Those who read The Good Book, admittedly rather a small group in the Formula 1 world, may know that in Genesis one can discover that the Land of Nod is located east of Eden, and was where the nasty Cain was sent after murdering his brother Abel. It was probably not flowing with milk and honey. In Hebrew the word “nod” is linked to the verb “to wander”, which means that heading off to the land of Nod can mean living the life of a vagrant in the desert.
The English, however, purloined the expression centuries ago to use it to describe the warm and fluffy realm of sleep, where dreams can get pretty interesting. This is a curious use of a dismal concept but it appears to have derived from “nodding off”.
Given that I have been wandering around in desert lands to the east of Eden, and I have been nodding off (or perhaps crashing out is a better description), I think the location for this Green Notebook fits the bill in several different ways.
Abu Dhabi was a tough weekend for those who have toiled from Singapore to Japan to Austin to Mexico to Brazil and to Abu Dhabi (and various points in between) in the last month and a bit. It has been pretty brutal. Things were made a little sillier in Abu Dhabi because the only people who could afford to stay in decent hotels were those who have trust funds, or oil wells in their back garden. Fortunately for the teams, they left flights and hotels out of the cost cap (go figure) so they won’t have to move out of their wildly-overpriced digs for fear that it will impact on their spending…
Hotel prices in Abu Dhabi are now so silly that more than a few of us stayed in Dubai, which is 64 miles to the north-east of Yas Island, on a decent road across the desert, with a speed limit of 86 mph for most of the route. Doing this each morning and each evening is a little tiresome but needs must.
The last trip, at about two in the morning on Monday, was the easiest and we arrived at Dubai International Airport without any drama. An empty airport is once again a thing of beauty now that the world has started to travel again. The following hours were spent in the lounge, finishing off and filing stories, trying to stay awake and then, as dawn was breaking, it was time to hop on to a plane home. I was asleep 30 seconds after hitting the seat.
When I walked in the door at home nine hours later, I was soon gone again for another four or five hours, and then, after waking up for dinner, I slept through Monday night as well, which was quite an achievement given the time confusions of recent months. The end of the F1 season really is like that, particularly this year.
There was a graphic on the world TV feed that claimed that 2022 was the longest ever Formula 1 season. I have not checked the numbers, but I am not sure that is true given that in the 1950s and 1960s there were a lot of first races in January and February and finishes in October and November. It would be shame to let the facts get in the way of a good story, but when it comes to the film and TV world, it is fair to say that truth is quite often an early casualty.
On the grid in Abu Dhabi I have often wished people “Merry Christmas” because as soon as the race ends everyone takes off in every possible direction and to a large extent you don’t see them again before Christmas. Most people take the greeting in the spirit that it is intended and so we end the year with a smile, but when I tried it out on Mattia Binotto the reaction was pretty much what I would have expected if I had called him “a boofhead” instead. It was somewhere between a scowl and daggers flying from his eyes like tracer bullets. I thought this rather odd, but was not going to let it ruin my good mood but on reflection I concluded that either he was very tired and needed some time off (although he was not in Brazil), or that the stories that he might soon be replaced as team principal at Ferrari could possibly be true. Whatever the case, I felt that he has no great future as a Father Christmas, even if he used to wearing red clothing and doling out jolly platitudes.
Prior to this interlude I had discounted the Ferrari upheaval story, on the basis that it sounded so ludicrous. Everyone (and their family pets) had denied that such a thing could be possible. Even Ronald McDonald denied he was in the running for the job, although I did hear that Ferrari sounded out the yachtsman Max Sirena, who has been leading the Luna Rossa Challenge team in the America’s Cup in recent years. The company stated that the rumours about Binotto were all “totally without foundation” and once that was on the record it would be pretty hard to go ahead and guillotine the bloke without looking like a bunch of liars.
Who knows what will happen now? What we do know is that Abu Dhabi was a moment of farewell for a number of F1 folk: Sebastian Vettel drew much of the spotlight, but it was also farewell to Ross Brawn, although he has said goodbye before and then come back again. This time there was no song and dance. An even quieter farewell came from Formula 1 chairman, Chase Carey, who is expected to hang up his chair soon and retire. Chase stepped back from his role as CEO when Stefano Domenicali took over, but has remained as chairman.
As far as I am concerned, Chase is a worker of miracles and his achievement will stand forever in the annals of the sport for convincing all the teams that a budget cap was a great idea. The result is that teams are now all worth upwards of $800 million (probably more) and that many of them will be posting profits when they get around to filing their returns. The sport should put up a statue to Carey for doing that, and add another for Sean Bratches for getting Netflix to undertake “Drive to Survive”.
Formula 1 is now so popular in the United States that Liberty Media boss Greg Maffei last week told financial types that there are certainly rumours of a fourth race in the United States, in addition to Austin (which runs until at least 2026), Miami (2031) and Las Vegas (2032), and that the Mayor of New York Eric Adams had offered F1 the chance to host a race on Randalls and Wards Island.
As the name suggests this used to be two islands until someone filled in the waterway between them. It is now largely parkland although across the top of it runs a major motorway connection that links the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan with what is still called the Triborough Bridge, although it has been named after Robert Kennedy for many years. Maffei said that the idea is “probably not our perfect venue” and that “it’s hard to see that they’re going to shut Central Park for us”. He added that trying to get a race in New York was “a fight we don’t need to have”.
The message was fairly clear: “Mr Adams. Do you have a better offer?”
Meanwhile, down in Miami, the success of this year’s race – even allowing for some teething problems – has resulted in an acceptance in Miami that the event is a “jolly good thing”. The critics who opposed the race have melted quietly away as it has become clear that it was a huge success. Miami Dade County voted last week to raise the cap on the amount of money that can be given in grants to Hard Rock Stadium, partly because of the Grand Prix. The cap was originally set at $5 million per year over a 20-year period, although this has already snuck up by $1 million to recognise the success of the Miami Open Tennis Tournament. The County now says that it will make a grant of $4 million for each Grand Prix, each World Cup Final and each Super Bowl, with $3 million for other big events. The annual cap is now up to $7 million a year.
This has been done at a time when the County needs to find a new naming sponsor for the FTX Arena, where the Miami Heat basketball team play. This follows the collapse of FTX, which had agreed as $135 million naming rights deal for 19 years.
Elsewhere, Liberty Media has quietly announced that it is going to split to the Atlanta Braves baseball team from the group and create a new unit called Liberty Live. This came about because some investors argued that the value of the Braves was being held back because of the complex structure of shares and various cross-holdings within Liberty Media. They even argued that F1 might gain in value if it was an independent unit, but it remains tied for the moment to the Xfinity media operation. The split off will mean that none of the three Liberty units will hold shares in the others.
The driver market in Abu Dhabi offered no real surprises as Haas confirmed Nico Hulkenberg and Williams Logan Sargeant, Daniel Ricciardo will become Red Bull reserve driver and if he wants the job, Mick Schumacher will become the Mercedes reserve driver. Things should now be quiet on the driver front until Fernando Alonso falls out with Aston Martin early next year.
The big story of the next few weeks (Ferrari eruptions aside) is that there is unlikely to be a Chinese Grand Prix in 2023 and thus F1 must decide what to do about the one-month gap that will appear in the calendar between Australia on April 1 and Baku on April 30. The logical thing would be for Baku to move forward a week and take place on April 23, which would then get rid of the difficult Baku-Miami back-to-back that was being planned. Baku does not want to move, argung that the weather will not be great, but it is an easy race to move because few spectators attend. And if Baku does not want to go on hosting a Grand Prix, F1 might not be too upset because although the fees from Azerbaijan are high, the strategic value of the race is somewhat limited.
The Chinese have been hoping that they might find a gap in the F1 calendar in the autumn but there is no sign of that happening although the recent shenanigans about beer and the FIFA World Cup has done Qatar no good at all, as changing the policy about alcohol sales two days before an event begins is not necessarily the best way to win friends and influence people. It will cause major legal headaches for Qatar, FIFA and Budweiser. Money may smooth over some of the pain, but a settlement will not come cheap. The other thing that this will do is to make other sporting bodies very, very, wary of doing deals with Qatar and such behaviour will mean that the country will need to pay much higher rights fees to attract tournaments in the future. I doubt this will impact much on F1 because the sport is not obviously keen on promoting alcohol, but you never know…
The other announcement of note in Abu Dhabi was no big surprise as F1 gave details of its plans for an all-women series which it will help to fund. The Formula 1 Academy will feature five teams Formula 2 and Formula 3, each running three Academy Formula 4 cars, at seven events (each with three races). These races will be held on Formula 1 tracks but only one will be held in conjunction with a Grand Prix. The logic in this is that what the girls need more than anything is track time and the aim will be to get women from this series into Formula 3 within a couple of years. Formula 1 says that it will pay €150,000 towards the budget of each car, with the drivers required to provide another €150,000, with the teams providing the rest. This is rather different from the W Series, which ran into financial trouble this year.
The only other story that reared its ugly head in Abu Dhabi was surrounding Red Bull’s order to Max Verstappen to move over and let Sergio Perez get back ahead on the last lap of the Brazilian race. Max refused and made it clear that there was a very good reason for his actions and the team knew exactly why it happened. This was obviously about some gripe that Verstappen had with Perez and there were soon reports claiming that this was because Sergio had deliberately crashed in qualifying in Monaco and deprived Max of his chance to take pole position (and therefore win). The team jumped in to try to stamp out fires but made things worse by saying that all of its discussions were private and that it was not anyone’s business why it had all happened. This simply fanned the flames because there was no reason to keep secrets unless, of course, admitting things might have caused all kinds of other problems. The whole thing petered out because the FIA showed little interest because while one can prove from data that a crash was suspicious, one cannot prove an intent to crash and one dare not punish a team and damage its reputation if the evidence is not 100 percent certain. So, I guess that we can expect a new rule at some point which will stop drivers benefiting from crashes on the last lap in qualifying. In the interim, Perez came out of this one smelling like a fish market and Red Bull’s attempt to divert attention by trying to turn the whole story into a campaign against nasty social media, looked like someone trying to get past a security man by pointing in the sky, looking shocked and crying “Wow! A flying elephant”.
You can call us F1 observers cynical, but over time we have seen a lot of tricks with smoke and mirrors, and off-stage flashes and bangs to try to disguise sleight of hand.
In the words of the song: “I saw a peanut stand, heard a rubber band, I saw a needle that winked its eye. But I think I will have seen everything, when I see an elephant fly…”
Sorry, Red Bull folks, but that was a major fail…
And now, some more sleep…