Green Notebook from Havalimanı

Those of you with eagle-eyes will soon notice that the non-capitalised Havalimanı is a very odd word because it ends with an undotted i.

In order to be able to use this strange character, I had to go on a glyph-safari to track it down in the typographical jungle, and while on this trek I learned that this is used only in the Latin script alphabets of Turkic languages. If that does not strike an immediate chord with you, let me add that these include Turkish, Azerbaijani, Chuvash, Gagauz, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, Tuvan, Uyghur, Uzbek and Yakut, not to mention Crimean Tatar. Now, if you were to ask me where the Gagauz language is spoken I might not know, but if I cheated I would learn that the answer is Moldova. But could I find any of these places on a map?

Well, yes, a few of them, but that’s the problem with Eurasia. One can get royally lost in this jigsaw puzzle of post-Soviet nations. For most people, the Caucasian States and the ‘stans are all somewhere “over there” where Bond villains come from… where wearing furry things on your head is considered completely normal and where they find much joy and excitement playing a kind of polo with dead goats, which – to be fair – is probably more interesting television than last weekend’s Grand Prix in Baku. Still, it gave Toto Wolff the chance to complain and wonder whether it would be good for F1 to change the rules. Why ever would he want that?

Anyway, sometimes F1 races are dull. Mostly they are not. Most sports are like that. We watch them with expectation that they will be thrilling, but that is the way of live sport. Nil-all draws are rarely thrilling and bowling maiden overs is far less thrilling that bowling over maidens.

The thing about Eurasia (and it is huge) is that something like Formula 1 can be very useful because it can (quite literally) put a country on the map. I had heard of Baku before we first went there in 2016, but did I really know where it was? More importantly, perhaps, did I care? Now I do and I occasionally recommend that fans go there because it is quite a nice place and the locals are very friendly (unless they are in uniform).

When we have a new Grand Prix to cover we all learn things. It is best to know at least something about where you are going or you can get into all kinds of scrapes. I remember years ago a slightly incredible story that Ukyo Katayama used to tell about ending up racing in France at the start of his career because he thought Paris was in Britain and he’d read that this was the place a young driver needed to be in order to get to F1. It was a mistake that served him well because, speaking neither French nor English, Ukyo ended up at the Winfield Racing School at Paul Ricard, where they taught him how to drive racing cars by hitting him on the leg whenever he needed to brake…

Anyway, the other thing about this region of the world is that the preferred languages do not include English. In Baku, Azeri is the dominant language (oddly enough…) but about 40 percent of the population also speak Russian fluently. The number of English speakers is about five percent, although this is said to be growing amongst the younger generations.

I am regularly inspired to learn new languages, yet somehow, despite my best intentions, I never manage to do so. I end up learning the important phrases: Hello, Goodbye, Please, Thank you, How much? Can I have a beer? and “Bog off!”. I guess that with all the AI around these days we soon won’t need to do even that as our mobiles will talk to one another without us – and we can just sit around eating cake.

For youngsters with a desire to learn, the best advice I can give you is that one should get into a relationship with someone who speaks a language you wish to learn. Hey presto, you will learn it almost instantly. This doesn’t work for older folk for a couple of reasons. Firstly, our brains are less able to absorb languages, and secondly, because the wife – and/or significant other (she/her, he/him etc) – will generally get upset if you keep learning new languages using this method…

Anyway, back to Havalimanı with the dotless i. It isn’t really the name of a town, but rather the name that Turkic peoples use for “airport”. It probably means “field from which flying machines rise”, but no matter. So I’m not really in Havalimanı, but I am flying from one Havalimanı to another: Baku to Istanbul.

Why would I do this when I live in France and need to be in Miami in a few days? Well, the truth is that, for some perverse reason, the travel industry has made it cheaper to fly to Istanbul and stay overnight in an airport hotel than to fly home directly… and it is a significant difference.

If someone else is buying your tickets, you fly direct and try not to sneer at those who take non-direct flights, but if you’re the one paying, your routings tend to be more round about, and probably more interesting. I did consider staying in Istanbul for a couple of days and then going straight to Miami, but I still like seeing the missus and the fares (equally mysteriously) made it wiser to go by way of Paris. These days (with inflation even affecting the number of races) one need to think a lot about money…

I had paid for the Baku hotel in advance and pre-booked a ride (to avoid the taxi piracy at goes on, aided by the policemen at the airport who direct innocent travellers who ask for help to the worst of the crooked cabbies). There was a welcome event on Thursday night to which a roasted pig had been invited, along with all the F1 folk, and with things happening quite late in the day on Friday, and races on Saturday and Sunday, we did not really have time to go out and eat dinner and, to be honest, we could survive on hotel breakfasts and the food which was provided in the media centre, which gave a hint of local colour, including some rather spectacular bright green cake.

I thought I would try a experiment in Baku and looked into the darkest corner of my currency stash, which travels the world with me (right). I had 10 Azerbaijani Manats left over from last year. About £5. So I thought I’d try to go through the entire race weekend without changing any money. Because no-one wants to convert Manats back to anything else once you leave the country…

It worked brilliantly until Monday when I was rushing to finish my last work and upload things (which is never easy) before heading to the airport. I tried to book another taxi online but nothing was available. So I asked the hotel reception if they could organise something, fearing that I was jumping into the lion’s den without a chair for protection. People get charged £40 on a regular basis…

“How much?” I asked with trepidation.

“Nine Manats,” came the reply. Result! £4.50. I even gave the taxi driver a one Manat tip.

All Baku taxis are beaten up and most of them seem to be Toyota Prius hybrids, which is commendable in a country where petrol is REALLY cheap. Baku is the Havana of the Prius, where ageing Japanese machinery is hammered and revamped by the locals after each bingle. There are lots of these as the driving is lively, if not always controlled.

As my taxi approached Havalimanı, I watched a large Cargolux freighter coming in to land and I knew exactly what it was there to do. A race, far more exciting than Sunday’s, was already going on to get the entire F1 circus from Baku to Miami. It’s about 7,000 miles and takes 16 and a half hours if you fly non-stop. The time difference is eight hours, so if you leave Baku at midday on Monday, you will get to Miami on Monday evening. The problem is that big freight planes carry a lot of weight and so they travel less quickly and have to stop on the way to refuel so the freight will not arrive in Florida until Tuesday morning. F1’s plan was to get seven freighters in the air by Monday night, which meant a lot of packing up work throughout Sunday night. The planes would go by way of Frankfurt, Luxembourg or Casablanca although the plan for the last one was to fly non-stop if it was not too heavy once all the bits and bobs had been rounded up. In theory, therefore, the freight would all be in Miami by Tuesday night, at the track on Wednesday morning and once the garages were sorted out, the mechanics could go into action to fix the damage from Baku. Perhaps this why the race in Baku was dull, because no-one wanted to smash up their cars.

As I saw the freighter I thought perhaps I should have organised to fly on one of these beasts and write about the great Baku Airlift. It sounded like fun to be on a cargo plane, which have only a few seats and you have to cook your own food and go without films to watch. Still, there are no staff to tell you to not surf on tea-trays down the aisles on take-off…

Films are much in discussion in F1 at the moment and F1 has taken on a person to help guide the film crews as they prepare for the yet-to-be-named Brad Pitt does F1 movie, that will start shooting in July. Tim, otherwise known as Mother Duck, was to be spotted walking around the paddock with a dozen movie ducklings following behind him as they learned what they can and cannot do when the shooting starts (if you see what I mean). People who make movies are remarkably resourceful (my next door neighbour is one) and they find ways around problems in a way that is very F1-like. It will be interesting to see how the two worlds get along. The only fear I have (having watched too many movies on planes) is that the script will be horrible… Still, it would be hard to make a worse movie than Sylvester Stallone’s less-than-classic “Drivel” (Sorry, the real name was “Driven” but, hey, what’s one letter different?).

My favourite racing movie apart from John Frankenheimer’s 1966 classic Grand Prix, on which incidentally a chap called George Lucas cut his teeth as a cameraman, is probably “Turbo”, the story of a radioactive snail who wins the Indy 500 (or at least I think he won, I cannot remember the details). This was one of those movies where one has to suspend one’s disbelief, although we all seem to be happy to accept talking animals, time travel and happy endings so it wasn’t really a stretch. Actually it was brilliant because it appealed to an audience that was slightly different from the grumpy old men who watch racing cars. This was a movie for kids and they loved it and maybe some of them became IndyCar fans as a result. I’m not saying that Brad Pitt should be given superhuman powers but hopefully the film will be a little more than Top Gun on four wheels…

There was one thing I noticed in Baku which was very unusual. At every gate, there were kids. Far more than at other races. For whatever reason, the kids of Azerbaijan are excited about the sport and its heroes (we still need to wait for heroines) and that can only be good news, although I am not sure why it happens there, as I’ve not spotted this elsewhere. I expect Miami will be all about women hunting down Gunther Steiner trying to get a selfie, or trying to learn his language…

The Green Notebook in Baku had a few scrawls worth noting, the primary one being Alpine selling shares to AutoNation. I heard that the team had sold 25 percent of its shares (although this might increase to 40 percent) to an American investor. The number whispered was $212 million, which would value the team at $850 million. About right. The money raised will be used to fund the team’s growth and make sure that Renault does not need to pay more.

I am happy to admit that I guessed that it would be the car retail chain AutoNation Inc, because it has been rumoured for a while to be the company that will sell Alpine road cars in the US market. AutoNation has 300 outlets across the US and is based in Fort Lauderdale, close to the Hard Rock Stadium, where the Miami Grand Prix takes place. AutoNation is already an active sponsor in racing, notably in recent years with Alexander Rossi, although that sponsorship has now switched to Kyle Kirkwood, the rising new star of IndyCar, who drives for Andretti Autosport.

The firm also has a multi-year deal to be a sponsor of the Miami Grand Prix, which shows that it already has an interest in using F1 to promote its business, and it belongs to the Huizenga famly, which has a long history in sports investing with the Miami Dolphins and several other Florida sports franchises. The late Wayne Huizenga was a partner in the Miami Homestead Speedway. I also noted that AutoNation CEO now is Mike Manley, a British executive who was involved with the Alfa Romeo sponsorship of Sauber while he was CEO of Fiat Chrysler, before the firm jumped into bed with Peugeot to form Stellantis. The American angle is REALLY important for Alpine because it currently sells 3,500 cars a year and it needs to sell a lot in the US if it is to meet its ambitious sales targets of 150,000 a year by 2030. Renault left the US market back in 1987.

Sadly, my travels delayed this column and Alpine announced the deal before I got home. Still, it was all in the JSBM newsletter before the news broke and so I was happy.

There is a note that said: “Gwen – Rally” which is story of how the leader of Mercedes AMG Petronas’s driver development programme Gwen Lagrue decided to go rallying, 25 years after his last event and drove a Porsche 991 GT on the Rallye Rhône-Charbonnières, a round of the French Tarmac Rally Championship.

There is also a note about Baku’s new deal which has been widely-reported as being a three-year deal. If you read the press release this is implied several times but it does not actually say that. The race will happen in 2024, 2025 and 2026 but the existing contract is not due to run out until after the 2024 race, which means that it is a two-year deal, which means that Formula 1 is keeping it options open.  Azerbaijan has been on the F1 calendar since it hosted the European Grand Prix of 2016. It was one of the last big deals put together by Bernie Ecclestone before F1 was sold to Liberty Media. It is no secret that the man who negotiated the deal was Flavio Briatore, who was thrown out of the sport, discredited in 2009, in the wake of the Singapore race-fixing scandal. The fee was huge and Briatore picked up a large annual commission and all parties were happy. Bernie got loads of money, Briatore got loads of money and a chance to retain some profile in F1 and the Azerbaijanis got the chance to promote the city as a tourist destination. Baku remains a high-paying race but when it comes to Grands Prix these days, it is a buyer’s market as there is a plentiful supply of people wanting races. Thus F1 can pick and choose to some extent. There is the question of compliance, a word that was rarely heard in the Ecclestone days, which has become more important since F1 is now listed (as part of Liberty Media) on the NASDAQ. Compliance people like races as clean-cut as 1960s astronauts and they pay attention to things such as the annual Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, which rates Azerbaijan 157th out of 180 countries in terms of whether people think the country is corrupt. This is far, far below all the other countries hosting F1 races (now that Russia is gone). The next worst is Mexico (126th) and Brazil (94th). The rest are positively wholesome.

It’s a shame with all the kids in Baku seeming to be excited about F1, but I guess that the taxi drivers are just the tip of the iceberg.

There were two other things of note: one is that the F1 new team entry deadline seems to have been extended from May 1 to May 15, with the decision going back until July 15, although by all accounts this date remains rather fluid. That suits lots of F1 people because it means that it is highly-unlikely that anyone will get a new team together by 2025.

The final note is about stories that Liberty Media is looking at buying IndyCar. This has been denied by everyone. I did hear a whisper of this in Australia and asked Stefano Domenicali and his answer was sufficient for me to not even bother reporting on it, so why it has come up again is a bit of a mystery…

On a lighter note, there was a lot of speculation online about Taylor Swift dating Fernando Alonso, which was a racier story than the racing, but I did not get the impression that it was true. She’d probably be more interested to get Charles Leclerc to write her a song given his recent internet successes on the piano.

If there are fans out there who believe it is all true then don’t bother coming to Miami because Fernando’s busy over the weekend and Taylor is playing Nashville on all three nights…

58 thoughts on “Green Notebook from Havalimanı

  1. Yes, sometimes races are just dull it’s true.
    Still, I thought the whole of Saturday was not a spectacle worthy of F1. I very much look forward to Miami and the return to F1 as she is known and loved.
    The lack of set-up time in Baku was especially punishing for Max. He must dislike Baku as much as some of us watching here at home. I’m sure Jos has something to say about it.

  2. I had a boss once who heartily recommended the mistress school for learning languages. Apparently, it had worked for him. My wife and I had a bit of a chuckle.

    1. Once upon a long time ago, everything relevant is now a long time ago, I was sent to France to resolve a major problem with my companies products. I had O level French, better than nothing , but not a fat lot of use, and a month at a language school. quite useful. As I departed the boss told me to get a sleeping dictionary. I had just signed up a new wife so that wasn’t going to work. I met some international solicitor pals in the first few days and they advised me to regularly say ” Je n’y piege que dalle ” This was a very effective ice breaker. I’ll leave Joe to provide a sensible translation.

      1. I don’t understand at all … that’s the translation! But I think it’s pige not piège!

        1. I’m sure you’re correct, it was 50 years ago. Apparently very argot, a bit like cockney, and caused general merriment when used by a furriner.

        1. That’s funny – my French fiance says exactly the same about her English! Actually she is being rather unfair on herself as she is better than that. Now my French…

  3. best racing movies, interesting. Grand Prix just the best, after that its tough. I’ll throw out : The Racers with Kirk Douglas and Gilbert Roland. A Man and a Woman. Le Mans.

  4. Some of the Azerbaijan questions are answered!



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  5. That trip to Baku was best forgotten. But you could have tried harder to get on the cargo flight! Wife and £6k costs notwithstanding .

  6. Joe
    Do I get a prize for knowing the ‘bright Green cake’ is made with spinach and also being strange enough to actually like it!

  7. I find Worldle helps me locate the ‘Stan’s! Sorry but I dislike autocracies like Aubergine. Liberty is free to make money where it can. We disagree I know.

  8. On paper, the Saturday sprint quali and sprint race seemed to be exciting. But, it wasn’t. I was surprised I didn’t care more. Maybe the previous format, sprint race determining grid position, added more energy to the sprint race than anyone expected?

  9. Is it just me, or has Andretti ruffled too many feathers and the whole bid submission for a new team thing is designed to keep him out rather than to actually let a new team in?

  10. As is pleasingly normal for these things, you are quietly hilarious in several places. Thank you for that. It always brings more-than-several smiles.

  11. Why does F1 allow drivers like George Russell to get away with challenging a two-times world champion when he has no realistic chance of winning a race?

    The No1 on Max’s car should hold greater significance to these Rookies. It is good that Max has explained how these events will be dealt with in the future.

    1. I do hope that you are being sarcastic here? It’s just that in the times that we live in, you just can’t tell any more.

      1. Alright, I will confess. I thought the linguist in Joe would spot the pseudo straight away.

        I keep trying to be a fan of Max, his controlled late braking is something to be admired. However, the guy seems totally incapable of looking no further than the next 50m of track and not at his 3rd Championship with a very dominant car. He is so selfish, one wonders what Marko and Horner really think of their protégé. Obviously, no such thing as bad publicity for Red Bull.

        I believe that both Lewis and George are excellent ambassadors for F1 as well as being talented racers working hard to show their team in a positive light. It is very sad that when Netflix tells their version of events at Baku, Max’s ill-considered comments to George will be blown-up and digitally enhanced as this is the only story that they believe shows just what it takes to drive and survive. Any reasonable fans will agree that this was a pretty boring race.

        The FIA reduced the DRS zone by 100m, they could have reduced it by 200m and the Red Bull could still cruise past the rest of the field. The racing is quite close for those teams racing for 2nd and the full DRS would have been more useful to them unchanged and thereby greatly improved the show.

    2. Extraordinary criticism ! Maybe the attempt was a bit ambitious but it is motor racing not follow my leader. And George Russell certainly ain’t no rookie !

      1. The death of irony (or the recognition of it) is one of the sadder results of social media 😦

        1. Do you genuinely believe that irony or sarcasm was the OP’s intention?
          To me, the lack of response to the replies would suggest otherwise!

    3. I must watch the 2022 Brazilian Grand Prix some time. I cannot remember who won that day.

      Younger Driver ses to have amnesia or just blinded by nationalism

    4. Great sense of humour!

      Sadly, most responders were unable to ‘read between the lines’.
      Unfortunately, in today’s ‘web-literate’ world, emojis rule the day.
      Omitting them leads to much confusion.

  12. Hi Joe, great read as always. I don’t like these sprint weekends at all. It seems designed to satisfy a younger audience and the US market. It is akin to crickets T20 where you struggle to recall games etc. I believe we are reaching the tipping point on the number of races and beginning to devaluing the sport. I believe to energise the entire weekend we should resort to a two day weekend. Sat should be one practice session and qualifying. Then Sun we should return the pre-race warm up and open up parc ferme for last minute changes which may allow teams to maximise setups for the race. That will energise that session and create renewed interest for the race itself and allow teams to think about taking some risks ahead of the race. Then of course Sun should be the race itself at the full Grand Prix distance. I’d be interested to hear how you would structure the weekend?

    1. My view of the sprint races is that they are a solution running around looking for a problem to solve that doesn’t exist. It is clearly aimed at the American market. Presumably they have difficulty getting their heads round any race that has more than 2 left handed turns in it, so as not to loose their attention span, do short races – where nobody does much reacing at all because they’re scared of wrecking their equipment, what with the cost cap, limitations on the number of engines and gear boxes they can use and all that.

    2. I would just say that broadcasting practice at 5 or so in the morning EST (much earlier across the U.S.) does not “satisfy” a U.S. audience. Only diehards will get up and watch. And diehards are the core audience. Miami is not sold out in its second year. Big surprise. Miami sports fans are notoriously fickle. They have golf to play, fish to catch, etc, etc. F1 and the WEC are also notoriously fickle. The WEC has just abandoned Sebring, with its hundred thousand fans +, for Austin. Good luck with that! I would be surprised if in five years either Miami or Las Vegas are still on the F1 calendar…

  13. Hi Joe, loved this column, impressive and vibrant to read. On the subject of new team, what’s is the position of porsche, are they still sniffing about or have we lost them all together? Please don’t say “we will see”… What’s the insight?

  14. Great read.

    Perhaps, there is truth to the Taylor Swift – Alonso rumor.

    My guess is Ms. Swift is interested in F. Alonso longevity.

    Travel safe to Miami.

  15. On one of Ted Kravitz’s pieces he wandered around asking visitors where they were from to see the GP. In the few minutes I watched there was Ecuador, South Africa, Norway, USA. All the fans questioned said they came to Baku because the hotels, food and general in country costs were so low it made the visit “cheap” (compared to other countries), and there were plenty of flight connections via Istanbul, Doha, Dubai.
    Worth thinking about for fans…

  16. I have had dentist appointments that were more exciting than the last Baku race. Besides the big fat cheque for Bernie, Flavio and croonies, I don’t see why F1 actual owners would renew the deal. The country is a farcical dictatorship (which probably inspired Sacha Baron Cohen for both “Borat” and “The Dictator”), the track is a booooring street circuit with only a 2km straight line and “the Medieval Castle” as highlights. I don’t get it. Drivers avoid making mistakes at all cost because it’s direct to Miami. Even Max eased off and kept his mojo for another day. On the positive side, the Sprint Race weekend had good momentum and I am looking forward to more of them. The FP1 and FP2 format was in need of a change. BTW, besides “Grand Prix” , my favorite racing movie is Cars, the Disney animation.

  17. Can we start a petition to get you commentating for us on Sky TV Joe? Be a welcome change from the past-it and blokey David Croft, who laughs at his own jokes, and the nasal droning of Chandhok (he’s actually a good commentator, but that voice…).

    Seeing your podcasts, etc I think you’d bring a more serious, but also a drier wit to the party.

    1. Alan Jacques and Jolyn Palmer, sometimes with David Coulthard are excellent on F1 TV. The down side is they have an even worse host than Lazenby in Will Buxton. Sam Collins is an excellent technical analyst too. At least on sky they no longer have Paul “interesting” Di Resta, the commentator who could cure insomnia. Karun Chandock is also an excellent summariser/technical expert

      On Croft, it could be worse listen in on an IMSA race and you will see true dire commentary where they miss everything and do not quite idiotic statistics. I call them them Shouty and Mmmm.

      It’s got to the point I watch from the warm up lap and stop when they get out the car at the end of the race

  18. Frankly I even wonder why I bother to read anything on the news about politics, the economy, travel etc. I should just read the green note book only, save myself a whole bunch of money on CNN, the BBC and have more time to myself just reading Joe’s factual, amusing and informative script. Outstanding work Joe. I will be cancelling the aforementioned and signing up to JSBM. And for anyone reading this comment I was lucky enough to get Joe’s book grand prix saboteurs for Chrstmas, take a few drinks less this week save some money and buy it. If you love the green note book then it’s a compulsory purchase and I’m sure Joe will let everyone know where it can be purchased!

      1. My brother read the book and he loved it, I tried but it’s just not my thing, it would probably make an excellent movie!! But if the writing and meticulous detail is the same as these columns and the writing in GP Plus, then I bet if it’s your interest it’s well worth reading.

    1. I’ll second that – Grand Prix Saboteurs is a superbly-written book & I shall almost certainly read it again one day, there is so much detail to take in.

      I have also read the fictional version of the story too.

  19. Havalimanı sounds like a join of two Hindi words. Hava and Viman, which means Air and plane.

  20. Here’s a suggestion for the sprint format weekend.
    Keep Friday as is fp1 and 1 hour qualifying for Sunday race.
    On Saturday have sprint qualifying in the morning and award points for where you qualify. 10 for pole, 9.5 for 2nd, 9 for 3rd etc all down to 20th place which gets 1/2 a point.
    Then reverse the grid for the race with the same number of points available for the race as in qualifying.
    Drivers who improve their finishing position get a net gain in points or if the race were to finish in the order that they started in then nobody gains or loses anything.
    The drivers probably won’t like it but what if the points available count only for the constructors championship and not the drivers championship then the team bosses would probably go for it. Particularly those teams from the midfield down. It would not interfere with the purity of the drivers world championship but would add some incentive for the teams.
    It would probably still mean a Red Bull,Mercedes or Ferrari would dominate the constructors championship but it would certainly give everyone else a chance.

    1. No. Reverse grid means it’s no longer sport. If that happens, take it out of the sports pages and put it in the entertainment pages. I can just about tolerate DRS, anything else is fake racing, like WWE is fake wrestling.

  21. What a pleasant read. I’ve always loved the Baku race. And am always saddened to hear the podcasters rag on both the city and the race. It seems some of them even go there. 23rd most corrupt country might keep out the unadventurous (or 53rd if all countries are counted, which doesn’t sound nearly as bad). But if a bunch of kids are enjoying the race free of the “horrors” of Siverstone and Zanvoort, then I’d love to go. And for all of the pleasure you can tell that you got from your adventure on this trip, I’m certain of it. And, Baku is generally a fantastic race building a history.

    But will we get to see F1 race in Morocco in our lifetime?

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