Green Notebook from Magny-Cours

The problem with having a Grand Prix cancelled is that one does not get to trawl around the paddock and shoot the breeze with the movers and shakers and, by doing so, pick up the ins and outs of the F1 world, which is what then appears in each Green Notebook. As a result, the section marked “Imola 2023” is as empty as a 2021 Belgian Grand Prix lap chart.

The other thing is that you cannot write in a notebook, no matter what the colour might be, if you are driving. You can try, of course, but you might end up having an accident, or being shouted out if someone else is in the car. So any thoughts that you might have while driving need to be stored in some dusty corner of the hippocampus, until you have stopped.

Yes, perhaps there are clever folk who can record voice notes in some hands-free manner and then it can be automatically transcribed, but when I have tried such things the result has always been gibberish, presumably because I talk with an accent that the machine cannot understand.  If you have ever tried using Alexa set for a different language, you will know what I mean…

I heard that Imola was off as I was on my way to Italy. I had driven about 350 miles. It was two in the afternoon and I had been driving for six hours, allowing for Paris traffic and a couple of stops for coffee. My first reaction was perhaps a little odd, but you can never do these things quickly enough: I logged into and cancelled as many hotel reservations as I could. These days one rarely pays for hotels in advance, but there is a point after which it costs money if you cancel. I was going to have to pay for that evening in Vercelli and there was one night in Forli as well, but the other three nights (which were very expensive) cost nothing. I hope that the hotel used the rooms to house those who had been forced out of their homes.

I knew I would have to write off road tolls and petrol costs, but such is life. Changing your mind in the modern world is an expensive business. Having done that, I rang the missus and said that I would be home at some point that evening. I didn’t really want to drive home on the same route… I don’t know if it would have been faster because if I had turned around I would have gone straight into the rush hour in Paris, and I’d rather eat my own shoes than do that.

I decided to choose another route and so I ended the day where it had begun, after 13 hours on the road and 720 miles on the clock. In other words, I got precisely nowhere, although it didn’t feel like wasted time because of my views about travel.

As far as I am concerned, a journey is not just question of getting from A to B in the most efficient way possible. Instead it is about learning and enjoying the world around you. This is the primary reasons that I drive around Europe in my poor beaten-up Toyota Prius, which now has 443,000 km on the clock (and is still using the original battery). Travelling by air is something I do only when I have no other choice. Back in the day, before 9-11, things were less complicated but for me airports have become purgatory and I have no desire to stand in queues, go through check-ins and mindless security checks and parlay with grumpy immigration officials. I don’t want to lose my luggage. Most of all, I do not want to be in a situation where I do not control my own destiny.

And so I drive. I travel. When Robert Louis Stevenson was wandering about in the Cevennes in 1878, in the company of an intransigent ass called Modestine, he put into eloquent words my thoughts.  “I travel not to go anywhere,” he wrote, “but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”

And if I am on my way somewhere, and have time, I will often take a little detour to see something that I am curious about. I drop into all kind of places, perhaps because I have heard of them, or because they were once part of my story, or just because they sound interesting. It is not always enjoyable. I remember once on the A6 autoroute seeing a sign that said “Mémorial pour l’ Avenir”, the memorial for the future. That was odd. And so I stopped and went to see how one can remember the future if you are not driving a Delorean fitted with a flux capacitor.

The discovery was horrible. At that place in the summer of 1982 there was a pile-up on the motorway in the middle of the night and 53 people died, 46 of them children who were trapped in a burning coach.

But even this pales when one visits World War I cemeteries some of which house the remains of as many as 40,000 dead soldiers. I can never get my head around such numbers.

So travel is not always fun, but when it comes to placenames, I always find much amusement. I have been to Hell in Norway and Enfer in France if only to be able to say that I have been to hell and back. I’ve been to Timbuktu (not by car) and Tippecanoe, but I have yet to discover whether it really is a long way to Tipperary.

I will always drop by a village with a daft name and have visited La-Roue-Qui-Tourne (the wheel which turns), Wy-dit-Joli-Village (Wy called pretty village) and Écoute-S’il-Pleut (Listen if it’s raining). I will go looking for Crotenay, which sounds a lot like the French word for snot, or Montcuq, which sounds like “my bum” in French. I am drawn to places like Accident, Maryland, or Distant, Pennsylvania. There is a Dull in Scotland, twinned, so they say, with Boring, Oregon.

I used to live across the valley from a village called Monteton, which translates as “my nipple”, and I will happily confess to driving around for half an hour trying to locate a place called Sodom in Connecticut, although I never found it. I’ll stop at castles, bridges, waterfalls and I will drive over mountain passes that I do not need to take. And, of course, any racing circuit of old will draw my attention.

The problem was that the one thing I did not have on my “Imola” trip was time. If the cancellation had come a couple of hours later, I would probably have spent the night somewhere and wasted more money…

I was not upset at F1 for doing the right thing. I had heard the previous day that there was flooding in the Imola area, but I was not too worried, these things sort themselves out… usually. People often write stories about how a Grand Prix will be cancelled for this reason or that reason but they almost never are. In the 630-odd races that I have attended only two have been called off after I left home: Australia 2020 and Imola 2023.

My view was that if F1 felt it was a bad idea to go then it must be a really bad idea. I also know from experience what flooding can do. In 2021, in the space of a few weeks, I ended up by accident in two places where there had been recent flooding. The Vesdre valley in Belgium, which runs through Verviers, had seen 40 people killed that summer. Six weeks after the floods there were still crushed cars, smashed buildings and road surfaces that had been torn away by the flood water. Along the river the branches of the trees that had not been torn off were draped with flotsam and jetsam, like strange Christmas tree decorations. A few weeks after that a closed motorway in Germany sent me on a trip through the mountains and I found myself in the upper reaches of the Ahr valley, where there were the same uprooted trees and destroyed houses and bridges that were no longer there. I did not venture further down that valley where 135 people died.

Anyway, looking for positive things, I turned to the west at Macon and drove along a nearly-finished motorway, going towards Moulins and Montlucon. I could have stopped in several places but I was short of time. I was listening to France’s motorway network ( This plays a lot of bad music, but is really useful to avoid traffic problems. I heard that further ahead on my planned route a large truck carrying dangerous materials had crashed and there was a 10km traffic jam which was growing all the time. So I turned off at Moulins and headed up the A77.

This is not my favourite autoroute in France, but I know it quite well. It has taken forever to build this motorway, which is supposed to link Paris to the industrial city of Saint-Etienne. I am sure that Ken Follett, who wrote a wonderful quartet of novels about building a cathedral (which run to something like 1.5 million words), could write a similar history about the A77. It began in 1967 when they transformed part of the Route National 7 to motorway standard. It was not until the 1990s that the A77 arrived at Sermoise, 100 miles further south. Much of this progress was in the late 1980s when the most powerful figure in the region was a chap called Francois Mitterrand, who had been a big player there since 1946.

His idea was to extend the road and breathe some economic life into the area around Nevers, which was not a rich area.

One his political allies in the area had been a farmer called Jean Bernigaud, who in 1961 had had the unusual idea of building a racing circuit on part of the land he used for rearing Charolais cattle. It was off the beaten track, but the circuit did lure a few visitors. I was one of them, visiting the circuit for a Formula 3 race back in 1984.

Bernigaud had died young in 1971 and although Mitterrand made sure his widow was well looked after, the circuit slipped slowly into history. It needed upgrading. By the 1980s, however, Mitterrand had become President of France and could do pretty much what he wanted. One of his pals was Guy Ligier, a man who had made a fortune building motorways, and was running his own F1 team. Mitterrand instructed a number of government-owned businesses to support Ligier, hence his deals with Renault, Elf, Gitanes (owned by the state tobacco firm SEITA) and Loto, the French national lottery. He also hit on the idea of getting the local government to buy the circuit from Madame Bernigaud and to rebuild it so that the French GP could move there. Ligier moved his team in from Vichy. The French GP duly appeared in 1991, with Mitterrand turning up to watch the race.

It was all a lovely idea, but the reality was that the Nievre region never had the infrastructure to support a race, the roads were no good, there were not enough hotels and even finding somewhere to eat could be a problem. I seem to recall one group of British journalists deciding to buy a little house nearby because property prices were so cheap and they figured that it would be good for the Grand Prix and for holidays and might possibly increase in value. That did not happen.

Mitterrand’s rule ended in 1995 and after that work on the A77 stopped. Ligier sold his team and although the French GP struggled on until 2008, it was doomed. The race disappeared.

Ironically the A77 did finally reach the circuit in 2012.

As I turned north at Moulins I wondered if any progress had been made in recent years. Some work had been done south of Magny-Cours, but there was still plenty more to do. How ironic, I thought, setting off for Imola and winding up at Magny-Cours.

There is no French GP these days – and I honestly don’t see how there can be another one, unless there is another Mitterrand. Magny-Cours is a great facility but F1 is never going to return to such bucolic bliss. It is not a happening place, unless you are a cow…

It won’t happen again at Paul Ricard either, because while the circuit might be more Provençal, it will always be a place that was built without consideration for traffic. I saw the other day that Jean Alesi, who is now president of the Paul Ricard circuit, was trying to drum up interest, but I doubt he is making much progress as even the man who orchestrated the Paul Ricard race, Nice’s mayor Christian Estrosi, seems to have given up the struggle. Alesi talked of alternation with other European races, but this seems to be wishful thinking more than anything.

Stefano Domenicali, the Formula 1 CEO, was interviewed recently by the French sports daily newspaper L’Equipe about a revival for the French Grand Prix. This has since been extrapolated into a story that is not really there. The race promotion company which ran the Grand Prix at Ricard has been criticised for having built up $29 million in debt, although this is no great surprise as during the five-year contract there were significant losses incurred in both 2020 (when the race was cancelled because of the pandemic) and in 2021 when the circuit was allowed to have only 15,000 spectators. There was no central government support for the race and the local bodies which contributed are now arguing over who should pay the bills. To all intents and purposes, the business is shut down and the staff have been laid off.

Domenicali remarked that if France’s President Emmanuel Macron wants to discuss holding a race, he would be happy to talk. If President Macron wanted to talk to me about Anglo-French relations, I’d be happy to take his call… but I am not going to be sitting by the phone waiting. The President has other weightier matters to worry about. There has been huge opposition to his pension reforms, raising the retirement age to help the country pay for its increasing number of pensioners and its decreasing workforce, and so funding a Grand Prix would be a massive own goal.

France is due to spend $2.6 billion on the 2024 Olympic Games, about half of which will come from the government and the rest from local government bodies, but this was all decided years ago. The only way that France can have a Grand Prix is if some regional politician (another Estrosi) picks up the ball and runs with it, building something in the Paris area, at Disneyland or in the Bois de Boulogne. It could be done at Reims perhaps, but that is in the Grand Est region, which is not rich.

The problem with Paris is that the mayor Anne Hidalgo, who has been there since 2014, is fanatically opposed to cars and has spent most of her term of office building bicycle lanes and making central Paris difficult for drivers, by shutting down expressways and creating complex (and nonsensical) one-way systems. Her next step is to reduce traffic flow in the Place de La Concorde and at the Arc de Triomphe. The latter, which is the most fun you can have in Paris with your clothes on, is the meeting point of 12 major avenues, so that will royally mess things up.

Hidalgo did waste some money on Formula E, but the locals were not in the tiniest bit interested in electric mobility. If someone could convince this green queen about the value of modern F1, it might be possible to “do an Albert Park” in the Bois de Boulogne, but the chances are that this will not happen.

Still, I think F1 can learn from the Olympic Games.

The recent talk of alternating races has been mainly negative comments based on the argument that race promoters cannot afford to invest the necessary money to get a race if they only get paydays every second year. This misses the point that the F1 business model is to move more and more towards public funding. Cities (and countries) get benefits from hosting big events both in the short term and because these events bring more visitors in the long term. Building the big old-fashioned permanent facilities such as Shanghai International Circuit might not be the fashion these days, but most former F1 tracks are not deserted when contracts end. They still generate economic benefits and create jobs and, as Jonathan Palmer has proved in Britain, you can still make a ton of money if you don’t pay for F1…

Temporary street tracks have more expensive running costs, as they have to be built and then taken down every year.

But the semi-permanent circuit is a much better idea. These are generally-located in public parks, where some permanent buildings are put up, but the rest is temporary. The best examples are Montreal and Melbourne, while Singapore causes a great deal of disruption, but follows the same basic idea.

The one thing that the critics miss is that one of the primary reasons to have an F1 race is not just the economic benefits but also the prestige. This is why the National Football League in the United States is able to host an annual auction to decide where future Super Bowls will be held and why the International Olympic Committee can ask so much for each Olympic Games. It is not just the prestige, it is also about infrastructure. Many Super Bowl bids result in the construction of new stadiums and it is reckoned that on average these get around $250 million of public funding.  The cities enjoy the prestige and economic impact of a Super Bowl but also end up with a new stadium. The Olympic Games can, if done right, make uncool districts cool and create urban regeneration.

So I would say that F1 should push on with the idea of alternation, but make if just one big event each year and let cities bid for it.

Elsewhere, it is interesting to note that China’s Geely has made Aston Martin an offer it obviously did not want to refuse and has increased its shareholding to around 17 percent, with “certain members” of Lawrence Stroll’s Yew Tree Consortium agreeing to sell shares and some new shares being issues as well. This means that Yew Tree’s share is down to 21 percent, with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund retaining 18 percent. What does it all mean? A year ago, Aston rejected an offer from Geely and more recently bought up shares to stop Geely doing it, so selling shares seems to be a contradictory strategy. Could it be that “certain members” are getting bored with having to refinance the company over and over? Aston still has massive debts but Geely does not seem to care much about that. It just wants to control the brand…

Funny old world, isn’t it?

On to Monte Carlo…

47 thoughts on “Green Notebook from Magny-Cours

  1. Yup, agree with you. Semi-permanent circuits are the way to go. I have 5 options in North America. I probably will go to Montreal. Why, it’s relaxing and you don’t have to spend time in a car getting there.

  2. If you are after strange name places to visit. Near(ish) to Northamptonshire is a village called Cold Christmas.

  3. Is there anything new about the trend toward public funding? I thought Bernie had established that decades ago. Which is how we got races in Baku (of all places) instead of Long Beach. Am I missing something?

    p.s. I believe whoever told you that “many” Super Bowl bids lead to new football stadia was a bit confused and greatly overstated Super Bowl effects on stadia creation. But let’s not worry about that 😉

  4. Interesting read as always … when you come to Canada you could visit ‘Gommorah Road’ in Prince Edward County! A bit far from Montreal, but it would match your Sodom …

  5. Next time, instead of cancelling the hotel reservations and paying for it, try to postpone your stay. If you manage to do so, then cancel it.

  6. Great notebook as usual even without much F1 news.
    Nova Scotia has a few odd names too. There are at least 2 Shag Harbours, a Pugwash and an Economy, there’s also an Upper Economy and a Lower Economy.

      1. Go to google maps in the search box type sodom, ct hopefully you’ll find a street named sodom

  7. Wonderful travelogue as usual. I was interested to note the cost of the Paris Olympics at $2.6 billion. 2008 China was $6.8 billion or $42 billion if you include all of the infrastructure building. 2012 UK was $15 billion so it seems Paris might be a little light. If you fancy Somerset in the UK try the village of Nempnett Thrubwell, it is quite delightful.

    1. Budgets for the Olympics always manage to hide the true cost of staging.

      Security is one extremely high spend, but never seems to appear too obviously.

      Paris is for sure higher than that. 2012 Canada managed to not declare $1.6 billion in the spend … and things get hidden between operational budgets and infrastructure budgets.

      I doubt anyone really knows the true figure of any of these mega-events as it is in no-one’s interests to publicize how much public money goes into them.

      And before anyone starts talking about cost-benefit analyses, remember, most of the profit is ‘off-shored’ by multinational companies and doesn’t stay in the local or national economy …

  8. I just enjoyed a 30 min diversion, looking up towns and roads, Dr. Palmer’s wiki entry and a reflection on the benefits/hazards of hosting the Games based on my career in working for various Organizing Committees. Perhaps I should have pursued promoting races…..

  9. Joe, we hear Elkann has finalised a deal with Hamilton for next year.
    So who is out at Ferrari, LEC or SAI?

  10. Or Dildo and Come by Chance, both in Newfoundland.

    Any meat to rumours of Liberty selling to the Saudis?

  11. Thanks as always Joe for your travelogue. Reminds me of when, in the late 60’s and 70’s I used to drive every year from Blighty to Monaco for the Grand Prix. Thease days living in Australia I miss driving in Europe and envy your trips to all the out of the way interesting palces.

  12. The town sign coming into Tipperary says “Welcome to Tipperary, you’ve come a long way”.

  13. It seems that the Mayor of Paris is trying to be as bad as Sadiq Khan the Mayor of London. Do you have an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in Paris too? The Khan is tying to extend it to cover half of South East England. Bringing daily charges to many with older cars. Much disquiet in the suburbs.
    The French should think themselves lucky to retire at 62 the retirement age in the UK is incrementing towards 70. (Currently 67) (When you finally reach the required age and start to receive your state pension you find a large chunk missing, its called COD and nobody says a word about it.)

    (Nice travelogue, but all the others say that!)

    So then … Aston Martin Red Bull Honda Aramco!

  14. I had to chuckle about potential route changes in central Paris, some 20 years ago whilst en route to Le Mans towing a caravan we took a wrong turn off the peripherique and somehow ended up going down the Champs Elysee and round the Arc de Triomphe, as you say about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on!

  15. i raced a Formula Atlantic Palliser in Historic F2 at Magny Cours. Super circuit and very challenging with its super variety of corners and elevation changes.

  16. Son of a FOAF is a truckie for McLaren, who reported that his hotel car park near Imola was full of cars with only their rooves showing above the water.

    I’ve driven through Boring OR a couple of times. Last time I was there it failed to live up to its name after an incident involving a Ford F-150, a row of mailboxes and a deer. The Ford came off best, but only just.

  17. I had a good laugh about the rush hour in Paris and eating your shoes. I feel your pain! I had a modest career in NYC as a freelance trumpet player. I enjoyed that, but, after 20 years or so of fighting my way through endless traffic delays, hours wasted searching for a place to park and even more time and money wasted replacing stolen tires, batteries, and radios, I gave up and left the city.

    I moved to an isolated fishing village on the Jersey Shore, where there are traffic issues when the tourists come in the summer. But fortunately, there are many empty back roads so no need for shoe eating. And I adamantly refuse to ever drive any where in the NYC environs!

  18. Hope they leave the working girls in the Bois de Boulogne alone – it would be fun to see which F1 car is best setup for curb crawling.

  19. If you are drawn to Distant, Pennsylvania, I’m surprised you have not been to Intercourse, Pennsylvania.

    There is also a Bullshit Mountain in a western state; I believe Colorado. It’s marked on a map as B.S. Mountain.

  20. Next time you are down in Tassie should check out Black Charlies Opening… There are quite a few interesting names down here worth having a bit of a google for.

  21. Here in Washington state USA, two of my favorites are Kitchen Dick road, and the town of Humptulips. Thanks for the great read Joe!

  22. There really is a Truth Or Consequences in New Mexico, but sadly it only changed its name in 1950 as a publicity stunt. From Hot Springs, which was accurate but bathetic.

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