When I was a kid, half a century ago, I recall vividly a broadcast on my grandmother’s Roberts R200 radio each morning in the kitchen of her bungalow in Frinton on Sea. Grandma was a rather severe Edwardian lady, who had lived through two wars. As a teenager she had won a gallantry medal for doing something very brave, involving Zeppelins, bombs and glass-roofed buildings. The citation, lost long ago, was framed and on the wall in her bedroom, but no one can remember exactly what it said – and because it is a complicated business tracking down such things we have not yet been able to discover more.
She loved to listen to the shipping forecast on Radio 4 and I well remember the strange lists being read out: “Low, Dogger, 987, deepening, expected Fisher, 972 at 07 hundred tomorrow”. The names seemed wildly exotic: Rockall, Fair Isle, Viking, Forties, Cromarty, Humber, German Bight, Biscay, Trafalgar, Lundy, Fastnet and so on, but I had no idea what it all meant.
It is said that this broadcast was the source of a famous quotation: “Fog in the Channel: Continent isolated” back in the 1930s. Perhaps it was. Later the Nazis used this in their propaganda to highlight what they saw as British arrogance as the inhabitants thought that the group of islands off the coast of Europe were of such importance that the Continent could be cut off from them, rather than vice versa. The expression did appear in print in 1957, but this was The Times having fun, using the apocryphal phrase to make a dull story more interesting.
I was reminded of all this when I woke up after a doze on the ferry on the way back to France on Monday evening after the Grand Prix. When I got on the ship – the MS Seven Sisters (named after the chalk cliffs on the British side of the channel, the sister ship of the MS Cote d’Albatre – literally the Alabaster Coast – which is the name for the chalk cliffs on the French side) it was a bright sunny day, but in the Channel there was quite thick surface fog. This meant that the Seven Sisters sailed more slowly than usual.
The thought “Continent isolated” made me chuckle because there is an element of truth in the expression in the psyche of some Brits. I guess it goes back to the days of empire, when Britannia really did rule the waves, but it persists these days in the minds of those who think themselves superior to “Johnny Foreigner” and don’t want to mix with outsiders. Now Britain has gone its own way with Brexit, much has changed and while Europe remains cautious of the pandemic, Boris Johnson and his followers who rule Britain today have embarked on a bizarre policy to open up the country from COVID restrictions and seem willing to accept the consequences, in the name of economic progress.
Thus, F1, hidden behind its ever-present masks and regular PCR testing, took part in a four-day festival involving more than 150,000 people (the 356,000 figure given out is four-day attendance figure). They all had a good time, without masks, social distancing and other such limitations. In theory everyone there had to show that they had been double vaccinated or had had a negative lateral flow test within 48 hours of attendance, but I have no idea how (or if) this was policed, because I drove in each day without ever being asked for anything and there did not seem to be any worse delays than usual (except on Friday night when the late Qualifying session resulted in hours of grid-lock), I assumed no-one was stopping to rummage around for paperwork.
Time will tell whether this was all a good idea, but it is worth noting that Ross Brawn’s post-Silverstone column specifically made the point that the event was done under British government permissions. “We had a full house, which was permitted by the UK government pilot event,” he wrote. Or, to paraphrase it slightly: “if it all goes wrong, it was their fault”.
Still, the British Grand Prix could not have happened without the race having the status as part of the Event Research Programme (ERP), a scheme designed to examine the risk of transmission of COVID from attendance at events. When one boiled it all down, therefore, there were 150,000 guinea pigs in the grandstands on Sunday, all happily communing in support of Lewis Hamilton. There were virtually no Dutch because of the complications involved with quarantine when returning to the Continent.
And yet, it was great to see a large number of people again and they were treated not only to drama and a Hamilton victory (number 99) but they also got to watch the new Sprint format in qualifying. This was all cheery stuff following England’s defeat in the UEFA Euro 2020 soccer competition the previous Sunday. The trophy went home to Rome and Britain agonised. Pirelli decided that it would make a small point about this and so flew the Italian flag outside its motorhome all weekend. Such is sport.
Soccer faded from the national consciousness as the week went on and Lewis showed signs that perhaps he might defeat Max Verstappen, after five consecutive Red Bull Racing victories. The new format made for a better weekend, of that there is little argument. It provided action on all three days, which meant better fan engagement. Things were a little less predictable than normal as teams had less time to practice and that seems to have had a significant impact on the weekend. The Red Bull is still the better car but the team chose to run more wing than might normally have been the case and so lost its advantage on the straights, while Mercedes chose a low-drag approach, which gave it more speed, but made the cars more skittery. These two elements combined to create an interesting battle on Saturday when Verstappen blasted away and dominated The Sprint and on Sunday when Lewis knew that he had just a lap or two to get ahead to avoid the same thing happening again. And, boom!
Max ended up in the wall with a 51G impact that proved that Bernie Ecclestone’s remarks about Lewis losing his hunger were a million miles wide of the mark. Lewis showed on Sunday that he is very much the fighter that he always has been. In fact, I would argue that he showed a little more than that. There was something inevitable about the clash, which we have been expecting for some time.
I think this one was a racing incident because the contact between the two cars was minimal, but with big consequences. Max came steaming across in front of Lewis and almost did it right. There wasn’t much Lewis could do to avoid an impact at that point, although I am also sure that he ddn’t want a collision. Amid all the noise after the crash, few seemed to pay much attention to the FIA Stewards’ decision – and they largely missed the point that Lewis was also given two penalty points. The cars, the stewards said, “entered Turn 9 with car 33 in the lead and car 44 slightly behind and on the inside. Car 44 was on a line that did not reach the apex of the corner, with room available to the inside. When car 33 turned into the corner, car 44 did not avoid contact and the left front of car 44 contacted the right rear of car 33. Car 44 is judged predominantly at fault”.
The last phrase is significant. The stewards clearly felt that that Lewis should take most of the blame, but the word “predominantly” indicates that there was also some fault involved with Verstappen. There was no penalty for the Dutchman as the implications of an accident – while not considered in the discussion of blame – are treated as punishment in such circumstances.
So, in effect, the stewards were saying that both drivers had some responsibility in the crash.
I’d call that a racing incident…
You can argue as much as you like about it but it’s irrelevant. Max paid the price for his aggressivity – which he has always had – and Lewis paid the price for not getting out of his way. The key question beyond all the yapping and griping is whether Max will do the same again if the circumstances occur, or whether he will have learned that Lewis is not going to be shoved out of the way.
A line was drawn in the sand, if you like…
If Max does not take that onboard, I fear we will see some more incidents this year because Hamilton is still a lion by nature and cuffing troublesome cubs only works so many times before a bite is required to get the message across.
The weekend also saw the launch of a full-scale model of the 2022 car, as envisaged by the F1 group. The one shown in the F1 Paddock was painted with a curious livery of red and silver, with the latter producing rainbow reflections, which may fit in with F1’s current equality messaging, but always reminds me of Barbie packaging (for some reason). The car itself is very long and hefty-looking: more of a valkyrie than a nymph, which is a shame because F1 cars should be light and sleek and not battle wagons…
Anyway, the paddock and the grid were filled with people profiling (albeit in masks), with Hollywood stars, tennis and football players, minor royals and politicians, if they were not self-isolating following the positive test of the Health Minister (ironic, huh?).
It was all rather galling for those who use the grid to work, but are currently not allowed to go there, for reasons that don’t make much sense when one is allowing high-risk celebrity types to stomp around the cars. Yes, perhaps having smaller numbers of people is a good idea but, as they proved in the Silverstone coverage, pictures of Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford standing in a pit are just as good as them standing on the grid.
The jibberjabber in the paddock was fairly limited as there is little left for 2022. Sergio Perez will get the Red Bull unless he says something rude about Dr Helmut Marko and the Red Bull drink itself – and Sergio is smart enough to know what not to say. The other things that might mess it up is if he asks for too much money, because if the Mexican cannot think of a number that will be fine for him and fine for Red Bull, there is no shortage of drivers ready to form a disorderly queue to take the second Red Bull seat.
Valtteri Bottas will probably – but not definitely – end up at Alfa Romeo, where the team wants a name driver to replace Kimi Raikkonen and the owner of the team – a man called Finn – appears to be fond of Finns. It remains to be seen who will get the second seat at Alfa Romeo, but one possibility is Ferrari test driver Callum Ilott (which would be wise to keep engine supplier Ferrari happy) while Russian F2 driver Robert Shwartzman (another Ferrari protege) could have a chance if he wins the F2 title. Alfa Romeo is an Italian firm and might not wish to been seen to be replacing the only Italian on the grid, but these days the car company is run by the French folks at Stellantis, who want more performance and don’t give a monkey’s about the nationality.
Williams will have a drive available once George Russell packs his bags and goes to Mercedes and this might suit Bottas nicely, except that it probably won’t pay as well as Alfa Romeo and would be a move back to where he started in F1, rather than joining up with a big manufacturer. Williams would prefer to have a driver with experience alongside Nicolas Latifi and so it will be looking at the likes of Dani Kvyat, Alex Albon and Nico Hulkenberg, although Mercedes might be keen to have Nyck de Vries in the team, as it needs to consider what to do when Lewis eventually retires.
The other chatter was all about the F1 calendar and you can expect to see the Brazilian GP being pushed back a week and going back-to-back with another race now that Australia has been called off again. The logic is simple enough. If Japan falls over (which could happen), there will be two races in Austin and a third in Mexico. So Brazil needs to move back to avoid a quadruple-header, as teams will not do four weekends in a row. However Brazil is on the UK red list and so it needs to have another race immediately afterwards so F1 folk can go to the other venue rather than going back to the UK and sitting in a government-mandated hotel for 14 days at considerable cost. I heard that Dubai might be an option… but it is still early yet. In mid-November the options are somewhat limited because of the weather… although southern Spain or Portugal might be possible.
Aside from that I hear that the success of the Netflix series means that US entertainment types are getting excited about F1 as likely to be a new cool thing in the US and there are all kinds of talks going on about F1 fiction drama series that could be made in the future by streaming services, which are all in search of great content.
When you consider what Downton Abbey did for stately homes, one can imagine that Formula 1 would benefit from a successful idea. But then, with the wrong script, it could also be less exciting than the shipping forecast…