On the road to Imola…

Apologies for the blog being quiet for a while. I have lots of excuses, but no really good ones and I cannot even claim to have been lazy as I seem to have been working every day since Bahrain.

Still, I opened the gate yesterday at an early-ish hour, early enough to watch a fiery orange ball of sunlight appearing on the horizon as I belted across the locked down French countryside. It is amazing to me that when everyone is supposed to be hunkering down at home that the French still manage to have traffic jams.  I was soon frustrated to be at a standstill so early in my trip to Italy and so I deserted the autoroute and worked my way through suburbs with names like Antony (once the home of Gerard Larrousse’s F1 team) and Chilly-Mazarin (which sounds like a cool cardinal) before finding open roads again not far from Alpine country at Viry-Chatillon.

A few hours later I was in real Alpine country and stuck in a jam at the entrance to the Mont Blanc tunnel. It took an hour to climb the hill from Chamonix. This was because the COVID-19 pandemic has created an opportunity for the tunnel authorities to take advantage of the low levels of traffic to do repairs… and so there are still delays.

When I emerged on the Italian side, after 7.2 miles inside the mountain, the sun was shining and the valley at Courmayeur was beautiful. An Italian policemen stopped me and asked where I was going. I showed him a pile of paperwork that indicated that I was allowed to go to Imola and with a shrug he waved me on…

What no-one ever tells you about the Mont Blanc tunnel is that when you emerge in Italy, with all the joys that come with that, you then go into a series of 10 tunnels that cover almost all of the 22 miles between the famous tunnel and the town of Aosta. After finishing the main tunnel in 1965 the Italians seem to have developed a taste for further underground activities, presumably in an effort to speed things up and to preserve the valley as much as possible, and by the time you get to Aosta you are beginning to wonder if there really is light at the end of the tunnel. As a feat of engineering it is impressive.

And it’s Italy, of course, where the joy of living is more evident than in northern climes. The speed limits are signposted everywhere but they seem to be ambitions rather than aspirations and none of the locals seem to believe the signs that say that they have speed traps. The one thing you notice about the road down through the mountains is that Italians have some odd names (take Guenther Steiner, for example). As I was whizzing down the Dora Baltea Valley, listening to an RMC DJ called Kay Rush, I noted a village not far away called Etroubles, which is close to Derby and not a million miles from Champagne, all settlements in this same charming bit of Italy. It may just be me, but Etroubles sounds either like a kind of greeting in Yorkshire or it is what happens when things go wrong for Alejandro Agag…

Anyway, driving from Normandy to Imola gives you plenty of time for thinking and I concluded on my way that the “Gran Premio del Made in Italy e dell’Emilia-Romagna” is a truly awful name for a motor race – and a very bad precedent for the sport. If money is allowed to dictate race titles (rather than sponsors) we will soon be attending the “We love Vlad Russian GP” and the “It’s bigger than Texas United States Grand Prix in Miami Gardens, powered by Hard Rocks”.

For me, all this verbiage is far less interesting than dull names like “The German Grand Prix”, but I guess that is what happens when one lets Americans “reach out” to sponsors.

NASCAR has long won the prize for the most horrible names for motor races, with such gems as the “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner 300”, or the “Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500”. You are not going to get me calling a race the “SpongeBob SquarePants 400” or the “Subway Jalapeño 250, powered by Coca-Cola”.

Actually, there is one that is worse than all of these, but I don’t have the energy to type the whole thing out. I’ll just have to cut-and-paste. Yes, folks, don’t miss the “Crown Royal Presents the [Your Hero’s Name Here] 400 at the Brickyard powered by BigMachineRecords.com”.

I honestly think that the marketing people over there in the US have a contest to see if there are any journalists sufficiently ingratiating to actually use these appalling names, which roll off the tongue like detached teeth.

The key question for me is this: Do people acually go out and buy enthusiastic sea sponges called Bob because he (Does a sponge have a sex? I am sure that woke folk will have a view.) sponsored a motor race? I have my doubts. 

Anyway, please excuse me if I drop all the crap and call it the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari – otherwise known as Imola.

Onward…

72 thoughts on “On the road to Imola…

  1. I agree with you 100 percent on the names Mr. Saward. I like the traditional names for a Grand Prix and dislike very much that money comes into play and destroys the rich heritage and legacy of Formula 1.

  2. I remember attending the Lubri Lon Long Beach Grand Prix when I was 12 back in 1979. I don’t imagine too many people used the full name of that one.

    1. But would you be talking about Lubri Lon 42 years later if it wasn’t the sponsor of the Grand Prix?

  3. I enjoyed you words on the trip through Mont Blanc and the road down to Aosta it brought back many memories of the days driving the Goodyear trucks to the GP,s the roads truly are spectacular

  4. Not sure if sponges have sex either, though I do know that if you put 3 of them in a blender and blitz them up, put them in a tank of sea water and eventually they will separate out into their 3 original sponges.. eventually.

  5. Nice intro to the long awaited weekend Joe. It’s only been three weeks but seems like six!!! Have you ever thought about a small publication of ‘Getting to My GP’.? Brief but very entertaining reading for those ‘tragics’ who follow this great sport. [I use the word sport guardedly ]. Diarised musings can be quite charming in their own inimical way.

  6. What was wrong with its traditional name of San-Marino Grand Prix? Despite it not being in San Marino. But then the Swiss Grand Prix in 1982 was held at Dijon-Premmois in France, in 1997 the Luxembourg Grand Prix at the Nurburgring in Germany.

    But as Joe has sadly pointed out, this appears to be the thin edge of the wedge.

    1. Because in the 80s and 90s San Marino wanted to have their own GP but they did not have a circuit. Imola kind of ‘lent’ the circuit to the friends of the San Marino Republic. Today the race is actually an italian GP having nothing to do with the neighbors of San Marino. Immagine If Swiss decided to have their own GP, they probably would never call it GP of Liechtenstein 🙂 The decision to call it Made in Italy GP is intended to give a boost to the Italian economy by reminding the world that Made In Italy still exists. Nevertheless, I agree it is one of the many aberrations of the modern F1.

  7. Hi Joe,
    I love reading your blog and no-nonsense insight. Interested to know you thought of Drive to Survive this season. I’m surprised there hasn’t been more discussion about the fact that Lewis Hamilton’s achievements and BLM was really only given a few minutes at the very end of the series. Yet we had entire episodes dedicated to Stroll and Aston Martin which clearly looked a PR/Marketing opportunity. I think the sport will really miss Lewis Hamilton and shame his talents and achievements were not celebrated.

    And finally, F1 has really stiffed its German subscribers. Any Pro TV subscribers had there money taken, but only later found that live coverage is no longer available. Interested to know if any other readers have suffered the same.

    All the best and safe travels.

    PM

    1. ‘And finally, F1 has really stiffed its German subscribers. Any Pro TV subscribers had there money taken, but only later found that live coverage is no longer available. Interested to know if any other readers have suffered the same.’

      I can sympathise. I have given up trying to watch live F1 without paying for it and will just have to wait until F1 TV *FINALLY* comes to the UK.. maybe in 2030, at this rate 😦

  8. Possibly Joes greatest post of all time. I’ve been on both sides of this and I can tell you the only person ever to use those sponsor names… is the sponsor, and the people who print the overpriced programme. I welcome the next entry from the Joe Saward visit France it’s really rather nice, I live here, blog, powered by notebook from the WH Smiths at the airport in association with Biro pens by Bic.

  9. Vlad is short for Vladislav, not Vladimir.
    So it will be “We love Vova” or “We love Volodya” because these are 2 russian options for name ‘Vladimir’

  10. Joe,
    The Polizia/Carabinieri/whatever at Courmayeur was probably envious of where you were going. Beautiful as the high Val d’Aosta is, after several months of winter duty there I would drool at the possibility of going to Imola.
    In terms of the delay due to repairs, there has been worse – on a very bad day several years ago ttraffic for the tunnel was backed up as far as the Hotel Mercure – 2.5 km before the turning up the hill!

  11. Joe, why does Montreal needs to pay $6million extra for a closed-door race? Don’t they already lose gate receipts?

  12. It doesn’t matter now what the events are called as Liberty, aka Formula 1, has stopped using printed programmes for Grands Prix, and the recent identikit examples haven’t been worth buying anyway. I shall revert to my collection started when I attended Aintree in 1962 !

    Love that road down from Aosta, very envious and thanks for the travel updates…

  13. The travelogue makes me (and I suspect) many others yearn for the day we can also head down through France and into Italy. I know its work and another long drive for you, but for the rest of us thoughts of wonder

  14. On a similar journey to Monza, we pulled into a service area as we left the tunnels. Living in France and speaking some Spanish friends had said that we would have no problem understanding Italian.

    However we played safe and ordered Cappuccinos and and gestured towards some gateau, while making the coffee the attendant said “aiuta te stesso” we were completely flummoxed.

    Fortunately our repertoire in Italian restaurants was far more fluent.

    Oh, how i wish i could be taking a long drive to freedom, like Joe.

  15. I generally have to look up where an Indy car race is because the name tells you nothing anymore. It is a problem with stadiums, arenas and other venues as well. They change the names of the building every few years so the days of being able to say Wembley or Madison Square Gardens and automatically know the city are gone.
    I wasn’t sure of the Covid state in Europe until you mentioned France is locked down and I would assume Italy. We are back under lock down in Ontario and Quebec and variant cases are setting records.. Montreal is under a 8pm curfew and is one of the hots spots in the country. Personally I feel if the race is going to cost us taxpayers anything then it needs to be cancelled. We spent hundreds of billions last year and will again this. Paying for the sport of the wealthy shouldn’t be in any budget.

    1. Here in London’s famous London there are a Several of music venues bearing the “O2” moniker. This can cause problems when your mate goes to the wrong one and he’s the one with the tickets. “You still here?” asked the front man of the band we’d gone to see as they returned from a forty-five minute sojourn in a nearby pub/restaurant/snooker hall/art gallery*.

      * It was in Islington

      1. The Islington 02 is upstairs in the shopping centre, about 300 yards across the road from the tube station. Tiny little venue but great atmosphere 🙂

    2. The funny thing about Madison Square Garden is that this is the fourth iteration of such a building. And, it is no longer on Madison Avenue and no longer square, like the original.

      And most likely there will be a fifth built in about 10 years…

      1. Fans of ‘Futurama’ will no doubt recall one of the running gags was the Madison Cube Garden (although you’ll have to wait until the year 3000 to see it!)

  16. Holy Crap… Sorry, I mean:…What a wonderful piece of writing is your opening sentence. I will put up my lowest voice and read aloud: “….every day since Bahrain. Still, I opened the gate yesterday at an early-ish hour, early enough to watch a fiery orange ball of sunlight appearing on the horizon as I belted across the locked down French countryside.” Belting along is very much to my liking.

  17. My personal (not) favorite was NASCAR’s The Pork The Other White Meat 400. It ran only one year. But we are missing out on some potential gems… The Woody’s 25 Hour Enduro Brought To You By Viagra.
    And I’ve often wondered how many times the Tidy Bowl company has approached the NCAA regarding a bowl game. It just doesn’t get any better than that IMHO.

  18. I imagine we the viewers who buy the products advertised at and around the race are all calling it simply “Imola”. And in a perfect world we should be the ones who influence the little details.

  19. Not mentioned is the “English Everywhere” blight. An idiosyncratic cooking item we bought in Brittany has “Made in France” stamped on the bottom. Souvenir from Istanbul has “Hand made” inscribed. And now the “Gran Premio del Made in Italy…”.

    This could be described as “Etroubles up t’mill” I suppose.

  20. One of the things I love about racing anywhere but here in the US is the lack of sponsor mentions in the commentary or interviews. Every Indy car race is sponsored by Sunoco fuel. We know this, not because of the thousands of square feet dedicated to the signage, or the patches on every race suit. No, we know this because the commentators and drivers can’t mention fuel without saying it’s from Sunoco. The drivers spend so much time getting their sponsors mentioned that they don’t answer the question. I get it, sponsorship is what makes the cars go but there is an actual race going on, I’d like to enjoy the race.

  21. “Etroubles at mill!”

    It will always be the San Marino Grand Prix to me (or occasionally the Imola GP) Lets hope the really bad Americanisations stay there. Couldn’t cope with The Fray Bentos British GP

    1. In a bygone age the sponsor was a local firm, to aid pay Bernard Charles’s fee to bring his FOCA people to play. The 1979 South African Grand Prix was sponsored by Simba chips (long before The Lion King 🙄😂😂) and in 1981 (the race that never really happened) it was Quindrink-Pointerware which were two separate companies one selling a diluted juice and the other pots and pans. The circuits had various sponsorship and BCE did not seem to take a cut. If only the circuits had realised the value of their real estate!!

  22. “…but I guess that is what happens when one lets Americans “reach out” to sponsors.”

    Sponsors, American or otherwise, provide the life blood that helps keep the sport afloat and you employed; money.

    A rose is a rose by any other name, and racing is racing regardless of any ridiculous sponsor tagging. I’ll still watch.

      1. I think valterri will does what he does when people least expect and retire.

        He is a winner bright and erudite at the pinnacle.

        With much more to achieve in and outside F1

  23. Hi Joe Noted your comments on Motorway speeding in Italy and was a little surprised. Have not been down there for a few years but during last visit was wondering why the Italians were keeoing to the speed limits as opposed to driving like mad and braking just before the speed camera gantries. Then I heard that they had introduced an average speed control between gantries and you don’t know which ones are in operation, hence the more controlled driving style. Not certain if they have relaxed it in the last years. Do know however that similar system functions in Belgium having already paid twice (Brussels – Gent & return), after paying ca €150 each time tend to stick to the limit now when returning to UK.

  24. Not sure Vladimir Putin would appreciate a grand prix named in his honor if it used the wrong name. Confusing as it may be, Vlad is actually an entirely different name, being the shortened form of Vladislav. Where as the shortened version of the President’s name if you would dare to call him by it would be Vova.

  25. I always cringe when corners are named after sponsors rather than some local landmark or a heritage connection, never mind entire races.

    1. Can I draw your attention to the corner names at the Eboladrome ?

      Your Name Here, Old Lady’s House, Sub-station, Field of Sheep

      Very evocative……

  26. Talking of names and titles… I was catching up on Drive to Survive last night for the first time. Valtteri Bottas seems to be the only member of the team that knows the proper name – it made me snigger!

  27. Before driving further west on a trip many years ago we spent a night in eastern Pennsylvania with the intent on waking up pre-dawn to “miss rush hour”…we quickly learned that in Lancaster County, PA rush hour starts at dawn with many horse drawn Amish buggies on the roadways…until we made it to the interstate highway we were definitely living a slower paced lifestyle.

  28. I live near the Marvel Stadium in Melbourne. The trams can’t keep up and still have their desto signs set to Etihad Stadium and at least one cafe is two sponsors behind _ The Telstra Dome Cafe.

  29. For this race the shorthand of decades has kicked in — I find myself just calling it the San Marino GP…

  30. Have you been listening to midweek-motorsport on radio le mans? They had an excellent rant about race names a few weeks ago

  31. As the Imola race approaches, I had to smile at the coincidence, just now reading Isaacson’s “Leonardo da Vinci”, where Leonardo joined the Borgia entourage (including Machiavelli) in… Imola. He was not impressed by the locals’ engineering: “In Romagna, the chief realm of all stupidity, vehicles with four wheels are used, in which the two in front are small and the two high ones behind, an arrangement that is very unfavorable to motion…” .

  32. You appear to have shortened the Grand Prix title even more by leaving the “Pirelli” part out of it.

    Unfortunately, the commercialisation of GP titles began a long time ago. I believe, but am subject to correction, that the British round of the World Championship was known as “The John Player Grand Prix” more than 40 years ago.

  33. As other people have pointed out, Grand Prix have long had sponsor names – just watch a season from the early 2000s, when half the races began with Marlboro.

    More annoying for me is the use of Emilia-Romagna, which creates another Grand Prix lineage and set of records instead of drawing upon that of the San Marino GP or even the European GP. A proper anorak complaint I know, but still…

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