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…