Green Notebook from the A Lounge at DXB

DXB is the IATA code for Dubai International Airport. It is the kind of place where one usually bumps intoFormula 1 people as we tend to pass through it many times each year. Going there between Bahrain and Jeddah was a logical thing to do (in airline terms). After the Bahrain GP a lot of Formula 1 folk went straight to Jeddah, others stayed on in Bahrain to take a little sunshine, and a few went to Dubai where Expo 2020 is in its last days. Soon that excitement will be over and Dubai will go back to being a staging post for international travellers. I decided not to stay in Dubai, on the basis that I really don’t need any more probes stuck up my nose, after two years of endless PCR testing, and while it really does not upset me any longer, I just cannot be bothered to do it, unless I have to. One can fly through Dubai without needing to test, but one cannot enter UAE without a nasal assault, so I stayed in Bahrain for a day and a bit, catching up on work, and then headed off and will be in Jeddah by the time you read this.

The lounges in Dubai are wonderful and it’s a good place to get a last glass of wine before heading into Saudi Arabia, where one has to cope with Prohibition-like rules for the new six days, after which the lounges at DXB will be drunk dry as the F1 folks get back into the real world. Last year we went from Saudi to Qatar and when I arrived in the hotel in Doha, I drank two very large gin & tonics in swift succession, causing the waitress to raise an eyebrow.

“I’ve been in Saudi,” I said, and she smiled and gave up thinking that I was an alcoholic.

I flew out to Bahrain after two weeks without Internet at home. This was thanks to someone messing up the satellite that I need in order to get on to the Web, having made the wise decision a few years ago that living in the wilds of France between races was really a wonderful thing to do. The service provider explained that there had been “a cyber event” on the morning that the war began in Ukraine. It seems that the satellite was was using was also being used to a siginificant extent by the Ukranian government, so it isn’t hard to join the dots about what happened.

I must admit that it did not cross my mind that someone like Vladimir Putin would actually start a shooting war in Europe. I hope that he is now regretting what he has done. And I hope he will be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his days.

F1 has become a Russian-free zone in recent weeks although I did meet one regular in Bahrain and commiserated with him about his wayward leader. There have been one or two pre-Putin Russians in F1 in recent years but we won’t be seeing them again. Anyway, Oleg said he was not having an easy time, living in the West, but was glad that to take his mind off the serious stuff, he had got in his car and driven to Warsaw to collect refugees from Ukraine, who needed help. Not all Russians are bad guys.

People think that F1 is filled with selfish and unpleasant individuals (and there are a few truly horrible examples) but most F1 people are human and more than a few are truly remarkable. At accreditation in Bahrain on the day before the action began, I bumped into an F1 wheeler-dealer who I have known for a LOT of years. Such people are not always known for their humanity.

When I asked how he was keeping, he replied that he was fine and that he had 18 children more than he had had when I last saw him. I was somewhat taken aback by this declaration as I was pretty sure I’d seen him at some point in 2021 and, while he had always had an eye for the girls in his youth, fathering that many kids in the space of a few months would have required a lot of energy.

“I run an orphanage,” he smiled. “We have 18 new children from Ukraine. I now have 43 children.”

It is nice to be able to report on such things… rather than just the usual dog-eat-dog politics of the sport. It warms the heart.

The weekend was filled with catch-ups because there were a lot of people who I have not seen in F1 for the last two years and it was fun to have some of the old faces back in action again. There was precious real news beyond the dregs of the dreadful Abu Dhabi story from last year, with a report that is going to cost the FIA a pile of money because it appears to have dismissed a man who did nothing wrong and there is no reason why Michael Masi would want to stay with an organisation that threw him under the bus, but has no real explanation of what he did wrong to deserve it. Of course, those who are following in his wake now feel that they don’t want to be exposed to the same sort of things and I did hear that one race director was looking for some guarantees that the same thing won’t happen again. I don’t know who one should blame for this caving in to external pressures but the FIA did itself no favours.

Still, perhaps we should give the new folk a chance to prove that they can do the job properly, although the last few months have not been stellar. The FIA does not need to be loved as an organisation, but it helps if it is understood and respected and so there is a lot of work to do… I’m not sure that having two race directors and some kind of eye in the sky in Geneva will really help as there are bound to be differences of opinion and so there will be more inconsistency than was the case with one man. Still, it probably won’t hurt the place to get shaken up a bit after 12 years of Jean Todt. If the award existed then Jean would have been “Micromanager of the Year” for most of that time and now there needs to be a new structure because the new President does not give the impression that he is a man given to all-nighters.

Anyway, the notes in the green notebook in Bahrain were somewhat limited. A lot is happening in racing terms and yet at the same time not a lot is happening in F1 news and politics. There will be an announcement soon that Qatar will step in to replace the Russian Grand Prix, which is as dead as a Norwegian Blue parrot. We will be in Doha on the Russian date and if you are reading this and have not yet booked a hotel room, it is too late…

There will also soon be an announcement about a Grand Prix on the streets of Las Vegas from 2023 until at least 2032. This will be a night race and part of the track will be a section of The Strip. It sounds amazing and will give the US three races for the next three years before the Austin date goes up for auction again.

If F1 growth rates in the US continue as they are now, that could be a fascinating battle, as there will likely be other contenders who could outspend Austin.

The Bahrain race marked the first appearance of a new managing director of commercial activities in F1, who takes up the same sort of role that Sean Bratches had. Brandon Snow in an American marketer with a background in advertising, both in the US and in Europe, specifically in Poland, Austria and Germany. He then spent some time with the NBA before moving to the games publishing firm Activision Blizzard as its head of esports. At F1 he will be responsible for sponsorship, licensing, esports and marketing.

I had a rather odd experience when I met Gilles Villeneuve in the paddock in Bahrain. Well, I met a Gilles Villeneuve, the grandson of the late, great Ferrari driver, who was killed at Zolder in 1982. Gilles II seemed to be a sweet little chap, about three months old, and was there with his father Jacques, the 1997 World Champion. JV is still commentating about F1 for France’s Canal+, while also racing NASCAR stock cars in the US as and when he can. He did a commendable job in the recent Daytona 500 and hopes to be back in action again soon. He was also showing interest in the recently-announced plan for NASCAR to run a car in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2023, which will be the 100th anniversary of the famous event. It seems that NASCAR is keen to promote itself in Europe and Le Mans wants higher profile in the United States, so it sounds a little like love at first sight. The car will be entered in the Garage 56 category, which means that it would not have any opposition, but must comply with the safety rules.

It all sounds very interesting and Jacques would be the perfect driver, although it sounds like multiple NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, who is now racing IndyCars, will be involved as well.

Bahrain showed that the new F1 regulations seem to work pretty well and so there is great excitement about what we can expect for the rest of the year. With a Ferrari 1-2 – and no questions about whether or not the cars are legal – F1 is in a healthy place. Ferrari needs some success as it has not won a World Championship since 2008, which is an unimpressive 14 years ago. Mind you, between 1983 and 1999 it was a similar – but longer – story.

The last note that I have scrawled in the notebook related to the war in Ukraine (Sorry, Vlad, but a “special military operation” is the kind of thing when shadowy figures in dark combat fatigues arrive in the night in Black Hawk choppers and slot away bad guys in an efficient manner). This has impacted the F1 world  to some extent with the departure of the Russian GP, Nikita Mazepin and a few sponsors, but is likely to cause further disruption in ways that might not be immediately obvious. Last year Formula 1 had a couple of near-misses with the delivery of freight at the Brazilian and Qatar Grands Prix and during the pre-season testing Haas ran into trouble when a freight plane had technical problems. F1 logistics is one of the most impressive things about the sport, but it involves an enormous effort to get the entire circus from one track to another in just a few days. Formula 1 needs seven Boeing 747 freighters to go to each flyway event and seven more to take the equipment on to the next destination. This means that there are around 160 planes needing to be booked each year.  The war in Ukraine has significantly reduced the world’s air freight capacity with one of the biggest freight operators being the Volga-Dniepr Group’s AirBridgeCargo (ABC) operation, which has a fleet of 17 Jumbos. They have all been withdrawn from international operation. There are still about 250 others but there is huge pressure in the market and so prices are rising. Other airlines have been forced to reroute to avoid flying over Russian air space and so fuel costs have gone up and delays have increased. Added to this the price of fuel has increased so it’s a double whammy. Freight prices have gone through the roof. Will this make a difference for Formula 1? Not immediately, unless freight was booked to go on Russian planes, but the danger for the sport lies ahead if planes “go technical” because replacements are hard to find. And, of course, it will add to the team costs…

Mind you, the traditional European races, which require a fleet of around 300 trucks criss-crossing Europe, is going to cause trouble as well because of the escalation of fuel costs. Not to mention all the Brexit paperwork and, of course, the issue of the environment.

My notebook is rather greener than F1 in this respect.

49 thoughts on “Green Notebook from the A Lounge at DXB

  1. Hi Joe.

    A night race in Vegas would be Monday morning for everyone in Europe. Given the impact this would have on viewing figures, is this expected to be shifted to the Saturday?

  2. Thank you dear Joe for sharing your clear mind with us. It’s a treat to find someone who is prepared to stick to his independent views in a sea of parrots. (I like parrots for their colorful appearance but not for their song). It is worrying that some individuals are so hurt in their feeling of entitlement that they are prepared to do injustice to others (Masi/bus). Please keep up the voice of reason and relativity for many days to come.

  3. Re the regulations Joe, I nearly missed the one about tyre temperatures before fitting. It was 70C I think that is now allowed for an in race tyre change, thus taking away some of the last minute soft tyre advantage in a dash for the flag. Not like the old days before tyre warmers came in, though I think there was a move to ban them altogether on energy/eco efficiency grounds.
    It used, in olden days, to be at least a lap before tyres got to working temperature so many places were lost after tyre changes after exiting the pits.

  4. “with a report that is going to cost the FIA a pile of money because it appears to have dismissed a man who did nothing wrong “

    isnt it simple?
    – He did not apply the rules wrt safety car and unlapping? The consequence is that he changed the outcome of the race.
    – The oversight by the local stewards failed
    – FIA did not have the cojones to overrule them both and change the result of the race. Instead, they fired him.

    1. I disagree.
      I always defend the right of teams to exploit the tech regs down to the individual letters with which they are written. (There is no spirit of the regs!)

      Here is a situation where common/traditional interpretation (the spirit or intent of the regs) of the sporting regs says Masi was wrong, yet the letter allowed him to do what he did within the strict letter of the regs. (As Joe pointed out at the time.)
      I was as appalled as everyone else at the time but it should go both ways!
      The sporting regs in question, as so very often, were written in a way that allowed two different interpretations, they have now been changed to say “all cars” instead of “cars”.
      At the time, the regs were applied within the letter, thus there was nothing to overrule.
      Perhaps the sporting regs should be tightened further regarding the exact functioning of stewards and the race director, explicitly forbidding any communication with any team, entity, or person outside their office excepting in case of a safety emergency.

      1. “ At the time, the regs were applied within the letter, thus there was nothing to overrule.”

        He did not apply the regs consistent with prior use. He did something different without any real need other than to have some good tv. You can say it was to the letter of the law, but the result was a shambles

      2. For me it is more that he restarted the race for Hamilton and Verstappen. He did not care about Sainz. Why didnt Sains get the same treatment and opportunity? Why did Masi leave lapped cars between Max and Carlos? Carlos did not deserve a chance at P2 or even win?

        1. Why didn’t he? Because he was being badgered by Horner, to move the cars in front of Max out of the way. No one was bending is ear about Sainz. If all teams had been doing the same, trying to influence the race director, then he may well have disregarded all of them.

  5. “Ferrari needs some success as it has not won a World Championship since 2008, which is an unimpressive 14 years ago. Mind you, between 1983 and 1999 it was a similar – but longer – story” True, but nothing for a seasoned member of the Tifosi… I got into F1 in 1975, and after a Ferrari driver won in 1979 (albeit the wrong one), it was 21 years till the next one in 2000.

    1. How did the wrong one win the 1979 championship, Jody Scheckter drove to be champion, not to win every race. His maturity and Gilles 100% sportsmanship and ethics were the difference. We all know that at Monza on 9th September 1979 (it’s a date 🇿🇦 who love motor racing do not forget) Gilles could have passed Jody and won the race. If anything the best 4 finishes in each half of the season made things worse for Gilles as Jody won the championship on total points by a greater margin than with discarded scores. Like another great, Ronnie Peterson, Gilles was a greater human being than sportsman, and they were both legends as far as sportsman are concerned.

  6. Hi Joe, the Vegas race does sound intriguing (although not sure the circuit will be that challenging looking the strip area). But do you think it will be a Saturday night race? Otherwise European viewers will be watching it in the early hours of a Monday morning, which doesn’t sound ideal for Liberty’s viewing figure strategies.

  7. f1 tv introduced geo-restrictions (with the help of AWS) to all clients in Russia. And blocked its youtube channel, f1 official site.
    As it was mentioned in last year f1tv viewing report this particular market had +129% growth
    No notification e-mail, and no money back to regular users, since this is not a Spa 2021
    Do you know what F1 going to do with all these subscription money stolen from regular f1 viewers?

  8. Very good report Joe. Seeing as you’re in the F1 sleuthing mode, what
    is the skinny on the rumoured VW/Porsche/Audi entry?

  9. I guess COTA is awash with cash and can afford to pay whatever F1 wants. My family and I will not be attending the 2022 race. Because, having attended the last two F1 races in Austin, and even left my ticket deposit for the 2020 race with them for the 2021 race, I received no notification from COTA when the 2022 race tickets went on sale and now they are sold out.

  10. Is it true that the budget cap agreement failed to include provision for annual increases indexed to inflation? If so, I’m genuinely shocked at the F1 teams dropping the ball on that score. Mind you, as a supplier to F1, my company had to push the FIA long and hard to secure an indexing clause.

  11. While I will still disagree on Madi and his decision making generally in Abu Dhabi but know it’s not clear cut either, I also think that the warning signs were there before Abu Dhabi and the FIA seemed to give no real support in what was always going to be a drama filled season. He needed help last year, it was not provided and the radio channel was also illogical if you think about it rationally. Imagine if Alex Ferguson had the same opportunity in the round ball game. The referee would have got the hair dryer treatment all game.

    You are 100% right about his treatment after the race however. Utterly disgraceful and in 🇬🇧 employment terms, a case could be made for constructive resignation.

  12. Hopefully this report will be the last word on Michael Masi. Regardless of what we think of Abu Dhabi, it’s been clear for a long time that he simply wasn’t up to the job.

    2019 and the decisions in Canada and Austria dragged the sport’s name through the mud.

    Into 2020 and his shambolic safety car management caused the horrific start-line crash at Mugello and he followed it up in Turkey by waving green flags in wet qualifying with recovery vehicles still on the track.

    Moving into 2021 and we had two horrendous decisions at Spa, one of which could have seriously injured Norris, and then Christian Horner’s souk at Jeddah.

    I think Masi was dropped in the deep end and it’s a real shame Herbie Blash was pushed out by the FIA; I’m glad they’ve realised their error. It is too much for one man to do alone. So I feel sorry for Masi for that, but he simply wasn’t up to it long before Abu Dhabi.

    Hopefully that draws a line under it all and we move on.

    1. I think he made some poor decisions, don’t we all. The FIA as regulator should have seen the signs and given him support. I think he made mistakes in Abu Dhabi but the accident could not have been at a worse time to get a green flag end.

      The FIA are at fault ultimately as with a race this important on such a global scale should have had scenario planning to ensure a fair result.

      The only reason Masi Vis seen as wrong is because Mercedes-Benz took the wrong option on track position. The rest is froth.

    2. I think you are not looking at the whole picture. The FIA loaded Masi with too many responsibilities.
      This forced him into a situation where he was ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’.

      1. I believe Joe has not missed a grand Prix since Ayrton won his first world title, so I guess he probably has as whole a picture as is possible, perhaps? But then I am not an expert.

  13. For how long do you expect Stroll Sr to continue going in the wrong direction, Joe?

    Force India was nimble and effective, punching above its weight. Currently Stroll is making stodgy corporate hires, bulking up in many odd functions, reducing their nimbleness and setting comical objectives.

    Do you think he understands how to be successful in F1 ?

      1. Why ‘should’ he? He comes from a ‘branding / volume / financial engineering’ background which has absolutely no read-across to F1.

      2. F1’s past is littered with successful businessmen who apparently knew how to run a business failing miserably because F1 is a sport, not a handbag brand. Stroll is hiring people that winners have discarded and disregard. Can’t see it ending well

  14. Three races in the US, it would be wonderful to find a company to underwrite a serious award for the highest points earned in all three races, and offer a multi million dollar prize for winning all three races…….that alone would garner them amazing air time and column inches.

  15. Concerning Masi: The FIA Report was contradictory.
    First the Report tell us that the controversial finish to the 2021 Grand Prix stemmed from errors by the evolutionary successor to Homo Erectus.
    Next, it tell us that the controversial ending also stemmed from Masi’s failure to properly adhere to the regulations governing the Safety Car. Failure to do so provided the FIA with just cause – negating. any big payout.
    Further, It also tell us that Masi’s decision was made in “good faith”. This statement is problematic. rudimentary English tells us that a decision deemed to have been made in “good faith” is legitimate. Luckily for the FIA because he was fired before the report was received, Just cause is not negated .

  16. Great article, I was going to write something about being worried if a NASCAR could keep up with the field at Le man’s but after doing a bit of reach I found out that they can get up to 240mph! I am really looking forward to seeing them next year. Ox just got my gp plus subscription 😀

  17. What with it being the Bicentennial an’ all that the ACO invited a bunch of US machinery to the “24” in 1976. Those attending included a NASCAR-spec Dodge Charger and Ford Torino. A big hit with the locals in spite of being unused to turning right and requiring the fitment of such niceties as wipers and lights. One contemporary report noted that the things were so huge there was room for a mechanic to stand INSIDE the engine bay while fiddling with the oily bits.

  18. He only did nothing wrong if he had top cover for his free jazz interpretation of the rules. Of course, most of us have been in a situation where we were told to divert from usual practice, then when the brown stuff hits the fan, the top cover has vanished…in such circumstances I would expect he’s due a pay out.

  19. “And now for something completely different…” What’s your gin of choice, in a gin and tonic?

  20. I am constantly amazed at the amount of patriotic, pro-Mercedes, pro-Lewis Hamilton comments in regards Abu Dhabi GP. For goodness sake, stand back and look at through it all. We had the best possible last lap decider for the WC. We had a classic season that will long be spoken about. We have one if not two of the greatest drivers ever battling it out. Lewis Hamilton has won how many WC’s? He could have pitted, he could have defended, he could of taken many others actions to change the outcome. Everyone wants a race to finish under racing conditions. Guess what, we had it!

    The fact that the FIA have added resources, people, reduced the burden of responsibility says, extremly clearly that Michael Masi’s responsibilities were too great. They also articulate very clearly via the stewards and then in the report he didn’t nothing wrong. Yet he loses his job and is very clearly thrown under the bus. Is their a clearer case of wrongful dismissal? As for other so called decisions, well racing drivers actually have a brain, feet and arms. They choose how to use them not the race director. The majority of drivers publicly backed Michael Masi.

    The new FIA President has acted very foolishly and signalled to all he won’t stand his ground. Can you imgaine Max Mosley or Jean Todt doing so? And in these times does anyone spare a thought for Michael Masi and his wellness?

    1. I cringe at the thought of Mosley’s or Todt’s reaction, but shiver to think what Balestre would have done.

    2. “best possible last lap decider” ?? Are you serious? That was like me playing footbal agaist a guy in a wheelchair.
      If you trully believe there was nothing wrong with how Masi applied the rules, please respond to this:
      For me it is more that Masi restarted the race for Hamilton and Verstappen. He did not care about Sainz. Why didnt Sainz get the same treatment and opportunity? Why did Masi leave lapped cars between Max and Carlos? Carlos did not deserve a chance at P2 or even win?

      As I understand it, the rules need to be aplied equally for everyone. So how was that equal or fair for Sainz?
      Looking forward to some clarification from anyone, Joe included, as he seems very convinced Masi did nothing wrong.

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