I wish I could report that the Bar Caracciola was named in honour of the great German racing driver Rudolf Caracciola, but it isn’t.
It is named after Francisco Caracciola, the Duke of Brienza, to whom Rudolf may have been related to back in the mists of time. He is best known for being an admiral, who fought against the British in 1799 (I cannot remember why the Italians and the British were fighting on this occasion). He had the great misfortune to encounter Admiral Lord Nelson, the well known British columnist.
The result of this encounter was that Caracciola was hanged from a British yard-arm, despite a request to be shot – as any nobleman should be – and his body was then thrown into the sea, in an ignominious and beastly fashion by the nasty old British admiral.
The only positive thing to say about this unfortunate demise was that Caracciola became a national hero in Italy and an entire class of super-dreadnought battleships were named in his honour prior to the First World War, more than a century later. There were streets named after him across Italy and the one in Milan, which crosses the Via MacMahon, named after the French general Patrice Maurice MacMahon, who obviously came from an family with its roots in Ireland, became the site of a Bar Caracciola.
In the middle of Monday afternoon, the bar was pretty quiet. There were a couple of old boys, looking rather sweaty in their vests, trying to make their espressos last for more than 12 seconds. I was there, killing time, while I waited for the Russian visa office to reopen and give me the necessary documentation to allow me to go to Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix.
The Milan consulate is super-efficient – much more so than some other visa centres I have known. I delivered the passport and applications forms at nine on Monday morning and picked up the finished product at four in the afternoon.
This meant that I had to spend a few hours wandering around Milan, which is no bad thing, although I was feeling a bit jaded after a long night producing magazines.
Still, one can only be perked up by the magnificent Milano Centrale railway station, the La Scala opera house, the fabulous Galleria (not the one in The Italian Job – which is over in Turin) and, of course, Il Duomo, the magnificent cathedral in the centre of the city. I didn’t have the energy to take in the castle of the Sforzas as well, but I had a pleasant morning.
The city was filled with ice-cool fashion mavens, some with very long legs, with Fashion Week in New York obviously not a big draw for them.
The folk of Formula 1 have spent a huge amount of time in Italy in the last year with no fewer than five Grands Prix in 372 days. I am not sure why it was but by the end of the weekend I didn’t want to see any more pasta, I dreaded the idea of pizza and was not the least bit interested in another scaloppine alla milanese. I wanted to eat something that felt healthy and so I went in search of sashimi alla milanese, one of the country’s lesser known dishes. Feeling suitably revived and knowing that it would be pointless to try to visit the Ascaris, as the Cimitero Monumentale, near the Via MacMahon, is closed on Mondays (something I discovered while doing the same thing last year), I thought I would nip over to the old Portello district which Alfa Romeo made famous and see what had become of the place.
The Alfa Romeo factory, wherein the racing department was based, was closed in the mid-1980s and the facilities gradually fell apart until someone came up with a plan to regenerate the district and create a post-industrial mixed-use development with parks, offices, houses and shopping. You know the kind of thing…
This included a number of large earth mounds known, imaginatively, as Mound1, Mound2 and Mound3. I am sure they all have deep cultural significance but they looked like mounds to me… Still, anything is possible in this part of the world and I’m told that if you go to Montevecchia, which is up towards Lecco, to the north of Milan, there are three mysterious pyramids, presumably built by the same architect’s forefathers, back in the age when people built such things, probably because there wasn’t much on telly.
The Monza weekend was a pleasure in many ways, as it always is, when one is at the Autodromo Nazionale. There are lots of things wrong with it, but the magic makes up for it.
Next year it will be 100 years old.
This year’s race was brilliant – and unexpected. I won’t dwell on the incident, except to say that the blame was apportioned “predominantly” to Max Verstappen, which was the opposite call to the crash at Silverstone where Lewis Hamilton was deemed to be “predominantly” at fault. Thus, one must conclude – whether one agrees or not – that the FIA Stewards in both cases felt that there was a level of fault on both sides. We used to call that a racing incident but for some reason these days folks want blame to be handed down for almost everything. Whatever the analysis, however, this was a clear indication of the value of the halo.
Sport can be very divisive in some respects – when rivals fans don’t agree on who is to blame – but it can also be incredibly joyful and healing. We saw that on Saturday night when the whole of Britain seemed to be delighted when 18-year-old Emma Raducanu won the US Open tennis tournament, becoming the first player in history to win after having to qualify for the tournament. Even those who don’t like immigrants cheered the Canadian-born Brit, the daughter of a Romanian father and a Chinese mother, who has lived in the UK since she was two. It was nice to see that happen at a time when so many aspects of British life, be that the pandemic, the B-word, the economy and the shocking nature of low behaviour seen in politics are causing such deep division. Sport can heal rifts and uplift battered souls…
After the race both McLaren drivers admitted that they had stayed up to watch Raducanu, way past their bed times, but it hadn’t really hurt their performances. Valtteri Bottas, on the other hand, admitted that he had not got a clue what everyone was talking about. Which, I suppose, is best seen as being a tribute to his focus on F1…
On Sunday evening at Monza, everyone was happy (apart from Mercedes and Red Bull) because a joyous event is a joyous event and Danny Ric and Lando finishing 1-2 for McLaren was such a great thing for everyone, including F1 as a whole. If Danny Ric spoke Mandarin Chinese it would have been perfect.
The unifying and healing power of sport is all too often drowned out by the noise of what is wrong with everything, which I must say I find rather dull. We should always try to improve the sport, but improvement comes from a positive attitude, not from negativity.
The Sprint Qualifying was never going to work very well at Monza, but it could have been worse… The race itself was cracking… and grand entertainment.
The rest of the weekend was rather quiet, after the 2022 driver market came and went. The identity of the second Alfa Romeo driver is not that interesting – unless the cars improve rather a lot – but I suspect that the new driver will be able to speak Chinese…
There was some talk in the paddock of the engine discussions that are ongoing, with the current manufacturers being joined in these meetings by the big cheeses from Audi and Porsche. The sooner we all know the rules, the better it will be… I still believe that hybrid is the right path to follow and there is more and more resistance from the car companies to the limits that have been dreamed up by politicians, as the firms are now finally realising that the dash into electric mobility needs to be more measured, because the market is not ready to switch. Trying to pretend it is, is simply politicians playing to the electorates, who, by the way, are the people who are NOT buying sufficient electric cars.
Why? Because the cars are too expensive, the infrastructure is not good enough and there is not sufficient confidence in the range of the cars and the ease and speed of recharging them. And, there still needs to be more ways to create green electricity because electric cars being powered by dirty electricity is no better for the world…
Anyway, my primary quest at Monza was to try to figure out the 2022 calendar. It is nearly ready, so they say, with the first drafts due to go to teams at some point very soon.
So what will it look like? Here is what I know and what to expect.
There are still some elements that are still to be settled but this will give you an idea. There will be 23 races, no more. And the season will kick off in Bahrain on March 20.
Prior to that there will be a Bahrain test, between March 11-13, and there will be testing action before that in Barcelona on February 23-25. The second race will be a week after Bahrain in Saudi Arabian (March 27). The cars will then be shipped off to Australia and China for races on April 10 and April 17. If the Australian government continues to be difficult, the Melbourne race will be kicked off the schedule again. The problem is that if Australia wants to remain a sporting centre of the world, it needs to tear down the walls before the big sports give up and go elsewhere instead.
The fifth race will be in Miami on May 8, which will hopefully be a little easier for those wishing to visit the US than it is at the moment – with the current ban on all those from Europe – particularly when there are tens of thousands of American wandering all over Europe. They are allowed to go home from Europe, but Europeans are not allowed in. This is daft, particularly given the levels of COVID (and the lower levels of vaccination) in the US. No-one in officialdom seems to understand that visiting the US is far more dangerous for us than staying at home…
It isn’t particularly logical to have a single race in the Americas in the spring, but this does mean that there will in the future be an opportunity for a second event at this time of year as the teams will have accepted three visits a year to the Americas. Work is still going on in Las Vegas… but it is probably still a couple of years away.
The first European race will be the Spanish GP, which is scheduled for May 21, after the folk in Barcelona fought off a bid from Imola to grab their slot. This will be a week before Monaco and, in order to achieve this, the Monaco GP will be switching to a three-day event, rather than the traditional four days.
The next bit of the calendar is a little blurry as it will be Canada or Baku, or perhaps Baku and Canada. One will be June 12 and the other June 19.
Britain surprised the F1 circus just before Monza by announcing its date as July 3. Normally race promoters wait for the calendar to become official before announcing, but Silverstone has gone ahead, presumably on the basis that if they announce it, it is more difficult to change. The date is in the middle of the Wimbledon fortnight and Silverstone is keen not to clash with the finals on the July 10 weekend, with Raducanu likely to have the country glued to their televisions. Better to have a Hamilton-fest one weekend and a Raducanu-fest the next.
Before the summer break there will be a triple-header and again there is a little bit of blur. Logic suggests that the races ought to be in France (July 17), Austria (July 24) and Hungary (July 31), but the French situation is not easy financially and they may not wish to have the race on the first weekend of the French holidays (which traditionally begin on July 14) and would prefer the end of the month. We shall see. France knows that it needs to get a big crowd after two tough years – and there are several races keen to jump in if Paul Ricard cannot hit the numbers. The whisper is that 2022 could be the last roll of the dice.
The second half of the season will begin with the same triple-header as this year with Belgium-Holland and Italy (August 28, September 4 and September 11). It was hard work but it seemed to have worked OK. There is no problem with the proximity of Belgium and the Netherlands because there are plenty of Dutch fans to fill Spa as well as Zandvoort.
Russia will follow as it is this year (September 25) and it seems fairly clear that Singapore is going to make a comeback (at least for the next couple of years) with the 2022 race on October 9. Singapore will go back-to-back with Japan on October 16.
The focus will then switch back to the Americas with the Mexican race on the last weekend of October, to fit in with the annual Day of the Dead festival and then Austin a week later. Brazil will follow a fortnight after that (November 20) with Abu Dhabi finishing off the season on December 4, although I have also heard it could be back-to-back with Brazil on November 27. This might be an idea to avoid World Cup clashes.
There will not be a Qatar Grand Prix in 2022 as the country is going to be tied up with the World Cup soccer from November 21 to December 18. However Qatar will be on the calendar from 2023 onwards…
We’ll see what actually comes out, but I am confident that most of the dates and venues are correct (at the time of writing).
Leaving Milan and heading home on Monday evening was a good feeling. It seems a long time since I departed to go to Spa. Still, travel is never a bad thing and as I went up the Aosta Valley as evening was drawing in, the hills and mountains ahead were each highlighted in a different shade of blue, seemingly superimposed one on another.
These are things that one rarely sees and cameras struggle to capture…