Green Notebook from… Shh! Don’t mention it

I can think of a few ways to get yourself into trouble using only two words. Most of them end up with the word “… off”.

But there is another very effective method: one simply says “Saudi Arabia” and you can pretty much guarantee unpleasantries on anti-social media from those who have an opinion. And everyone seems to have an opinion. So, I suppose, one can say that it is best avoided, but that is a bit of a problem when one is writing an article about visiting Jeddah…

The name of the country is enough to get the supposedly liberally-minded ranting about how Formula 1 is bathing in the murky waters of sportswashing and that it is a beastly country, ruled over by a dark and evil prince.

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

I’m afraid that I have very limited time for people who criticise a place, but never get on a plane and go to visit, to find out for themselves whether the way the country is portrayed in the western media is how it really is. There is no substitute for first hand knowledge, and most places are not what one expects. They could all be better, but one can say that of one’s own country as well.

I find it incredibly arrogant when the complaining classes spout forth about other countries on the basis that their country and culture is right and everyone else has got it wrong. Democracy is not something one can force on a country. It must suit local ideas, ideologies, sensitivities and, above all else, timing. All places are different and to ignore the perspective of locals and declare that one’s own system is the best is dumb arrogance. And is it any wonder that this sense of moral superiority and the belief that one can define what common values should be, leads to so much anti-western feeling in the world, even if Saudis – like most people the world over – seem to be very keen on Dunkin’ Donuts… The point is that people the world over are people… and we share so much.

But, let me now tell you one story about the troublesome two-word kingdom, to give you a more little perspective. Sixteen months ago, during the first Saudi Arabian Grand Prix weekend, the thing that made the biggest impression on me was not the grubby town nor the shiny buildings. The driving standards were shocking but what really hit me was when I was on the starting grid and the Crown Prince arrived, surrounded by swishes of princelings and assorted attendants. Here was “The Bad Guy”.

And yet when you saw the grandstand light up with cheers, it was as if Mick Jagger has just walked on stage. For the locals, at least, the Crown Prince was a rock star. No, there weren’t soldiers with bayonets sticking them through the seats to make everyone jump for joy. This is what people thought because the prince had done many things to change the country and move it forwards.

I write this only because I’ve not seen any other mention of this reaction elsewhere.

Anyway, most of the F1 folk were far too busy looking at the racing cars to recognise who this person was. Some would not have known. They were there to race cars and they were too busy worrying about ride-heights to check to see if the local bigwig had blood on his hands that day.

At every race on the calendar (except perhaps Baku, because no-one goes there) there is a herd of VIPs who are shepherded on to the grid to do the photo opportunities, carefully guided by F1-branded “sheep dogs” trying to make sure these people don’t get run over, or hit over the head by frenzied TV cameramen, who never take prisoners.

The F1 grid is a complicated place. If you watch Martin Brundle’s grid walk you might get some hint of this. There are poseurs aplenty, media who stand looking at cars as though they understand what they are looking at, hoping that their editors will see them there, looking learned, on TV. There are the Hollywood types and the politicians who want some of F1’s angel dust to settle on them. There are the sponsors, swanning about gawping and doing selfies. There are workers, ducking and weaving between the nabobs, and there are the security people, who are there to stop someone assassinating their potentate. You can always spot these people. Their eyes are darting from place to place, always looking for a threat. It’s not an easy job.

The other day (not in Saudi) I was chatting with a Prime Minister in the paddock (as you do) and, as I have known him for many years, we were having a laugh. He said something vaguely rude about the media and I laughed and pretended that I was going to punch him. I stopped, my fist in mid-air, and asked: “Have you got any security people about?” One of his party said: “Look behind you,” and sure enough there was an eye-darting individual, wondering whether he should jump on me and stop me assaulting his boss. At this point the Prime Minister leaned forward and said: “And you have some laser points on your forehead as well.”

Amid much giggling, we went our separate ways.

I must admit that there have been times when the security men in F1 have worried me because when one has multiple royals in a confined space (as happens sometimes at races) there are so many eyes darting suspiciously about that things can get quite edgy.

I am quite sure that if we ever do have a shootout on the grid at an F1 race, it will turn out that it was a gun battle between personal protection officers, who mistook one another for killers…

Anyway, the Saudi Arabian weekend was quiet because not everyone goes there and the timings were all offset because of the timetable. This made it feel like every day had about 30 hours. We spent a lot of time at the track and yet a lot of time in the hotel as well. Everyone goes home at weird hours of the night and then the paddock is empty until midday.

They look after us very well in Jeddah with the F1 Media having its own island, known as Media Island, although it might as well be called Fantasy Island, given some of the stories emanating from it. The biggest fantasy of the week was the supposed London Grand Prix. This was a total fabrication. There was once a project in the docklands area, probably five years ago. The idea then was to build the circuit infrastructure into a new waterside development which was being planned on the north side of the Royal Albert Dock.

Time ran out and the construction went ahead without an F1 track being included.  The story about floating concrete modules being floated into place to form a track was wonderful – but rubbish.  It was clearly someone trying to use the sport to create momentum to help fund a floating modular waterside park. This was clever. However, there was no mention of money and, as every cynic knows, in F1 you must always follow the money to know what will happen and what will not. Each year Monaco, Albert Park, Baku and Singapore all build their tracks on the streets. It costs a lot of money, but the governments pay. And that is just the costs. It does not include the race fees, which would require at least $25 million a year. So one is looking at a bill each year of at least $50 million and no-one willing to pay that. In London there is no public money available. Formula 1 made no official comment on the story, not wishing to add fuel to the fire, but quietly pointed out that there have been no proposals and no discussions with anyone involved.

Just to throw the cat amongst the pigeons, I would say that it is far more likely that we will see a race in Kigali, in Rwanda, than in London. F1 wants a race in Africa.  Rwanda is keen to get some positive global coverage to back up its drive to build a tourist trade and attract business and conventions. The country, which is around 100 miles west to east and 50 miles north to south, is in the Great Rift Valley, just south of the Equator, between Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the old Zaire). It has great natural beauty but has a reputation based on the civil war in the 1990s when tribal violence between Tutsis and Hutus resulted in a genocide, which resulted in more than half a million deaths. The war dragged on until 2000 when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) won and Paul Kagame took power. He won a landslide victory in elections in 2003 and was re-elected in 2010 and 2017.

His goal is to transform the country from an agricultural to a knowledge-based economy, aiming to be  an upper-middle income country by 2035, and a high-income nation by 2050. The GDP per capita has gone from $631 in 2000 to $3,344 in 2022. Kagame sees Singapore as a role model for economic development and obviously F1 has done an important job for Singapore and could, in theory, do the same in Rwanda. Kagame wants to build up a luxury eco-tourism industry and more than $1.5 billion has been invested in developing that sector. The country was deemed by the World Bank in 2020 to be the second easiest place in Africa to do business. It has also scored highly on the Corruption Perception Index, which rated it the fourth best country in Africa and was deemed the second safest country in Africa in a Gallup Global Law and Order report in 2018. Kagame met Stefano Domenicali in Singapore last year and contact is believed to have intensified since then.

And, all plans in South Africa have now stalled, so Kigali’s only real opposition in the race to host an African GP is from Morocco, although F1 seems to be keener on Rwanda probably because no-one expects a race there…

The biggest real news in terms of races was that the Austrian Grand Prix will stay on the calendar until at least 2027. This might not seem a very interesting story, but it is actually quite fascinating. Everyone assumes that Red Bull pays for the race, but the truth is that the event is promoted by Projekt Spielberg GmbH, which is a subsidiary of Dietrich Mateschitz Beteiligungs GmbH.

It is not a Red Bull company. There is no doubt that Red Bull will contribute something in exchange for the global exposure the race generates, but it is a Mateschitz event. The late Dietrich Mateschitz funded it personally because of the economic impact it brought to his native region. He could afford it. He owned about five fancy hotels in the area as well and all earned money from the race, but it is essentially a charity event, designed to make Styrians proud and happy. It was his wish (perhaps written into his will) that the race go on… and so on it will go.

The race that is now the most vulnerable is Belgium, which is out of contract at the end of the year. In 2024 Azerbaijan, Britain and Japan all need to renew. This is useful for Formula 1 as it gives them leverage to dictate terms and to move Baku and Suzuka in the calendar so that the schedule can become more sensible and greener. The fly in the ointment is still Montreal, which everyone wants to be twinned with Miami. The Florida race cannot move because of various things, including the weather. Montreal could move, but does not want to. Thus there is potential for conflict.

The big talking point after the race was Fernando Alonso’s penalty that went away. This did not make the FIA look good, but it will probably help in getting systems working properly in the longer term. The need for a penalty came when the new Remote Operations Centre (ROC) in Geneva, determined that a penalty was required because the rear jack had touched the car during the earlier five-second penalty. This penalty was due to an apparent agreement that had been made by the Sporting Advisory Committee (SAC) that any contact with the car would be penalised in future.

Stewards make decisions based on the facts put in the front of them and so when Aston Martin argued that there was no agreement because it was not written down and was not mentioned in the minutes of the meeting, the stewards did not know. The team also argued that there were numerous examples in the past of jacks touching cars during penalties. The stewards were thus faced with facts that could not be disputed. And so had to overturn their earlier decision. Was there an agreement made in the SAC? Evidently, people think that this was the case, even if it was not minuted. Aston Martin must have known that, but chose not to accept it, as it was not written down. The team won back three points. Was it worth it? One can argue that it was clever, but one can also argue that it was perhaps unprincipled.

The reality is that we don’t really know what happened because such meetings are not public. This sort of thing should not happen and I suggest will not happen again in the future because as we know from movie mogul Sam Goldwyn, “a verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”, but that does not mean that there was never an agreement…

Getting the teams to agree on anything, of course, is a difficult task because many of them think only in terms of their own self-interest. Things have got better of late with a certain amount of more intelligent thought about what is best for the sport.

Such an argument is currently ongoing in relation to CapEx (capital expenditure) for teams that need to invest in their infrastructure. The goal of the budget cap is not to advantage those who have better machinery than others, but rather to make the playing field more equal. Aston Martin used this argument to get allowances for a new windtunnel and so one would hope that thy will not get in the way of attempts by Williams and Audi (to a lesser extent) to get allowances for more CapEx in order to fix problems that cannot be done with the current restrictions. It seems sensible to allow this.

It also seems sensible not to block (or try to block) new entries if they seem to be reasonably able to compete. The two major contenders (although there may be others) are Andretti Global and Hitech. It has come to light that Andretti has taken on Nick Chester, as his technical director.  Chester started his F1 career back in 1991 and was technical director at Renault before moving on run the Mercedes Formula E team (now McLaren). He is joined at Andretti by aerodynamicist Jon Tomlinson, who started in F1 in 1995 and was head of aerodynamics at Williams for five years before moving to Renault and then following Chester to Mercedes in Formula E. The third major hire is John McQuilliam, who has worked in F1 since 1986, largely with Jordan but then with the Virgin/Marussia/Manor operation. Since then he has been head of composites at Prodrive. The three have the kind of knowledge that Andretti requires and so with the right money and right people should be able to build F1 cars.

Hitech’s technical team is headed by Mark Smith, another F1 veteran, with a career dating back to 1990 when he was one of the three designers of the famous Jordan 191. He has been technical director at Sauber, Caterham and Force India in the past. He has a staff of designers as well and rumour has it that there is a Hitech wind tunnel models in one of the Mercedes wind tunnels. The big question for Hitech seems to be political as the owner Ollie Oakes, a former World Kart Champion, has long been associated with the Mazepin family, which owned Hitech until the war in Ukraine began last year. This has not stopped rumours that they are still involved in the background, although Oakes says this is not the case.

It is very clear that all submissions to the FIA must give clear details of ownership and the owners must be “fit and proper persons”. The Mazepins are both sanctioned by the European Union and thus would not qualify, so no entry will be possible if they are listed as the owners.

But if Ollie Oakes has pieces of paper saying he is the owner of Hitech, who can say that he isn’t?

If things are not written down, they cannot be deemed to be facts… as Aston Martin will not doubt tell you.

Right, a few days at home now follow and then it will be off to see another Red Bull massacre in Melbourne – with all the other teams pumping out hot air about how they can catch up, to keep their sponsors happy.

118 thoughts on “Green Notebook from… Shh! Don’t mention it

  1. “I am quite sure that if we ever do have a shootout on the grid at an F1 race, it will turn out that it was a gun battle between personal protection officers, who mistook one another for killers…”

    It shouldn’t be, but that’s one of the funniest things I’ve read today. Nice one.

    Comparing countries to ones own is just how we do it I guess. I recently came back from a trip to West Africa and had to keep saying “stop it” when I’d think “well, this wouldn’t be like this back home.” But I wasn’t back home, and that’s the point.

  2. Dear Joe. Saudi-Arabia belongs to the countries that still execute the death penalty. And dont’t forget that “the Prince” was behind the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 (embassy in Istanbul). So there is no reason to play this regime down, a regime that intervened in Jemen (in 2015) and caused – according to the UN – the worst humanitarian crises ofthe wordl. And I also have no reason to doubt that like in Qatar LSBTIQ people have a hard time there, to say the least. At least women are now, I believe, permitted to drive a car but I am not sure if they are allowed to visit a soccer game (alone, without a male companion). So in a nutshell there is every reason to take a critical view on venues like SA and also Baku….and democracy is always worth to be proud of.

          1. Would it be possible for a new team (or any team) to run just one car in the championship? Put all of their eggs in one basket.

            The thought of more teams and more cars is exciting, but at some point the cars will need to get smaller or the tracks larger. If a team could run a single car we’d have more teams and drivers without taking up as much space on track, right?

            1. I do agree a physical visit to a place makes a world of difference. Watching a beheading in public, in person, provides a far more realistic experience than watching a beheading on video.

                  1. I believe beheadings are reserved for serious crimes, like showing your ankles in public

                    Unlike the USA where there is no appeal process that follows legal process. “Guilty, plug that chair in”

                    Comparing the death penalty as an abstract thing is not possible. Just before your full time reporting of F1, in 1985 there was a mass hanging in Pretoria on the Thursday before the last South African Grand Prix under apartheid. Their crime was a police informant cohersed them to show their ankle and we’re therefore guilty.

                    You simply cannot compare the death penalty in authoritarian regimes and democracy, particularly those that sanction state sponsored murder when the law slanted in their favour cannot even be used, like the murder of Bantu Biko. He was murdered for ideas, not action.

                1. Now you’re passing judgement. Saying that you just report what you see doesn’t count for much if you avoid seeing anything that makes you uncomfortable. Saudi Arabia has a horrific human rights record. Refusing to report on beheadings, or even acknowledge them, means you are making judgements, not just reporting facts.

                  1. The problem for a racing reporter .- and I know what I am talking about since I was one as well during 1979 and 1988 — lies in the fact that you mainly spend your time between airport, hotel and track paddock. I was lucky to work among others for a monthly magazine way back in the 80s which enabled me to occasionally see more. For instance in Spain where the two season openers of the Group C era took place on consecutive weekends at Jarama and Jerez. So instead on flying home between the two I took a rental car to drive from Madrid down to the South with visiting places like Toledo, Granada and also Gibraltar on the way. I also recall a race in Fuji (Japan), on the Monday after the Race — and after having sent race reports to a weekly mag – my photographer friend Ib Trebien from Denmark joined me on an adventurous car trip (no GPS, no sat nav, no mobiles etc.) to Suzuka, which was going to host one of the next Japanese F1 GPs. We took pictures of the circuit which at that point was new for Europeans. We just searched our way by a road map (never got lost), had lunch in a traditional restaurant where we didn’t understand a single word on the menu list while sitting on the floor with shoes taken
                    It was a time I still cherish to this day. Also because of the fantastic grids with Jaguars, Sauber Mercedes and Porsches

                    1. Joe I stopped being a Racing Reporter because I was tired and Even a bit fed up of Spending up to 25 Weekends per year on Racing circuit . But i stayed in Motoring Journalism, Testing new Cars at Nice Places and covering all the important Motor Shows from Frankfurt to Geneva, Tokyo, Detroit etc. A new world with many much more Broad-Minded People than Racing Folk. Although i had Fond memories of Meeting Brits like Keith Sutton, Martin Elford, Steven Tee, Jeff Bloxhsm, Quentin „Q“ Spurring or Michael Cotton

          2. I think ‘what-about-ism’ is when a person completely ignores the points that have just been made, and instead responds by pointing out an apparent similarity elsewhere, Joe.

          1. A race in Rwanda is an exciting prospect. Losing Spa would ruffle some feathers. As an American I always get a kick out of some Europeans saying 3 races here is too many while BeNeLux has 2. I don’t pretend to know the magic number of races, but I think it starts with $/£/€

          2. Not sure why some of your correspondents should expect you to be the moralist judge for the world nor why they should question your opinions, generally pretty moderate, when you have had so much experience of so many parts of said world, when they have not.
            A truism from one of the fairly recent Bond movies was that we should never do anything if we refused to trade with anyone of whom we disapproved.
            I speak very regularly to someone very close that lives and works in several parts of the
            Middle East. He says that the changes that have occurred and are occurring in Saudi Arabia are momentous. That is much more than can be said for most other countries.
            Don’t think we are in much of a position to lecture others when we have suffered from a Government that was totally incapable of any honesty or integrity. And then there is the US where 10,000 people have died so far this year from gun incidents. Unbelievable !

      1. Joe, I usually find myself in agreement with you. And I see the pragmatism of this argument, but I think that’s actually a reason not to go to the USA (which is my country, by birth, anyway) not to go to Saudi.

        There are, if not objectively reasoned, then certainly based on the fundamental human experience of empathy, standards of human rights which ought to be upheld, including the abolishment of the death penalty. And I’d certainly argue that self-determination should be among them.

        And countries that don’t adhere to them shouldn’t be welcome in the international community, regardless of their perceived wealth and power.

        It should also be noted that many objectively terrible people, one rising in Germany in the ’30s comes readily to mind, have garnered a great deal of applause.

      2. Stole the words right out of my mouth, Joe as I was reading Thomas’s comment.
        Love your notebooks. Keep it up please. You are the most articulate English language F1 journalist I’ve read since Jenks in Motorsport

      3. In 2022, the US, with a population of 332m killed 11 people whereas Saudia Arabia killed 147 people with a population of 36m — one hundred and twenty three (123x) times as many people per capita.

        There are few who think Saudi Arabia could treat its people better that also think the US is treating its people as well as it should.

        Most who find the Saudi regime repressive and cruel would likely advocate for the quality of life and degree of choice and freedom one would find in the UK, or preferably France.

        Personally, I find the argument that the Saudi Arabian regime is not meaningfully different to those found in France, Japan, Germany or Italy stretches the concept moral-relativism to an unconvincing degree.

        I have more interest in the argument as to who benefits when a state hosts a sporting event.

        You yourself in this article express the opinion that Singapore benefits from its F1 races, and Rwanda could benefit from an F1 race too. Given the degree to which PR is micromanaged by the sport and its teams these days, I tend agree: the state generally benefits from the sport.

        This puts participants of the sport — drivers, teams and sponsors — in difficult positions, for which the only outs are moral apathy or unconvincing sophistry; or a total exit of course, as happened in the case of Vodafone.

        For such participants, the only consolation is that the Corniche circuit does a remarkably poor job of advertising Saudi Arabia. There are no vistas of lush countryside like Spa or Styria, nor of interesting urban environments like Baku, Monaco or Singapore. The TV coverage provides no example of culture, architecture or landscape that one wouldn’t equally find in Dubai or Cordoba.

        It only provides an example of wealth.

        1. “In 2022, the US, with a population of 332m killed 11 people whereas Saudia Arabia killed 147 people with a population of 36m — one hundred and twenty three (123x) times as many people per capita.”

          Last time I checked the US had a higher per capita jail population than anywhere in the world. So whilst it is good they are executing less people, they are instead locking them up and throwing away the key. I suppose that is marginally better.

          However, as of April 1, 2022 the US has 2,414 convicts on death row, which tends to indicate that the US, with litigation culture and endless appeals, is just slower at carrying out its death sentences.

          1. As I have said above. Apparently the US gun death toll already this year exceeds 10,000. Words fail me.

      1. Just to point out that your photo pass on this blog states ‘no access to the Pit Lane or Starting Grid.’ But then it is also out of date.

          1. Hi Joe, Awesome article and well thought out. Just curious what you get up to on the grid, surely there isn’t sufficient time to interview anyone properly during that time. I also wonder, do people also approach you for a chat?

            1. The grid is a very important time each weekend as one can gather a lot of information very quickly. I consider it the most important part of ny race weekend.

      1. Yes, he’s there. Often making the Hitchcock-like cameo during Martin’s contribution to Chaos Theory.

    1. Watching Sky in the USA I like to watch the background during Brundles grid walks for interesting folk and play “spot the Joe” as well. If you keep your eye out you will see him more often than not. If you could be there, why wouldn’t you?

  3. Joe – Firstly great to see Alonso doing well again, and another team mixing it with the (now) traditional top 3, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the penalty etc. On the new teams, would be great to see Andretti get an entry. They are clearly taking it seriously with those appointments. Surely the issue for Hitech is not just who owns it, but where the money is coming from – as you mentioned earlier in your piece about the London GP, need to follow the money!!! Would Ollie Oakes not need to prove where the money is coming from – i.e. positively prove that the team isn’t funded by Mazepin, rather than simply having a piece of paper to prove that Mazepin is no longer the owner? And what news of the Panthera project, and the Swiss based one that was rumoured?

  4. Having travelled a lot to so-called ‘red list’ countries on the UK/US foreign office sites and places where people tell me I shouldn’t go in the past decade or two, I generally find that the locals’ friendliness and welcome is inversely proportional to the fear perpetrated by our governments and media. I’m very much looking forward to visiting Saudi in the next year or so.

  5. I would strongly advise Liberty to pick Morocco. They’ve held races in the past, it is a very popular tourist destination (10.9 mill in 2022), there are flights from all over Europe and several non-stops from the USA. The food is excellent and the history is amazing.. Churchill painting the Atlas Mountains from the terrace of the Mamounia hotel in Marrakech, Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca-millions can relate to it. Rwanda.. from a security point of view, plus lack of history, lack of international flights, would be a very hard sell. Maybe they can drop Azerbaijan and replace it with Casablanca. As the American say-a no-brainer.

    1. pretty funny, Saudi Arabia is evil but Rwanda, where 600,000 were butchered with machetes is looking good

      1. I don’t know that much about Rwanda, but that was nearly 30 years ago. You wouldn’t have visited Croatia in 1994 either, yet it’s now a popular tourist destination

  6. Pretty sure the crowd cheered Hitler at his olympics too…

    If someone wants to assassinate royalty at a Grand Prix they’d have to get past JYS first…

  7. Joe did you hear of any reason why F1 chose to ban e-scooters,ebikes and bicycles from the “track walk” ? it didnt seem of all the things F1 has in its remit to ban, top of the important stuff list, and didnt seem to go down well with Charles LeClerc at all, but no one could really pinpoint or come up with an official reason why it was necessary, then again F1 seemed quite happy to hire the “track walk” session out to film a music video, so maybe its just money ?

    1. I heard something about it but it didn’t seem very interesting. It’s probably to stop accidents. Most cities need to regulate things like this as there is a lot of chaos.

    2. Elf & Safety – stationary people, slow walkers, cyclists, e-cyclists, e-scooters by the 100’s, stopping, pulling off, overt/undertaking. A accident waiting to happen.

  8. Regardless of what may be said on anti-social media, Jeddah is a super track to race on. Not very scenic, but stellar racing.
    Early days, but so far the stand out stars among the current crop of drivers can be narrowed down to Max, of course, the Ferrari pair in spite of their woes, Alonso, and Russell. I would like to see consistent success from Perez before adding him to the list. And if Stroll manages to keep up with Alonso he will have done very well. Have I left out anyone? Possibly Zho who is exceeding all expectations.

    1. “I would like to see consistent success from Perez before adding him to the list.”

      It would help if he were not hampered by his own team and certain factions within it. I also thought Checo was inconsistent, but after the GP in Jeddah it’s clear there is obviously something else going on in that team which Checo is up against.

      In the later stages of the race Checo was given his target lap time of 1 min 33 secs and then he asked what Max’s was – 1 min 32.6 secs. If you did the maths based on the time differential and how many laps were left, then you could determine that if these lap times were adhered to, he would be caught. This is despite Max being safe in second and under no threat whatsoever from Alonso, and Checo was 5 seconds in front.

      Checo leaped on it immediately: “Aww c’mon guys, there’s no need for this.” So he maintained a faster pace to win.

      That didn’t stop Max from taking the fastest lap time away from him to grab the extra point and still maintain the lead in the WDC. As far as I was aware he had been told not to.

      Then there was the face of Verstappen senior when Checo got out of the car and congratulated his team and Verstappen senior was also at the barriers. In your mind picture the Easter Island head statues and you’ll get the idea. Absolutely stoney faced and did not in any way congratulate Checo or even look at him, even though he was stood directly in front of him – not even a friendly pat on the back. He totally blanked him.

      It’s quite clear what is going on in that team and who is the driving force behind it. I imagine now that in some future race Max will throw another strop and pull another stunt like he did in Brazil last year because he dared to take a victory away from him. It’s quite clear that Max thinks that Checo should just be like an Irvine/Barrichello driver. I’m not sure if the team think the same way, maybe they don’t, but it’s obvious Verstappen senior sees it that way. In turn, he’ll constantly be in Max’s ear and will influence his behaviour.

      All this is what Checo has to contend with.

      This internal struggle at Red Bull will probably turn into the major talking point of the whole season and will almost certainly dwarf any action on the track – as if there is any at the moment. There clearly will be no threat from any other team. Almost certainly there will be other incidents along these lines, probably bigger and public ones, and tears before bedtime.

      Meanwhile, all we as viewers were left with from the race in Jeddah were mere scraps of racing – a battle between two McLarens and a Williams for exactly zero championship points, and a battle between a Haas and an Alpha Tauri for a solitary championship point. I fell asleep watching it – something I haven’t done for some time whilst watching a GP. From a racing perspective, that’s probably indicative of what we as viewers will be left with for the rest of the season.

  9. I was left surprised by the safety car deployment. In my eyes a yellow flag before the turn was enough. Could have prevented “another Red Bull massacre”.
    I wonder how Ferrari and Mercedes big wigs feel about their respected companies being so badly beaten. Mercedes have come and gone from the sport, so they might not care, but Ferrari are starting to appear as a solid second tier team. If the WEC entry does not give them back some bragging rights they will look silly in my eyes.

    1. I think you’re talking too short term a view. Last season Ferrari were clearly the second best team. To say after 2 races of this season the they “appear as a solid second tier team” is way way over the top

  10. I always enjoy these very much!

    The commenters above have pointed out some things that are wrong with Saudi Arabia.

    They left out religion. On the common folk / community level, I can relate. Been raised Christian- became agnostic/atheist as a child. But being part of the community is a warm feeling.

    However, as with every religion, leaders tell the people how to interpret it. In this case a medieval book – which inconsistencies to ignore and where to follow the letter. Saudi Arabia funded so much terrorism, based on religion, even as I type this I’m disappointed at myself for watching the race (as with Qatar, Abu Dahbi and Bahrain).

    So, I’ve zero desire to travel to these hell hole countries and it never will change my opinion about them as a whole – while I can relate to the common people.
    Alas, I don’t need to travel to Russia to form an opinion about Putin…

    I just hope women like the women in Iran will win in the end.

    All with respect for you and your opinion but never with respect for any religion (which is not the same as faith).

    1. Just been advised that the Saudi religious police no loner exist. They were all were sent off for retraining as tourist guides ! Them as didn’t like it are digging holes in the dessert with colander spades !!

  11. I believe that “unprincipled’ would be better applied to Toto Wolff who was aggressively spreading the mis-information that the Aston pitstop situation was the same as that of Ocon and Alpine at Bahrain so deserved an equal penalty. Unfortunately Mr. Wolff was wrong as Alan Premane of Alpine had admitted that they had in fact served .4 seconds less than the full 5 minute penalty. Hardly the same as Aston Martin touching the car with the jack. My understanding of the situation is that the lap 18 incident when first considered was deemed to not warrant a penalty so the team and driver obviously weren’t notified. Later, someone in the paddock demanded that the situation be investigated further as Alpine had been penalized for what they believed was the same sin. I’ll leave it everyone decide who they believe that someone might have been. Anyway, Aston Martin’s appeal was accepted and we’ll all move on to Australia hoping that a clearer set of rules around serving a penalty has been agreed.

  12. I never visited Nazi Germany or the USSR. Does that mean I’m not allowed to condemn Nazis or Stalinist purges? Stalin and Hitler received standing ovations wherever they went. Does that mean that we shouldn’t criticize their atrocities? Franklin Roosevelt interred Japanese-Americans. Does that make him the same as Hitler and Stalin?

    No, of course not. The reason F1 is in Saudi Arabia is to sportswash a tyrannical regime that brutally murders journalists who criticize the ruler. Of course we can criticize the Saudi Government even if we haven’t visited the country. People clapping when the Crown Prince appears tells us absolutely nothing about the state of human rights in the country.

  13. I have always loved this column, Joe. Big fan of your writing style. And ‘nabob’. Haven’t heard nabob for a while…Bing and Bob on the road to…Jeddah?

      1. I’m still waiting for your, Return to Long Beach prediction, to come true. Think that it’s now 20 plus years since you mentioned it.

        1. Long Beach would have to change as the circuit is a shadow of what it used to be when Formula 1 was last there in 1983. Phoenix, as used in 1991 would be a better circuit and it was terrible.

          It will never happen, but I’d love to see Formula 1 cars at Watkins Glen or Road America

  14. Thank you so much for your views on Saudi Arabia Joe, every time there is a race in the region (which is quite a lot these days) I very quickly grow tired of the number of articles which get dusted off and sent out with the words “human rights concerns” in their subject line or when I read comments on the internet from people in Bradford who “long for the Saudi people to be free and for their lives to improve”.

    Unlike the keyboard warriors and lazy “journalists”, my view of the region is formed after having lived here for 7.5 years, 2.5 of which I have worked for a Saudi Arabian company. I can assure everyone reading this who doubts the opening paragraphs of this notebook, the Saudi’s I work with are all massively proud of their country, they love their government and they are all living very comfortable lives.

    As you say, no country is perfect, but it annoys me no end when people in the West put forth the same old trite arguments when discussing the region, pointing out all of its flaws while all the while ignoring the failings and hypocrisy of the West.

    1. “I can assure everyone reading this who doubts the opening paragraphs of this notebook, the Saudi’s I work with are all massively proud of their country, they love their government and they are all living very comfortable lives.”

      And what about all the Saudis that you don’t work with, and all the Saudis who don’t love their government? What you have fallen for is called “selection bias”. You work for a Saudi Arabian company. The only Saudis you meet are people who work for that company and are heavily invested in maintaining the status-quo, so the selection of your sample of Saudis is biased to only include people who like the government and have nice comfortable jobs. You don’t meet people who are unhappy with how Saudi Arabia is run because your company and the government ensures that you cannot meet those people. Living in Saudi Arabia does not mean that you have any exposure to what average Saudi citizens think of their government.

    2. Having been to Saudi to work in oil. Out of all the countries that I have been to, Saudi has been the pits and the most terrible place. West has lots of failings. But we get to Vote on who we want to be in charge and have a free press and are able to post and write information on line safe in the knowledge that we wont be dragged off to jail and tortured for telling the truth, Tony Blair and George Bush Lied and should be tried for War Crimes. Joe Please come back to Europe and give us some more of your travel experiences it is far safer and easier and rather enjoyable. Joes Blog, Joes Rules. PS I currently work with a Saudi who is paid $100,000 a year to live and study here to get his degree. all paid for by Saudi

  15. If this season is to be called anything it should be “Like a red rag to a Bull’.

    Given how far away McLaren are to the front I wonder if Zak has any regrets in twisting the knife in?

  16. Great article, as always Joe.

    I’m an ex-Muslim. I have a Muslim dad and an Irish mom, and so have a foot in each culture. I’ve lived in both “western” (whatever that means) and Islamic countries, including in the Gulf. My values are modern and western, not Islamic. I disagree with many laws in Islamic countries but acknowledge that westerners like myself are in no position to get all righteous and preachy.

    I think the treatment of women and the LGBTQ+ community in many Muslim countries is disgraceful. If that’s ever going to change, Muslims themselves will do the hard work. Being criticised by their former colonisers will not help – especially if those colonisers are forgetful of their own histories of deplorable human rights, at home and especially abroad.

    Looking forward to your next appearance on MissedApex podcast… Adam

  17. “The fly in the ointment is still Montreal, which everyone wants to be twinned with Miami. The Florida race cannot move because of various things, including the weather. Montreal could move, but does not want to. Thus there is potential for conflict.”

    Weather could be a problem for Montreal too, if the race is moved a month earlier than its current date to accommodate twinning with Miami. Single digit temperatures and even snow is not out of question in Montreal in May. And June / July is too hot for Miami.

    Now, if someone put something together in New York City in place of Miami, then perhaps twinning with Montreal would make sense…

      1. I know Joe, but that’s not my point; it is simply impossible to make Montreal-Miami pairing work due to weather. When Montreal is finally warm enough for a race, Miami is already too hot.

        If someone is looking for a US race to pair up with Montreal they better be looking at NYC or some such place, that would make much more sense climate wise.

        And given how fast are the races on US soil multiplying lately, a NYC GP in a few years from now is certainly not out of question.

        1. NYSE-listed companies like F1 must abide by the contracts they agree (except in an emergency situation like the Russian GP), where there is no doubt a close to cover such events.

          1. True, but again it has nothing to do with Montreal’s (un)willingness to move its date on the calendar. A contract is a contract, yet no contract can bend the forces of nature. If weather is the factor for Miami not being able to be moved closer to Montreal’s traditional June date (and it certainly is), it is just as much of a factor for Montreal not being able to move its date to May.

            I’m sure you still remember the first Canadian Grand Prix that was held in Montreal, in October 1978, that gives you an idea of the type of weather one can expect in Montreal in early-to-mid May. Lots of rain, daily high temperatures in single digits / low teens, possibly dipping below freezing overnight, with occasional snow flurries not being out of question either. I am not sure a race could be held in those kinds of conditions with today’s F1 cars, unless Pirelli comes up with a new spec winter tire.

            So if F1 insists on having a back-to-back US race with Montreal, they better start looking at something in the northeast, Miami just won’t do for that purpose. And likewise, they should look for something more climate compatible with Miami to pair it with that race, rather than Montreal.

          2. Would Austin discuss its date being moved to mid-May? Too hot already, or some other sports interfering?

  18. I agree with you that to better know a country (or critize it) the best way is to visit it. However being a lgbt woman myself, I worry that if I visit Saudi Arabia I will never be able to return. So enjoy your privilege as a white hetero man who can enter and enjoy the country without any main danger to your freedom. I guess if you are not afraid of being incarcilated just for being who you are, the country must be quite good.

    1. Well put, Victoria. Unfortunately, F1 is massively overrepresented by white hetero men (like me). Hamilton (and others too, like Vettel) have made that obvious. I think the decent thing to do is acknowledge that history and try to improve F1. What sportswashing does is makes it easy for countries like Saudia Arabia to avoid criticism. Yes, the U.S. has problems, but I would be quite comfortable walking around a GP in the U.S. wearing a tee-shirt that condemned the invasion of Iraq as a crime, knowing that I wouldn’t be thrown in jail and tortured. I would absolutely not wear a rainbow tee-shirt in Saudi Arabia.

      1. “What sportswashing does is makes it easy for countries like Saudia Arabia to avoid criticism.”

        See, this is what I don’t understand. If there wasn’t a race in Saudi, far fewer people would be talking about the human rights issues. Having a race there actually invites more comment and criticism. Sure, the Saudi state will get other benefits from having a GP but it’s not as though everybody is just distracted by all the lovely bright flashy things happening. In fact for the weeks around the race, the spotlight is more on the local regime than ever.

        1. Sure, that makes sense. Unless the FIA puts pressure on F1 drivers, teams, journalists, etc. to not report on the human rights issues and just report on the happy crowds applauding the Divine One.

  19. A most thoughtful piece of writing as ever Mr. Saward.
    How correct that we should not seek to impose western democracy on all countries. But neither should others seek to impose their values on others who do not agree with them, be that religious or political. Sadly all our national leaders of whatever hue do not seem to share this basic human value.

    I seem to recall that Autosport ran an April Fool some years ago on a London Grand Prix. The giveaway being the split through Admiralty Arch…

  20. Being from the states, I agree no country is perfect. It’s all about the basic culture. I have this theory that one has to wait a generation to realize positive/negative change in a country.

    Now, putting that aside I would hate to see Spa fall off the calendar. As far as Montreal is concerned just piss them off and tell them they have 2 choices May or October before Austin. You will get an answer quick.

    As far as Red Bull dominating. Oh, well mix it up and allow a test session in the middle of the season using some “force majeure” reason.

    If you really want to mix things up allow for 2 more tire suppliers. Have the tire suppliers pick up some of the extra cost. F1 wants mfg. in the sport. What’s the difference between engine/tire manufacturers.

    1. Because the last tyre wars led to dominance, and tyres became too important to performance. Close racing doesn’t come from increasing the number of important variables. Bad enough we have to put up with discussion about tyre deg.

  21. Hi Joe,

    I thoroughly appreciate your honest and very informative blog!

    Anyone in the crowd at the Saudi GP is a Saudi elite with strong connections to the Royal Family. Your regular street guy doesn’t get a ticket!

  22. Excellent notebook as always Joe, but I have to say this bit.

    I’m afraid that I have very limited time for people who criticise a place, but never get on a plane and go to visit, to find out for themselves whether the way the country is portrayed in the western media is how it really is.

    Easy for you to say when you have the wherewithal to travel to 23 races in different countries each year, but a little harder for the average fan sat at home on meagre wages trying to cope with the cost of living crisis. Media reports are pretty much all we have to judge by!

      1. Joe, I never said you don’t pay for yourself, I said you have the wherewithal, I.e. you obviously make enough “salary” from your journalism to cover the expense of your travel, I certainly can not afford to jump on a plane to check out for myself what the media is reporting from Saudi or Bahrain or Qatar etc etc!

        1. So many people assume that money simply falls from trees into the laps of F1 journalists and that we are all swimming in cash. There are fewer and fewer freelances left and magazines and newspapers are cutting back as well. The number of full-time professional accredited F1 journalists attending races has dropped significantly in recent years, to the extent to which it is not unusual now to have only 20-30, compared to 300 in the old days. I do not expect more than 20 permanent journalists to be in Australia. This means that there are fewer and fewer independent voices in the paddock and more and more people who only have access to massaged content.

          1. Ok Joe, you seem so defensive, again you obviously work very hard and I appreciate your columns, but the point remains you can afford to finance travel to 23 races per year or you simply wouldn’t do it if you were making a loss year after year, that was my entire point

            1. Tony, I think your missing his point, he is telling us that cannot afford to travel worldwide, don’t buy into the hype that most media outlets report as they are sensationalizing too make a story…

            2. We are lucky to have Joe around to have an independent journalist not bound by the wishes of some media oligarchs that only want their version of reality proffered by their underlings. I’m sure Joe wouldn’t do all this travelling if he didn’t love the sport & got an income from it. You’ve got to pay the bills after all.

              Do we agree with everything Joe says? No! But Joe gets more right than he does wrong. Keep up the great work Joe.

              1. I thoroughly endorse that foxy61.

                And my best to to those fortunate souls who make it to Joe’s evening in St Kilda. You will find it refreshing and totally enjoyable. Unfortunately I would if I could, but I can’t so I shan’t.

                Keep up the good work Joe

  23. Joe, maybe what you see when you go to Saudi Arabia is managed? Governments tend to put their best face forwards when they know there’s going to be lots of overseas visitors.

    In South Africa in the 70s and 80s there were various attempts at using sport to demonstrate – to us inside the country as well as to the outside world – that things weren’t so bad. When Arthur Ashe came to play tennis laws were temporarily waived and seating at the matches was not segregated. Arthur Ashe would have looked around and seen black faces in the grandstands. So would the journalists.

    Yet those black faces would have had to go home to the remote, downtrodden townships where government decreed they must live. They wouldn’t have been able to have a drink in the same bars as the majority white specators. They would have queued at separate bus stops.

    A particular coup for SA Cricket and Government was the signing of a mercenary West Indian cricket team. See! They want to come here and we make them welcome! How bad can we be? The visitors had been quietly given “honorary white” status, and even that wasn’t enough. Colin Croft got on a train at Cape Town and was ejected from a first class coach because first class was whites only.

    SA Cricket could have pointed out Omar Henry, a coloured player who played in the premier domestic competition. But SA cricket wouldn’t tell you about the times that Henry was forced to stay in a different hotel, dine in a different restaurant from the rest of his provincial team.

    The worst governments can try to hide their worst aspects for the duration of a sports event.

    1. Heer Heer, and the taxpayer paid for the first sport washing exercise.

      Let’s not forget why South Africa was banned from international cricket too. Basil d’Oliviera was born in Cape Town, but the Springboks were all white and despite being more than good enough to play for his country of birth, he spent 10 years and qualified for England. Then when England were to tour in 1968 he was inexplicably left out because a Nazi sympathiser called John Vorster said he was not welcome. Then when an injury befell a player, d’Oliviera was included and the racist Vorster (he was the Prime Minister elected by 6% of the population) said the team was no longer welcome to tour.

      They did the same with Motorsport with the 500 races at Kyalami in 1986, 1987 and 1988 and German Touring Cars in 1989.

      It’s why I totally opposed sport with any country that is like South Africa was. Sport never changed anything in society. It still hasn’t 30 years or more on.

  24. Another good and thoughtful article, as always much appreciated. As to the discussion centering on the start of the article, my opinion is that all countries should adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a sad and disturbing fact that very few do, including my own. And I will until my last breath reserve the right to criticize the countries that do not do so, especially my own (in this case Australia).
    A race in Rwanda before South Africa, I suppose money will as always decide were in Africa a race will be held. Finally, will anyone really challenge the rampaging Bulls before the end of this season? Can’t really see it .

  25. Sorry Joe,

    To quote Rufus T Firefly character in ‘Duck Soup’ : “These are my principles. If you you don’t like them, I have others”.

    I think you are wrong. Paul Kagame may started off with reasonable intentions (perhaps), having fought with the RPF to bring the civil war to an end. Albeit with later, questionable actions in DRC later on. Now there are numerous, well documented incidences of journalists being intimated and even killed shortly after criticizing government, and more specifically Kagame.

    Uganda (to the North) has recently outlawed LGBT people. Including death penalties.
    India has a ruling party who seem to be promoting Hindu nationalism at the expense of Islamic or Christian Minorities. (admittedly it doesn’t have an F1 race, but I am pretty sure if they turned up with enough money, and a track, they would get it).

    Malaysia (in some provinces) also denies LGBT rights, with Mahathir Mohammed (and other) having done some very questionable things. But they only lost the F1 race due to money.

    Russia has a murderous regime who has been killing opposition and journalists for years whilst F1 was happy to go to Sochi. (Anna Politkovskaya?) But only lost F1 when they invaded Ukraine (should never have gone there, IMHO).

    Italy has a very scary right wing lot who seem happy to drown men, women and children because they are of a different ethnicity.

    Hungary under Victor Orban is similar.

    Apartheid South Africa ran F1 races for many years without FOCA being concerned.

    Engagement didn’t work then. Jerry Dammers or Peter Gabriel probably did more to end Apartheid than F1 did. I am sceptical that engagement with human rights abusers ever works.

    No one country is clean (FFS, We have Suella Braverman as home secretary in the UK). I no longer watch most F1 races as the stink of venality has gotten too much. I think I watched 3 races last year.

    If the murder of Jamal Khashoggi doesn’t sway you, then shame on you.

    This is despite being a former F1 engineer whose childhood obsession with race cars meant that I only missed 3 races (I think) on TV between 1978 and around 2016). I have just had enough. I won’t change a thing about F1, but IMHO they are living on borrowed time, ayway.

    And before you ask, I have been to all of the above countries, some (East African) very recently).

    Outta here.

    1. I’m allowed to be wrong, just as you are. And a shame on anyone who says that we do not have a right to an opinion.

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