The way I see it, undertaking is the opposite of overtaking, which means that if the rules of the road say that you pass on the right, you pass on the left. And vice versa.
Undertaking is also what happens when this goes horribly wrong and you end lying on a cold slab in the morgue, wondering if you might have lived longer if you had not been travelling at 100mph and pondering what the missus will say when she turns up in the celestial world in half a century and tells you what a moron you were – and how she’s now shacked up with an angel, rather than an idiot…
When it comes to driving, the Turks are world class lunatics. A bunch of us seasoned F1 types met at the airport on Monday after the race and this subject came up, the conclusion being that they were the most aggressive drivers in the world, without any peers. Road markings and street furniture exist only as decoration, rather than useful guidance. Turks behind the wheel make red-faced New Yorkers seem like very reasonable people. Parisians, jousting around the Arc de Triomphe, appear fairly limp-wristed by comparison.
In Turkey if you want a piece of tarmac, you take it in a muscular fashion and anyone who wants the same bit of road can go to the devil. In this respect the Polis seem to be the worst offenders, although I have serious doubts that every Turkish vehicle with flashing blue and red lights actually has a policeman inside it. If they do, then there are more policemen in Istanbul than there are in The Blue Brothers – and they all go at incredible speeds along the hard shoulder, apparently believing that this is meant for overtaking.
One of the primary causes of Istanbul’s legendary traffic jams is the crashes that require cleaning up with ambulances, mops and buckets.
Still, it is fair to say that there is never a dull moment…
When F1 first started coming to Istanbul back in 2005 the traffic was pretty bad, but at that time there were only about six or seven million cars in the country. Today there are 23 million. If the road accidents statistics have reduced it is only because no-one can get up enough speed to kill themselves (except on the hard shoulder). While researching all this during the Grand Prix weekend I was impressed to discover a study that showed that the average Istanbul resident loses 70 minutes A DAY in traffic jams. I can believe that. On Sunday people were traipsing into the circuit talking about journeys that took three hours. We left the hotel at seven every morning to avoid this – which worked well – but we were pretty lonely for an hour or so before others started to arrive.
My goal for the weekend was to get a proper F1 calendar. I had done this in Monza a few weeks ago, but as the days went by it became clear that the schedule that had been correct at the time, was changing. Perhaps the same will happen with this list, but at some point F1 needs to publish an official (provisional) calendar- and that will happen this Friday.
I am pretty sure they will announce the following: Mar 20 Bahrain, Mar 27 Saudi Arabia, Apr 10 Australia, Apr 24 Imola, May 8 Miami, May 22 Spain, May 29 Monaco, Jun 12 Baku, Jun 19 Canada, Jul 3 Britain, Jul 10 Austria, Jul 24 France, Jul 31 Hungary, Aug 28 Belgium, Sep 4 Holland, Sep 11 Italy, Sep 25 Russia, Oct 2 Singapore, Oct 9 Japan, Oct 23 USA, Oct 30 Mexico, Nov 13 Brazil, Nov 20 Abu Dhabi.
(At the bottom of this column there is a nice graphic of this produced by GP+ magazine that you can print out and stick on the wall…)
Sharp-eyed readers will note straight away that there is no Chinese Grand Prix on the list. The problem appears to have been a combination of the tight restrictions that China still has – and the race’s close proximity with the Winter Olympics, which will be held in Beijing between February 4-20. The International Olympic Committee and the Chinese authorities have already agreed on protocols for that event and it would be difficult to have a different set of rules for Formula 1. The Chinese requested a date later in the year, but Formula 1 was unable to find a space, as the autumn will be very busy as usual. The good news for F1 is that the planners have managed to get all 23 races squeezed in so that the season can finish on November 20 in Abu Dhabi. This will be the earliest finish for an F1 season since 2011.
The teams are not keen on triple-headers, but there will be two next year with Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy running on consecutive weekends, as happened this year; and there will be a Russia-Singapore-Japan phase in the autumn. This is fairly sensible in terms of logistics, although one cannot say the same for the three transatlantic trips, nor the bizarre dates in July. These have obviously been designed by people who move around in an executive jet, rather than driving a truck, as going from Britain to Austria and then back to France and then back to Hungary is nine parts bonkers.
The disappearance of China means that we will see the return of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola for the third consecutive year and there is no doubt that Imola is aiming to get the French GP date in 2023. Alas, I fear that the Imola race will continue to have a daft name. This year’s event was the Formula 1 Pirelli Gran Premio Del Made in Italy e dell’Emilia Romagna, which in rough translation is the Pirelli Made in Italy and Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, not that anyone ever called it that. The name comes because the government-run Italian Trade Agency – which promotes the “Made in Italy” campaign – is paying. This programme aims to develop international business for Italian companies and to attract foreign companies to Italy. The government will pay $14 million, the Emilia Romagna region will contribute another $6 million, with a further $3.5 million coming from local sources.
The decision in China comes because the country has been closed to all but a few foreign workers since March 2020, and there is still no confirmed date when these measures will be lifted. The few exemptions have been granted by the National Immigration Administration but those who get them still have to serve 14- to 21-day mandatory periods of quarantine in government facilities. For the Olympics, tickets will only be sold to spectators from mainland China. All participants, who are not vaccinated, whether domestic or international, will be tested daily and will all have to go through a 21-day quarantine on arrival.
Ironically, there may be a Chinese driver for the first time in F1 in 2022, as Guanyu Zhou is reportedly close to a deal to drive for Alfa Romeo. By the way, rumours about Colton Herta moving to Formula 1 next year should not be taken too seriously, but there are obviously long-term opportunities if rumours of a US consortium buying Sauber are one day confirmed. These stories come from multiple well-placed (non-media) sources – but it seems that the deal will not close until the end of 2022, leaving the current structures in place for next season. We will see.
Australia also has a date and some F1 folk are cynical that the race will once again be called off. If this happens, I am told that the contract will be cancelled and Australia will lose its race, because F1 is bored with dealing with the way the Australian authorities are behaving. There is considerable pressure for places on the F1 schedule and while Melbourne is a popular venue, the Victorian state government under Daniel Andrews – and the federal government under Prime Minister Scott Morrison – have made it impossible to run a race. The world is opening up – for better or worse – and Australia needs to understand that it must stop being a fortress.
Viruses don’t respect fortresses, so it is a failed policy.
I am told that the government of Singapore has decided to go ahead with a new Formula 1 contract, although the term of the new deal is yet to be come clear. This is good news.
So that is the calendar news. When it comes to other things the driver market is pretty quiet except for the second Alfa Romeo. In this respect Zhou remains the favourite, although the team might prefer to have Oscar Piastri. The 20-year-old, who grew up near Albert Park, currently leads Zhou (his fellow Alpine Academy member) by 36 points with two events remaining. This is Oscar’s rookie year in Formula 2, while Guanyu has been in the series for three seasons – and is two years older. Both are clearly talented and Zhou is obviously an attractive prospect because he could become the first Chinese F1 driver in the history of the sport, and could provide an eye-watering amount of money from his backers. With Valtteri Bottas already contracted for 2022 and 2023 (at least), the team has to make a difficult choice. Alpine is happy to loan out Piastri and/or Zhou, but wants to keep a first option on both for the future, while Alfa Romeo is keen to leave a space for Théo Pourchaire, who is also racing in F2 but needs another year to mature. Piastri’s problem is that Alpine would like him to be the reserve driver for 2022, yet cannot offer him a race drive in 2023 until it knows whether Fernando Alonso is going to stay on. And Esteban Ocon is under contract already. If Oscar wins the championship he will put himself in a situation where he will not be able to race in 2022.
A cynic (of which there are several in the F1 paddock) would say that Piastri’s best course of action would be to lose the championship in order to be able to stay on and race in F2 next year… crazy though that may seem.
Just to finish up on the Alpine overstocking of youngsters, Denmark’s Christian Lundgaard (20), who clearly has talent but has not landed many good results with ART Grand Prix (while Pourchaire has) is off to the United States where he will join Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing alongside Graham Rahal and Britain’s Jack Harvey. This is a good move as there are big opportunities in IndyCar, which has a number of top drivers getting close to retirement, which means that good drivers from Europe who can make an impression can quickly land a big drive – as Marcus Ericsson, Romain Grosjean and Alex Palou have all done recently. Christian wowed the Americans in August by turning up and qualifying fourth in the nastily-named Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix on the road course at Indianapolis, beaten only by Pato O’Ward, Will Power and Grosjean – and ahead of Herta and Palou.
All of these problems would be eased if Alpine had a customer team for its engines, but options seem limited right now – although if there is a better engine in 2022 people may be more interested. I’m told that Alpine is sniffing around the idea of helping to create a new team, which would involve (in theory) a $200 million entry fee, in order to create a situation similar to that which Red Bull enjoys with Scuderia AlphaTauri. That may seem mad, but having a second team would mean having a good asset (as teams are going up in value) and is something that Alpine will need to help develop the new F1 engines in 2026. In the circumstances bank-rolling a new operation could make as much sense as buying an existing team, and there would, of course, be marketing opportunities with brands in the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.
To finish up with Alpine, it is being reported in Italy that Alpine’s team manager Davide Brivio will be leaving after just one season and will return to MotoGP with Suzuki. Brivio’s appointment by Renault CEO Luca de Meo never made much sense and he has seemed a bit like a tomato in a strawberry bowl all year. The news means that Alpine F1 will now have only two bosses rather than three, which is a step towards the conventional structure.
Engines were much in the chatter in Istanbul, with the rumours that Porsche and Audi are both openly clos to commiting to F1 in 2026. This is interesting for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it seems to suggest that F1 is finally becoming more attractive to car makers – and that could mean that others may become curious because when two industry heavy-hitters made the same decision, others start asking questions. This is purely speculative but one can imagine that one firm that might take a look is Ford – and wouldn’t F1 love to have a big American player in the game! In recent time Ford has seemed to be a bit lost with some of its CEOs seeming to think that it should transform into a sort of gadget company, like Apple. With Apple supposedly building cars, perhaps this seemed like an idea. But a year ago the company appointed Jim Farley as its new CEO. Investors liked this because Ford’s share price has doubled in 12 months. Farley is a “car guy” and an active – and competitive – sports car racer. Although he will continue to move towards electric products (as everyone is), he also says that selling cars is about good engineering and creating passion among one’s customers. Racing does this. In a world where Ferrari is creating fashion and Lewis Hamilton wears kilts and trews at the same time, Ford can still produce electronic barbecues if that is what takes its fancy, but cars are the important thing.
The other big question about F1 engines is how the two VW marques – Porsche and Audi – will structure their F1 programmes. The two firms seem to have different ideas with Audi tipped to be planning to buy an entire team and Porsche more interested in an exclusive partnership with an existing team, along the lines of the old McLaren-Mercedes structure, before McLaren made the mistake of agreeing to let Ross Brawn use the engines as well…
The problem is that with the number of manufacturer-linked teams the opportunities are limited. There are lots of people who seem to be interested in buying teams, but not many free to do engine deals. One cannot, for example, have a Porsche deal with Ferrari, Mercedes, Alpine, McLaren, Aston Martin or Alfa Romeo, although to be fair Fiat did once sponsor the Yamaha team in MotoGP, which didn’t make much sense but was very successful. Red Bull and Scuderia AlphaTauri are not for sale and Red Bull has its own engines for the future and so, in theory, Porsche could only ally with Williams and Haas and the latter is developing a very strong relationship with Ferrari, has no major racing heritage and is nothing like the same kind of team as Williams, in terms of structure. In other words, Porsche’s only choice is to ally with Williams. It is perhaps convenient that the Grove team is currently being run by a German, who cut his teeth at Porsche…
There are (probably) a few more options if one wants to buy a team as Sauber is clearly up for sale and perhaps a deal is already in the pipeline. The problem with Sauber is that it is in Switzerland and so the team that seems to have the best facilities and might be available is… wait for it… McLaren. This may sound like heresy but the world moves on and when one takes a step back and looks at McLaren today it is perhaps a good time to consider that the whole brand might be better off as part of a big business, rather than as an independent. Ferrari went through this process back in the 1960s and ended up being part of Fiat. The people who dreamed of McLaren as a road car company – Ron Dennis and Mansour Ojjeh – ar no longer around. The company is owned by a wealth fund and while there is passion for the business, there is also financial logic. McLaren is heavily in debt and has been selling off assets and shares to better balance the books. There have been rumours of IPOs (which are sales by any other name). The McLaren brand is a useful one and thus one might speculate that the whole business could be useful to a firm like Audi, not only in sporting terms, but also in relation to technology and road cars. We live in a world where nothing is certain any longer and so one should regard this as a possibility.
In Milton Keynes Red Bull Advanced Technology is working on a new track car to be the follow-up to Adrian Newey’s Aston Martin Valhalla. The new model will have a Honda power unit and will be part of the future activities that Red Bull plans with Honda outside F1, although Honda is quitting F1 for good. Aston Martin, by the way, is also planning a follow up to the Valhalla…
Beynd that the notebook mentions, two other details: over in the US Reaume Brothers Racing has announced that it is going to run a part-time NASCAR Cup Series team in 2022, with drivers Loris Hezemans, the NASCAR Whelen Euro Champion, and none other than former F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve, now a youthful 50.
The other point is that F1 seems to have changed its mind about replacing Bruno Michel as head of its subsidiary Formula Motorsport, which runs the Formula 2 and Formula 3 championships. One presumes that while Michel has messed about with the credibility of the two championship with the reversed grids and overly-complicated race meetings, he is pulling in cash, which let us not forget is why Liberty Media is involved in the sport…