massa, but the fact that Team Willy has scored only 45 points, compared to Force India’s 103 this year, using the same engine, might scare him away from that idea. The suggestion that Alonso will go to Williams seems unlikely for the same reason, although to be fair Fernando has made a string of bad decisions about his career… Williams needs to do something pretty dramatic… There are new technical staff at Grove and so perhaps things will be better next year. One can hope.

There are a lot of worries in Brazil that the retirement of Felipe Massa (which is coming sooner or later) will cut the last cord with F1. The Brazilian GP has little future at the moment, with no-one wanting to promote it, and so the Formula One group is clearly looking at South American alternatives and it was no surprise at all that Race Director Charlie Whiting popped up in Buenos Aires over the summer “break”. The plan, I’m told is for a group called Fenix Entertainment, which specialises in concert production and management services and owns and operates entertainment stadiums for show business, music and sports, to use the old autodromo, but with a very different layout to the last Grand Prix, back in the 1990s, with the idea being to run the track around the Lago de Regates, a lake that sits in the middle of the facility. It is not going to be easy to fund the event but when one looks at what has happened in Mexico one can see what can happen. Buenos Aires is, in any case, a much sexier city than Sao Paulo in global destination terms. I know I’d be happy to go back, although I am told that the steak houses are not as good as once they were.

Food is always part of the adventure of reporting F1 and at Spa I was happy to get things done early enough to go out for a pizza late in the evening. I met a nice bunch of British fans and got into a conversation and they were kind enough to buy my meal for me. I should have nipped off earlier but it was fun to have an impromptu “Audience”, although it was a long night to get my business newsletter done. I was pretty weary when I set off to Luxembourg on Monday and when I dropped in at my house in the country on the way back to Paris (to pick up the post) I left it on the roof of the car and drove off… A mile or two later I realised what I had done and returned and spent some time going round the village picking up letters, with tyre marks on them… It reminded me that we give up a lot of things by rushing off to Grand Prix after Grand Prix. Last weekend was the annual pig festival in my local town, which they say is great fun (although I’ve never been to it) and the local hillclimb race, which is fun, is next week, when I will be at Monza.

Oh well, cannot have everything…

95 thoughts on “Notebook from Luxembourg

  1. The steak is as good as ever, Joe. If F1 does come back here (and I don’t really think it’s a good idea given the situation in our country), dinner is on me! We can go to Gran Parrilla Cramer near the Belgrano neighbourhood and eat some tasty meat.

  2. Has it been ruled out catagorically that McLaren and Alfa Romeo can’t/won’t happen?
    It was bandied around at some point – think you even touched upon it – but quickly went quiet and apart from a flurry with Haas, Alfa seems again to have dropped off the menu.
    Seems to me if they were to link up there are positives all round. Could do a lot worse (and presently are) then a re-badged Ferrari.

  3. I do look forward to your notebooks. I’m having a brief stopover in Hong Kong and and I’d much rather read some decent F1 reporting than step out into this jungle!
    Anyway, Joe, I’m a little puzzled, more than usual I mean. I just don’t get why Alonso is so important to Mclaren. Yes, he’s obviously one of the fastest but as far as I can see, a Mclaren Honda or a Mclaren Renault is not winning the world championship next year or the year after or maybe ever! Not even Alonso can drag either of those combinations into a championship winning car. Dump him, hire Massa. He has enough experience to develope the car. Save the cash on Alonso’s salary and invest it into their own engine program for the next formula. Limp along in the meantime, after 3 awful years, what harm is another 3… Yeah, I know his salary won’t cover the cost of an engine program but what’s the point in paying Alonso 40 million to flog a dead horse!

    1. ‘Dump him, hire Massa’.

      It’s really funny to read. There are no ‘slow’ drivers in F1 any more, but there is a difference between ‘quick’ and guys like ALO, HAM, RIC, VES & VET (in alphabetical order only). Those guys are ‘quick’ every single lap, they are not loosing any time, they are able to cut thru a field without getting stuck or to crash. Have a look on several first laps of ALO this year, then you should understand what I mean. Those guys are irresistible in getting forward and others are not. Having watched HAM and VET in Spa just after the start also explained that. If ALO would have had a competitive engine he would have been very soon in 3rd position in Spa. In F1 you have quick drivers, you have some race winners and you have some real champions.

  4. I think that Mclaren and Honda are stuck with each other next year as I doubt if Mclaren can afford to buy themselves out of the contract and I suspect that they do not have a performance clause get out or they would have excersised it by now, Honda clearly don’t want to own a tean or they would presumably have purchased Manor which they could have done from the Honda petty cash account!

  5. Joe, how long did it take you to get from Basse-Bodeux to the circuit ? Maybe it might be better to get a hotel further from Spa, maybe even in the Flemish part of the country. I live in Zolder and can be in 50 minutes in Francorchamps, perhaps a bit longer when it’s F1 but anyway. You can stay at my place and I can even be your driver, I know my way around over there. You just have to tell me all your F1 secrets and it’s a deal 😉

  6. On one of my trips to Spa, our group stayed in Eindhoven and were driven to the circuit the next morning by a rather enthusiastic coach drive who seemed keen to impress us with his late braking. Terrifying. Great circuit though and the frites were delicious as was the Duvel beer.

  7. Joe, this is why I read your stuff. The F1 story is the main carrot, with the knowledge that there is real insight into your comments, but there are so many hidden gems in there. I have a new insight unto European history, a vivid picture of your digs with an odd collection of keys, eclectic fixtures and fittings and a slightly rowdy meal with pizza and beer 🙂 Priceless, I don’t think there is any other content out there with this mix.

  8. Re. McLaren & Renault, Renault say they can’t supply a 4th team.

    Joe, is that just a negotiating tactic to get a bigger cheque from McLaren?

  9. Joe, If Renault prefer Ocon to Perez but can’t afford to get him (and might prefer Sainz too but face the same problem), do you expect them to try to get Perez on a 2018-only contract? Or won’t that fly?

  10. Interesting you say Ericsson is a pretty decent driver. I’d think he’s average guy back-marker just filling in for someone to show up with more money later on.

    Could he be competitive up front if given a fast car? Well, that’s for another parallel universe to respond, but i’d like to say if Pascal were that great he ought to be kicking Ericsson’s arse and that ain’t happening. I can’t fathom the hype around Pascal (let alone Vandoorne). Maybe no one should never talk down his assets and or business in public no matter how not well they fare at the moment?

    The notebook maybe the best thing before or after each race. Congrats.

  11. Ricardo has even bigger assets than the KFC franchise and thus isn’t short of serious cash. Sean’s flatmate in Bath is also another driver who already has ‘form’ in F1, with a veteran manager with the right contacts in the right places and the financial support (and solid friendship) of the Gelaels…His name? Antonio Giovinazzi. An Italian team with an Italian driver owned by an Indonesian? Powered by an Italian engine with a cloverleaf on the cam cover? That would also free up a supply of Renault engines, wouldn’t it? I’m sure they’d be snapped up by someone….

  12. I think its time the people at McLaren grew a pair and moved on from Alonso. Its all about Alonso so what benefit is it being a McLaren, or a McLaren sponsor when Alonso is the main talking point. Let him go, honestly how much longer would he be around? Invest in young talent, less pain, find the next Hamilton.
    If McLaren cant, or wont, get rid of him, then they are looking at a long period of pain no matter what engine they have. Very much the tail wagging the dog.
    Will Alonso make the difference with a Renault engine in the back? Ask Red Bull and/or Verstappen!
    If you look at Alonso’s decision making he and his “advisors” are not the ones to follow. Benetton/Renault, McLaren, Ferrari, Ferrari, McLaren. I would suggest Williams, but I don’t want them to sink out of sight with the debt that would follow having Alonso on board.
    I admire Alonso’s talent, but I have to feel his shelf life is nearly over and its time to move on. You cant have a multi billion dollar project, and I have to believe that is what Honda will spend to avoid the loss of face, balanced against a soon to be a fading prima donna
    I would have much more respect for Alonso if he said “OK, I give it one more year, and if its not working, then I’m gone” and got on with making it work, because then everyone from Woking to Tokyo would know the deal, if not, move on.

    1. McLaren have examined carefully how Tyrrell, Williams and others ceased to be top teams. The Renault isn’t great but Red Bull do enough with it to be a credible top team. With Alonso driving, McLaren’s fate will be in its own hands and it will be able to demonstrate why the paddock should take it seriously. If they fail, there’ll be no one else to blame.

      If they stay with Honda? Who’s going to sign to drive a 2018 McLaren – Honda? Forget the Verstappens and Vettels; the likes of Ocon and Sainz would turn them down flat, even though there’s money to buy out their contracts. Too high risk, too little upside. Why would you?

      Best case, the engine comes good, a driver no-one’s heard of comes good but is inconsistent, McLaren are 4th in the WCC and win an odd race…. and look like an up-and-coming midfield team that might be about to break into the big time. Meaning, that they might be about to be good enough…to attract a name driver. This story may be inspiring for fans but it is *not* on-brand.

      Or they could, you know, re-sign Alonso. Which instantly tells people who are F1 clueless that McLaren are a top team who can attract a top driver, and that any failure to win championships is a temporary aberration from the natural order of things. This *is* on-brand for McLaren. Easy decision.

    2. But Alonso gave it one more year this year didn’t he? Towards the end of last year progress was made but Honda messed up over the winter and went backwards.

      At this stage of his career he cannot afford another year of mediocrity so I understand it if he is thinking any other team (engine) combo will be better than what he currently has if McLaren cannot replace Honda.

      It’s not upto him though it’s upto McLaren and Honda. However if it is true that Honda pays his salary then surely if he is denouncing them so publically and talking up McLaren he is willing to drive for McLaren without his hefty Honda salary?

      Unless Honda can convince team and river they have it sussed by the end of the season it’s goodbye. A Renault deal might be good for 2 years, it will at the very least be better than what they have now by at least a second a lap!

      As we know give Alonso a sniff of something decent he can pretty much make the most of that opportunity.

      Otherwise he may as well join Hulk at Enstone and help them reach their target even quicker.

      My other thought is the story about a Williams-Alonso deal is more about a behind the scenes attempt at an engine swap than him seriously considering joining them as a driver!

      1. Engine swap? Seriously? They have the best engine on the grid now and do absolutely nothing with it. Showing up more clueless by the race.

    3. I always like to think that Ron Dennis planned this all along to get closure on 2007.

      Even if he didn’t – I hope Ron is sitting somewhere right now thinking: “well, you cost us $100m in a fine, destroyed my team, then deliberately grew a bushy beard when you re-joined the team because you know I don’t like them… but at least we’ve ruined the last three competitive years of your F1 career”. Closure!!!

      I don’t think Fernando realises that all of the comments on the radio make him less and less employable to other teams – it’s not like the engineers are going to think: “What was that Fernando? – you said: GP2 engine?” *engineer clicks fingers* “Ah Yes! That’s the problem! The engine is struggling for power. Thanks Fernando for the insight!”

      If I were leading a top team I would be very concerned about the fact that he hasn’t won a championship since 2006, and has lost several championship battles since then. I would also be concerned about the fact that he puts in good performances in 7th or 8th – but can he still raise his game to the Hamilton and Vettel level after such a long time in poor cars in the twilight years of his career?

      If I were McLaren I’d stick with Honda – they aren’t that far off at the moment with performance – I just have this belief that they will deliver in 2018. And I then replace both drivers…

  13. Hi Joe, what would the realistic chances for McLaren and Honda be? Honda needs a team, MCL needs an engine. Any chance they will linger on for one more year so they both can get a better deal?

    In all honesty Alonso is proving to be a very good driver however I am not sure why MCL would keep him as scoring points is near impossible with this car, more logical would be the “If you build a quick car they will come” and you do not need to bring in a lot of cash.

  14. Say Torro Rosso want $200 million for the team, could they not not sell 50% of the team to Honda for nothing in exchange for 5 years as Title sponsor worth $20 million a year. After 5 years, whichever party buys out the other. Those are theoretical figures, but given that Red Bull must be pumping in a huge amount of money into the team every year, the net opportunity to halve that, keep one seat for a development driver and have access to a top rate engine if Honda does somehow come good.

  15. Honda leaving F1 would be more embarrassing than anything they are suffering now. They have to see this through to the bloody end and if they cannot get Toro Rosso to take their engine, then forcing McLaren to continue is the only option. McLaren cannot leave F1, literally. They don’t do anything else, they exist to race. Their car business isn’t strong enough yet to survive without a racing operation. McLaren are committed until 2020 anyway. Honda leaving would be bad for F1 but McLaren leaving is unthinkable because what else are they going to do?

    1. McLaren have the backing of a country. Ron Dennis didn’t return to that well for very good reasons (for him at least) Without him there, that well is now open again. This is not so much about money as it is about reputation.

  16. As always Joe, you’ve made my midweek. As a geography teacher to 10 year-olds, I always enjoy the wee bits you offer on occasion. Today’s was tremendous.

    Thanks!

  17. It just occurred to me that if McLaren stick with Honda and Alonso walks away, McLaren seem to be very limited in driver options for 2018, if one assumes that they’d want an experienced driver alongside Vandoorne. It seems unlikely that they’d want to go from two World Champions in 2016 to two drivers without even one podium between them in 2018.

    Unless Jenson is tempted back (which would probably only be if the 2018 package was massively competitive in winter testing), there are no World Champions available (unless Rosberg pulls a reverse-Rosberg). If Bottas does re-sign with Mercedes this week as is the expectation, the only current race winner not presently committed for 2018 is Massa.

    Going further down the field, although Red Bull bosses keep saying that he’s signed to Toro Rosso for 2018, there’s Sainz (highest finish is 6th), and Kvyat (a 2nd, a 3rd and a hat-trick of 4ths). I can’t see Perez returning to McLaren based on reports that they get along, and other than that there’s just Wehrlein (an 8th), Palmer (a 10th) and Di Resta (a couple of 4ths.) who are seemingly unsigned.

    1. Yeah. Perez is available. Sainz and Ocon are for sale at the right price (which I guess is still small change compared with Alonso ‘s salary.

      But they’d have to be persuaded to sign. Perez turned Renault down flat 12 months ago to stay at FI. I can’t see a McLaren – Honda looking much better for 2018.

    2. The only reason to take Button back is if they are sure there will be no progress and need someone to hack around until the contract blockage frees in 2018. But if McLaren have another year in the wilderness, no young blade will take it on. Presumably the Bahrainis want prestige for their money, and they are getting none of that. The McLaren business model cannot take more reputational damage

      1. Hadn’t thought of that. If it comes to it (& right now it looks like a swap to Renault with FA staying is more likely), he could be their best option. One hell of a punt though…

  18. Fantastic bit of travel / history advice and love the review of the hotel. Look forward to these travel tips as much sometimes more as I do the F1. Once went to the dancing cow festival in Denmark am sure the pig festival would be a blast.
    Thanks for the blog much appreciated.

  19. Thanks for the refresher of my 1970 hitch-hike from Aachen to Luxembourg.

    It was the end of a summer of touring by hitch, train, bus, ferry, walk. The route I took probably matched much of yours. The best bit was with an old white-haired farmer in a battered old Peugot. Between us we had a wonderful long conversation in Bad French / Bad English.

    Terrific place and people.

    1. Oh! And somewhere in my memorabilia from that journey I have a makeshift hitch-hike sign for Malmedy. I knew I was on hallowed ground.

        1. We never share. There comes a point in life when you have enough of these things. Besides in these days it the Internet, the hours worked are wildly diverse and that makes it difficult. I regularly work whole nights…

  20. Thanks for all you do and share with us Joe!!!

    I’m sure this makes little sense, but what about Alonso going to Force India? They have a great engine and are a solid fourth in the constructors championship. How far could Alonso pull them up? Based on this years results, they look like a smarter bet vs Williams. I’m guessing they cannot afford his salary desires.

    1. But they don’t have even the 4th fastest car, and as the aero regs mature they’re only going to go backwards. No reflection on them or their talents, they’re doing a fantastic job.

  21. Honda’s worst case scenario might again turn out to be somebody else’s dream. They buy Torro Rosso, pour money into it without success for 2 years, call it quits and an ambitious Toto Wolf buys the team with Adrian Newey… 😀

      1. Only Superman’s big sister.

        (If we’re quoting song lyrics now). 🙂

        Though in this context “What a waste!” by the same writer might be more appropriate.

  22. Joe, you should do what I do re accommodation, Plan ahead and book somewhere through Airbnb then you’ll find your perfect place to stay.

  23. Thank you Joe

    Sauber’s Swedish owner …… is that the rather wealthy Hans Rausing who inherited Tetra Laval ? …… the main backer of Ericsson ? ….believe I read somewhere that Longbow Finance in a previous incarnation had Tetra or Tetra Laval in its company name…

  24. I did not know the Francorchamps Racing Hotel was closed, although in saying that, I haven’t been to Spa since last year’s 24 hour race – and even then, I stayed at a lovely spot in Malmedy. Far more accommodating.

    FRH was convenient, as I used to do night shifts covering that race, but it was also hellishly noisy – the punters made sure of no evening nap and as for getting a couple of hours in the morning – forget it. After each trip to the circuit, I would return to find a bible placed neatly by the pillow, presumably as I reminder to atone for the sins I had long since forgotten about.

    Alas, sleep was often a more important concern…

  25. The 1 and 7 affair reminds me of the misunderstanding in my early years at a multinational Dutch company, ever since I have crossed my7s. My deceased neighbour and friend used to write his 2s in a Lincolnshire way that could have been 1, 2 or 7.

    Alfa are apparently re-entering the BTCC under the auspices of a UK dealer group. Afla GB Ltd (Now long gone) used to be one of my customers and it always seemed to me that Alfas were designed to work only in sunshine, I had one as a company car, it did not like the rain. That period also helped form my opinion of Italian organisation, and electronics, they were however great and delightful customers.

    Of those who did well at testing recently I thought Lando Norris worth keeping an eye on for the future.

    Anther way to look a the Force India collisions is the increased amount of tv coverage the team and presumably their pink sponsor have had as a result. It must be worth tens of thousands of Dollars of free air time. Though whether the damages exceed that is different matter.

  26. Toro Rosso would be the only option for Alfa Romeo as the team has to be Italian or at least seen to be. The Fiat 124 was going to be an Alfa Romeo but they switched to Fiat at the last minute as they couldn’t have an Alfa being built in Japan. Would be good to see them in F1 but also I don’t want to see Honda vanish despite how terrible they have been

    1. > Fiat 124

      Yeah. Transverse engine, front wheel drive, warmed over Fiat underpinnings were fine as recently as the Mito, but all of a sudden their brand integrity means they can’t sell a RWD roadster on a dedicated sports car platform with an Alfa engine if it’s bolted together in Hiroshima.

      Pity. I really fancied an Alfa-badged MX-5. Fiat badged, not so much…

      1. Yeah and I think an Alfa would have looked good, whereas with the Fiat it looks like they just cobbled the design together in a hurry giving it some half retro bits from the old 124 and some modern bits as well, then rebadging it an Abarth…

  27. Great read as usual.!

    Yes the drive from Spa to Germany was amazing!, decided to visit Cologne as the motorway fully jammed from Spa town.

    Such beautiful area

  28. Honda and McLaren. What a mess. Any opinions from industry insiders (FIA, Liberty Media, sources) what happened, what will it take to fix it, and whose ass is on the line.

    Alonso, have great respect for him. However, unless he reduces his expectations I don’t see him anywhere else other than McLaren.

    Does Zak Brown realize if he gets the Renault engine he won’t be able to blame previous management for the Honda engines?

  29. As someone who lived there for quite a while i can tell you that Belgians in general don’t understand the concept of service industries. A dry cleaner in Brussels once lost my clothes, resulting in him cleaning them two weeks later that what was agreed upon and me having to buy a new suit. When I refused to pay him for his “service” he told me that people who “only think about money and can’t forgive a mistake” ruin the world.

  30. > Others say that it would be wiser to hire Felix Rosenqvist, who they argue is a better choice.

    The first time I ever saw him race, in Formula E last year, I immediately thought “Why isn’t this man in F1?”

  31. Joe, is regard to your statement about Fernando’s bad choices, do you have any idea about how much Briatore influenced a number of those career decisions? I’ve always felt that Flavio didn’t have Alonso’s best interests front and center most of the time, am I wrong?

    1. No idea. But Webber was always -very- happy with Briatore as a manager, and says so clearly whenever he’s asked.

    2. As he probably still takes a % of Alonso’s earnings I imagine his first order of business was “how much?”

    3. To put it another way, Alonso has always kept a very close circle and private life. Is it that he is surrounded by yes-men, so the terrible decisions are of his own making, or that he has been over- loyal to advisers who are not competent?

      There is an element of bad luck in there, too. No-one could have foreseen the way in which 2007 would fall apart, or the way that Dominicelli´s demise would quickly play out. This is without going into the on track bad karma like covering Webber and blocked by Petrov in Abu Dhabi, or getting wiped out by Grosjean at Spa.

  32. More bizarre than the German enclaves in Belgium are the Belgian enclaves in the Netherlands located at Baarle-Hertog. There are over a dozen of them, and some have Dutch enclaves within them! To find them on a map, draw a line from Spa through the other Belgian circuit Zolder, then continue along that line by about the same distance. If you extend that same line up to the Dutch coastline you’ll end up just south of Zandvoort.

    1. Yes I know about that and was going to visit earlier this year. It had to change my plans at the last minute!

  33. Comparing your Notebook jottings to chapter excerpts from Forsyth or
    Le Carre, might lead one to believe that you may be a spy.

  34. So many good drivers looking for so few seats. Kubica was my favorite driver. Chances were never more than 10% of a come back, but with Ocon, Alonso, Sainz, Perez, Nic L, etc. all interested in the seat, there’s now zero chance unless a combination of 2018 contracts holding up and the others deciding to stay where they are for one more year come into magical alignment to give him a shot to show he’s still got it (or sadly more likely that he doesn’t).

  35. “What re-signing Kimi tells us about FERRARI”
    Its about FERRARI so it must as usual, tells us a lot!

  36. Realize this would involve considerable bifurcated engineering resources that may render the point moot but is there anything in the regs that prevent a team from running two cars with different engines? McLaren Renault for Alonso to keep him happy, McLaren Honda for Vandoorne to honour contractual commitments with Honda (and keep them in F1). Thoughts?

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