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Archive for the ‘Personal musings’ Category

India and F1

We flew out of Singapore about eight hours after the race, having gone straight from the Press Office to the airport at Small O’Clock. Breakfast in the lounge consisted in some cases of cornflakes and in others a glass of Chardonnay, highlighting the bizarre nature of the time-keeping in Singapore . People were living on completely different clocks and for those on Singapore time it had been a VERY long day. The moment we were on the plane we were asleep. When we touched down in Dubai I was amused to see that a colleague was sitting two seats away and neither of us had even noticed because we were so bushwhacked.

Back in Paris, the first job was the Indian visa, always one of the most disagreeable tasks of the year because if that country’s fixation with make life difficult for itself. They have tried to modernise the system using online forms, although I still don’t see why they need to know where one’a parents were born. Anyway the online system did not work at all. I spent the entire morning filling in the over-complicated online form no fewer than three times having been told to do it with different browsers. None of them worked. I even did it on different computers. I rang the helpline about 10 times and was hung up on in three of the calls. What a brilliant advertisement for India…

It is this kind of thing that has led to the race being dropped from the calendar next year. Oddly enough, ask around the F1 paddock and it is hard to find anyone who really wants to go to India, least of all the teams. The race is probably dead. I don’t know why it has to be like this but a lot of my dealings with India seem to end up in similar messes… It is a great shame because demographically India is the future for the world economy. However if that is going to happen there needs to be some serious reform to get everything working without rubber-stampers wrapping it all up in needless bureaucracy.

The gossip in the Singapore paddock was plentiful but the reality was thin on the ground. I believe that Jenson Button re-signed for McLaren, but no announcement was made. I expect Nico Hulkenburg to sign for Lotus soon and I have a feeling that we could see Adrian Sutil at Sauber.

Felipe Massa is hoping to get a ride somewhere, but the opportunities are thin on the ground. The good news for Felipe is that Mr E needs a Brazilian and will be very supportive as there are no real alternatives, as it seems that GP2 driver Felipe Nasr (which bizarrely rhymes with Massa) does not yet seem to be ready. However if he has the cash – and rumours suggest he does – he could find a berth somewhere at the back end where drives are traded.

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This week I have been in Washington DC, doing “real life” stuff. This is something that is both enjoyable and essential for F1 people, at least in my opinion. Living the high life is all well and good, but keeping one’s feet on the ground and enjoying family and friends is sensible, in order to avoid that well known F1 ailment of disappearing up one’s own behind and believing car racing is important. It may be an industry, but it is a game that does not matter in the overall passage of humanity on this planet.

It’s fun, but its not fundamental…

In any case, the news is flowing lazily at the moment. The jibber jabber about the Mercedes test continues, giving the space-fillers endless thin paint. We await a new calendar, Vettel has signed again for 2015, so the dominoes can start to fall on that front. The Grand Prix of America has announced a long term deal and in the land of the naysayers one could hear a pin drop…

It is all, pretty much, business as normal. No earthquakes for now…

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You may have read stories in recent days of Cosworth being for sale; of Ford and Mini pulling out of the World Rally Championship; of Lola closing down and Porsche saying they are not coming in to Formula 1. Lotus is on the ropes and is now little more than a brand in search of a purpose.

This is all happening in the space of a few sorry days. This is not day-to-day Internet waffle. This is serious stuff. Lola and Cosworth, and the long gone March Engineering, were the key players in creating the British Motorsport cluster of which the UK likes to boast.

These were companies that trained great designers such as Patrick Head, John Barnard and formed the generations that built the great cluster. The world of F1 lives in its own bizarre little bubble, quibbling over whether or not there should be a budge cap that will make the businesses profitable and relevant, while the industry they represent is falling apart around them.

Perhaps the F1 world can go on as it is, with a few big teams and a bunch of also-rans, but I fear that the whirlwind that has clobbered the rest of the industry will eventually bite F1 as well, it is already like. Wolf nipping at the heels of the weakest members of the herd.

It is bonkers to go on spending willy-nilly on things that have no value in the real world. It is bonkers that half the money that is generated by the sport disappears into the pockets of financiers who would not know a Minardi from a McLaren. It is bonkers that the car manufacturers do not want to get involved in the new engine formula in 2014, when it would provide exactly the technology they are researching.

F1 needs to be brutally honest and ask itself why this has happened and what can be done, not only to make sure that F1 survives as it is, but also that the industry that grew around it – and that feeds it – does not disappear while everyone is busy gazing at their own fundaments.

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It is nice to be home, if only for a week before we go back to Asia again for the Indian Grand Prix. I want to like Korea, but the place we go us just not much fun, and people do not seem to much care whether we are there or not, which is always a bad sign. We have decided that next year we will stay in a different city and take the pain of additional travel to see if we can have a better experience. To be brutally honest, most of the F1 circus has given up on Korea. There was a decent crowd on Sunday, which was something, but the paddock was a desert, the Paddock Club was quieter than a church on a Tuesday, and for those who could get away quickly on Sunday, the rush to get up to Incheon after the race was almost unseemly. The departure lounge was a popular place to be.

From a personal point of view, the pain of a dying computer is never much fun particularly if you are an Apple user in the land of Samsung, but I got through the Grand Prix weekend despite the computer grief thanks to the help of the good folks of F1 notably the FIA’s computer whizz Chris Bentley, otherwise known as “The Dr, who understands computers and has workarounds for workarounds. Matteo Bonciani and the Press Office people were very helpful too. Everything came out on time although that did involve writing several thousand words on an iPhone, which was a brain-aching experience which is best avoided. It is all part of the fun and before long I’ll be saying “D’you remember that time if Korea when I tipped coffee into the back of my computer?” And we’ll have a good laugh.

The journey home was not so bad. A taxi to the train station. The cabbies in Mokpo at least understand that instruction, although we did have it written down as well to make sure. The train to the impressive Gwangmyeong Station was long but easy. The bus to the airport was painless. We waited half an hour to check in and then most of the gold card holders found themselves upgraded, which was a joy as the A380 is a great plane. It took me three whole minutes to find the required replacement machine in Dubai duty free although they did not have the adaptors one needs to get the latest Macs to connect to the old ones. Still I was able to a Qwerty keyboard, which is next to impossible in France where they are still using the Azerty.

By this evening life will be back to normal – if indeed one has a normal life as an F1 reporter. I will then take a look at the jibber-jabber of recent days and see if we can extract any sense from it all…

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A day of F1…

It’s been a pretty long day. I was writing until two in the morning back in Japan, and then we were on the road by six thirty, to take a train to Osaka. They call it a Limited Express, which I always think is a contradiction in terms, but it did finally deliver us into the darkest recesses of Osaka Namba Station, one of those places where Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson would get lost in more than just translation.

From there it was on the Rap:t ( no, that is not a spelling mistake) which is a splendid purple train (!) that appears to be wearing a Darth Vader mask instead of a cow-catcher. In Japan trains always arrive on time and so there was no great stress.

Kansai Airport is built on a man-made island off the coast is a monument to Renzo Piano’s skills as an airport designer. He was also the man who designed the now troublesome Ferrari windtunnel, but his airport still worked well and we were soon whisked skywards to Incheon by Asiana, an airline which seems to specialise in transporting Japanese old folks who are not experienced travellers and tended to wander around looking lost.

We could not remember the name of the station to which we needed to catch a bus – in order to catch a train to Mokpo – but a nice lady told us the best way to do things and we soon discovered that her idea was exactly what we were trying to avoid doing.

Anyway, we got an unwanted tour of Seoul and then the bus driver, who knew that he had some aliens on board who wanted to go to Yongsan Station, happily drove past the destination without bothering to tell us that it might be a good moment to get off.

Fortunately, after years of travel, we smelled a rat and did not get taken all the way to Pyongyang ( we figured he must have been an underground agent for the Evil North). This meant that some abuse was exchanged when we realized that we were not where we wanted to be… It seemed decidedly unfriendly to us. With time running out, we grabbed a taxi and made the station just in time and climbed aboard a haven of peace on wheels…

Or so I thought until, being deadline for a Japanese magazine, I tried to work and drink coffee at the same time and somehow managed to spill some under my computer. Oh joy! This means that the weekend is going to be entertaining, unless the poor machine starts working again tomorrow morning. I still have an iPhone and while this and ingenuity may not run to the full production of an e-magazine, it is certainly going to be a challenge! Next week I suspect I will be buying a new computer. I soon had experts all over the world helping me out (connectivity is brilliant, isn’t it?), but a Korean work colleague of my fiancĂ©e in Paris soon established by ringing Mokpo that the town is better known for sailors and whorehouses than it is for Apple stores. In fact they are thin on the ground throughout Korea: this being the land of Samsung.

The train arrived at Mokpo Station at 8.30pm, with the only other foreigner on the train being Christian Danner, a fine fellow and a speaker of much good sense. He joined us for the second part of the 3 hour 30 minute train ride, because he got bored with the man sitting next to him, farting too much. There are different rules of human behavior over here…

Mokpo is not a place you will find in many tourist guides. It’s a bit of a dump if the truth be told, and if Mr E bothered to come here and had to stay in one of the whorehouses that we are forced to live in over a GP weekend, he would probably call the race off immediately. Strangely, we did not meet anyone from CVC in the Venice Motel…

There is one half decent hotel in Mokpo which is almost filled with F1 people. I was offered a room there last week, but the idea of spending $750 a night, with a four night minimum ($3,000 for the race weekend) was more than we could stomach. So it was off to the docks… It is a truly marvellous irony that the local government spent huge sums of money to try to give the region a better age and then housed its visitors in knocking shops – with the tarts (sorry, relaxation professionals) being shipped out for the weekend.

Having eaten nothing much all day – and certainly nothing healthy – we looked around for a restaurant to eat at and imagined UK Health & Safety Executives running screaming from such places, their luminous jackets and silly hats, glistening in the neon glow that seems to be everywhere. We

Mr Tremayne decided to go to the MiniStop supermarket and live off safe ( unhealthy) things, but after a week of culinary adventure in Japan – you must try deep-fried chicken gristle when you have a spare moment – I was up for something resembling normal food and so I ended up in a local down-to-earth eating place.

I’m drinking beer called Hite (which would be perfect if it had an S on the front of its name) and I had a very adequate plate of fried rice, a gelatinous stew of some unidentifiable meat, plus the inevitable kimchi (half-fermented bits of cabbage) and crunchy round yellow radish of some sort. I ordered by pointing at a picture in the window. I’m feeling fine. F1 is not just Monaco. It is also this…

Now, I’m off to the MiniStop for some chocolate (when all else fails there is always chocolate) and then back to the whorehouse (sorry, I should have said “motel”) to blow-dry the computer.

Ah, there’s nothing like the glamour of F1…

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A morning of contrasts

It is a muggy day in Singapore (he writes, stating the obvious). I spent the morning doing a TV interview with Thomson/Reuters, which was all about the business of F1 in Asia. The one thing you need to know about this town is that half of it is named after Sir Stamford Raffles and there is a big difference between Raffes Link, Raffles Road and Raffes Quay! And the cab drivers don’t know, nor care.

After that I went to the National Library to do some research about my great- uncle, who lived in Singapore in the 1930s and spent his time chasing Japanese spies. There is a certain irony in the fact that I have been employed by a Japanese magazine for most of my F1 career.

Now the F1 is world us waking up. It is 3pm and so it is back to the paddock and those noisy cars!

You can say many things about life as an F1 reporter, but variety is the spice of life. Singapore is a perfect fit for the multi-cultural F1 world. For lunch I had some Chinese duck, followed by Bread and Butter Pudding, which sort of sums up the place!

Onward to the paddock!

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Yesterday was spent travelling, although for a change I flew to and from Monza, rather than the more romantic option of driving. Speed cameras have dulled some of the joys of the open road, although I still prefer it to the cattle markets that are the airports of today.

Cattle markets in shopping malls.

There were some enlightening moments on the way. In the cab on the way to Linate airport I was idly listening to the Italian radio – just keeping up with the verbal machine gun noises. It was a show all about food, called Gastronaut, a nice play on words. I remembered as the host was describing the difficulty of finding a certain kind of exotic flour, to make a very specific type of bread, that the Gastonaut is a man called Davide Paolini, who in a previous life was the managing director of the Benetton F1 team, back on the days when the team was using BMW engines and had just won its first race with a youngster called Gerhard Berger. Paolini was shoveled out of the way to make space for a flash harry called Flavio Briatore, after the Benetton Family were somehow convinced that he would do a better job. The team did win races, but all too often when it did controversy.

I always wondered what would have happened if Paolini had stayed on. Still, he has since built himself the Gastronaut empire, and good on him. He is a good example of how F1 people can achieve much outside the sport because they have a different mindset to others. They move at a faster pace.

This was highlighted in another way later in the trip when I was transferring from the funny little train that takes travelers from Orly Airport to join the Paris transport system. I had not been hanging about, scything through the wombles one finds on all airports, but as we went through the ticket machines was a Japanese colleague, who is based in Paris. We were the first two off the train.

“It’s funny how the F1 people are always at the front,” I mused, as we rushed onward.

Today I’m on a Eurostar and back to London so unless there is anything really wild, it will probably be a little quiet. Amazingly the Eurostar has yet to get wireless Internet access!

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