Green Notebook from Authezat

Many years ago I wrote a column called “Breakfast and the Empire”, in which I argued that in the days when Europe ruled the world the British had the grandest empire because they started every day with eggs, bacon, bangers, beans, fried bread and black pudding.

“They then marched all day long, stopping only to claim bits of land and shoot locals who complained about being invaded”.

The French thought this poor show but they ate only croissants and had tiny little cups of coffee. By the time they had hoisted on their back packs they were already lacking energy and a half an hour of marching would mean that they soon started to discuss the need for a big lunch and that meant that they had to threaten to strike in order to stop to prepare something delightful. So it was not until late afternoon that they were in the mood for a bit of invading – by which time all the juicy colonies had gone.

The Germans never really got going because they had discomfort all day, after eating too many hard-boiled eggs with their coffee, while the Italians ate only sweet things and had to go to the dentist a lot.

And the Spanish, oh dear, they were going to bed when everyone else got up – and so had no chance at all in the construction of terrific Great Power empires, all they had were the leftovers from earlier adventures.

OK, I admit it’s a rough guide, and it wouldn’t happen today because the British would have to spend all day in immigration queues clasping their beloved blue passports and being outraged that no-one else cares if Her Majesty “requests and requires” that the bearer be allowed to pass freely “without let or hindrance”.

But some of it remains true.

The Spanish did, however, invent the siesta, one thing that plays an essential role of my life. It is a mystery how they did this because the word siesta derives from the Latin expression hora sexta, which means “the sixth hour” after you wake up. So in Spanish terms that should be the cocktail hour…

Still, I understand how the habit was formed. In the searing heat of summery Spain, it is best to make the most of the cool hours of the night and then rest when the heat is at its worst, although this is not good for empire-building, nor for Englishmen and mad dogs who like to go out in the midday sun to build their empires.

I was reminded of these habits on Saturday night in the flimsy-walled hotel where I foolishly decided to stay for the Spanish GP, on the basis that it was close to the track, was cheap and had a restraurant that was open. The room next door to mine seemed to be the headquarters of the Granollers Debating Society and from about 3am onwards was the venue for a lengthy argument (presumably about Catalan independence) and then, when most had departed and the sun was about to appear, a pair remained, grew more fond of one another and serenaded the dawn with animal impersonations. Still, it sounded like they enjoyed their safari. They didn’t seem too bothered when I knocked on the wall. So, I wasn’t too bothered putting on the morning show on the TV when I got up at 7am. We racing folk tend to be a little deaf and so you need a high volume…

Sunday was a long day as a result of this, with heavy eyelids and working deep into the following night became a real challenge. All this meant that by Monday morning a very weary reporter set off to drive the 800 miles home. And it didn’t help that it rained for most of the first 400 miles, making life a little more complicated as I worked up way across Catalonia, along the Languedoc coast and then turned north to Lodeve and climbed up from the Mediterranean plain to the high Larzac plateau by way of Pégairolles-de-l’Escalette, which I presume gets its name from somehow being related to an escalier (a staircase). Up on top of the plateau it was still miserable and even the grandeur of the Viaduct de Millau was lost in the mist and rain.

By the time I reached Authezat, at the bottom of the descent from the Massif Centrale towards Clermont-Ferrand, I was a Tesla in need of a charging station… I could go no further.

It had been a busy weekend in Spain with a terrific race for the victory between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. I think in the years to come we may look back on this era as having been a little bit special, as one titan coming to the end of his F1 career fought another rising to his peak.

Anyway, it wasn’t the cut-and-thrust of NASCAR, of passing and repassing, but something more subtle than that. It was a terrific contest of strategic thinking between Mercedes and Red Bull as their drivers gave everything they had. Could we have asked for a better battle on a track that is makes racing so hard? It’s not always easy telling casual F1 fans about how fascinating some of these races are. It’s not just warriors trading blows. It’s a rich and complex story of competition on so many different levels. Mercedes might have won on the track (again), but there was big blow struck to the team in the days before the race when Red Bull announced that it had hired five top engineers from the Mercedes AMG HPP team at Brixworth, joining the new technical director Ben Hodgkinson at Red Bull Powertrains. This group will build the Red Bull engines of the future. And what impact will their departure have on Mercedes performance? Perhaps one day we will see this moment as the day the Mercedes flagship took a torpedo in the midships. Perhaps not.

With limited access to the paddock (and hopefully this will be the last race with such restrictions) the F1 media numbered only 55 – and a lot were Spanish – but attendance is better than last year when that number of media present dipped into single figures in Russia.

This meant that there was not much gossip going on, except stuff dreamed up by the Bedroom Bernsteins and the Wannabe Woodwards.

Everyone misses the gossip element of the F1 show and what little interaction there is between the real F1 media and the team bosses usually features a “what’s happening?” moment from both sides. This has always been a system in which people can start rumours for their own purposes, if they wish to stir up trouble against a rival. We’ve seen that a lot in recent days with rumours that Aston Martin might get rid of Otmar Szafnauer. There was no truth to the stories, but it was – it seems – revenge of another team that didn’t convince Cognizant to join them, rather than signing up with Aston Martin. I’m not saying Cognizant made the right decision, but obviously the other team wasn’t happy about it… and I’m told the team bosses are less than friendly these days.

One point that I didn’t see mentioned anywhere was that the Spanish Grand Prix doesn’t have a contract for 2022. In fact this year’s race was a one-off deal to keep the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya track on the F1 schedule, while they try to work out a deal to keep a Spanish race on the calendar. We should have one given that Fernando Alonso is back in action with Alpine (albeit being shown up a little so far by Esteban Ocon) – and Carlos Sainz is, of course, racing for Ferrari. At the same time, we have Sebastian Vettel in an Aston Martin and Mercedes winning a lot and we still don’t have a German Grand Prix.

Well, not at the time of writing anyway, but I wonder whether with Turkey up to its neck in COVID-19 and other countries putting up obstacles to movement for those who have been there, I can imagine that the Turkish GP might have to go and perhaps we could end up in Hockenheim.

A rather optimistic French magazine suggested that we could be in for two French GPs this summer, but I fear that paying for one is hard enough… In Formula 1 the best advice for a reporter is to always follow the money, because that is what always creates the story.

Spain has a problem with money but it is complicated because Catalunya has been a bit naughty in recent years by trying to gain independence from Spain, and so the Spanish central government is not keep to help the Catalans with an F1 race, but doesn’t currently have an alternative venue into which money can be poured. It might even be a good moment for someone to build a circuit near Madrid because the Spanish government might be willing to help, leaving the Catalans in a pickle. Carlos Jr is also a madrileño, which would help.

If you look at the history of the Brazilian GP, for example, this is important as the switching between Rio and Sao Paulo was largely related to whether a paulista (a native of Sao Paulo) or a carioca (a native of Rio) was the top F1 driver at the time…

But there are other problems as well in Catalunya not least the fact that the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya does not produce good races. The F1 drivers love it, because it is fun to drive, but racing in almost impossible because (like Monaco) there is nowhere to overtake. It was interesting to see that the Catalans tried reprofiling Turns 10 and 11 this year (working hand-in-glove with the Racing Department of the Formula 1 group, so they said). It made no difference at all, in fact it was worse.

“It was probably the only overtaking opportunity apart from Turn 1,” Pierre Gasly reported. “And now there’s not as much of a big braking zone.”

And with the cars today having so much downforce, even Turn 1 is very difficult unless there is a significant delta between the two cars. And F1 performance today is so tight that this rarely exists unless the cars are on different tyre strategies. The drivers – even the Spaniards – are polite about this monstrous flaw, but they all talk about the importance of the start and how strategy is important in Spain.

This has always been the case at the track and if one wants to argue the point, the statistics make it rather obvious. In the 31 races held at the track 24 have been won from pole and another four from second on the grid. Only three winners came from behind the front row and no-one has won the race from lower than fifth on the grid…

For me that’s a problem, but it is a bigger problem that when they tried to fix it, they didn’t succeed. If we do get to race in Melbourne this year (and it’s still very doubtful, in my opinion) we will see another attempt by the Racing Department of the Formula 1 group to fix a circuit where racing is not easy, so if they don’t get that one right…

To me, and I am obviously not a scientist, there has to be some sort of science which leads to good races at one track and bad ones at others. It cannot be magic. So, if one can identify the right ingredients, surely a chef would argue that one can bake a good cake?

I spotted US Grand Prix promoter Bobby Epstein in the paddock and managed to have a quiet conversation with him about where the race in Austin is going. The track is out of contract after this year’s race but Epstein is confident that a new deal will be struck as F1 and is happy that Miami has joined in to help grow the sport in the Unitd States. He says there are no fears about the race being cancelled because of COVID-19 and says that all tickets that have been put up for sale to date have been sold. He’s planning to beat attendance records set in 2019 and while the Saturday night concert with 71-year-old Billy Joel may not get F1’s new young US fans (thanks to Netflix) rocking, he says that he’s got a deal for the Friday concert with a band that is “massive” but this will not be announced for another three weeks. He says that this group will appeal to a younger demographic.

Netflix has been key in driving interest in F1 in the US, particularly among women, which Epstein says means that more tickets will be sold because the sport is now beginning to appeal to the whole family. Epstein says that 65 percent of the tickets sold are to out-of-state people but reckons that this could be 80 percent if foreign visitors get the confidence to travel to the US. The track recently achieved a big goal which went unnoticed when it got a change of zoning for large sections of the 1,155-acre venue. It can now start investing in new facilities and activities to broaden the appeal and become more of a tourist hub, including a non-racing entertainment park for kids, a water park, more indoor and outdoor sports facilities, convention and retail space, condominiums and a private motorsport club, with garaging for cars. At the centre of the project is an 11-storey hotel that can be expanded in the future to more than 500 rooms. It all sounds very exciting…

What other scribbles are there? I have heard in recent days of a documentary that will be launched soon about former FIA President Max Mosley, which will tell his story. “Mosley: It’s Complicated” will cover many subjects including his family background, his racing career, his work with the FIA and  the spanking of media conglomerates that followed titillating revelations in the News of the World. One can only wonder what certification the film will have.

There is also whispers of a similar project about Bernie Ecclestone…

In the F1 world one is never far from someone famous, even if one is stuck in the media cage. The media may not be allowed in the paddock to do its job, but the justification for such restriction is becoming increasingly untenable. I’d like the Granollers Debating Society to take on the discussion: In a media sport, is a cleaning lady more essential than the media? I am sure that they would get into the definition of “essential”. Last weekend I spotted Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the chairman and chief executive officer of Ineos. He’s a team shareholder at Mercedes, so one can argue that owners are essential. Based on my experience of some of these people, I would argue that they are not really essential at all, as most have no clue how to make a team successful. I’ve seen Susie Wolff in the Paddock in the past but she can be justified as a wife of an owner, as these days wives have as much right to ownership of an F1 team as a husband does, unless there is a prenup.

If we are looking to discover the secret owner of Williams we should perhaps investigate two new leads: Geri Horner (formerly of The Spice Girls) was in Barcelona and her hubby Christian is definitely not an F1 team owner, so I’m not sure why his wife is allowed in and FC Barcelona’s French striker Antoine Griezmann doesn’t seem a likely team owner, but he was wandering around too. Who knows, maybe he (and Geri) are planning to build an F1 circuit in Lesotho, an essential thing because everyone thinks a race in Africa is just a splendid idea.

One can have endless flights of fancy about Formula 1 and given the access problem, imaginations have been quite active. I loved last week’s announcement that Penske Racing is going into partnership (again) with Porsche to compete in the acronymous LMDh class in sports car racing. They are going to set up a European operation to run the racing on this side of The Pond. Wouldn’t it be great if Roger then decided to help boost F1 in America by using this as a future headquarters for Porsche and Penske in F1. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s ridiculous… but why not? Roger’s only 84… and he’ll get bored once they have won Le Mans.

Another octagenarian who we should keep an eye on is John Malone, the owner of the Formula 1 group through his Liberty Media. He has his fingers in a lot pies. Last week, the FIA forgot to mention this when it announced that they had found a promoter for the FIA Electric GT Championship, which will be launched in 2023. The series, they declared would be promoted by the media company Discovery Inc’s events management division, Eurosport Events, following a competitive tender process.

Discovery Inc. is a publicly-traded company, but such entities can (and are) controlled by people. Discovery is effectively run by Liberty Global, another of Malone’s companies. Liberty Global also owns a significant shareholding in Formula E Holdings…

So when it comes to merging championships and so on in the future, one man will make the decisions (if he’s still going). And one suspects that the FIA, which relies on funding from its commercial rights-holders, will cut the best deal possible, while also saying (quietly) “Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir…”

Anyway, after a good snooze in Authezat, I hit the road again and, feeling refreshed, was home in time for dinner… at a sensible French hour.

41 thoughts on “Green Notebook from Authezat

  1. Gotta love Roger Penske + Porsche = F1? … remind me who owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

  2. Good read Joe.

    Better to let the batteries recharge rather than go onto autopilot and crash and burn.

  3. Is it not time to simply stand at the paddock entrance, wavy your pass and yell. ‘Let me in,’ until someone does because the number of obvious hangers on in the paddock is getting silly.

  4. Interesting..
    Joe if Porsche decide to come in as a pu supplier only and Red Bull was up against Penske for the contract. Who do you think would get it?

      1. Don’t forget, Penske built an engine. It only raced once but it won. See Beast by Joe Gurss

        1. Joe

          I stayed at the same hotel a number of times and on one occasion had two rooms at opposite ends (long story). Reception told me how to call that room from mine.

          To be at a meeting bright and fresh one Monday morning I stayed at the hotel and after a few beers went back to my room to similar experiences you had. After 5 minutes I called their room and got a very curious “hullo”. I asked if they could please turn down their adult channel as I was watching BBC 2. They switched it off!! As I was leaving my room the following morning they came out of theirs, but we’re not sure which room had interrupted their evening. 😂😂

        2. Also remember that MB Powertraines in Brixworth started life as Illmor Engineering and one of their earlier projects was the Chevrolet Indycar engine and Roger Penske was a shareholder in Illmor Engineering.

  5. I really enjoyed this “Green Notebook”. All are good but you were ‘on form’ with the first bits.

  6. I have always been told that the British build an empire on Marmite and gin&tonics. Because when you have Marmite and gin&tonics for breakfast you REALLY want to kill someone!

    Thanks for another great read

  7. Joe yes I share your doubts about Melbourne, just yesterday the Fed Government was saying that they don’t expect the Australian borders to open to International travellers until mid 2022 at the earliest. All depends on the vaccine rollout here – very slow due to the Astra Zeneca concerns for the under 50’s and the delay getting hold of the Pfiser vax – and overseas. And it looks like that some period of quarantine will still have to be served by arrivals so I don’t see how the GP will go ahead this year and maybe next!

  8. Joe

    Another great ‘travel’ piece and I note that after a tiring weekend the edginess always makes these a ‘more fun’ read… “they enjoyed their safari” and the FIA “Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir…” I love the inside line of F1 and can’t wait for you to get back to the thick of things. ” Joe Saward Priority One”

    gave me a smile this morning at what for me is the last day of the week before a Belgium Long weekend.

    I hope you have your usual plans for your ‘Monaco vacation’ and wish you happy and safe travels.


  9. The only thing I can say about the “fact” that you can’t overtake at Monaco is that apparently no one told the Formula E boys.

    As regards the British Empire, my friends and I have a theory that it happened because the food at home was so appalling, there was a need to get as far away from it as possible to find something tasty for dinner.

    1. The cars are very different and the drivers have a lot more time… the reason they changed some parts of the circuit was to avoid an embarrassing comparison with F1. I haven’t done the numbers recently but the last time there was a direct comparison, FE was about on a par with Formula 4. The electric revolution may be the future but there is still a long, long way to go.

      1. I figure 10 years before electric energy takes over F1. By that time I’ll be deaf and it won’t matter.
        Dan From Can

  10. The French Army certainly marches, or not, on its stomach.

    From my spying activities on the 2nd Dragoon regiment based in Camp Fontevraud, I would advise any intending invader to attack at precisely 12:15 on the Wednesday following 15th August.

    At that time about 2/3rds of the squaddies will be on a beach somewhere. When not on holiday, Wednesday is their day for R&R as child-minding duties normally disrupts their infighting and everything has to stop at midday, for an extensive lunch.

  11. re good time to build a circuit near Madrid – the motorcycling press have been talking about the fact that there is going to be a new circuit 40km from Madrid in Morata de Tajuna, seems that it has planning approval to build one in an old quarry – I don’t think I’ve seen this mentioned in your blog, Joe, but I assume you had heard about it? Couldn’t tell from your comment if you had heard but maybe dismissed for reasons so far unreported?

          1. Adding to that, might I say that a circuit in Lesotho sounds like a good idea—plenty of hills there to provide elevation change and nice views!

      1. Spain currently has three other circuits with the necessary FIA grade 1 licence to host F1: Jerez, Valencia and Motorland Aragon. None are anywhere near Madrid, but are at least outside Catalonia, if that is an important political consideration.

  12. Definitely a great season so far, we need to enjoy it since history tells us that after a big rule change the better teams gap to the less good will be bigger until some catching up is done, and that reducing aero has never improved overtaking – and we have done it many, many times expecting it will.
    I often reflect on how the Senna Schumacher contest would have proceeded but for that fateful day in 1994. I am pretty sure Senna would have been WC in 1994 and 5 based on what I know.
    Anyway, it was not to be 😦

      1. I think ’94 would have been a stretch. Schu probably wouldn’t have been forced to miss any races to spice up the show so the 20 point deficit pre Imola would have been very hard to make up. I’ve always maintained this even as a staunch Senna fan!
        95/6/7 would have been absolutely nailed on though. That would have netted 6 titles for the great man but ironically only one less for Michael!!

    1. If my aunt had testicles she would be my uncle, but it’s fascinating scenario to play out as I also think Senna would have wanted to revive Ferrari fortune.

  13. They could always move the GP back to Jarama. On second thoughts, that’s probably not a great idea, given it was even impossible to overtake Gilles in his Ferrari-powered tractor 40 years ago.

    1. Great contribution Artctic!
      However Gilles was as great a defender in his racecraft arsenal as he was an attacker.
      Such freakish talents are rare….

  14. Great text, Joe! Regarding overtaking, I once met Ross Brawn on an airline lounge somewhere. At the time, he was part of the Overtaking Group, which I thought would solve the issue, so I asked him about what should be done. He said it was very simple: make smaller cars and consider the wake generated by the cars in the rule making process (so that teams would have to make cars that create a favorable wake). According to him, this would allow one car to follow the other in all corners and create more overtaking points in the track.
    I was positively surprised to receive a candid answer to my question and we moved along to different flights.
    The change of rules to achieve those two points never happened for reasons unknown but I still believe this is the best answer to the question of overtaking in F1, coming from someone who certainly knows what he’s talking about.

    1. I feel that this year, Mercedes have made significant steps in improving their car’s ability to follow more closely and still be able to strike, when required. Presumably research for next year’s cars has paid early dividends.

      Yes, the cars are way too big. Watching the Monaco Historic, you could believe that current drivers could easily race the older cars, 3 abreast – unlike their current well-heeled owners.

      However, i do believe that in years to come, people will rave about the 2021 season as being the Classic Year of the Hybrid era.

    2. The difficulty is in creating the rules around ostensibly simple statements. As far as teh size of teh car goes there are physical challenges with regards to the size of components that make up crash structures. If you need to absorb a certain amount of energy as determined by the regulations that will effectively create a minimum size which prevents you from making the cars smaller. Similarly how can you measure teh requirement around wake? Do you prescribe a certain amount of turbulence at a set distance from the car, at a set speed? If so, how can you measure that to ensure compliance with the regulations?

  15. Two Ineos references in two notebooks. Interesting.

    Just out of curiosity, did you see any of the Ineos Grenadiers in Portugal move under their own power (or indeed otherwise)? Heard an interesting but probably scurrilous rumour that they were mostly seen dramatically positioned but defiantly stationary…

  16. > acronymous

    Not heard that word for a long time. I do though remember reading the words of the late, great LJK Setright (mumble years ago), IIRC:

    “The Germans gave us Hieronymous Bosch*; the French give us acronymous bosh”. All of which to introduce the latest Jaguar – and its manufacturer, SEPECAT, the Société Européenne de Production de l’Avion Ecole de Combat et Appui Tactique…

    * I know, he was Dutch. Maybe I’m mistaken; my recollection is that he wrote ‘German’ not ‘Dutch’.

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