No, it’s true, I’m not visiting the Dead Sea, at least not THAT Dead Sea. However, not far from where I live in Normandy there is a place called Mortemer, which in English means Dead Sea… The name comes from the Middle Ages when, I guess, the valley in question was a worthless flooded marsh. Then someone worked out how to drain the place and soon there were fish-filled ponds and a rather grand Cistercian Abbey was constructed. England’s King Henry I liked the area (he was also the Duke of Normandy) and came often to hunt. Alas one day he ate too many nasty-looking fish called lampreys in a village nearby and shuffled off his regal coil. His funeral procession went from there to Reading in Berkshire – which was quite an achievement in 1185…
Anyway, to sum up the next 850 years in two sentences: the monks had a grand old time until they were massacred by French revolutionaries, at which point the abbey became a splendid ruin and the murdered monks haunted the place enthusiastically. There is even a story of a ghostly monk emerging from the forests to guide a downed RAF man to (relative) safety in World War II.
I could go on telling stories about the area for a while yet, but you have come to this blog to read of motor racing and so we must wind our way down the valley of the stream they call the Fouillebroc to the village of Lisors.
Until recently one of the locals used to fly a Red Bull Racing flag in his (or her) garden, although I never stopped to ask why there was such passion for the Austrian fizzy drink team. Perhaps the home belongs to a Pierre Gasly fan, as the AlphaTauri driver comes from Rouen, just 20 miles to the west. Jean-Eric Vergne (once a Red Bull driver) is also quite local, having grown up 30 miles to the east, while Esteban Ocon, who has never been blessed with Red Bull cash, spent his childhood in Evreux, 35 miles to the south-west. So, the point I am trying to make here is that this is racing country, at least in the modern era. Obviously it isn’t far either from the old home of the French Grand Prix at Rouen Les Essarts.
One could also mention that Dieppe is not far away (to the north) but that might get us into a discussion about whether it is a good idea to pair Gasly and Ocon at Alpine in 2023… which seems to be under intense discussion in Alpineland. The duo were best buddies when they were eight, but fell out at the age of about 12 and have been rivals ever since. There are scandalous tales of family punch-ups and the like, although I don’t know if these are true, but there is obviously a risk of trouble (or at least disunity) if Alpine decides to go fully Norman.
Those who don’t know might argue that the French will choose French drivers because the apocryphal Monsieur Chauvin (after whom chauvinism was named) came from France, but when one looks closely at the Alpine team it is about as French as an Eccles Cake, with Otmar Szafnauer being a Romanian who grew up in Detroit and the only French words that are widely known at Enstone are “bonjour” and “merde”. We will see soon enough what Alpine decides. Last week the team held a private test in Hungary for Nyck de Vries, Antonio Giovinazzi and Jack Doohan, although the tub-thumpers in the French media continue to insist that Gasly is the man.
Anyway, back to Lisors… It’s a picturesque spot with a village green, a duck pond and the pretty church. Beside the church is an old farm from where one can buy proper old school charcuterie. It is not exactly a motorsport mecca… except that Lisors is also the home of the Circuit de Grosse Haie, or the Big Hedge Circuit if you wishes to ruin the romance and translate the words into English.
This, however, is a good description of the circuit, because it really is hidden behind a very big hedge.
This is the home track of the Auto Rodeo Club of Lisors (ARCL) and for years I’ve been meaning to go along to see what happens behind the hedge. The other day, seeing that they had an event and I was not in Russia (as had once been planned) we paid €7 a head to go and see whatever action there was to be found. It’s not that I was missing racing after two weekends off – an F1 calendar these days gives one plenty of races to watch – but rather it was out of curiosity.
Every now and then, I think it is good to go and see something other than F1… to remind oneself that there is more to the sport than Grand Prix racing. F1 is sometimes a place that floats along on its own cloud, up where the cuckoos fly, and it has been a while since I went to a local hillclimb, or to a minor formula race. If nothing else, it reminds one that the sport is about passion.
The racing, it said on the sign in front of the hedge, was “Fun-Cars”. The track, I knew from Google Earth, was a basic 600 metres of wiggly dirt, although I hadn’t realised that the surface of the circuit was actually embedded into the landscape, so that the cars were basically racing along between walls of earth. This made spectating a bit of a challenge, but it was clear that it was pretty safe as getting a car to jump out of “the ditch” would be quite an achievement.
To be quite honest, the first impression was not great. These were not the shiny and polished machinery that one is used to seeing at Grands Prix. Far from it. Most of them looked like real wrecks with much-beaten metal panels daubed with whatever paint might have come to hand. The only sponsorship came from the local butcher and similar such establishments.
But, after watching a string of five-lap heats in quick succession, the conclusion was that Fun-Car lived up to its name. It was not about composites, aerodynamics and tyre compounds. It was all about tuning up an engine, sticking it into what at some point used to be a car and then going racing, fiddling with the suspension a little to make the machine ride the bumps – and then just going for it. In theory contact is frowned upon, but in reality the cars were bouncing off one another all the time, and most of them bore the scars of their fights (and the subsequent repairs).
What I can say beyond that is that if there was any paddock gossip behind the big hedge, it certainly wasn’t about F1.
There are now – in theory at least – just four of the 20 seats available for 2023. The signing of Yuki Tsunoda was no great surprise. Tsunoda is a Honda favourite and obviously very fast, but he has still has a lot to do before he becomes a candidate for anything other than an AlphaTauri drive. It is hard to imagine him moving up to Red Bull Racing to partner Max Verstappen. It is only a problem if things go wrong, but F1 teams must always look at what might happen if things do go awry.
Red Bull has Max Verstappen under contract until 2028, although there are almost certainly performance clauses in the deal if the team does not achieve certain goals. Sergio Perez has a contract until the end of 2024. This too will have performance clauses but what these might be is currently unclear. It is probably something like Sergio having to finish above a certain position in the Drivers’ championship. At the moment he is third and has collected 210 points. This compares poorly to Max Verstappen’s 335 points, but it is enough to mean that the team leads the Constructors’ Championship by 545 to 406. Sergio is within striking distance of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc (who is second in the championship with 219 points) but is still under threat from the hyper-reliable George Russell, who has 203 points to his name. But could Perez be as competitive as Verstappen if the Dutchman was not there? This is why Red Bull confirmed Pierre Gasly for another season back in the early summer. They know that Pierre will leave in 2024 and so they are looking for someone to replace him and Dr Helmut Marko wants someone good.
Red Bull currently has four drivers in Formula 2: the best-placed in the championship is fifth-placed India’s Jehan Daruvala. He is in his third full Formula 2 season and coming up to 24 years of age and it is hard for an F1 team to get excited about someone who finishes fifth in the championship at their third attempt. The same can be said for seventh-placed Liam Lawson, at the end of his second full season. The best of the rookies is Honda protege Ayumu Iwasa, who is eighth in the championship, while Norway’s Dennis Hauger has had a disappointing year and is only 11th in the title race. One might also mention the 10th-place Estonian Juri Vips but he has blotted his copybook by making a racial slur during an online gaming stream. His future is, at best, clouded because without Red Bull support he is going to struggle to achieve much.
Marko’s focus (although this changes quite rapidly) is currently on Formula 3 hotshoe Isack Hadjar, who was in the running for the title until the last race weekend and ended up fourth. Hadjar is expected to move up to Formula 2 in 2023 and if he does well Marko hopes to take him into F1.
The recent weeks have seen much speculation that Marko would only release Gasly for Alpine if he could get IndyCar driver Colton Herta. This was very odd for a lot of reasons. Herta did not have a super licence, is under contract in IndyCar for 2023 and had a testing programme planned with McLaren. One might argue that Marko was never really serious and was simply stirring things up with McLaren and Alpine, or to divert attention away from the melt down between Porsche and Red Bull. Perhaps Marko does rate Herta highly, but he also knows that bringing in someone without a comprehensive European racing background is going to be a massive challenge.
It is fairly clear that Alfa Romeo is going to stick with Guanyu Zhou for a second season.
The Alpine seat vacated by Fernando Alonso and Oscar Piastri (in quick succession) is still available. The team has Jack Doohan (who does have a super licence) on its books, although he may not be quite ready. There is also Nyck de Vries, Mick Schumacher, Antonio Giovinazzi and… Pierre Gasly.
Getting Pierre involves a lot of effort. It does not help that Esteban Ocon and Pierre do not get on.
At the moment everyone is talking about de Vries, but it has time to see if American Logan Sargeant can qualify for a super licence. He has done well, battling for third in the championship (and the best rookie spot) with Doohan. It would give Williams a young charger to learn from Alex Albon… and an American at that.
Haas is waiting to see what happens and does not need to commit to anyone for the moment at least.
This is pretty much as expected but it may not happen as published as I think that one or two of the dates are going to be provisional. I am not sure how the Chinese are going to get everything sorted out by April because they were looking for an October date, to buy more time to get around all the COVID restrictions that are still in place.
From what I hear from China the procedures there are very complex and very difficult for visitors. All travelers currently need to quarantine at a government-designated location on arrival. While in quarantine, there are daily tests and anyone who tests positive will be transferred to a government-run medical facility.
At the same time lockdowns can occur at any moment and people can be stuck there for as long as the lockdown is deemed to be necessary. Perhaps arrangements will be made to make life easier for F1, and perhaps things will change, but at the moment this is the case.
There are a number of other issues with the dates published, including Monaco being in the middle of a triple-header not to mention a fairly brutal Austin-Mexico-Brazil triple-header at the end of the year.
The last three weeks have been a bit of a blur of European countries. I’ve driven close to 5,000 km since setting off to go to Spa and in the interim I have been to various countries, including Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Italy and I’ve driven along the Swiss border a couple of times on the way to the Mont Blanc tunnel.
Driving a lot gives one plenty of time for thought and it struck me that such travels can be very confusing for those embarking on similar voyages for the first time, because of the strange European habit of having cities called by different names. To use technical terms, there are toponyms (place names), but these can be endonyms (which is what the locals call a place) and exonyms (which is what other people call it). As an example, I once caught a train from Milan to Monaco and found myself en route to Munich. Italians call Munich Monaco, while the Germans, who should know best, call it München. Still, as the Bavarians call it Minga and the Czechs call it Mnichov one can fully understand why the Poles call the city Monachium. And the Germans called Milan Mailand – probably to get their own back.
When it comes to places like Belgium, where they have several languages, things get really confusing. The city which the English call Ghent, is Gent to the Flemish and Dutch, but Gand for the French and Walloons. Lille is Rijsel for the Flemish. And then there’s Liège: the locals call it Lidje, the Flemish Luik and the Germans Luttich.
If you ask a Frenchman for directions to Aix-la-Chapelle you’ll end up in Aachen, if both parties got things right, although a local will call it Oche. Antwerp is also known as Anvers and Eupen as Neau. When you cross the border to Holland (as the English call Nederland) things can become really confused as the port of Vlissingen is called Flushing by the English. If you go to den Haag, you will find some folk who call it s-Gravenhage, but the French call it La Haye. Logically the English should call it The Hedge, which is the literal translation, but they insist on The Hague.
In motor racing there have been a few people who went to Nürnberg rather than Nürburg. This is a big mistake. Nürnberg is the German name for Nuremberg, where there is a race track called the Norisring, but Nürburg has a rather famous Ring called the Nürburgring. And if anyone mentions the Nuremberg Rallies or the Nuremberg Trials, they are not talking about motorsport events.
I could go on at length about these strange habits: Styria in Austria, is Steiermark, Cologne in Germany is Koln, Trier is also known as Trèves and Napoli as Naples. The Italians call Paris Parigi, and Nice Nizza.
Lakes and rivers have similar problems: Lac Leman is Lake Geneva while Lake Constance is Bodensee. The Danube is the Donau in Germany and the Duna in Hungary. Rivers, of course, pass through various countries but what amount of arrogance is required to call a city by a name you like, rather than what the locals want you to call it?
Yes, I know, in the Polish version of Scrabble, the letter Z is worth only one point, but one can at least try to say Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski or Tomaszów Mazowiecki.
Of course, there also have been bits of Europe that were once invaded and so the Aosta Valley in Italy is full of places with French names and the east of France, which has been regularly invaded by neighbours, has lots of places with names such as Krautergersheim.
All things considered, one can get hopelessly lost in Europe, even if you follow the road signs.
All this is a bit like trying to figure out the Formula 1 calendar for 2023. Each week we try again and each week there are things that have changed – or changed back. The fleeting appearance of Prince Albert of Monaco in company with the Automobile Club de Monaco President Michel Boeri may have escaped most people because they were not trying to be noticed, while the likes of Sylvester Stallone were only too keen to be on camera.
This led to reports that a deal has been struck with Monaco. At the time of writing (6pm on Wednesday), this was not true but it might easily be true by 6.05pm. Both sides want to agree terms, but neither wants to give way in the negotiations, so we get into a Liege/Luik situation. The question is not about money (at least not totally), it’s also about TV coverage, trackside signage, hospitality rights and track design. There is also the question of attitude at the ACM, which seems to upset most people who are not members (and some who are), although to be fair the organisers of the Italian GP at Monza also seem to think that because their race has been around a long time, they know how to organise races better than anyone else. But I guess if you want to have paddocks that smell of overflowing drains, one should follow their lead.
Anyway, the Italians have a strong tradition of complicated and slow-moving bureaucracy, although they do seem to be pretty hot when it comes to building permits. It would be useful if they turn this speed into rebuilding Monza access roads. The Formula 1 group (no less) ran into trouble this year with its plans to construct a Fan Zone behind the main grandstand at Monza. Work had to be stopped until a permit was granted and as a consequence, things were still being finished when the race meeting began. A little further down the main straight, a group of 80 Dutch fans decided on an odd idea for the famous campsite that is located next to the first chicane. They arrived from Holland (or should I say Nederland) with tents, orange shirts, flares and copious amounts of beer – and tons of scaffolding. Having staked out their plots they then began to build their own grandstand. This drew them to the attention of the local police and at vast speed they were ordered to disassemble their structure.
The Dutch are beginning to make the tifosi look sane and sober, although I did spot a few red flares on Sunday at Monza. The good news, however, is that Monza remains on the calendar for now, despite the encroaching Imolese… And long may that be the case. Monza is 100 years old and wonderful and should always be on the F1 calendar.
The calendar problems are caused not only by Monaco but also by the Chinese. They want to get back onto F1 calendar, but they want a date in the autumn because they are still locking down cities every so often because someone tests positive to COVID-19. The problem with this theory is that only date available is October 8 and that is also the only date that Doha can manage because the Losail circuit is currently rebuilding its pits and cannot be ready in the spring, where it really wants to be. There is also a problem with Baku not wanting an April date – and insisting on a race in June (presumably because drains smell less at that time of year). This all means that races which can slot in anywhere are just floating about at the moment, so we don’t really know what will happen with Imola and Spain until the other problems are solved.
But then we have races that want to change their dates with one another and we have had two them, with the British and Austrian GPs having agreed to switch: Austria moving to July 2, with Britain to July 9. This is something to do with tennis. The Belgian and Hungarian GP, which were scheduled for July 23 and July 30, have also agreed to switch, in order to avoid a clash of the Belgian race with the country’s National Day on July 21. This means that the annual Spa 24 Hours, scheduled for July 30, will now have to move elsewhere.
However when you boil it all down, there is a very simple reason for the problem. There are too many pieces trying to be fitted into a complex jigsaw puzzle and it might be wise to throw a couple of pieces away so that it all fits nicely…
There seems to be a similar (but not unusual) problem of there being too many drivers for the number of available drives in 2023.
The German media is spending much of its time trying to work out what will happen with Mick Schumacher and is ignoring the fact that he has not done enough to be retained by Ferrari and thus has no real possibility at Haas, as the team is looking for an experienced driver, such as Giovinazzi or Nico Hulkenberg. There is speculation that Schumacher could sit out a year before joining Sauber when it comes under Audi ownership. The argument is that the sport needs a German driver, now that Sebastian Vettel is retiring.
But, if Mick had done enough, Ferrari would still be interested…
Much of the ongoing driver gossip relates to the situation at Alpine where Fernando Alonso is departing to join Aston Martin and Oscar Piastri will join McLaren. Esteban Ocon has a three-year contract until the end of 2024 and has been doing a good job, up against Alonso, but the team must now decide what to do next. Alpine boss Laurent Rossi says he is in no rush to make a decision. There are some in the team who understand that a Gasly-Ocon line-up would be too risky given the history of the two men. Doohan is considered too risky because he needs more time to develop. Alpine had planned to put Piastri into a Williams for a year or two, but he was not interested in that and so ran off to McLaren.
Williams is not too keen on taking on those who are contracted elsewhere and so Nyck de Vries is a good fit, but he has to give up a Toyota WEC contract and a deal to race for Maserati in Formula E if he wants to be an F1 driver. Having said that he did a great job at Monza to score points on his F1 debut, when he stepped in at the last minute for Alex Albon. If anything, this drive was the evidence (if it was ever needed) that Nicholas Latifi needs to look for other things to do in the future. With Albon and de Vries Williams would have a great driver pairing. Of course, the team has a young driver programme as well, which could mean that American Logan Sargeant might step into F1 next year, but it would be a little early for him… The same is pretty much true at Alpine where the team has Jack Doohan (who is keen to land the empty Alpine seat). If one was looking for ironies, it was rather extraordinary when Doohan and Sargeant tangled in the Formula 2 race at Monza on Sunday and dented one another’s F1 ambitions… although to be fair neither was really to blame.
The guy who does seem to have it all sorted is the new Aston Martin reserve driver, F2 champion-in-waiting Felipe Drugovich. Aston Martin might not be the obvious choice at the moment but Drugovich is bargaining on two things happening: the car has to be better than this year (it could not be much worse) and the team’s new signing Fernando Alonso and current incumbent Lance Stroll are going to produce fireworks, one way or the other, as Stroll’s dad is going to run into grief whatever happens. One driver is inevitably going to be faster than the other…
The next big thing in the silly season is a private Alpine test, using an old car, in Budapest later this month. The team is not saying who is driving but it is being billed as a shootout between de Vries, Doohan, Colton Herta, and Schumacher. Whether they all appear remains to be seen.
There are some who think that the whole Colton Herta business is a giant smokescreen to keep the media amused while Porsche and Red Bull fall out of bed with one another. Without all the speculation about Gasly and Herta, the Porsche and Red Bull relationship (which looks like a fling that ran out of steam quite quickly after Red Bull met Porsche’s parents) would have been front page news. Now it isn’t.
The Gasly-Herta shuffle was all rather unlikely with Herta under contract to Andretti next year, only 10th in the IndyCar championship this year – and not the holder of a super licence. Trying to change the super licence rules makes no sense at all because F1 does not want to create precedents and undermine the structure that means that that the sport has more top quality drivers than ever before.
Anyway, Porsche now needs to look at other alternatives, but these are thin on the ground. The Red Bull engine programme was always going to be a badging exercise using Red Bull Powertrains power trains and so Porsche was not going to invest in its own engine programme. The obvious thing now, if Porsche really does still want to join F1 would be to work with Audi and share technology. The latter has publicly committed to F1 in 2026, but it has been working on the programme for some time and has laid the groundwork for such a project, by buying dynos and doing a (supposedly secret) deal with Sauber. Porsche has done some design studies into F1 engines, but there is a big difference between building prototypes and manufacturing competitive engines.
There are good reasons for Porsche to want to be involved in F1, specifically because of the firm’s interest in synthetic fuels, which F1 will adopt and sharing technology makes total sense in the modern automotive world where it happens all the time between sister brands. The two marques already share a couple of automotive “platforms” in an effort to save money… However, things will go quiet for a while now until the Porsche IPO is out of the way.
The Renault group is also likely to share its F1 engine platform in the years ahead, or at least it is open to do so. The firm’s own F1 brand is Alpine and there are big plans to develop this into a wider technology firm. I hear that Viry-Chatillon, where Renault designs and develops its F1 engines will not be hived off into or other of the planned production power unit divisions (known as Horse and Ampere) but will stay as part of the expanding Alpine unit. However, Renault is happy to share its technology with the new partners in Horse – Geely, the Chinese firm that owns Lotus – and Aramco, the oil company that is in bed with Aston Martin with the plan to build F1 engines together.
Elsewhere, I hear that Alfa Romeo bods have been banging on the door at Haas, offering the team the same deal that Sauber has had, which is sponsorship to go with a Ferrari engine. I am not sure that this will happen because I also hear that there is a massive title sponsorship deal coming soon for Haas from a big American corporation, which will fund the team for at least the next three seasons and perhaps beyond that. One can only guess who this will be, but I don’t believe it is an OEM.
Alfa Romeo’s parent Stellantis (the merged PSA Peugeot-Fiat Chrysler with a fancy marketing name) has a lot of shareholders in common with Ferrari. The Ferrari President John Elkann is also President of Stellantis and so one can imagine some badge engineering going on with Ferrari technology as well – which makes sense. Alfa Romeo is being pushed upmarket by Stellantis and is aiming to make a dent in the luxury sporting market sector, taking on BMWs, Audis and Mercedes. Cynics may say that trying to crash into that market might dent Alfa Romeo more than it dents to market. But if there was a real (pretend) F1 programme it might help.
Who knows what will happen? Car company executives are a strange breed (based on some of the characters who have gone before). Experience has taught me that quite often when someone expresses confidence in someone else, it usually means that they have no confidence at all and that the person is about to be ousted.
Thus, if I were Mattia Binotto I might be looking over my shoulder because Ferrari chairman John Elkann felt the need before of Monza to say that: “We have great faith in Mattia Binotto”. Given that Ferrari screw-ups this year have not been in short supply, and Max Verstappen is in a situation where he can win the World Championship in Singapore, if I was Binotto I would be taking occasional glances in the mirror to make sure no-one with an axe is anywhere close.
Driving home from Zandvoort, I passed through Crèvecoeur-le-Grand, a town in the Oise departement in France, surrounded these days by dozens of aeolian wind turbines. I find these constructions rather elegant and something of great value, but I know others think they spoil the view.
In rough translation the name Crèvecoeur-le-Grand means “The Big Heartbreak”, which is an odd name, if only because I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a small heartbreak.
If you try to trace the derivation of the name, looking perhaps for a story like Romeo and Juliet, one finds only the mists of time. The town name may have come from an ancient aristocratic family, or perhaps the family name came from the town. It is hard to tell. There are several other Crèvecoeurs in Normandy and, inevitably, the name landed on the beaches of Britain with William the Conqueror and ended up in America, where it was mangled into Croaker and Craker. And while this was going on the town of Big Heartbreak was being flattened and rebuilt twice by German guns and bombs. It was not a lucky place.
Crèvecoeur’s biggest claim to fame apart from its repeated destruction, is that it was where the exotic American dancer Josephine Baker married (from the fourth time), casting away her skirt made from bananas – it was all she wore while dancing on stage in Paris – and becoming a French citizen. Her husband, for the next 14 months, was Jean Lion, a wealthy local sugar broker and aviator. The ceremony that put Crèvecoeur on the map was performed by the mayor, who enjoyed the strange name Jammy Schmidt, a lucky name for such an unfortunate place.
Mrs Lion was splendidly eccentric and kept a perfumed pig in her nightclub in Paris. She was once photographed taking her pet swans for a walk in Budapest (on leashes, of course). As a result of this brief encounter, Josephine Baker became a French citizen and today rests in the Pantheon in Paris, alongside national heroes (and heroines) likes of Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Pierre and Marie Curie, Louis Braille, Jean Moulin and sundry military and political types.
The name Crèvecoeur is also employed to describe a rather exotic breed of chicken that was named after Crèvecœur-en-Auge in the Calvados region of Normandy. These heartbroken chickens were very popular (for dinner) with the bourgeoisie in the Nineteenth Century. The French, however, blame the invading Germans for eating nearly all of these succulent chucks, and the breed has been endangered ever since, although the do-gooders of today have been busy encouraging them to propagate so that future generations can enjoy the taste.
The point of all this local colour is that the story of Crèvecoeur (and the chickens) mirrors the story of Zandvoort, where heartbreaking events have led to a similar resurrection. Zandvoort was once a very chic seaside resort, with Belle Epoque hotels and villas, where the celebrities of the day bathed in the North Sea. Alas, when the armies arrived from Germany in 1940, the generals felt threatened by the lovely beaches and so demolished the fashionable town in order to build coastal defences. They used the rubble as the foundations for roads to link the blockhouses.
After the war the mayor of Zandvoort, a racing fan called Henri van Alphen, saw the opportunity to use the German roads to build a race track to promote the town. Today, Zandvoort is an ugly town, with cheap and nasty post-war apartment blocks, but it has a splendid race track, to which the Dutch now flock in vast numbers (and orange clothing) to watch Max Verstappen winning motor races. There is a certain magnificence in these vast orange crowds, particularly for older Dutch racing folk who never dreamed that such things might be possible.
Perhaps with time, the city will demolish all the horrible buildings and make Zandvoort beautiful again.
The Formula 1 Paddock in Zandvoort was bustling with the orange folk, not least McLaren team people who seemed very pleased when I emerged (not surprisingly) that they had secured the services of Oscar Piastri, following a discussion by the Contract Recognition Board, which ruled that Alpine’s claims about having him under contract were fatally flawed. The details of how this came to pass remain confidential but I am told that the story was not very complex, as the contract registered by Alpine with the CRB was no more than what is called a heads of agreement, which is a non-binding agreement to agree on a contract. Why this strange situation could have occurred is because when Piastri agreed to stay with Alpine last November, the team could not offer guarantee which car he would drive in 2023 and could only commit to “a Formula 1 car”. At the time the team was still discussing what to do in the future with Fernando Alonso and already had a deal with Esteban Ocon.
Alpine was in a difficult situation because it wanted to hire both Alonso and Piastri but could no do so. It could, in theory, have signed both and paid off Ocon, but that would have been very messy given that Esteban is French and won a race in 2021 (which was more than Alonso did). In any case, Ocon has been driving some super races of late, notably in Spa where he did a better job than the celebrated Fernando. To be doing that is quite an achievement given that Alonso is on of the finest F1 drivers in history and ended up with only two World Championships because of poor career decisions, bad management and having the reputation for being someone who damages racing teams. One can add Alpine to the list after recent events… He is a fabulous driver but his talent should have landed him five World Championships rather than just two. In any case, matching him and beating him on occasion makes Ocon a very valuable driver.
Alpine must now find replacements for Alonso and Piastri and the team must be aware that when all is said and done that it was to blame for losing the pair. Such setbacks always provide good lessons for those new to F1 and so it is best for Alpine not to get into a panic and sign up the wrong people but rather to wait and watch and make sensible decisions about what to do next. There is no great rush to do deals. Piastri was the team’s future, but there are other drivers in the Alpine Academy, notably Jack Doohan, who is showing signs that he is good enough for F1. It is too early for him, and the best move would probably be to give him a year testing with older cars and becoming part of the team, rather than throwing him in at the deep end. Thus, Alpine needs a driver who is willing to do a one-year deal.
Perhaps the team would do OK with a Mick Schumacher, a Nico Hulkenberg or a Nyck de Vries, but one-year deals can be fraught arrangements because a driver with no future in a team wants only to show what he can do, rather than how he can help the team. Daniel Ricciardo looks like a man who needs to rest and get his head in gear, while Pierre Gasly would be a good choice were it not for the fact that he is French (and why would the team want two Frenchmen?). There is also the fact that he and Ocon do not get on. They are the worst kind of rivals because they were best friends when they were young, before they fell out. One should add that Pierre is also locked in a contract with Red Bull (to race for AlphaTauri) and it will cost money to get him out, as Red Bull really needs him in reserve in case something happens to one of the Red Bull drivers.
It is a bit odd that Dr Helmut Marko has got excited about Colton Herta and says that he will sell Gasly if he can get Herta. It looks from the outside like Marko is playing games to disrupt rival teams as it is a tough project to extract Herta from an IndyCar contract with Andretti Autosport in 2023, get him up to speed in F1 rapidly and try to get agreement for him to be given a Superlicence he has not earned. On can argue that the Superlicence rules should be tweaked in future to allow Indycar race winners to jump into Formula 1, but there should not be a precedent set that allows the rules to be bent. This will only lead to problems in the future. The rules exist to ensure that the quality of driving in F1 is maintained and while Herta may (or may not) have what it takes, there are others who might get in later, based on money rather than talents. A driver who earns a Superlicence (even a rich one) has still earned the right to race F1. Undermining the Superlicence system would undermine the FIA’s reputation in F1.
The argument that F1 needs an American driver is utterly flawed, unless the American is the right one. Right now, Williams is supporting the efforts of 21-year-old Florida driver Logan Sargeant, who is currently in the process of gaining a Superlicence in the prescribed way, and despite some mishaps in Formula 2 is still in a position to have one next year. Herta is clearly talented, but neither he nor Marko should be helped to get him a licence. If he has the talent needed and the will to succeed then he will find a way without help with the licence.
Driver success in F1 is based so much these days on driver psychology that it is always best to find the right fit rather than trying to ram a driver who is a square ped trying to get into a round hole.
Ricciardo is a good example of a driver who has super ability but just does not fit in the team. No-one can figure out why and the Australian’s confidence has been battered by what has happened. This does not mean that Daniel is useless and finished, it means he needs to rebuild, rethink his priorities and find a way to get back his missing mojo.
The latest word is that Daniel might take a year off in 2023 if he is not offered the Alpine drive. Then, as an experienced F1 winner, he could return to the sport as a reserve in 2024, helping to rebuild his confidence by measuring his performance against the top names. I hear he has been talking to Mercedes about such a role, which would put him in with a chance of a race drive in the future if Lewis Hamilton decides that he has had enough. That must happen eventually and while Mercedes has George Russell in place, it is waiting for the next big thing. This appears to be a 16-year-old youngster it manages called Andrea Kimi Antonelli, who is wowing everyone at the moment in Formula 4. He is at least three or four years away from F1, so there is likely to be a gap between Hamilton’s departure and Antonelli’s arrival…
It is tough getting a break into Formula 1, even if you are talented, and I have rather enjoyed rumours in recent days that Formula 2 champion-to-be Felipe Drugovich could be joining Aston Martin in 2023 as a test and reserve driver. This is smart thinking. Drugovich has dominated F2 this year but it is his third year in the formula and F1 teams tend not to look at such drivers. However, Drugovich is smart enough to realise that jumping straight into F1 will be almost impossible and going to Aston Martin is a decent gamble because Alonso and Lawrence Stroll may not get on, and even if they do, that will come at the expense of Lance Stroll, so one can wager that one or the other will be gone by 2024 and being integrated into the team, Drugovich would be a good bet as a replacement for one or the other… This would also be good for F1 as the sport could use another Brazilian…
On final thought on the subject of drivers, I that Marko could be stirring up a storm in the driver market because he does not want F1 scribblers focussing on Red Bull’s other big story at the moment: the fact that its planned relationship with Porsche is coming undone and Porsche will not become a shareholder in the team. It seems that Red Bull has concluded that it would rather stay as it is and run its own engine programme, rather than have other folk coming in and disrupting the successful squad that it is today. Red Bull now has its own engine programme – the first prototype ran recently on a dyno in Milton Keynes – and the firm does not really need Porsche, unless it wants money, which has never been Red Bull’s problem…
The team can do as it pleases with its engines in 2026 and is happy to be independent and not have to answer to a partner or be dependent on an engine supplier. Red Bull can accept money from someone who is willing to pay to badge the engines, but it wishes to retain control. The whisper in F1 circles is that Red Bull was unimpressed by leaks about Porsche in the media as these were seen as being designed to boost the value of the Porsche IPO that will be happening in the next few weeks.
This leaves Porsche in a complicated situation as it does not have the thing it needs to build F1 engines on its own. It does however want to use the sport to highlight its involvement in sustainable fuel development. The recent Audi announcement has similar problems because there is a lot to be done if Audi is to get a team competitive by 2026. And there is more politics to come within the VW empire (which owns both the Porsche and Audi brands).
Elsewhere in the car industry there is a very interesting development at Renault (which owns Alpine) where the boss Luca de Meo is planning to revamp the whole company by making some dramatic changes. One of these is to lump together the company’s traditional internal combustion businesses in a business based outside France and sell off much of the business. This will mean that Renault can claim to be an all-electric firm and he hopes that the electric side of the business, which is currently being labelled as Ampere, a similar independent firm, based in France, but with Renault keeping control, will attract more investors and the kind of valuation that Tesla has managed to achieve.
The traditional ICE business has been given the codename “Horse” and the word is that Renault will would keep only 40 percent with China’s Geely taking another 40 percent and the Saudi Aramco oil company taking the remaining 20 percent.
Logically, Renault’s motorsport engine design hub at Viry-Châtillon would become part of “Horse” and that would mean that the three shareholders might all be able to get hybrid F1 engines. Alpine could continue with Renault, Geely is the owner of Lotus and there is a strong argument that if one wants to expand Lotus road car sales the best way to do it would be an F1 programme, given the heritage of the brand in the sport. And Aramco is the primary sponsor of Aston Martin Racing and wants to have an F1 engine so that it can show off its synthetic fuel programmes, and provide Aston Martin will its own brand engine…
Still, F1’s relationship with China is still less than easy and the Chinese are one of the problems that F1 has creating its 2023 calendar. Things are moving onwards with no resolution to the Miami and Montreal impasse, which means that F1 has to criss-cross the Atlantic twice in the spring. Monaco is still a problem and Baku is not happy about being asked to move from its June date. We know that South Africa has now dropped out of the running for 2023 because money did not arrive, that Doha is not moving to the front of the calendar (because they have demolished the pit buildings and these cannot be rebuilt in time for next spring). We know also that the British GP and Austria have switched dates in July with Silverstone on the second and Austria on the ninth. We also know that Zandvoort is taking Spa’s date on August 27 and that Spa is jumping back into the calendar on July 23. But what we don’t know is what happens with China because it is unclear whether the country can commit to a race because of its COVID-19 policies. At the moment the government continues to try to maintain a zero COVID policy and in recent days has shut down the cities of Shenzhen and Chengdu. It is difficult for any sport to plan around such decisions and a string of big international events have been postponed or cancelled in recent weeks. The policies may change after the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which happens only once every five years. This decides the country’s leadership and thus the policies for the next five years. This happens in late October, but F1 wants a calendar before then. Once China is settled on a date, the other races can slot into the available slots.
Once that is done, the F1 group can start worrying about what to do in 2024…
One race that will be up for renegotiation is Zandvoort… which will have ended its initial three-year deal.
Memory is an amazing thing. As I drove past a sign to the village of Oudenaarde, bells rang in a dusty corridor in my brain and a messenger came running along shouting the words: “Marlborough” and muttered something about Spaniards and Austrians. It has been a while since I last heard the name – about half a century – and I had no idea exactly why the Duke of Marlborough was marching armies around a very flat part of Belgium, but I concluded it was all something to do with quibbling European nations and Kings with boots too big for their feet. And I pondered that, in the overall scheme of things, little has changed since then (whenever then was) and that the world remains driven by greed, ambition and, of course, sex. I had a conversation on this very subject with an Alpine PR man in Spa, who was trying to convince me that the Oscar Piastri business was all about money.
I argued that it was probably not, because ambitious young drivers often break contracts in order to get into a place they consider better than previous choices. It is normal behaviour and one can say the same thing about Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher. They all did things which resulted in tut-tutting in the F1 Paddock, but they got where they wanted to be.
Whether the choice of McLaren over Alpine is ultimately the right thing to do remains to be seen, but it is probably a wiser choice than leaping from Alpine to Aston Martin. Still, when it comes to career moves, there is a reason that Fernando Alonso won fewer championships than the eminent list above…
Anyway, Spaniards and Austrians were much in discussion in the Paddock in Spa, with regard to the F1 silly season, rather than the impact of said countries in Belgian history.
Of course, when it comes to simplicity, Belgian does not win many prizes. It is an amazing country. In 2020 it broke its own record for the longest period for a country without an elected government after 592 days. The record had previously stood at 541 days back in 2010 and 2011. Is it any wonder that organising a sensible traffic plan around Spa-Francorchamps is a bit of a challenge. Of course, in addition to Belgium’s three federal police forces, there are 185 local police forces – the latter being in charge of maintain public order and traffic for big events.
Who knows how many police commissioners were involved in Spa’s traffic plans. It does not really matter because none of it worked (again). I am a big advocate of posting the local police chief(s) to Outer Mongolia (on a permanent basis) to help with law and order there and asking the Mongolians to work on a new traffic plan for Francorchamps, as they can hardly do a worse job.
This seems to be the primary reason that F1 decided that it had had enough of Spa, particularly after the non-race mud-bath of 2021. The race promoters seem to have found the cash to keep the race and have invested a fortune in upgrading the circuit, to allow for MotoGP events, but no-one thought that it might be wise to drive a four-lane highway straight into the circuit. Having spent my weekend driving through winding forests, going backwards and forwards to a hotel in Germany, there does not seem to be a problem with cutting down trees…
The reason I was staying in Germany was that there has been a very nasty outbreak of naked greed in the Spa region and hotel prices have reached insane levels. The same is happening with lots of race at the moment but the Walloons are really gouging their visitors. Yes, I know, it’s supply and demand and that is why I went to Germany: to give them some money and not spend it in Belgium. This meant that by the end of the weekend I was rather weary as I was setting off each morning in the dark and returning each evening in the dark, the only way to avoid wasting time and polluting the universe by being part of a traffic jam. I did at one point consider stealing an old tank that was sitting in the middle of a roundabout in Butgenbach and driving it through the forest to the paddock, thus creating the path for a new road, although I suspect some folks might say this would be a horrible thing to do.
Anyway, it was worth noting the appearance of Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on the grid (and podium) on Sunday. This was a first and very significant. De Croo is Flemish. The race is in Wallonia. These things matter in Belgium… One wonders what brought him to Spa, but I suspect that a new five-year deal is in the pipeline and Belgium will remain an F1 nation if the PM agrees to do all the right things, whatever they may be…
The F1 calendar is proving complicated this year, which is what happens when you try to squeeze too many things into a small space. Each promoter has its own wishes and requirements, some of them written into contracts. Others have ambitions that they cannot meet, or bosses they cannot control. It is clear that Belgium is back on the calendar in 2023 because South Africa is gone. It remains to be seen if a race can be put together in ZA in 2024 but otherwise F1 is going to start looking at other options in Africa.
The word is that Belgium will take the July 23 slot, fitting in the week before Hungary (July 30). This will follow on from a double-header in Britain (July 2) and Austria (July 9). The Dutch will take over the current Belgian date (August 27) and Italy will follow on September 3. Singapore will have its usual September 17 date and logically Japan would be a week later.
The front end of the calendar seems settled now with Bahrain opening the season on March 6, followed by Saudi Arabia on March 19 with Australia a fortnight after that. April is complicated with Imola and Baku likely, but the possibility of China is still floating. Qatar did want to be up front as well but it has just demolished the pits at Losail and the new buildings will not be ready until the autumn. This is clear confirmation that the planned street circuit in Doha is history (at least for now). Why? Who knows? Perhaps Doha did not want to be seen copying what Jeddah had done…
Doha will probably follow on from Singapore and Japan. There will then be the races in Austin, Mexico, Sao Paulo (a triple header?) and Las Vegas, with the season ending on the last weekend of November in Abu Dhabi.
Canada will have its usual June date and Miami will stick with its May 5 date, and Monaco (if it happens) looks like being part of a triple-header involving Imola and Spain. But how it all fits together with the floating races remains to be seen. Draft calenders were flying around all weekend, like confetti in June.
Talking of confusions, the announcement that Audi will be entering F1 as an engine supplier in 2026 was celebrated by the German firm’s CEO Markus Duesmann standing next to an Audi-branded car, which was a massive piece of mixed messaging, suggesting that Audi is not just planning engines but also a full factory operation. Given that soon after the Audi announcement Alfa Romeo announced it is giving up the title sponsorship of Sauber at the end of 2023 it pretty much confirmed what will happen. By the start of 2024 Audi will own 50 percent of Sauber, according to my sources, and so Alfa Romeo will no longer be welcome.
All things considered the Audi announcement was pretty odd as the brand’s sister firm Porsche is also planning to race in F1 and the Audi announcement came just a few days before Porsche boss Oliver Blume takes over as chief executive of the entire Volkswagen Group, Audi’s parent company.
Duesmann was a rival for that job, but in the end lost out. It may just be a coincidence that the Audi F1 announcement came just a few days before Duesmann got his new boss…
It has been rumoured for a long time that Volkswagen would have two brands in Formula 1, although on paper that is strange when the automotive industry is always focussed on creating synergies and saving costs, but the announcement of the Porsche IPO should come in the next few days and the word is that this will raise $85 billion, so there will be some money sloshing about.
However there have been whispers inside and outside the paddock that Porsche and Red Bull may not go ahead as planned because Red Bull might have got a better offer from Honda. In one of his answers in Spa, Duesmann said something interesting (not much of it was).
“We will have completely separate operations,” he said. “We will have our operations in Germany and, if Porsche enters, they will have their operations in the UK.”
Duesmann thus confirmed the Porsche project, but at the same time cast doubt on it with the word “if”. Given that he is neither the boss of Porsche nor the VW Group, this is strange behaviour although the Audi contingent present at Spa were keen to bang the drum that all is perfectly harmonious in the VW empire. It does not feel that way. Still, I guess we will find out soon enough. Today (Thursday) Blume ceases to be Duesmann’s rival and becomes his boss… One wonders if there will be some fireworks.
Talking of fireworks, one place where there were none at all was in the McLaren company’s half-year results, up to June 30. This made pretty grim reading with sales and revenues significantly lower than the same period last year. The firm blamed this on semi-conductor shortages but sales of only 850 cars – down 24 percent – is not great. Revenues were down 23 percent from £350 million in 2021 to £258 million this year. The company thus booked a loss. However, McLaren did get a new CEO in Michael Leiters, who joined in July. He is believed to be planning to follow the current trend for such companies and create a McLaren SUV.
Talking of McLaren, it is clear that fairly soon the company will announce that Oscar Piastri is joining the team. The Contract Recognition Board met on Monday and there will be a result by now, but these things are secret and so the first the world will know is when either McLaren confirms Oscar, or Alpine signs someone else. The result of the CRB is really only to establish whether Alpine should be compensated, although the board does not deal with money. That is up to the teams. The word I heard was that while Alpine says Piastri signed a contract in November last year, he may not have actually signed a long form contract. This would explain why Alpine says he signed a deal and Piastri and his management say there is nothing binding. He signed a McLaren contract on July 4 and so clearly believed he was free to do so. One can perhaps theorise that Oscar signed a “heads of agreement” document but this is, by nature, a tentative document, which is usually considered non-binding… It could also be a question of wording but whatever Oscar signed it could not have been to race for Alpine in 2023 because the team at that point did not have a seat available to commit to Piastri. Thus the wording of any deal would have had to be a commitment to provide Piastri with “a Formula 1 drive” or something along those lines.
If the car was not specified there is an argument that this could be deemed unfair in a regular commercial court… As we do not know these things, we can only guess. What we do know is that his relationship with Alpine is broken.
In fact, McLaren may end up in a stronger financial position now that a settlement has been agreed with Daniel Riccardo. The team was due to pay Daniel $16 million in 2023 but the whisper in the paddock was that a settlement was reached at $10 million. That sounds about right. However, it does mean that McLaren will have $6 million more to spend on driver budgets… Piastri will be cheaper than that (for a while) and so there might even be some cash left over to sort out the mess in Indycar where the team has a problem securing the services of Alex Palou. A couple of million might help convince Ganassi that a bird in the bush is worth more than one in the hand. Still, these kinds of dealings do not help to foster trusting relationships…
So who will Alpine get? That is a good question without an obvious answer. There has been much talk of Pierre Gasly but this may just have been because Alpine went asking around about who was available. Red Bull’s Helmut Marko is not averse to stirring up excitement in the media, either just for fun or to make noise at a time when there are other things going on. It’s a classic F1 strategy: make a large bang and when the media runs off towards it, do whatever you are trying to do without anyone noticing. That was a favourite trick of Mr Bernie Ecclestone. It does not always work with judges…
The Gasly theory is sensible in that he is the best option given that Ricciardo is disheartened and Alex Albon has been quickly re-signed by Williams. Esteban Ocon says he would like to see Mick Schumacher in the team but that seems pretty unlikely given that Ferrari and Haas have made it clear that they are not interested in him and so it is hard to imagine that Red Bull would be.
There is also no reason that Red Bull would want to let Gasly go early, unless there is a suitable replacement. Pierre was confirmed in June on this basis and nothing has much changed. He is there if he is needed. He does a decent job for AlphaTauri but he is not part of the long-term Red Bull plan. Still it is better to have him on the books, rather than letting a rival team take him. Marko does not seem overly impressed with his current crop of youngsters in Formula 2. Most of been disappointing this season, although Ayumu Iwasa has generally made a good impression. Marko’s latest focus seems to be on Formula 3 racer Isack Hadjar, who has been fighting for the FIA Formula 3 title in his first season. He will move up into Formula 2 next year.
The other difficult problem with Gasly is that while some folks say he does not get on with Ocon, they fail to understand the level of friction between the pair. Ocon (or rather his Dad) bought his first kart from Pierre’s brother and, at the age of eight or nine, Pierre and Esteban were best friends. The problem was that they fell out at about 11 and while both can be professional and say the right things, the hurt is still there and the relationship could crumble quite easily. There is also the question of Alpine marketing goals. Car companies go racing to sell cars. Alpine is a Norman firm, based in Dieppe. Ocon and Gasly are Normans as well: one from Evreux, the other from Rouen. It will be great news for Alpine sales in the region, but it is doubtful that Alpine will sell much in Outer Mongolia (unless the Belgian police chief wants one). It would be better to have someone more international… One possible option might be Nyck de Vries, although he is more likely to sign for Williams and ditch his WEC contract with Toyota and his Formula E drive with Maserati.
Alpine’s next young driver is Jack Doohan, the Australia. He has qualified for a Superlicence and is starting to come good in Formula 2. He would be a risky option for the team, but the aim of a junior team is to provide a cheap supply of drivers, who are integrated into the team’s ways over time. Thus he should not be excluded as an option… If he can do more good things in Formula 2 in the next weeks perhaps he has a chance.
Perhaps the strangest of the Spa rumours was the one about Colton Herta becoming an AlphaTauri F1 driver. The Californian does not have a Superlicence, he has yet to prove himself in F1 terms and would obviously need time, and he has a contract with Andretti Autosport in IndyCar next year and is one of the team’s biggest assets. It is always possible that Marko might like the look of him, but getting him would not be easy.
Elsewhere, I did hear that Brazil’s Felipe Drugovich is talking seriously to Aston Martin about a reserve driver deal and is believed to be supported by a Brazilian bank, while it has been also been suggested that Ricciardo’s best move might be to become reserve driver at Mercedes, to help build up his confidence again…
One Alpine driver that has not been seriously considered by the rumour-mongers is no less a figure than Jacques Villeneuve. I am joking, but Jacques, now a commentator, is to test a 2021 Alpine next week at Monza, to give him an insight into how the modern cars are. JV has already been in the simulator and is excited about the chance.
While on the subject of unusual stories in Italy, Emerson Fittipaldi is going to be standing for election to the Italian Senate, as a candidate for the Fratelli d’Italia, a national-conservative and right-wing populist political party led by Giorgia Meloni, who is a sort of Italian version of Marine Le Pen…
On Monday after Spa, I did not – sadly – go pottering off around Belgium, as the plan had originally been. Instead I went back to Paris because the Japanese decided that anyone who wants to go to the Grand Prix in Suzuka must now have a visa, which was never the case before. So rather than a leisurely life, I had to rush home to lots of Japanese paperwork which the embassy looked out and handed back to me as being not relevant, and then headed north again…
The sun is coming up in Mosonmagyaróvár, or perhaps it is better to say that the skies are lightening across the Pannonian Plain. You can tell already that it is going to be a blisteringly hot day across Europe, but the sun will not make an appearance until about five thirty. By then I hope to be across the Austrian border and wiggling through the Wienerwald, where Johann Strauss wrote waltzes and where today the Vienna ring road helps one avoid traffic jams in the city.
I am glad that I am not driving east, but I know that by evening I will be heading straight into the setting sun, which will make things a bit more complicated in the final few miles, when I will be closer to home, in country lanes, with a million dead bugs on the windscreen.
I know it doesn’t sound very sensible to set off to drive 1,600 km after a night without sleep (Hey kids, don’t try this at home) but there are times in F1 when you do what you have to do, no matter what it takes. I am used to long drives when I am tired. It’s my wife’s birthday and it’s never nice to celebrate alone, so I’m heading home to start the summer break a day earlier than planned – and I haven’t told her and I have cursed the calendar-makers of F1 for putting the race on the wrong weekend, so that it will all be a big surprise for her.
I’ve already covered a couple of hundred kilometres, but home is still 1,400kms away. The journey will take me by way of Linz, Munich, Stuttgart, Metz and Reims. If I drive all day, I should be home before the sun sets.
The Formula 1 summer holiday has begun and the idea of spending time at home is most appealing, particularly after four races in five weekends. I drive because I no longer want the stress of airports and planes at a time when everything is up the creek following the COVID pandemic. At every race I hear the tales of travel horrors from those who are condemned to fly everywhere, of missing bags and queues as far as the eye can see.
Driving may not always be easy, but at least you are in control of your own destiny – and you can leave a jam and find another way to get home. That sense of freedom and the lack of stress makes it worthwhile. Stress, as the old F1 doctor Sid Watkins always used to say, kills more people than other things – and so I take Sid’s advice and make new discoveries every day.
When I crossed the Austro-Hungarian border on the way out to Budapest, I did what I always do and switched the radio to a local station. You learn a lot just by listening to a language and these days I can understand far more languages than used to be the case, thanks to listening to traffic reports and news bulletins. I am convinced, however, that I will never understand a single word of Hungarian. I was impressed by the road signs that screamed “Tartson Jobbra!” – which sounded vaguely rude – but I learned that it means “Keep right”.
After a while I realised I had some time to spare and decided to have a bit of a wander around and headed down Route 82, which goes from Györ to Veszprem, over the Bakony mountains, which run diagonally across the western part of the country, splitting the Great Hungarian Plain from the Little Hungarian Plain.
It was not long before I encountered a horse and cart… then the magnificent castle of Csesznek, or at least the ruins of it. I guess it lies in ruins because of battles between the feuding clans of Hungary in another age, but in truth I was more interested in the fact that the town of Papa is about 50 miles from the village of Dad, by way of a lot of villages that would score very highly when playing Scrabble.
I also discovered that Veszprém will be the European Capital of Culture in 2023, which means that they are digging up all the roads at the moment and their signposting is so poor that I ended up in a place called Marko and wondered if the family of the good doctor of Red Bull fame might have hailed from these parts.
Anyway, all of this gave me plenty of time to think about the F1 calendar and what a difficult beast it is to tame.
In a normal year in Formula 1 there would be a draft of next season’s calendar before the summer break and the folks at Liberty Media, while still wet behind the ears, talked of producing calendars earlier and more regionalised than used to be the case in the Ecclestone Era. This was commendable, but the desire for more dates means that things are much more complicated. Race promoters have their own ideas about what they want and they do not much care about other races – except to avoid them, if they consider another Grand Prix will take away some of their spectators. Having a better calendar would also help F1 in its desire to reduce emissions, which is one of the goals that the sport has set itself, in order to stay out of trouble with activist environmental groups.
The last couple of weeks have seen me driving nearly 5,000 km, with another 4,000 in the fortnight before that. This could hardly be described as environmentally-friendly, particularly when one considers that the F1 circus requires around 300 big thirsty trucks to go from place to place. They always look nice and shiny, which is a good advert for the sport, but they pump out fumes aplenty. This fleet has gone from Britain to Austria then back to France and then back to Hungary before heading home for the break. This means a great deal of needless emissions for which F1 gets the blame, although to be fair it is because the race promoters in Austria and Hungary think the races are too close together (geographically) to be back-to-back. This is not a very sensible argument because some of the fans (particularly the Dutch) will go anywhere and will often combine two events with their summer holidays.
The biggest problem for F1’s regionalization programmes is that some of the promoters have the date of their races written into the contracts and are unwilling to change the terms of the deal. This means that F1 cannot change the dates unless compromises can be found.
This is particularly obvious with Miami and Montreal, one in May and the other in June. The two races are far enough apart on a map to not create a problem, but Montreal wants to keep its June date, which it views as being key to its success, and Miami has a 10-year deal for early May, between its Miami Open tennis competition and the point at which the weather in Florida gets too hot.
Moving Montreal into May would create the opposite problem because in Canada it can still be pretty wintry at that point. So F1 has to go backwards and forwards across the Atlantic twice each spring.
One has to add the fact that (quite rightly) the teams do not want triple-headers (because F1 people need lives as well), plus the freight difficulties and the usual desires to have a race fitting in with a local holiday, such as Mexico’s Day of the Dead. And, on top of all this, there are other sports events that are best avoided. These days one had COVID problems as well because China and Japan have not got it sorted yet and then there are ego problems with Monaco and money to be found in South Africa. In short, it is a complete nightmare.
Thus there are various different draft calendars at the moment, each dependent on which race agrees to go where. Until recently it looked like the start of 2023 was sorted out with the first race being in Bahrain on March 5 with a break and Saudi Arabia back-to-back with Australia, on March 19 and March 26. However it now seems that this has been vetoed, although I did note the presence of the race promoters from Australia and Saudi Arabia in Budapest.
For now, however, it seems that there will be a weekend off between Saudi and Australia (and thus more people flying out and back and out and back).
Australia was then going to go back-to-back with South Africa, but the Kyalami contract is not yet signed off because of money.
We also hear that Qatar has now decided that it does not want to be twinned with Abu Dhabi and would prefer a spring date… and, of course, Doha is paying a lot of money.
As an aside, I also discovered that the plan to have a waterfront event in Doha has evaporated and the Qataris now think it is better to upgrade the Losail facility. I am not quite sure why a track surrounded by sand will sell the country better than a track along a waterfront, but perhaps it is because Qatar does not want to seen to be copying Saudi Arabia. Oddly enough, however, the Saudis are still planning on moving their race from Jeddah to a wadi near Riyadh, so maybe the Qataris will change their mind once the Saudis have finished that…
The inclusion of the Belgian GP seems to be conditional on China and/or South Africa not happening, but no-one seems sure about where Imola, Barcelona, Baku and Belgium will fall, and whether Monaco will happen. Is there any part of the calendar that is actually settled? Well, it is difficult to say, but I hear that the crazy Britain-Austria-France-Hungary leg will become Austria-Britain-Something-Hungary, which makes a bit more sense. The something could be one of the above…
I am pretty sure that the Dutch GP will be at the end of August, with the Italian GP a week later and the Singapore-Japan back-to-back will be in September, although China will be moving to the autumn, if it happens at all. I also hear that Austin, Mexico and Brazil will be a triple-header and that Vegas will go back-to-back with Abu Dhabi. The good news, however, is that it looks like the season will be finished by the end of November, which means that F1 families should be happy as there will be some time for Christmas shopping…
What I can tell you with confidence (as much as you can with anything in F1) is that the Australian Grand Prix will be the opening race of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship in 2024 and 2025, because the Middle Eastern races need to take place later because of Ramadan.
Still, in F1 one needs to be wary of “certainties”. I was just a tad irritated when I heard that Fernando Alonso had signed for Aston Martin because it seemed before that came that he would be staying at Alpine in 2023. It was a big surprise in that it is utterly illogical (except from a financial point of view) and it came as a shock to everyone, even Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer.
This made me feel a little better as a few hours earlier I had written confidently in my JSBM newsletter that Alonso would stay, based on the fact that all my best sources seemed to be agreed on it. The newsletter also included a lot of detail about Oscar Piastri joining McLaren and how that might be possible.
What was clear was that Oscar could not afford to sit out another year without racing and Alpine had to decide whether to keep Alonso, who is doing a great job, or dropping the old lion and putting in a feisty pup. It was a tough call.
On paper, of course, McLaren has contracts with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo – and has a testing programme going on with Colton Herta.
Piastri is seen as being a bit special and Alpine was in a difficult spot, it seems like McLaren saw a chance to grab him. Teams always want to avoid the bad publicity that comes with dubious contractual behaviour, although history relates that all contacts can be broken if a team is desperate enough – and rich enough. Piastri has a contact with Alpine (so they say) which guarantees him a race seat in 2023. This may not say which team that seat would be with, and the word is that Alpine offered to put Oscar into Williams. This is not a good choice for him. The rest of the story depends on the wording of the contract options, to which we are never privy.
Ricciardo has a contract for next year but, popular though he is, Daniel has been disappointing in his time with McLaren, except that he won a race last year. Lando has yet to win but clearly has the advantage at the moment. Ricciardo is saying that he has no intention of moving, but one can see why McLaren might want to off-load him and grab Piastri. Pushing Daniel out of the way would require a contract settlement and how this could be achieved is unclear because money is not the only thing.
Without a McLaren drive, Ricciardo’s F1 future is not looking great. McLaren seems to have got itself into a similar mess in the US where the Indycar team is also overstocked with drivers with Pato O’Ward, Alex Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist on the books and some kind of deal going down with Álex Palou.
The Spanish driver’s current employer Chip Ganassi says he has a valid option with Palou and it all seems to be heading into the hands of lawyers. This is all a little strange. The problem between Palou and Ganassi is clearly about money. Chip made him a star and now wants a third season cheap. There is an option (wording unknown), Palou thinks he can get out, Ganassi thinks Palou has to stay.
One imaginative solution (which perhaps McLaren had thought about) is for McLaren to offer Ricciardo to Ganassi, in place of Palou If McLaren agreed to pay Daniel a suitable salary (a lot less than in F1) it would put him into a top IndyCar drive, would leave McLaren with enough to pay Piastri, put Palou into a McLaren IndyCar and secure two hot talents at the same time. Rosenqvist would then be shunted into Formula E.
The downside of all of this is that there would be no room at McLaren for Herta. He has, in any case, a contract with Andretti to race IndyCars until the end of 2023 and he does not have a Superlicence required to race in F1, so he could not join McLaren until 2024 at the earliest, although with Piastri and Norris there would be no room for him until 2026.
One can perhaps also argue that the testing deal that Herta has with McLaren could be designed to help Michael Andretti developing a driver for a possible Formula 1 team – if that ever comes to fruition.
Losing Daniel would be a loss for F1 but might be best for him, better for McLaren, great for Ganassi and perfect for Palou. And Zak Brown would look very clever for having put it all together.
As I write this Notebook an email has arrived from Alpine announcing Piastri. This was a surprise and it was immediately suspect when I saw that there was no quote from Oscar. Every new driver press release has a quote from the driver saying that he is delighted to be joining etc etc. No quote, for me, means no agreement or at worst a bad start to the relationship.
One might ask why Alonso wants to join Aston Martin, given the lack of performance. There is, of course, the chance of a longer contract, more money, a team-mate who might not be too difficult to beat and one day a better car, but it is an odd move in many respects. Alpine probably thought that Alonso would reduce his salary demands to stay on and so the team would be getting a good deal. Perhaps. Perhaps, also, Alpine annoyed Fernando over this question.
Will Alonso and Aston Martin be a match made in heaven? Probably not. Fernando is not easy (although he is more relaxed these days). Lawrence Stroll is not known for being an easy companion. What he is known for is his belief that Lance is an undiscovered genius, capable of winning World Championships. Being a racing dad and a team owner is not a good combination and one wonders what will happen when Alonso beats Lance every weekend. Fernando is smart, but he is not ever going to say “After you Lance…”
It has all the makings of a disaster ahead… but let’s wait and see. Lawrence seems to think that all is well with the car company but reality checks in from time to time. Last week Aston Martin reported first half losses for 2022 of £285.4 million, saying that supply chain shortages hit production which meant that it could not meet the demand for its cars.
Let’s not dwell on that…
Elsewhere, Williams was hoping that Piastri might come its way but has been in deep discussions with Nyck de Vries, the Dutch Formula E World Champion. Nyck has a couple of drives up his sleeve which have yet to be announced in WEC and Formula E and he must soon decide whether to give it all up to become an F1 driver. He’s a little older than your average F1 debutant and so might conclude that it is a bit late to dream of glory in F1 and better to take winning drives (and a chunk of cash) elsewhere. Nyck must decide at some point but Williams is in a difficult situation in that the choice of its test driver Logan Sargeant is not a bad idea as the 21-year-old Floridian driver might unlock the doors to US sponsorships as F1 grows in America. The problem is that Logan does not have a Superlicence and the F2 championship is quite close and so confirmation of the licence might come too late for the team to rely on it happening. And if de Vries signs elsewhere and Sargeant misses out… Oh dear.
The details of the yet-to-be-announced Porsche-Red Bull alliance have emerged from the unlikely source of the Moroccan government’s competition authority in Rabat, which says it is considering the deal on the grounds of competition questions. It is hard to imagine how this might be he case, but the paperwork does include details of the planned transaction in order to get clearance for the deal. It is unlikely that any F1 journalist would have considered looking for competition clearance for a deal in Morocco and so it is most likely to have been a leak. One might speculate that such news would do no harm at all to the Porsche share price as the firm prepares an IPO. Anyway, the document reveals a joint venture between Porsche AG and Red Bull GmbH and the purchase of 50 percent of Red Bull Technology Ltd shares by Porsche. It is interesting that neither party seems to have control, although that could depend on who the chairman of the board would be, although in such a situation one can have a different chairman at each meeting. The danger with 50-50 partnerships is that they can become deadlocked if the parties do not agree on their strategy, unless there are clear rules about who makes the decisions. One should also note that the world has changed a little since the documents were filed with Herbert Diess being replaced as the head of the Volkswagen Group, with the role going to the Porsche CEO Oliver Blume. This might impact on Audi’s plan to enter F1 as the brand is also owned by Volkswagen. Audi boss Markus Duesmann was a rival to Blume for the VW role and he may now decide to move elsewhere. Duesmann is a former F1 engineer from BMW who believes that the sport is best way to sell cars and to develop new technology. His plan to make Audi more successful rests on the idea that the firm will get rid of its smaller cars and focus more on the lucrative luxury segment, which he wants to expand.
Much of this depends on the 2026 regulations but the word is that the F1 Commission will vote on this shortly and the rules will be published after the FIA World Motor Sport Council has an electronic vote.
The goal then is to have 50-50 super-efficient ICE-electric power units, with synthetic fuels. Formula E may have painted itself green more successfully than F1 has done, but the world is beginning to realise that F1 engines are a better long-term option and astonishing pieces of kit. My favourite statistic in this respect is thermal efficiency (the percentage of energy in the fuel that makes it to become energy in the rear wheels) because it really shows what F1 has done. If one considers that the first practical automobile powered by an internal-combustion engine arrived in 1885 and in the 128 years that followed the best that generations of brilliant engineers could achieve was a rather disappointing 35 percent thermal efficiency, which meant that a huge amount of energy was being wasted. In the nine years since 2013 F1 has driven that figure up to around 52 percent.
Synthetic fuel is interesting but in the rush of recent races I noted that Mercedes-AMG Petronas has announced that it is becoming the first global sports team to invest in Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). The team says that it uses a lot of fuel flying around and wants to reduce its global footprint but of course it might also want to make some money and what is required in SAF is not very different to what is required (or will be required) in F1 fuels.
“We aim to be on the cutting edge of change, using our global motorsport platform as a model for a more sustainable and diversified future,” said Toto Wolff, a man who has made a few quid over the years by betting on new ideas.
And on that green (as in greenbacks) note, I will sign off for the summer break.
If you happen to be in Monza and go north on the Arcore road towards Lecco, you will soon find yourself in a town called Cernusco Lombardone.
While the name sounds like a Soprano, it rolls off the tongue like a lazy river meandering through linguistic meadows. Turn to the left there and you will pass through Quattro Strade, a placename that tells you (with admirable brevity) that the town has four streets. You will then see signs to Montevecchia, the old mountain, which explains nothing of an extraordinary place where a few years ago geologists, archaeologists and astrophysicists worked arm in arm to discover three pyramids built by an ancient civilisation.
Just like the Egyptian pyramids, but taller. And without burial chambers within. They were built by shaping limestone hills into matching monuments, which were used for reasons unclear, but were probably related to astronomical or religious beliefs.
I guess you might call it an Italian Stonehenge, but built without moving mountains.
Why am I going on about pyramids in Italy when the last Grand Prix was in France? Well, the world is filled with surprises that we often rush past without even seeing. I was pottering through, bound for Budapest and the pyramids attracted my attention…
Paul Ricard is a monument of sorts, recalling a very smart man who created not only an eponymous drink, a kind of hooch called pastis, which is flavoured with Provencal things and is 45 percent proof. Having done this in 1932, he got very rich and then used a bulldozer to turn his name into a global advertisement for an alcoholic drink which today cannot legally be advertised. Yes, the Circuit Paul Ricard is a monument to Ricard, but it is also an advertisement for his drink…
Anyway, it will still be there for many years to come, but the French Grand Prix is unlikely to be. There is a break clause in the contract and Formula 1 wants a break. It has other venues in better places, willing to pay more, or without all the hassles that come when a drinks magnate builds a circuit in the middle of nowhere – with no possibility to improve the access roads.
We’ll not talk too much about French policemen, of course, but let us just say that perhaps they lack imagination and do what they are told to do without ever applying logic to the situation. Thus even team bosses and other stars of Drive to Survive were turned away from the logical route to the track because a special lane had been invented for F1 people, even if that meant you had to drive 30 miles to get to the so-called “F1 Lane”. To be honest I had no problems getting into the track, but I was getting there every day at seven o’clock in the morning because I hate wasting time in traffic jams. The evenings were less successful.
The access problems are certainly not unique in F1 and France does not appear to have a problem with money, but the decision not to race in France is rather a case of the Formula 1 group not being happy with the venue. It is 37 miles, much of it on wiggly roads, from Marseilles and there are some who dare to suggest that the city is not really a destination city (at least not in the terms F1 applies) and there is no getting away from the fact that while there have been attempts to regenerate parts of the city, it still has a bad image and people are nervous about visiting. This is based on the poverty that exists there and in consequence a high level of crime, often very violent. It is one of the biggest ports in Europe and rather a lot of dodgy stuff comes in and causes problems amongst the crime gangs.
The nearest “destination city” is probably Nice, as Toulon is traditionally a naval town, filled with rowdy sailors.
This is not to say that the region is not delightful. The coastal towns between Marseilles and Toulon are wondrful but there are still insufficient hotels for F1 and while the circuit could increase its crowd capacity quite easily and its VIP count, the problem remains: where are these people going to stay when they emerge from the traffic?
This is not to say that I am favour of dropping the French Grand Prix from the calendar. It does not seem right to do that. History may not matter much in the F1 world, but it should always be remembered that once there was only one Grand Prix a year – and it was French. Originally known as the Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France, the race was hugely significant not just in terms of racing, but also in the car industry. France was so dominant in the early years of the sport that the FIA was headquartered there, squatting in a building next door to the Automobile Club de France. Does that mean that the French Grand Prix should always be on the calendar? No, perhaps not, but running Grands Prix without France is a bit like running the IndyCar Championship without the Indy 500 – or at least one can argue that case.
Actually, when it comes to races that argue such things, Monaco seems to have the belief that F1 cannot exist without it. However, I believe there was a meeting recently at which some of the points of contention between F1 and Monaco were fixed, although there still remain significant problems between them. There will come a point at which a calendar will need to appear and we will see how serious F1 is about getting the deals it wants.
What is very interesting is that the company that organises the French Grand Prix is called “GIP Grand Prix de France”. This can organise a race wherever it wants to host one, as long as the the local ASN, the Fédération Française du Sport Automobile (FFSA), agrees. At the moment the firm rents the Circuit Paul Ricard, but it could do whatever it wants. The man behind this firm is the mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, a former racer, who is a political fixer, and a former government minister. He is close to President Emmanuel Macron. The President recently said that France must protect its Grand Prix and that “the state is ready to participate”. The other point worth noting about the French GP weekend was that there was a dinner of Saturday night that featured around 15 of the CEOs of France’s biggest companies, which are included in the CAC 40 stock market index. These included L’Oreal, Sanofi, Bolloré, Accor, Air France and Pernod Ricard. So there is some serious clout behind the idea of a French GP, if the country can find a venue. At the moment they are trying out the idea of a race around the Allianz stadium in Nice. Oddly enough, on Monday morning, as I was heading towards the pyramids near Milan, it struck me that perhaps I should stop and visit the stadium as it would be a logical time for F1 types to visit and I might bump into them as they inspected the idea. In the end I didn’t bother because I don’t like the idea and I don’t think it will work.
The irony, of course, is that France has three tracks that could host F1 races without too much trouble: Ricard, Magny-Cours and the Le Mans Bugatti circuit. The problem is that Ricard and Magny-Cours are both deemed wrong for F1 because of their infrastructure and access (and image) problems and Le Mans does not want a Grand Prix because the Automobile Club de l’Ouest is scared it might undermine the status of the Le Mans 24 Hours….
So, if France wants a Grand Prix any time soon, it is going to have to create a new idea. There have been some good projects over time but nothing happened mainly because of money, but also because of environmental questions. This is daft in an age when F1 is really setting the trend for environmentally-friendly engines that people want to buy. Formula E has been brilliant at promoting itself as being the best of all possible worlds, but in truth electric car sales are still pretty hopeless when you look at the big picture, because people just don’t want to buy them. Smoke and mirrors from Fromula E boss Alejandro Agag has kept the plates spinning up to now, but it’s a high wire act. Formula 1’s approach is a great deal more practical and the industry seems to like it.
Anyway, I have long had the belief that the best idea for the French GP would be to hold the race in the Bois de Boulogne, the huge public park that sits next to the city’s famous Boulevard Périphérique, the city’s inner ring road. For those who don’t know Paris well, if you go under the Arc de Triomphe and straight on, down the road directly opposite the Champs Elysees, you arrive at the Porte Maillot. This is where the Bois de Boulogne begins. It is less about 750 metres from the Arc de Triomphe. The park boasts existing roadways, a number of lakes, two racecourses (Longchamp and Auteuil) and is adjacent to the Stade Roland Garros (home of the French Open tennis competition) and the Parc des Princes stadium. The park is served by a string of Metro stations, features the dramatic Fondation Louis Vuitton building (the most interesting new building in France since the Pompidou Centre). And the park exists for the enjoyment of the citizens of Paris.
From a motorsport point of view, it has heritage as the world’s first motor race, the Paris-Rouen Trial of 1894, started at the Porte Maillot. The first motor race after War World II, known as the Grand Prix de la Libération, took place in the park. It is easy to see such an event as a French version of Albert Park. The problem is that everyone thinks it would be a nightmare to organise. That is probably true but if the President was behind it, and the CEOs of the CAC 40, the biggest problem is really the mayor of Paris. Her name is Anne Hidalgo and she is opposed to automobiles. However, she believed all the gumph about Formula E and allowed the series to race on the streets. F1 has long had a habit of screwing up its environmental messaging but if it can get that right (and the signs are that this is now happening), Ms Hidalgo will struggle to find a good argument against it and should therefore embrace it with fervour. Having said that she is a socialist and would not be too keen to agree with Macron, but given that her recent presidential bid, as the Socialist Party candidate against Macron was little short of a disaster, it might be wise for her to cuddle up to the President.
Anyway, the idea of city racing, which Grand Prix racing began in 1929 with Monaco, is still a popular idea. The latest racing series to leap on the bandwagon is NASCAR which has just announced that it intends to run its big stock car around the street of Chicago. It is an interesting idea, particularly as the race will be part of the July 4 Independence Day holiday. It all sounds great but I am slightly worried that big heavy stock cars (which weigh 1,450 kg) and are very powerful might be a little too much for the usual concrete barriers to handle. F1 cars tend to bounce off concrete blocks, but when it comes to NASCAR I fear that the concrete blocks will be bouncing off the cars…
Anyway, Because the French GP is not overly popular with Beautiful People and the weather was hot, the event was a little short of good gossip. Things were boosted a little by news from Germany that Herbert Diess is to be removed as the head of Volkswagen. His role will now go to the Porsche CEO Oliver Blume. The good news for F1 is that Blume is very keen on what F1 can offer the industry and he already has a deal (yet to be confirmed) that Porsche will partner with Red Bull Racing in 2026. At the moment F1 is waiting for an announcement, but this is expected as soon as the FIA gets its act together and publishes the 2026 rules.
It is expected that Audi (a VW brand) will also then announce that it is buying Sauber is a phased deal over three years. This will mean that Alfa Romeo will get squeezed out, but as the Italian brand is getting a cheap ride in the sport, as it sponsors the team, which uses Ferrari engines, no-one is particularly bothered if Alfa Romeo disappears. It isn’t a proper factory team….
When it comes to engines in the future, the word is that Honda may be looking to do a sponsorship deal with Red Bull Racing, in order to take advantage of the ongoing success of the team. This could only be a sponsorship and engine-badging deal and it would end, by necessity, in 2025 when Red Bull is (expected to be) committed to Porsche. It seems that Honda, which always makes bad decisions when it comes to F1, now thinks it might be good to get back into the sport in 2026. But it cannot leap back into bed with Red Bull after 2025 as the team will be working with Porsche. Honda’s timing in F1 terms has often been poor and this is all in the traditions of the firm. It joined forces with Red Bull Racing in 2019, just after the team had done a title sponsorship with Aston Martin so it was not until 2020 that the team became known as Red Bull Racing Honda. And then Honda decided to end the relationship at the end of 2021, although a deal was struck for Red Bull to continue to use the engines. After the Honda announcement Red Bull went out and sold its title sponsorship to Oracle. The team would thus have to become Oracle Red Bull Racing Honda in 2023 with the engines switching from being called Red Bulls to being Hondas again, but the Japanese firm then needs to decide (rapidly) if it wants to stay in F1 beyond 2025 – and what form that programme might take.
The options include being engine supplier to a different team, or buying a team…
Talking of buying and selling teams, Alpine is definitely selling a portion of its F1 team, but has no intention of losing control of the operation. This might sound odd given that the team bought Genii Capital’s minority shareholding at the start of this year, but the truth is that the team wants a different kind of partner. The team has tight budgets but feels that it needs to improve facilities and increase staff in order to be fully competitive. Both the Enstone and Viry-Chatillon have been expanded and modernised in recent years and Renault is looking for at least one engine customer for the future, although it makes little sense for teams to change before the new engine formula begins in 2026. The engines are now fairly similar in terms of performance and the disruption of an engine change today means that it takes at least a year to get up to speed.
The decision to sell some of the shares is the result of a desire to invest more, while at the same time giving the team a concrete valuation. New shareholders would obviously benefit from any profits that are made in the future and from the increase in the enterprise value, but they could also be called upon to help funding if the team requires more money, so it is a bit of an insurance policy as well. Perhaps there would also be an option to buy more shares in the future, if Renault one day decides to offload the team again…
Money is important at Alpine and thus negotiating a new deal with Fernando Alonso has been quite complex as the Spaniard has ideas of his own worth which are, how shall we say, impressive. However the threat of the team signing up a talented youngster called Oscar Piastri was obviously helpful in the negotiations. Anyway, the word is that Fernando now has a new two year deal (perhaps one plus one) and this will be announced after August 1 when an option date will pass. This, of course, means that the team will have to release Oscar Piastri unless it can convince him to join Williams for a year or two. However it seems that Oscar is more interested in an offer from McLaren that would require him ceasing to be part of the Alpine Academy.
Of course, things would be complicated at McLaren as the Woking team appears to have contracts with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo in 2023 – and has a testing programme going on with Colton Herta, with the goal being to have an American driver in the future. Ricciardo says he is staying where he is, so if the Piastri is to join, Daniel has to go. That would require a contract settlement, and while it is fair to say that his performances over the last two years have not been what was expected, there does not appear to be a specific performance clause in the contract, so the situation could get messy. There are options for the team to offer Daniel a deal with the McLaren IndyCar team but that all seems pretty confused at the moment as Pato O’Ward and Alex Rossi could be joined by Felix Rosenqvist but the team recently announced a deal with 2021 IndyCar champion Alex Palou. This has turned very messy with Palou’s employer – Ganassi – saying that he cannot leave because it has an option on his services and that this has been taken up. Rosenqvist can be offloaded into the McLaren Formula E team while the Palou deal seems to have gone haywire with Ganassi filing a law suit against the driver. McLaren says that it won’t pay for Palou to get out of a deal it did not know about.
Williams, in the meantime, appears to be focussing on Logan Sargent. The 21-year-old Florida driver has come good in F2 in recent weeks and has won feature races in Silverstone and Red Bull Ring. He is the best rookie in the series this year and currently third behind the more experienced Felipe Drugovich and Theo Pourchaire.
If Piastri does decide to leave Alpine, it still has Jack Doohan and Victor Martins on the books for the future, while Alonso could transition into the Alpine LMDh team in the longer term.
The driver market might get a bit more lively in Budapest. We still need to find out whether Sebastian Vettel will retire… to be replaced at Aston Martin by Mick Schumacher.
It is all bubbling away in the pot at the moment… in the interim everyone is looking forward to the summer break, after four races in five weekends.
When your average Viking was slain (messily) in battle, a complicated business followed. A valkyrie would arrive (presumably with a clipboard), alerted by mystical forces. Valkyries are female. Their role is to guide dead warriors to one of two places, depending on their mood. The cool place for a dead Viking to go with his valkyrie is Valhalla, a sort of hall of fame for newly-departed Norsemen.
The mythology has all been confused by Aston Martin, which likes to have cars with names beginning with V. The Vegetarian, Vanilla, Vacuum, Va-va-voom, Vesper and Verruca may be still to come, but the recent models have been the Valkyrie, followed by the Valhalla.
I guess this is because Valkyries have been cool since the days when Francis Ford Coppola used Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyrie, from his Der Ring des Nibelungen series of operas, as background music in his drug-influenced but impressive Apocalypse Now movie.
Anyway, before there was a united Germany, there were lots of Germanic folk in search of a nation to belong to, and some felt that they should unite and become one nation, rather than slaughtering one another. It was a good idea.
While this process was going on Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (later King Ludwig I) came up with the idea of creating a hall of fame for eminent German sovereigns, politicians, scientists and artists and decided it should be called Walhalla (Germans pronounce W as V). Ludwig believed that a hall of fame needed a hall (which is not the case today) and so funded the construction of a neo-classical box, atop a hillside overlooking the Danube, to the east of Regensburg, where he put busts of famous Germanics. It isn’t exactly Disneyland… but it happens to be just off my usual route to the Austrian Grand Prix and so this year I stopped off to check it out.
The purpose of this visit was really to get away from the vast numbers of Dutch cars that were pottering down the autobahn towards Passau. It was reckoned that there were 55,000 Dutch folk in Austria, following the cult of Verstappen. This has created other problems in Styria, which was not designed to have 55,000 Dutch all visiting on the same weekend. The result of this was that while many of the orange-folk stayed in camper vans, tents, transit vans, or simply lay where they fell, others booked every available room for many miles around, and there are not that many… This year the first available hotel I found when I first looked was 120 km from the track, admittedly on the motorway. But this was ridiculous and so I kept looking and found something about 40km away. It looked fine, but I didn’t really check. I was happy to have it, whatever it was. We learn lessons in life and I discovered that the route between Zeltweg and the oddly-named Maria Lankowitz is about 40 km, but it has to climb up the Lavanttal Alps, through the Gaberl Pass. The road made the old Nurburgring look dull. I did it eight times in total and to pass the time I counted 215 corners (all quite quick). By the end of the weekend, I had concluded that it was roads like this which nurtured talents such as Jochen Rindt, Niki Lauda, Gerhard Berger and Helmut Marko. What I also discovered was that of the 16 Austrian F1 drivers, four went to the same school: Rindt, Marko, Lauda and Harald Ertl. It was a place in the town of Bad Aussee, designed to get troublesome children back on the straight and narrow. This was run by a man who could have been a character from a John Le Carré novel. His name was Wilhelm Höttl, who in addition to being an author, he had served with the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the rather nasty security service of the SS, in Hungary during the war. Höttl was clever and recognising that he did not have much of a future, offered his services to the Americans and became a key witness against SS members in the Nuremberg Trials. After that the Americans used him to organise a couple of anti-communist spy networks in Austria and then let him run his school. Instilling some discipline in wild youngsters was probably not such a big deal for a man with such a background, but whatever he did, the school produced young men who knew how to get what they wanted…
Marko runs the Red Bull operations with an iron fist and if you do not do the job he wants, you get axed without emotion, even if it means that your career is over. He has made a lot of stars and destroyed a few others, who did not fit his view of what makes a great racing driver. The man behind Marko’s empire is Dietrich Mateschitz, who has created all things Red Bull. The next big deal was going to be announced last weekend but faffing about at the FIA (and some can-kicking by rival manufacturers) has meant that the 2026 engine regulations are still not yet finished and no-one is announcing anything until these are set in concrete. And so Porsche’s F1 plans will have to wait – and Audi’s as well. Some rapid action would now be a good idea as there are others who are thinking along similar lines.
This has combined with a subtle industry-wide acceptance that electric cars are not perhaps the immediate future – and the Tesla share price has been trending downwards for some months. The problem is that in this world of judgmental idealists with social media tools, no-one wants to admit that the only really sensible step today is efficient hybrids with synthetic fuels, which will buy the industry more time to get electric cars to a point where people want to buy them. F1 completely failed to tell the world about its amazing engines back in 2014, but the car manufacturers have now begun to realise (and accept) that F1 got it right.
The true genius in F1 came after that when Chase Carey talked the teams into accepting a budget cap, thus ending the unlimited spending that had driven the car manufacturers away. Now, they are looking at F1 and seeing a business that will not only put value in to their firms, but will promote their activities as well. It really is a win-win despite the best efforts of those who want to go on spending crazy amounts to stay ahead. One might add that when you boil it all down, some of the teams these days are frightened of Porsche. Anyway, the new engines will be simpler, cheaper and more relevance for series production and when one adds this to the sport’s advertising power and its growth in new markets – team ownership is not a bad idea, which is why the value of teams has sky-rocketed.
The problem is that those who did not seen the opportunity have now missed the boat and if they want to get involved they will have to pay more. But for big manufacturers the billion they need to get into the game is no big deal, while for some of those currently involved, landing that kind of money for selling the team makes a heap of sense.
This is not just conjecture because in Austria, the entire top management of Honda popped up in the paddock, led by President Toshihiro Mibe, chairman Seiji Kuraishi, Honda Racing Corporation president Koji Watanabe and the man in charge of Honda’s F1 efforts Yasuaki Asaki. I don’t think it is unfair to say that Honda screwed up in 2020 when the firm decided that it should focus on electric cars and quit F1, agreeing to sell its IP to Red Bull. That was a decision taken by Takahiro Hachigo, the then president. And guess what, in the finest tradition of Honda in F1, the next year saw success… Hachigo was politely shown a different future by Honda in April last year and the signs are that Mibe may reverse the decision, but now he must find a team to take over. Several are for sale if the sum of money offered is sufficiently high.
Another rumour that has popped up in recent days, as the result of a possible road car deal between McLaren and BMW, has been the suggestion that the Munich firm might come back to F1, in order to compete head-on with rivals Mercedes, Porsche and Audi.
McLaren and BMW have long history back to the F1 supercar programme in the 1990s. McLaren does not have the money to do its own F1 engine programme, so perhaps falling into bed with BMW might be a good idea.
For the moment Formula 1 is still allowing manufacturers to get a free ride in F1 with Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo and McLaren all using engines which are coming from elsewhere. How many fans really know that the Alfa Romeo team is really Sauber-Ferrari, that Aston Martin is Aston Martin-Mercedes and that McLaren is also running Mercedes engines? I see a marketing problem with this but not really a problem if manufacturers can get away with it. The word is that Aston Martin will be building its own F1 engines (with help from Aramco), while the Sauber-Ferrari operation will be taken over by Audi. Alfa Romeo will be looking for alternatives – it is interesting to see that Alfa Romeo CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato was in Austria – and while continuing to use Ferrari engines is a possibility, it might also be sensible for Alfa Romeo’s parent company Stellantis to invest. Why? Because it has 14 different brands that it wants – and needs – to promote. A Stellantis-engine could be branded by several of them… and why not have a Dodge F1 engine alongside an Alfa Romeo or even a Peugeot? If the brands share the cost, it is really not a big deal and Dodge could be portrayed as an American team, which might stop Michael Andretti saying silly things about F1 in interviews because at the moment he cannot find a cheap way into the game. If he turned up and promised to deliver an Andretti-Dodge F1 car, F1 might be more interested in having him aboard. Last summer Stellantis confirmed plans for the launch of a Dodge plug-in hybrid, to be known as the Dodge Hornet, a revamped version of the Alfa Romeo Tonale, and it makes sense to share F1 technology around as well.
But what really gets sales going is not the involvement of a certain manufacturer, but rather the success of a driver. Everyone wants an American now that F1 is getting bigger in the US and Zak Brawn at McLaren seems to be trying to get his team to look very American. In recent days the Colton Herta testing programme has begun with a 2021 McLaren MCL35M being run in Portugal for Herta. Brown says that Daniel Ricciardo is still going to be at McLaren next year, but Herta is obviously someone who might replace the Australian in 2024. It would be lovely to report that Daniel is getting to grips with the car, but after a year and a half with the team, he is still having weekends like Silverstone. It is also interesting to note that the only other driver who is close to Formula 1 – Formula 2 racer Logan Sargeant, a Williams young driver, has recently started looking very good, winning two Feature races (the ones that count), and is now second in the championship, admittedly a ways behind the leader Felipe Drugovich, although he is in his third year of Formula 2.
Of course, everyone would love to have a Chinese driver as well, if we can get a Chinese GP back on the calendar again.
China is a monster market where F1 could make a big impact if Guanyu Zhou does well. Thus far he’s doing a very good job, scoring twice so far but suffering three mechanical failures and the crash in Britain, which was not his fault. In other races he has been hobbled by pit stops that have gone wrong and in which strategy calls did not work out, so while it looks Valtteri Bottas has dominated him, it is worth pointing out that this may not continue. He has out-qualified Bottas on three occasions which is good given their relative F1 experience.
The word is that Zhou will stay where he is next year and Sauber protege Theo Pourchaire has been pretty disappointing. Pourchaire has pace, but expectations were perhaps too high after last year.
F1 does need to sort out China, but it is hard at the moment because of politics. The biggest thing is the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party , which will take place in Beijing in November. No-one really doubts that Xi Jinping, who has ruled the country since 2013, will stay in power, but the big question is who will be around him and whether the same bosses will survive in Shanghai. If not, there have long been rumours of a desire to move the Chinese GP to a street venue in Beijing. But then there is also the question of COVID… If there is a Chinese GP in 2023, it will be in the autumn, which will give the Chinese time to sort out more stuff.
The new calendar is still only chugging along and things may become a little clearer after a meeting between F1 and the Automobile Club de Monaco, which is scheduled for the French GP weekend…
Elsewhere, Sebastian Vettel is beginning to behave more and more like a driver who will be off at the end of the year. His decision to walk out of the Drivers’ Briefing in Austria meant that he has been fined €25,000, although this is suspended for the rest of the season. Vettel fixed things up with Race Director Niels Wittich afterwards, but this is not the act of someone who is trying to build good relations with officials who will probably be around for a while…
Never mind, perhaps he will get a place in Walhalla (the earthly version) instead, although it is not easy and it takes time. Richard Strauss died in 1949 and only got into Walhalla in 1973. Albert Einstein died in 1955 and only snuck into the hall of fame in 1990. Konrad Adenauer, who oversaw the rebuilding of the country after World War II, made it in 1999, 32 years after his death while Johannes Brahms was in transit with his Valkyrie for 103 years before being allowed into Walhalla in 2000.
Getting home from the British Grand Prix normally involves driving south from Silverstone, around the miserable M25 and then south to Newhaven (which has not been new since the 16th century). This is a small port on the south coast on England, to the east of Brighton, between chalk cliffs. From there one takes a ferry across The Channel to Dieppe, a similar port between two chalk cliffs. The journey takes around five hours and one can get a cabin and sleep half a night before setting off across France. The Newhaven-Dieppe ferry is not very glamorous, although those with a taste for the bizarre might like to know that Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh spent time as a crew member on the ferry route, going backwards and forwards between France and England. It is doubtful that he gained much inspiration from this, although white cliffs have been known to inspire.
When you leave the ferry port in Dieppe the road climbs quickly to the top of the chalk plateau (the reason for the white cliffs) and soon you arrive at a roundabout. Dull stuff, unless you know the history. If you turn to the east you are on the main straight of the Circuit de la Seine-Inférieure, home of the second the Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France in 1907. There is nothing there now, but once there were pits, a vast ornate wooden grandstand and a giant scoreboard, which was never up to date.
Today most travellers turn west and the road they take descends into the flat valley of the River Arques, close to Dieppe’s hippodrome and to the Alpine car factory (Dieppe is Alpine’s home town). You arrive in the strangely-named suburb of Rouxmesnil-Bouteilles, now a drab industrial area with its only saving grace being a kart track, hidden away behind a Nestlé factory, where they manufacture Nescafe. You are soon out in the country and it is a delight to be rushing through the lanes at an hour when these still belong to crows and rabbits, with occasional cats on the prowl for small animals to torture. It is a bewitching time of day, particularly in the summer, when the warmth from the earth rises into the cool sky and mists form before your eyes. If lit by the sun these turn the world into an unworldly and beautiful place.
And thus it was that I found myself in a misty Mauquenchy, the perfect antidote after the Silverstone weekend, filled as it was with people and traffic jams.
There was a time, 35 years ago, when the village of Mauquenchy nearly became famous in Formula 1. The Automobile Club Normand (ACN), which ran the Rouen Les Essarts racing circuit, realised that its track was to dangerous for international races and was looking for somewhere to build a new F1-spec race track. Mauquenchy has a quiet and secluded valley, surrounded by hills on all sides, and the ACN thought this would be a great venue for a circuit. The mayor of Forges-Les-Eaux, a picturesque spa town nearby, was excited by the project, as was Jean-Luc Therier, a local who was one of France’s biggest rallying stars at the time. The Larousse-Calmels F1 team also liked the idea as it would provide them with a new home, which would develop into a motorsport hub and thus help the local economy.
It was all sound logic.
The bad news was that France’s President at the time, Francois Mitterrand, was a man who knew how to keep his friends happy and had a plan to redevelop the Magny-Cours circuit. This would become the home of the Ligier F1 team (and a motorsport hub… etc etc). With the help of Pierre Beregovoy, who was the mayor of nearby Nevers (and Mitterand’s Minister of the Economy), the project in Magny-Cours trumped Mauquenchy. And so the Norman plan was recycled and they built a hippodrome instead. This pulls in a few people, no doubt, but for Forges-Les-Eaux many of its visitors today come on two wheels, on a cycle path that links London to Paris, known as the “Avenue Verte” (the green avenue), which uses disused railways converted into cycle paths. It always make me smile when cyclists try to exercise their moral superiority about the environment, because it brings out the devil in me and I ask: “What’s the most polluting sporting event in the world?” The answer, of course, is the Tour de France because while the 176 riders involved don’t leave much of an environmental footprint, the 14 million fans who drive to watch pump out a lot of exhaust gases.
Protesters do not generally target the Tour de France because everyone thinks that riding bicycles transforms a person into an angel with toe-clips. F1 on the other hand, ends with up a bunch of people thinking it is smart to walk on to a racing circuit to draw attention to the use of oil. Well, David Baldwin, Emily Brocklebank, Alasdair Gibson, Louis McKechnie, Bethany Mogie and Joshua Smith (collectively known as the Silverstone protesters), if you knew what you were talking about you would have targeted the Tour de France.
I bumped into David Richards of Motorsport UK at one point during the weekend and he said that he was busy trying to get a meeting with the protesters, in order to explain to them why they would be wrong to target the Grand Prix, because they obviously did not know about F1’s amazingly efficient engines and how this is filtering down through the industry…
Silverstone saw the launches of various worthy projects, designed to create a perfect world. I do worry about the F1 campaign to be carbon neutral by 2030, not because I am opposed to the concept, which clearly I am not, but I do think that if the sport is going to make such claims, it must also include the emissions created by spectators in the calculations.
What the sport has to do is to tell the story of what it is doing for emissions technology (which is amazing) and to argue that it should be viewed as part of the solution, rather than the problem. In this respect the sport has only itself to blame.
The Formula 1 group is looking more and more at urban circuits with mass transit in order to address this problem, but the down side of this is that in time we will lose some famous places if the strategy continues. Races in the middle of nowhere are no longer popular. Circuits out in the wilds are struggling to get F1’s attention. The Nürburgring is gone already. Paul Ricard and Spa are on the verge of disappearing. Everyone loves Spa, despite its drawbacks, but it is hard to argue that because it is a famous place in racing, it should be allowed to produce lots of emissions. The ultimate irony is that Spa was originally laid out where it is because it had railway stations in Francorchamps, Stavelot and Malmedy. The latter two were lost when the circuit was shortened and passenger trains to Francorchamps stopped in 1959, with the rails being torn up in the early 1970s. You can still see where the tracks used to run and ponder that if they were still there today, the track might have a very different future. Putting back railways costs a fortune but at Spa the path of the old railway was transformed into a cycle track, known as Pré-Ravel Ligne 44a and so those of an energetic nature can still cycle to the races. But will they?
A sport is only as good as its fans. It’s no good fixing all the F1 emissions if the fans arrive in gas-guzzling urban tractors and sit in jams for hours on end, pumping out exhaust fumes.
We had a race last year at Zandvoort where most cars were banned and fans came either by train or by bicycle and it worked out very well.
The truth is that if these old rural circuits want to survive, they need to adapt and transportation infrastructure is important.
All this brings me, by a roundabout route, to the big rumour of the Silverstone weekend which is that Audi AG has reached an agreement to acquire the Sauber team. We already know that Porsche is leaping enthusiastically into bed with Red Bull and now its sister brand Audi wants to go racing as well. Why? Because the new F1 rules in 2026 are exactly what the industry wants as it heads towards sustainability, with hyper-efficient engines and synthetic fuels. There may be others that want to jump on the bandwagon as well…
The whisper is that the deal is worth around $450 million and will see Audi acquiring 75 percent of the shares in the team, valuing it at $600 million. The sale is conditional on the technical rules of F1 for 2026 being confirmed by the FIA but will be a phased deal over three years with Audi taking control of a first 25 percent of the shares in 2023, another 25 percent in 2024 and a third 25 percent in 2025. The remaining 25 percent will be retained by Finn Rausing – who is one of the owners of Tetra Pak Laval, a firm which has annual revenues of $16.3 billion. The team will go on using Ferrari engines and being called Alfa Romeo until the end of the current formula at the end of 2025. After that it will transform into an Audi operation, with engines being built by Audi Sport GmbH in Germany. It cannot happen any quicker than that because you cannot have an Audi chassis powered by a Ferrari engine.
There was another interesting rumour kicking around in Silverstone about Alpine selling some of its shares to the Chinese car company Geely. This makes perfect sense given that Geely owns Lotus and the Norfolk firm is involved in joint venture with Alpine to build electric cars, while Alpine’s parent Renault and Geely are reportedly planning a joint venture to sell hybrid cars in the Chinese market. Renault is also helping Geely get into the US market using the Renault Samsung plant in South Korea. There is a trade deal between South Korea and the US which allows Korean automakers to import vehicles into the US tariff-free. There is no doubt that the best way to promote Lotus would be to use Grand Prix racing, where the firm has huge heritage, so perhaps we might one day see Alpine (which was called Lotus F1 a few years ago) either reverting to that name or with an engine supply to a Lotus-branded team. Who knows?
While on this subject, it is also said that part of the Aramco sponsorship deal with Aston Martin was a commitment from the team to build its own F1 engines in 2026. That will cost a lot… Aston Martin’s financial situation is creating headlines in financial newspapers as the firm’s share price is light and its debt load heavy. The company continues to make positive noises but the number-crunchers are sceptical. There are rumours that the Saudis might buy into the business.
Billionaires have different rules to the rest of us, although the presence of Vijay Mallya was a reminder that things don’t always end up well. Still, the bigger the billionaire the more fluffy the cushions that they have to break their fall. When it comes to billionaires F1 has a lot of them – some with more cash than others. One thinks of Mateschitz, Latifi, Rausing and the Strolls. Not to mention the Al-Khalifas of Bahrain, the Agnellis and others who like to play at the F1 tables.
I’ve always found that the richest folk always make the least noise and that was definitely true at Silverstone where there was a man who is worth more than Mateschitz, Rausing and the Latifis combined, walking around the paddock. Rob Walton mentioned in conversation that he was a small investor in McLaren, as a member of the consortium that owns about 33 percent of the team. He does like cars (he has a car collection worth several hundred million) and it is said that he has about $60 billion to play with thanks to the family’s involvement in Walmart… and so F1 does not really faze him. He seemed to be enjoying his weekend.
When one considers the big players in this world, the scrambling over a few millions seems somehow rather tawdry, but that is part of the F1 game from week to week.
The driver market is beginning to burble and it may be that we are going to have some earthquakes soon. There are lots of assumptions being made about who will go where in 2023 and I sense that some of them are false assumptions. There have been rumours for some time regarding the future of Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin F1, with the suggestion being that the four-time World Champion will retire at the end of the year, at the age of 35, and will be replaced by 23-year-old Mick Schumacher. There is much interest as well in Alpine. The team saying that there are no decisions yet about the team’s driver line-up for 2023, but things seem to be on the move. Esteban Ocon is under contract until the end of 2024, while Fernando Alonso’s contract with Alpine finishes this year. The team’s third driver Oscar Piastri has a contract, but Alpine must provide the Australian with an F1 drive in 2023 or else he is free to leave. As with all F1 contracts there is an option date by which point a deal must be agreed. This is often the end of July, which means that a driver who does not have a deal for the following year still has the time to find an alternative. The thinking in recent weeks has been that the team would agree to another two-year contract with Fernando Alonso for 2023 and 2024. Alonso is 41 at the end of July and so would be 43 by the end of the contract. Having said that, Fernando is obviously still quick, having started on the front row of the grid in Canada recently. Dropping Alonso in favour of Piastri would be a controversial thing to do, even if the logic is to prepare Piastri and not risk losing him. On the face of it, Piastri’s only real option was to join Williams, replacing Nicholas Latifi, but Piastri’s manager Mark Webber is a cunning fellow and also a mate of his former Porsche colleague Andreas Seidl, now team principal of McLaren. Seidl it seems is interested in Piastri.
Daniel has a McLaren contract for next year but it is fair to say that he has been a disappointment, despite winning last year in Italy. One might conjecture that McLaren might offer Daniel an elegant exit by putting him into IndyCars as it has not yet confirmed whether Felix Rosenqvist will race IndyCar or Formula E next year. But spies in the US are suggesting that this is not a real option as McLaren will be running Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi and Alex Palou, the current IndyCar champion, who is currently racing for Chip Ganassi.
If McLaren makes Piastri an offer, it would probably be a better choice than a Williams and so one can see that Oscar would prefer that. It is also a splendid lever to get Alpine to ditch Alonso because Piastri is seen as the real deal, rather than being Alonso the real deal from 20 years ago, who never quite delivered on his potential. Alpine has already lost Guanyu Zhou to Alfa Romeo and the Chinese driver is now beginning to show his paces and his value for the Chinese market… The thing that might mess up this scenario is that McLaren remains intent on becoming an American-style F1 team with Zak Brown, some US investors, who have the clout to buy out the Bahrainis, if they wish to depart and the possibility of Colton Herta being good enough for F1. He should begin testing soon and so we can find out, but he has an IndyCar deal with Andretti for 2023 so his arrival would not be before 2024.
The only other story of major interest in the Green Notebook in Silverstone is the suggestion that South Africa will definitely have a place on the 2023 calendar. The word is that a deal has been agreed with a South African promoter to hold a race, but that the event will no have any overt funding from the government. This does not mean the authorities will not help with tax breaks and such things but it will not provide actual funding, because President Cyril Ramaphosa does not want to put himself into a situation where he could be accused of spending government money on a sport he enjoys, when the country (and he himself) have other problems. The government can always get involved later if things improve. Formula 1 wants to visit Africa in order to strengthen its inclusion programmes, which aim to treat everywhere the same – and make money from everyone.
As I finish writing up these notes, I find myself in Nuremberg, bound for Austria where we will have another race… and another Green Notebook…