Green Notebook from Liezen

The cow sheds around Liezen all seem to be falling down, presumably because the cows have been upgraded to better accommodation, with fancy automated milking machines, and the farmers cannot be bothered to knock down the old buildings and have left it up to Mother Nature to do the heavy lifting. She’s doing a good job.

Liezen is one of those places where one forgets one has been. I arrived the other day and thought: ‘Oh, I know this place, I stopped here once for…’ but you cannot remember why. It’s one of those places where valleys meet and people rush through, going to Schladming, to Graz, to the dramatic Gesäuse National Park or to Sankt Pankraz (there has to be a station there) en route for the German border, where one crosses the Inn river and arrives at the unpromising village of Bad Fussing.

Liezen is probably most famous for a fictional castle which features in the 200 espionage novels  written by Frenchman Gérard de Villiers,  between 1965 and 2013 (and I thought I wrote a lot). These centre on an Austrian prince called Malko Linge, who works for the CIA to fund repairs for the castle. He wears tailor-made alpaca suits and carries a very small gun.

This unlikely recipe has produced sales of 120 million books, which means that I should probably stop messing about with racing cars and spend my time writing spy novels. There are supposed to be some films coming as well, as some Hollywood studio has bought the rights to Malko Linge (including sequels and prequels) and so can provide us with movies about him until at least the year 2200, although there will need to be a few new Malkos along the way, as Michael Fassbinder, the celebrated Irish-German F1 fan, may be too old for the later movies. Actually things have gone a bit quiet on the Malko front, leading to speculation that Fassbinder might actually be the new James Bond, given that Daniel Craig intends to retire from the role.

Anway, I discovered all of this when I went to Liezen, so I could have a Chinese dinner, as I am schnitzel-ed out and was looking for a few Vietnamesische Frühlingsrollen and some Schweinefleisch süß-sauer mit weißer Reis. Asian comfort food, I suppose.

It certainly feels like I’ve spent a lot of time in Austria in the last 12 months. As I have already written somewhere, when we finish the Austrian GP weekend on Sunday we will have completed a total of 26 races in a 12-month period (17 in 2020 and nine thus far in 2021), which goes to prove that F1 can do amazing things when folks put their mind to it, but I do hope that as and when the world returns to some form of normality, we will stop doing triple-headers. They are OK if two of the three races are at the same circuit, but things like Russia-Turkey-Japan should be forgotten. Anyway, more on the calendar later.

Four of these 26 races will have been in Austria and so the feeling that we’ve been here a lot is understandable. Not that I am complaining about spending time in Styria. The gasthofs are OK, the food is OK, the weather is OK, everyone drives like Gerhard Berger and they all seem to be very fond of getting tattoos. If we hadn’t had so many races in Austria I would not have discovered some fascinating facts. This, for example, is strawberry-growing country. Everywhere you go there are signs for “erdbeeren” and I even went past a place called “Erdbeerfelder” about which one can only say “für immer…” and continue on to see if there is a Pfennig Weg nearby. (Google Translate may help).

I have spent much of the week in a castle overlooking the town of Admont, wherein there is a Benedictine Abbey that dates back more than 900 years. It is a place that is constantly filled with coachloads of teenagers on school trips, who aren’t really interested in Benedictine things, and just want to go and get an ice cream, but it seems a pleasant enough place. It has a spectacular library, so they say, amounting to 200,000 books, although they can only get 70,000 in the actual building. The rest, I guess, are in the cellars, attics, loos and dormitories.

To get to the Red Bull Ring from here, you need to zig-zag your way up a mountain ridge (with a lovely view of the unappetisingly-named village of Rottenmann), and then zig-zag down the other side to Trieben and then zig-zag up and over the Tauern range to villages such as Sankt Oswald-Möderbrugg and Pols, from where the circuit is within easy reach. All this is not the work of a moment – but the motorways take about as long as you have to zig east to zag west.

If one is into etymology, by the way, one can link the Tauern range with the Taurisci tribes of Carinthia, a name that may or may not be linked to bulls, which perhaps adds another dimension to Dietrich Mateschitz’s decision to name his famous drink Red Bull. They certainly like exotic drinks in this part of the world with the supermarket stuffed full of weird concoctions, all of them presumably hoping to one day inherit the crown of King Dietrich…

The last few days has seen the COVID-19 (they call it “corona” in these parts) restrictions being eased and so next weekend the Red Bull Ring will have a full crowd, which will be about three times the size of the crowd at last week’s Styrian GP. The Dutch have already arrived, judging by the number of yellow number plates on the roads, and they will be hoping for a repeat performance of Dutch domination. The restrictions in Austria have included the requirement to have a negative test or vaccination certificate before being allowed to sit down in a restaurant, which can be annoying if you are not the kind of person who is umbilically attached to your mobiles (known in these parts as “handies”). I sometimes leave mine behind and so went hungry one day while out doing mini-tours between seances of computer-thumping.

The Styrian GP was one of those events which show that news-gathering is becoming almost impossible in F1. I was on to two good stories during the weekend with the Turkish GP and Dan Fallows on his way to Aston Martin, but things didn’t work out too well. At one point I asked the FOM communications man on site if he was expecting to put out a statement about Turkey any time soon. He replied “a minute ago”…

And then I asked Christian Horner about Fallows, hoping for a nod or a wink. He would say nothing. Half an hour later out came the press release. I suppose that I have only myself to blame for this as my inquiry seemed to have lit the fuse that led to the announcement because Christian (quite rightly) did not want the staff to find out about the move from the media. Still, it’s frustrating sometimes.

News is news for about 10 minutes and then every “F1 journalist” from Streatham to Ulam Bator is spouting forth on social media. I am always amazed by the number of self-proclaimed F1 journalists these days, although for confused readers I should perhaps mention that anyone who includes “FIA-accredited” in their bios should not be trusted too much because if you are regularly FIA-accredited you don’t feel the need to mention it…

Oh well, perhaps I should join the throng and become a travel writer without ever leaving home…

The other bit of news, which I did get early, was the move of the Russian GP in 2023 to St Petersburg. This was greeted with a certain amount of joy in the paddock, as Sochi has never been a favourite race. St Petersburg, at least, seems like a great city. A destination city. I am interested to see the date of the race as anything between May and July could mean that we can have a night race in daylight, as the track is so far north that it rarely gets dark at that time of year. Might be a good idea for the fast-growing F1 audience in the US.

The best thing for F1 in the US would be to have two races this year and there is still talk of back-to-back events in Texas. That would be great because there is little taste in F1 for Brazil this year. In any case, as long as any country is on Britain’s so-called “red list” there is no chance of a Grand Prix because the majority of the F1 circus comes from the UK and this means that people who are allowed to enter the UK must quarantine in government-provided hotels at a cost of £1,750 per head, in addition to going through an elaborate system of health checks. Current F1 countries impacted by these rules are Bahrain, Brazil, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, but it is hoped that some of the restrictions will be lifted before the races happen. However with some of them the restictions are not the problem but rather the decisions that must be made about F1 sea-freight that is sent out to faraway places. This takes time and money and F1 is not keen on wasting money by shipping things to places where races don’t happen. So decisions are needed before the freight sets sail.

Although Turkey is still on the red list it has been named as the replacement for Singapore, and a triple-header that F1 folks are not overly keen on. However there is the possibility that Japan will fall out of bed. It is worth noting that MotoGP called off its planned Japanese Grand Prix, which was scheduled for October 3 at Motegi, a week before the F1 race at Suzuka. The key point is that the two races are both promoted by the MobilityLand Corporation, a Honda subsidiary. Maybe Honda wants to have the race this year – its last in F1 for the foreseeable future – but in Japan they are pretty conservative when it comes to COVID-19 and although the Olympics are going ahead, the general public is firmly against that happening, according to opinion polls.  So holding a Grand Prix is not necessarily such a good idea. If the Olympics runs into pandemic problems (which is entirely possible) the F1 race is very unlikely to happen.

However, the possibility of  more spectators at events this year has done wonders for the F1 share price in recent days, with an increase of nearly 10 percent last week. The shares are now back to where they were before the pandemic began.

The FIA election is going on in the background with Mohammed ben Sulayem, the rival candidate to Graham Stoker, having decided to nominate Fabiana Ecclestone as his Vice President Sport for South America. If he is elected Mrs E would become the first female FIA Vice President, but it is still a bit of a risk as the name Ecclestone is not always an advantage when dealing with the FIA clubs… Elsewhere, there was some mirth on the Safari Rally in Kenya when The Star newspaper in Nairobi made reference to FIA Deputy President “Graham Stalker”.

Elsewhere, the new Williams technical director FX Demaison was asked what he wanted for his driver line-up next year and, in effect – without naming names – gave a perfect description of Valtteri Bottas, an experienced driver, who has won races and fought for championships. It should be remembered that Demaison was previously at Volkswagen Motorsport and when preparing to enter the World Rally Championship, back in 2011, they took on Carlos Sainz, who had been out of the WRC for five years, to prepare the VW Polo WRC for the campaign… This worked out well as the team won four consecutive World Championships between 2013 and 2016.

Over at Alpine, Fernando Alonso has told a Spanish publication that he intends to stay with the team until at least 2024. If that happens Alonso will be 43 by the time he retires.

And finally, there was some amusement when BWT water company boss Andreas Weissenbacher told the Austrian media that he is trying to convince Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll to switch his F1 team from British racing green to pink.

Good luck with that. I’m not sure James Bond would be keen…

26 thoughts on “Green Notebook from Liezen

  1. I went to St Petersburg a few years ago. Beautiful city but full of street furniture and dreadful traffic jams. Good luck getting in and out of there.

  2. “between seances of computer-thumping” There is, and can never be, any other F1 writer like Joe. Well writer period really. Every Green Notebook is like a bit of sunshine written on my screen.

  3. I am still happy with the return of British racing green this year, especially instead of the BWT pink. Better change BWT company colors to BRG, makes the world a happier place 😉

  4. Graham Stoker may possibly be related in some way to Bram Stoker, an author who tended to prefer night races to daylight ones.

  5. Joe, you have reported Liberty’s aim of there being no free races this year. Now that there are two races at the Red Bull Ring and potentially two in Austin, is this still the case or is it now a matter of needs must?

    Only you could open an F1 piece with “The cow sheds around Liezen all seem to be falling down”. Great stuff!

      1. Even the additional Austrian race which had no crowds, but Liberty needed to run for the championship?

  6. I have read that there were discussions of extending the A-1 Ring to thru the old Hella-Licht Chicane to join with the new section. Has those discussions stopped?

  7. Joe what about the pics that showed up online about the 2022 F1 car? Are we going to see it in Silverstone?

  8. The most amazing thing about the Aston Martin F1 Team colours is that on camera they look like the Mercedes team, to think they spent a year perfecting the colour green to create a Mercedes look a like is incredible, I think Mr BWT might have a point.

  9. ”Oh well, perhaps I should join the throng and become a travel writer without ever leaving home…”
    Oh no Joe, please! You are already Jules Verne of F1, You don’t have to sit at home. Otherwise – how do we get to know that we can have Vietnamesische Frühlingsrollen in Austria and that James Bond is actually an English version of Malko Linge? 🙂

  10. p.s. there are escalating rumors of an a jocker race next year. The main candidates – as we reported before on this platform – are the possible races in Peru and/or Kenya. But now another possibility is emerging – due to Pirelli’s quest to conquer Scandinavian market they are pushing for the race being staged around McMurdo Station, Herman Tilke has been drafted in to help FOM and FIA to evaluate possible layout . . . we will keep you updated once more details surface.

  11. Nice piece Joe

    I was shocked the other day to realise that it is 40 years since I was last at the Austrian GP where I witnessed Jacques Laffite’s surprise win. The old Osterreichring seemed to spring up unusual results throughout the ’70’s and early ’80’s. Given the current Covid situation in Australia where half the country is in lockdown because the vaccination programme has been messed up by the Federal Govt, and my age, I doubt that I will ever leave the country again. I wonder why the old circuit threw up so many unusual results – notably Jo Siffert, Brambilla, Watson and Alan Jones’ first win – the shortened version hasn’t had the same history and doesn’t hold a candle to the old track I’m afraid.

  12. Being a baby boomer I grew up during the cold war, and have read a lot of cold war novels Le Carre of course, but Len Deighton will always be the master. (Not to mention his incredibly detailed WW2 novels) Are the novels of Gérard de Villiers available in English?
    On your travels Joe, are you English or French?
    How many miles on the Prius now?
    At least you can get into the paddock now, though perhaps attitudes have changed during the period of exclusion.

    1. Answers : I don’t know about de Villiers’s work in English.
      I’m a European.
      The car has done 380,000kms.
      Yes, I can get in the paddock…
      I’m amazed at how many people are writing F1 articles as if they are present at F1 races. For the record, at the Austrian GP there were five other British written journos present (not including TV talking heads, FIA/FOM writers and commentators/interviewers).

      Adam Cooper (Motorsport Network)
      Laurence Edmondson (ESPN)
      Giles Richards (Guardian)
      Mark Hughes (The Race)
      Jerome Pugmire (AP)

      Three others went home after the Styrian GP

      Chris Medland (Racer)
      Jon McEvoy (Mail)
      Phil Duncan (PA)

  13. Thanks, Joe. Good to know about Mrs. Ecclestone and the FIA. She’s an exceptional professional who did outstanding work before getting married so I see this as very positive news.

    1. Not everyone will. I agree she’s talented but no one ever said all the clubs were enlightened!

  14. Regarding the Russian GP moving to St Petersburg, whilst visit the in-laws we went today to Drive Igora (the new circuit) to race go karts. It’s a very impressive complex. Race track, go kart track, rally cross, car museum and a rather nice restaurant. Across the road is a ski area, ice skating and spa hotel. It’s all built in the middle of nowhere 65kms outside St Petersburg, but at least on the new dual carriageway. A lot of locals can stay at their Dachas, but I didn’t see any other hotel for visitors. I’ve already booked the in-laws Dacha…

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