The calendar at the end of the F1 season is still to be finalised, but there is an interesting announcement coming out of Texas in the recent hours with the confirmation that the Rolling Stones will be playing at the Circuit of the Americas on November 20, the weekend that was going to host the Australian Grand Prix.
At the moment the United States Grand Prix is scheduled for October 24, but there has been talk of the date being moved and of a second race being added. COTA boss Bobby Epstein told me a while ago that he had a big music act booked but could not announce it until the details were finalised with the band.
Could it be that Brazil will move forward and be twinned with Mexico (to get around the red zone status in the UK – the home of most of the F1 teams) and that Austin would be pushed back to November 21. One can imagine that Brazil would move forward to October 24, going back-to-back with Mexico (on October 31), which would solve the red zone problem, and then a two-week break before a race in Austin on November 14, followed by a second on November 21, with The Stones playing on the Saturday evening. This would also allow for two different kinds of race weekend at COTA, with the normal format one weekend and the Sprint format on the second.
It could just be that there is a stand-alone Rolling Stones concert, but the twin races would greatly help F1 in its efforts to grow the sport in the United States, which is what F1 wants to do, more than anything.
It’s not definite but this scenario makes a lot of sense.
Jean-Pierre Jaussaud has died at the age of 84. The Norman driver, born in Caen in 1937, was the son of a grocer and a wine merchant. When he was 10 his father taught him to drive on the airport runways at Caen.
In his early twenties he saw his first race at Rouen and decided that he would become a racing driver and began karting. His father put him in charge of the company’s fleet of vehicles and the first racing car Jaussaud drove was an AC Bristol, which he volunteered to collect from an airport and take to Caen on the back of a truck. However he found a way to give it a short run.
It was not until 1962 that he discovered from reading a racing magazine that there was a racing school run by Jim Russell at Snetterton. He went with a friend and was immediately hooked on the sport. Not long afterwards Jim Russell opened a racing school at Magny-Cours and Jaussaud took part and won the Volant Shell, a prize that won him a Cooper-BMC F3 car, although he destroyed it quite quickly in an accident.
He managed to keep going and in 1965 was taken on by Matra in Formula 3 and did well. There were opportunities to go to F1 and he hoped that Matra would take him into Grand Prix racing, although in the end he was overlooked by Matra and quit.
He joined Tecno and won the Monaco F3 race against top notch opposition. A few months later he was injured in a fiery F2 crash at Monza which didn’t help. In the years that followed he enjoyed success in both F3, winning the French title in 1970, and F2, finishing runner-up to Mike Hailwood with a Shell Arnold March in the European Championship in 1971. He was then 34 and too old for F1 but he joined the Alpine Renault team in sports cars and won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1978, partnering Didier Pironi.
The following year he won the French Production Car Championship in a Triumph Dolomite. He also took part in a British Championship Formula 1 event in a Surtees. In 1980 he was a test driver in F1 for Renault but also joined Jean Rondeau for Le Mans and won the race a second time.
In the years that followed he raced French production cars, took part in the Paris-Dakar, and then had a season of French Formula Ford! He also competed in rallycross and ice racing. A great all-rounder he continued to compete until 1992, after which he became a racing instructor.
When I was a kid, half a century ago, I recall vividly a broadcast on my grandmother’s Roberts R200 radio each morning in the kitchen of her bungalow in Frinton on Sea. Grandma was a rather severe Edwardian lady, who had lived through two wars. As a teenager she had won a gallantry medal for doing something very brave, involving Zeppelins, bombs and glass-roofed buildings. The citation, lost long ago, was framed and on the wall in her bedroom, but no one can remember exactly what it said – and because it is a complicated business tracking down such things we have not yet been able to discover more.
She loved to listen to the shipping forecast on Radio 4 and I well remember the strange lists being read out: “Low, Dogger, 987, deepening, expected Fisher, 972 at 07 hundred tomorrow”. The names seemed wildly exotic: Rockall, Fair Isle, Viking, Forties, Cromarty, Humber, German Bight, Biscay, Trafalgar, Lundy, Fastnet and so on, but I had no idea what it all meant.
It is said that this broadcast was the source of a famous quotation: “Fog in the Channel: Continent isolated” back in the 1930s. Perhaps it was. Later the Nazis used this in their propaganda to highlight what they saw as British arrogance as the inhabitants thought that the group of islands off the coast of Europe were of such importance that the Continent could be cut off from them, rather than vice versa. The expression did appear in print in 1957, but this was The Times having fun, using the apocryphal phrase to make a dull story more interesting.
I was reminded of all this when I woke up after a doze on the ferry on the way back to France on Monday evening after the Grand Prix. When I got on the ship – the MS Seven Sisters (named after the chalk cliffs on the British side of the channel, the sister ship of the MS Cote d’Albatre – literally the Alabaster Coast – which is the name for the chalk cliffs on the French side) it was a bright sunny day, but in the Channel there was quite thick surface fog. This meant that the Seven Sisters sailed more slowly than usual.
The thought “Continent isolated” made me chuckle because there is an element of truth in the expression in the psyche of some Brits. I guess it goes back to the days of empire, when Britannia really did rule the waves, but it persists these days in the minds of those who think themselves superior to “Johnny Foreigner” and don’t want to mix with outsiders. Now Britain has gone its own way with Brexit, much has changed and while Europe remains cautious of the pandemic, Boris Johnson and his followers who rule Britain today have embarked on a bizarre policy to open up the country from COVID restrictions and seem willing to accept the consequences, in the name of economic progress.
Thus, F1, hidden behind its ever-present masks and regular PCR testing, took part in a four-day festival involving more than 150,000 people (the 356,000 figure given out is four-day attendance figure). They all had a good time, without masks, social distancing and other such limitations. In theory everyone there had to show that they had been double vaccinated or had had a negative lateral flow test within 48 hours of attendance, but I have no idea how (or if) this was policed, because I drove in each day without ever being asked for anything and there did not seem to be any worse delays than usual (except on Friday night when the late Qualifying session resulted in hours of grid-lock), I assumed no-one was stopping to rummage around for paperwork.
Time will tell whether this was all a good idea, but it is worth noting that Ross Brawn’s post-Silverstone column specifically made the point that the event was done under British government permissions. “We had a full house, which was permitted by the UK government pilot event,” he wrote. Or, to paraphrase it slightly: “if it all goes wrong, it was their fault”.
Still, the British Grand Prix could not have happened without the race having the status as part of the Event Research Programme (ERP), a scheme designed to examine the risk of transmission of COVID from attendance at events. When one boiled it all down, therefore, there were 150,000 guinea pigs in the grandstands on Sunday, all happily communing in support of Lewis Hamilton. There were virtually no Dutch because of the complications involved with quarantine when returning to the Continent.
And yet, it was great to see a large number of people again and they were treated not only to drama and a Hamilton victory (number 99) but they also got to watch the new Sprint format in qualifying. This was all cheery stuff following England’s defeat in the UEFA Euro 2020 soccer competition the previous Sunday. The trophy went home to Rome and Britain agonised. Pirelli decided that it would make a small point about this and so flew the Italian flag outside its motorhome all weekend. Such is sport.
Soccer faded from the national consciousness as the week went on and Lewis showed signs that perhaps he might defeat Max Verstappen, after five consecutive Red Bull Racing victories. The new format made for a better weekend, of that there is little argument. It provided action on all three days, which meant better fan engagement. Things were a little less predictable than normal as teams had less time to practice and that seems to have had a significant impact on the weekend. The Red Bull is still the better car but the team chose to run more wing than might normally have been the case and so lost its advantage on the straights, while Mercedes chose a low-drag approach, which gave it more speed, but made the cars more skittery. These two elements combined to create an interesting battle on Saturday when Verstappen blasted away and dominated The Sprint and on Sunday when Lewis knew that he had just a lap or two to get ahead to avoid the same thing happening again. And, boom!
Max ended up in the wall with a 51G impact that proved that Bernie Ecclestone’s remarks about Lewis losing his hunger were a million miles wide of the mark. Lewis showed on Sunday that he is very much the fighter that he always has been. In fact, I would argue that he showed a little more than that. There was something inevitable about the clash, which we have been expecting for some time.
I think this one was a racing incident because the contact between the two cars was minimal, but with big consequences. Max came steaming across in front of Lewis and almost did it right. There wasn’t much Lewis could do to avoid an impact at that point, although I am also sure that he ddn’t want a collision. Amid all the noise after the crash, few seemed to pay much attention to the FIA Stewards’ decision – and they largely missed the point that Lewis was also given two penalty points. The cars, the stewards said, “entered Turn 9 with car 33 in the lead and car 44 slightly behind and on the inside. Car 44 was on a line that did not reach the apex of the corner, with room available to the inside. When car 33 turned into the corner, car 44 did not avoid contact and the left front of car 44 contacted the right rear of car 33. Car 44 is judged predominantly at fault”.
The last phrase is significant. The stewards clearly felt that that Lewis should take most of the blame, but the word “predominantly” indicates that there was also some fault involved with Verstappen. There was no penalty for the Dutchman as the implications of an accident – while not considered in the discussion of blame – are treated as punishment in such circumstances.
So, in effect, the stewards were saying that both drivers had some responsibility in the crash.
I’d call that a racing incident…
You can argue as much as you like about it but it’s irrelevant. Max paid the price for his aggressivity – which he has always had – and Lewis paid the price for not getting out of his way. The key question beyond all the yapping and griping is whether Max will do the same again if the circumstances occur, or whether he will have learned that Lewis is not going to be shoved out of the way.
A line was drawn in the sand, if you like…
If Max does not take that onboard, I fear we will see some more incidents this year because Hamilton is still a lion by nature and cuffing troublesome cubs only works so many times before a bite is required to get the message across.
The weekend also saw the launch of a full-scale model of the 2022 car, as envisaged by the F1 group. The one shown in the F1 Paddock was painted with a curious livery of red and silver, with the latter producing rainbow reflections, which may fit in with F1’s current equality messaging, but always reminds me of Barbie packaging (for some reason). The car itself is very long and hefty-looking: more of a valkyrie than a nymph, which is a shame because F1 cars should be light and sleek and not battle wagons…
Anyway, the paddock and the grid were filled with people profiling (albeit in masks), with Hollywood stars, tennis and football players, minor royals and politicians, if they were not self-isolating following the positive test of the Health Minister (ironic, huh?).
It was all rather galling for those who use the grid to work, but are currently not allowed to go there, for reasons that don’t make much sense when one is allowing high-risk celebrity types to stomp around the cars. Yes, perhaps having smaller numbers of people is a good idea but, as they proved in the Silverstone coverage, pictures of Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford standing in a pit are just as good as them standing on the grid.
The jibberjabber in the paddock was fairly limited as there is little left for 2022. Sergio Perez will get the Red Bull unless he says something rude about Dr Helmut Marko and the Red Bull drink itself – and Sergio is smart enough to know what not to say. The other things that might mess it up is if he asks for too much money, because if the Mexican cannot think of a number that will be fine for him and fine for Red Bull, there is no shortage of drivers ready to form a disorderly queue to take the second Red Bull seat.
Valtteri Bottas will probably – but not definitely – end up at Alfa Romeo, where the team wants a name driver to replace Kimi Raikkonen and the owner of the team – a man called Finn – appears to be fond of Finns. It remains to be seen who will get the second seat at Alfa Romeo, but one possibility is Ferrari test driver Callum Ilott (which would be wise to keep engine supplier Ferrari happy) while Russian F2 driver Robert Shwartzman (another Ferrari protege) could have a chance if he wins the F2 title. Alfa Romeo is an Italian firm and might not wish to been seen to be replacing the only Italian on the grid, but these days the car company is run by the French folks at Stellantis, who want more performance and don’t give a monkey’s about the nationality.
Williams will have a drive available once George Russell packs his bags and goes to Mercedes and this might suit Bottas nicely, except that it probably won’t pay as well as Alfa Romeo and would be a move back to where he started in F1, rather than joining up with a big manufacturer. Williams would prefer to have a driver with experience alongside Nicolas Latifi and so it will be looking at the likes of Dani Kvyat, Alex Albon and Nico Hulkenberg, although Mercedes might be keen to have Nyck de Vries in the team, as it needs to consider what to do when Lewis eventually retires.
The other chatter was all about the F1 calendar and you can expect to see the Brazilian GP being pushed back a week and going back-to-back with another race now that Australia has been called off again. The logic is simple enough. If Japan falls over (which could happen), there will be two races in Austin and a third in Mexico. So Brazil needs to move back to avoid a quadruple-header, as teams will not do four weekends in a row. However Brazil is on the UK red list and so it needs to have another race immediately afterwards so F1 folk can go to the other venue rather than going back to the UK and sitting in a government-mandated hotel for 14 days at considerable cost. I heard that Dubai might be an option… but it is still early yet. In mid-November the options are somewhat limited because of the weather… although southern Spain or Portugal might be possible.
Aside from that I hear that the success of the Netflix series means that US entertainment types are getting excited about F1 as likely to be a new cool thing in the US and there are all kinds of talks going on about F1 fiction drama series that could be made in the future by streaming services, which are all in search of great content.
When you consider what Downton Abbey did for stately homes, one can imagine that Formula 1 would benefit from a successful idea. But then, with the wrong script, it could also be less exciting than the shipping forecast…
Carlos Reutemann had the talent to be a World Champion, but his chance to take the title, which came in 1981, resulted in a strange uninspired race in the finale in Las Vegas, which left the title in the hands of Nelson Piquet. It was one of the great mysteries of that era, but that was Reutemann, a class act, a great talent – but a bit of a mystery.
He won 12 Grands Prix of the 146 he contested between 1972 and 1982. He had raced in Europe from 1970 when the Automovil Club Argentino paid for him to race in F2 team and he fought Ronnie Peterson for the European title in 1971.
In 1972, taken on by Bernie Ecclestone for F1, he qualified his Brabham on pole position for his first GP, to the delight of his home crowd in Buenos Aires and he seemed set for a stellar future. Disappointingly, he never really made it. With Brabham he was good but the cars were never quite good enough. When Niki Lauda crashed in 1976 he was taken on by Ferrari as the Austrian’s replacement but Niki had the measure of him. In 1978 he might have won the title but Team Lotus was dominant thanks to ground-effect. With the brilliant Gilles Villeneuve as his team-mate, Reutemann jumped to replace the late Ronnie Peterson at Lotus, but the car was off the pace in 1979, when Ferrari win the title with Jody Scheckter, his replacement. In 1980 Reutemann took up an offer to join Williams, alongside Alan Jones. It was not a happy relationship, largely because Carlos disobeyed team orders in Brazil and the two drivers spent the rest of the season scrapping against one another, which allowed Nelson Piquet to grab the title. The feud impacted on his motivation and he wavered about returning in 1982. In the end he decided to go on but early in 1982 quit just before the outbreak of the Falklands War, which made it impossible for him to continue with the team, as Britain and Argentina went to war.
It was ironic that Keke Rosberg won the the title that year with Williams with just one race victory.
After retiring from the sport Reutemann used his fame in Argentina to go into politics and became one of the leading politicians in the country as governor of the Sante Fe province and later as a senator.
Handsome, talented and intelligent, Reutemann had it all, but it never quite worked out.
Yes, you did read that right. Hockenheim. The racing circuit sits in the forests of the Rhine lowlands, next to a motorway intersection, known as the Dreieck Hockenheim, which is the reason the circuit was rebuilt in the early 1960s to create the current layout, rather than the big sausage-shaped track it was in the 1950s.
The interchange is where Bundesautobahn (“state motorway”) 6 and the Bundesautobahn 61 meet. If you drive up the 61 you can go straight to Michael Schumacher’s home own of Kerpen and, barring a short unfinished section near Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s home town of Mönchengladbach, it will take you all the way to Dutch border at Venlo, from where you can turn left to Eindhoven or go straight on to Nijmegen.
From 1977 until 2006 Hockenheim was the home of the German Grand Prix and it was a place we would regularly (and happily) visit two weeks after the British Grand Prix each year, although one learned not to wear yellow clothing at that time of year to avoid becoming an “insect hotel”. For various reasons – largely due to the Germans not being able to raise the money for a race, it has been rather intermittent in recent years, although we went there in 2019. Last year, there was a quick visit to the Nurburgring – after seven years away – but that was for a race called the Eifel Grand Prix, which was pushed into calendar as F1 fought to get as many events possible into the COVID-compacted 2020 season. They did not pay a lot.
This year, however, the German GP is off again and there are no plans for anything, which seems incredible given that Mercedes is still doing well, Sebastian Vettel is at Aston Martin, and Mick Schumacher is in F1 with Haas.The problem is that Germans are greener than other nationalities and Die Grünen party has even been part of a coalition government as long ago as 1998. The party has been very powerful at regional level and as no-one has properly explained to them that F1 technology is really brilliant from an environmental point of view, so they seem to think that Formula E is a better idea, and they don’t ask difficult questions about where the electricity for that comes from. Last year, you may recall Formula E held six races in nine days in Berlin to try to cobble together a meaningful championship.
Perhaps the rise of Mick will change things, but for now we go without a German GP and it was with a sense of sadness that I went passed the circuit on Bundesautobahn 6 on the way home from Austria to France. It is quite a drive (840 miles) and one needs to set off before breakfast if one is going to be home for dinner.
When I left the Red Bull Ring at about 10pm on Sunday evening, to finish up my JSBM newsletter back in the gasthof, the Dutch fans were still firing fireworks into the sky and, from the jollity one could hear, it was safe to presume that the orange-clad were chugging down a few Oranjeboom beers, as these can be mistaken for Red Bull cans if you’ve had a few too many. They needed to celebrate the victory of their favoured son.
Thus I was a bit surprised to encounter so many of them on the road at six in the morning the next day, although I presumed that there were designated drivers and those who had drunk and danced the night away were in the back snoozing. It felt like being in the Netherlands (apart from those mountain things) as 80 percent of the cars on the road on Monday morning had yellow Dutch number plates. I generally like Dutchmen and women but, perhaps because of the late night, I felt there was a fair amount of what I’d call grumpy driving going on, which is when one sits in the outside line and refuses to budge and appears outraged if someone dares to flash their lights at you. I’m not a great believer in flashing cars ahead, but after a couple of hours of this behaviour – car after car after caravan – I had run out of swearwords (in several languages) and was beginning to plan to go to the Netherlands in the summer with a car full of dynamite, with the intention of blowing a significant hole in the Afsluitdijk (the big sea wall that keeps the water out)and by doing so, gettingrid of a percentage of the population, some of whom would undoubtedly have been driving slowly in the fast lane on Austrian and German motorways.
When I stopped, looking for a cup of coffee, there were huge queues of hungover Dutchmen (still dressed in orange), who were buying hot dogs and beer for breakfast. I shuddered and drove on, without sustenance nor caffeine. I think every useable vehicle in the country had made the trip to Austria (exclusing bicycles) and, as Sebastian Vettel pointed out, it would be a great time to be a Dutch burglar, because no-one was at home…
From the Red Bull Ring to Passau, where one crosses the River Inn and goes into Germany, and then on up to Regensburg, on a road that crosses the Danube five times, the Dutch were in the way. By the time I reached Nüremburg (280 miles into the journey) I was grumpy and hungry, but then as I peeled off, to take Bundesautobahn 6 and go west, the orange hordes went straight on, heading up the next 390 miles to Emmerich (Nico Hulkenberg’s home town) by way of Frankfurt and Cologne.
I celebrated by stopping for an unhindered coffee and then spent a joyous period whizzing through the German forests to Heilbronn and Hockenheim, by way of Sinsheim, where one can see a Concorde and a Concordski standing side-by-side next to the motorway, at the Technik Museum which, if you have time is wonderful, and features the biggest collection of F1 cars on display anywhere in Europe. From Hockehheim it was on through the Pfalz forests to Saarbrucken and the French border. And from there it was a hop, a skip and a jump to Reims, Saint-Quentin and Amiens (to avoid the mess that is known as Paris) and I was home in time for a gin and tonic before dinner.
These journeys, long though they are, are a great opportunity for thinking about things (if you are not shouting at Dutch people) and it struck me there is a solution for F1’s problem in Europe, with promoters being unable to pay the same fees as some other far-flung countries, often in places where F1 doesn’t always really want to be, from a strategic point of view. At the moment it is all about money, rather than strategic goals (although perhaps in Liberty Media global headquarters in Colorado the two are the same).
This idea came from the obvious headline that adorned GP+ magazine as the weekend: “Adventures at the Orange Bull Ring”, which summed up the weekend quite neatly.
Now perhaps Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz doesn’t need to make any more money, after $28 billion it must be boring to try to spend it all the time. He literally prints the stuff. Today he has diversified into lots of other businesses, trying to make more money, and it is working because the company sales have now topped eight billion cans a year and he spends absurd amounts sponsoring mad-cap sports. Mateschitz is a youthful 77 and he’s still playing the game. He owns two Formula 1 teams and Austria’s primary racing circuit. He came close to buying the Salzburgring, the country’s second track, but the deal didn’t go through. Without Mateschitz, Austria wouldn’t have a Grand Prix, let alone two. He owns all the good hotels around the track as well… And then, of course, he has also announced that in the future Red Bull will build its own F1 engines, which is not an undertaking that one should consider unless you have $1 billion to burn.
And every year more money flows in. His life is dedicated to spending, knowing that it will grow his businesses. In the last 12 months, the 26 races F1 has had included four Grands Prix in Austria. I have spent no fewer than 25 days in the country in that period, so it fair to say that I know it a lot better than I did a year ago and I have left a modest economic footprint behind me.This is good for F1, good for Red Bull andgood for Austria, so who is complaining?
Well, anyone who isn’t Austrian…
As I was driving home, it struck me that Mateschitz should consider launching a drink called Orange Bull, with Max Verstappen’s face on the cans. Over there in the land of the polders and outside lane drivers that would sell a gazillion each year. If one in every five Dutch person bought a can a day (averaging out those who would drink five a day) that would mean sales per year of over a billion cans. So he could then acquire Zandvoort and do something sensible with it, by rebranding it the Orange Bull Ring.
And why stop there? Belgium has a lovely circuit in the Ardennes forests which struggles to keep a Grand Prix, but if Mateschitz was to buy it – the Green Bull Ring would probably do quite well, as a million Dutch people want to visit each year, dragging their cans of Orange Bull with them. The German GP doesn’t exist any longer but what if there was Silver Bull Ring? You could have the Circuit Red Bull at Le Castellet. The Spanish would love to have a Barcelona Bull Ring and why not an Autodromo Red Bull at Mugello or Imola – and a Red Bull facility in the Algarve?
Come to think of it, it wouldn’t need to be just Europe. F1’s elevated race fees make it difficult to find venues in China, Brazil and even the United States and if Mateschitz could see the value in acquiring more assets and making them work, why not?
Having said that one should not restrict the idea to only existing circuits. I’d love to see Reims revived and there is enough of the original track left to do it. And why not have a German GP at the Norisring? It’s a great venue if the track could be extended around the existing park. It’s hugely popular event for the Germans (who are keen to have a race this year if it is possible). OK, the Norisring is laid out in the old Nazi Party rally grounds, which have unfortunate historical connotations, but these days I doubt many would know that the Nuremberg Rallies weren’t motorsport events and part of the tradition of German motorsport! (I suppose with social media these days, I should flag that the last sentence as a joke).
Anyway, Mateschitz has really helped F1 for many years – and made a pile of money doing it – so why not go a step further. I am sure that Liberty Media would do him a discount on race fees if he was paying for 10 races…
The chit-chat in Austria was all about Lewis Hamilton re-signing for Mercedes. It hasn’t been announced yet but you can expect Nicholas Latifi to stay at Williams, and I’m told that Alfa Romeo has done a new deal with Sauber, for more money, although I am not sure that the firm will get the right to name a driver in the future. I have also been hearing that Nico Hulkenberg is quite active, hoping to land himself a seat before all the doors slam shut for 2022.
There is not a whole lot left now and they are queuing up to get in at Williams and Alfa Romeo. Everything else, to my mind, is already settled. The Austrian GP saw China’s Guanyu Zhou make a very sensible FP1 debut with Alpine and there is a huge push going on to try to find him an F1 seat I the future because the Chinese market is huge. And of course F1 would love to have an American as well. And a woman. And someone who would happily wear rainbow-coloured overalls, but when all is said and done, the only thing that matters is talent and if you are not quick enough, you don’t get to play for long in F1, although vast amounts of Daddy’s cash will buy you a few seasons, if you’re half-decent. After that Daddy has to buy a racing team…
In passing, it is worth noting that Prema Racing – which runs competitive teams in Formula 2 and Formula 3 – has just been sold. It is never officially admitted but everyone in the junior formulae has been saying for years that it was owned by Lawrence Stroll, through a Swiss company, based in the tax efficient Zug canton, and that it was used to ensure that Lance could have a smooth path to F1 in the best possible machinery, being aided but experienced team-mates. The team has now been acquired by some other rich folk who are involved with former driver Andrea Piccini’s Iron Lynx team and the two will now share resources and plan for big things in the future…
The calendar problems at the end of this year continue. With no Australia and doubts over Japan and Brazil, F1 might be still be looking for a double-header in Texas, but there won’t be a double-header in Mexico, despite Sergio Perez’s recent successes. The general feeling is that Bahrain will be back once the country comes off Britain’s red list, which means that there are nasty quarantine requirements for people arriving from these places and so F1 will not do them. Still, it is not easy to predict any dates.
Lewis Hamilton has agreed a new two-year deal to drive for Mercedes.
The Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team says that Hamilton will stay on for 2022 and 2023, which will be his 10th and 11th seson with the team.
“It is hard to believe it’s been nearly nine years working with this incredible team and I’m excited we’re going to continue our partnership for two more years,” says Hamilton. “We’ve accomplished so much together but we still have a lot to achieve, both on and off the track. I’m incredibly proud and grateful of how Mercedes has supported me in my drive to improve diversity and equality in our sport. They have held themselves accountable and made important strides in creating a more diverse team and inclusive environment. Thank you to all the dedicated and talented individuals at Mercedes whose hard work makes it all possible and the Board for their continued trust in me. We’re entering a new era of car which will be challenging and exciting and I can’t wait to see what else we can achieve together.”
The cow sheds around Liezen all seem to be falling down, presumably because the cows have been upgraded to better accommodation, with fancy automated milking machines, and the farmers cannot be bothered to knock down the old buildings and have left it up to Mother Nature to do the heavy lifting. She’s doing a good job.
Liezen is one of those places where one forgets one has been. I arrived the other day and thought: ‘Oh, I know this place, I stopped here once for…’ but you cannot remember why. It’s one of those places where valleys meet and people rush through, going to Schladming, to Graz, to the dramatic Gesäuse National Park or to Sankt Pankraz (there has to be a station there) en route for the German border, where one crosses the Inn river and arrives at the unpromising village of Bad Fussing.
Liezen is probably most famous for a fictional castle which features in the 200 espionage novels written by Frenchman Gérard de Villiers, between 1965 and 2013 (and I thought I wrote a lot). These centre on an Austrian prince called Malko Linge, who works for the CIA to fund repairs for the castle. He wears tailor-made alpaca suits and carries a very small gun.
This unlikely recipe has produced sales of 120 million books, which means that I should probably stop messing about with racing cars and spend my time writing spy novels. There are supposed to be some films coming as well, as some Hollywood studio has bought the rights to Malko Linge (including sequels and prequels) and so can provide us with movies about him until at least the year 2200, although there will need to be a few new Malkos along the way, as Michael Fassbinder, the celebrated Irish-German F1 fan, may be too old for the later movies. Actually things have gone a bit quiet on the Malko front, leading to speculation that Fassbinder might actually be the new James Bond, given that Daniel Craig intends to retire from the role.
Anway, I discovered all of this when I went to Liezen, so I could have a Chinese dinner, as I am schnitzel-ed out and was looking for a few Vietnamesische Frühlingsrollen and some Schweinefleisch süß-sauer mit weißer Reis. Asian comfort food, I suppose.
It certainly feels like I’ve spent a lot of time in Austria in the last 12 months. As I have already written somewhere, when we finish the Austrian GP weekend on Sunday we will have completed a total of 26 races in a 12-month period (17 in 2020 and nine thus far in 2021), which goes to prove that F1 can do amazing things when folks put their mind to it, but I do hope that as and when the world returns to some form of normality, we will stop doing triple-headers. They are OK if two of the three races are at the same circuit, but things like Russia-Turkey-Japan should be forgotten. Anyway, more on the calendar later.
Four of these 26 races will have been in Austria and so the feeling that we’ve been here a lot is understandable. Not that I am complaining about spending time in Styria. The gasthofs are OK, the food is OK, the weather is OK, everyone drives like Gerhard Berger and they all seem to be very fond of getting tattoos. If we hadn’t had so many races in Austria I would not have discovered some fascinating facts. This, for example, is strawberry-growing country. Everywhere you go there are signs for “erdbeeren” and I even went past a place called “Erdbeerfelder” about which one can only say “für immer…” and continue on to see if there is a Pfennig Weg nearby. (Google Translate may help).
I have spent much of the week in a castle overlooking the town of Admont, wherein there is a Benedictine Abbey that dates back more than 900 years. It is a place that is constantly filled with coachloads of teenagers on school trips, who aren’t really interested in Benedictine things, and just want to go and get an ice cream, but it seems a pleasant enough place. It has a spectacular library, so they say, amounting to 200,000 books, although they can only get 70,000 in the actual building. The rest, I guess, are in the cellars, attics, loos and dormitories.
To get to the Red Bull Ring from here, you need to zig-zag your way up a mountain ridge (with a lovely view of the unappetisingly-named village of Rottenmann), and then zig-zag down the other side to Trieben and then zig-zag up and over the Tauern range to villages such as Sankt Oswald-Möderbrugg and Pols, from where the circuit is within easy reach. All this is not the work of a moment – but the motorways take about as long as you have to zig east to zag west.
If one is into etymology, by the way, one can link the Tauern range with the Taurisci tribes of Carinthia, a name that may or may not be linked to bulls, which perhaps adds another dimension to Dietrich Mateschitz’s decision to name his famous drink Red Bull. They certainly like exotic drinks in this part of the world with the supermarket stuffed full of weird concoctions, all of them presumably hoping to one day inherit the crown of King Dietrich…
The last few days has seen the COVID-19 (they call it “corona” in these parts) restrictions being eased and so next weekend the Red Bull Ring will have a full crowd, which will be about three times the size of the crowd at last week’s Styrian GP. The Dutch have already arrived, judging by the number of yellow number plates on the roads, and they will be hoping for a repeat performance of Dutch domination. The restrictions in Austria have included the requirement to have a negative test or vaccination certificate before being allowed to sit down in a restaurant, which can be annoying if you are not the kind of person who is umbilically attached to your mobiles (known in these parts as “handies”). I sometimes leave mine behind and so went hungry one day while out doing mini-tours between seances of computer-thumping.
The Styrian GP was one of those events which show that news-gathering is becoming almost impossible in F1. I was on to two good stories during the weekend with the Turkish GP and Dan Fallows on his way to Aston Martin, but things didn’t work out too well. At one point I asked the FOM communications man on site if he was expecting to put out a statement about Turkey any time soon. He replied “a minute ago”…
And then I asked Christian Horner about Fallows, hoping for a nod or a wink. He would say nothing. Half an hour later out came the press release. I suppose that I have only myself to blame for this as my inquiry seemed to have lit the fuse that led to the announcement because Christian (quite rightly) did not want the staff to find out about the move from the media. Still, it’s frustrating sometimes.
News is news for about 10 minutes and then every “F1 journalist” from Streatham to Ulam Bator is spouting forth on social media. I am always amazed by the number of self-proclaimed F1 journalists these days, although for confused readers I should perhaps mention that anyone who includes “FIA-accredited” in their bios should not be trusted too much because if you are regularly FIA-accredited you don’t feel the need to mention it…
Oh well, perhaps I should join the throng and become a travel writer without ever leaving home…
The other bit of news, which I did get early, was the move of the Russian GP in 2023 to St Petersburg. This was greeted with a certain amount of joy in the paddock, as Sochi has never been a favourite race. St Petersburg, at least, seems like a great city. A destination city. I am interested to see the date of the race as anything between May and July could mean that we can have a night race in daylight, as the track is so far north that it rarely gets dark at that time of year. Might be a good idea for the fast-growing F1 audience in the US.
The best thing for F1 in the US would be to have two races this year and there is still talk of back-to-back events in Texas. That would be great because there is little taste in F1 for Brazil this year. In any case, as long as any country is on Britain’s so-called “red list” there is no chance of a Grand Prix because the majority of the F1 circus comes from the UK and this means that people who are allowed to enter the UK must quarantine in government-provided hotels at a cost of £1,750 per head, in addition to going through an elaborate system of health checks. Current F1 countries impacted by these rules are Bahrain, Brazil, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, but it is hoped that some of the restrictions will be lifted before the races happen. However with some of them the restictions are not the problem but rather the decisions that must be made about F1 sea-freight that is sent out to faraway places. This takes time and money and F1 is not keen on wasting money by shipping things to places where races don’t happen. So decisions are needed before the freight sets sail.
Although Turkey is still on the red list it has been named as the replacement for Singapore, and a triple-header that F1 folks are not overly keen on. However there is the possibility that Japan will fall out of bed. It is worth noting that MotoGP called off its planned Japanese Grand Prix, which was scheduled for October 3 at Motegi, a week before the F1 race at Suzuka. The key point is that the two races are both promoted by the MobilityLand Corporation, a Honda subsidiary. Maybe Honda wants to have the race this year – its last in F1 for the foreseeable future – but in Japan they are pretty conservative when it comes to COVID-19 and although the Olympics are going ahead, the general public is firmly against that happening, according to opinion polls. So holding a Grand Prix is not necessarily such a good idea. If the Olympics runs into pandemic problems (which is entirely possible) the F1 race is very unlikely to happen.
However, the possibility of more spectators at events this year has done wonders for the F1 share price in recent days, with an increase of nearly 10 percent last week. The shares are now back to where they were before the pandemic began.
The FIA election is going on in the background with Mohammed ben Sulayem, the rival candidate to Graham Stoker, having decided to nominate Fabiana Ecclestone as his Vice President Sport for South America. If he is elected Mrs E would become the first female FIA Vice President, but it is still a bit of a risk as the name Ecclestone is not always an advantage when dealing with the FIA clubs… Elsewhere, there was some mirth on the Safari Rally in Kenya when The Star newspaper in Nairobi made reference to FIA Deputy President “Graham Stalker”.
Elsewhere, the new Williams technical director FX Demaison was asked what he wanted for his driver line-up next year and, in effect – without naming names – gave a perfect description of Valtteri Bottas, an experienced driver, who has won races and fought for championships. It should be remembered that Demaison was previously at Volkswagen Motorsport and when preparing to enter the World Rally Championship, back in 2011, they took on Carlos Sainz, who had been out of the WRC for five years, to prepare the VW Polo WRC for the campaign… This worked out well as the team won four consecutive World Championships between 2013 and 2016.
Over at Alpine, Fernando Alonso has told a Spanish publication that he intends to stay with the team until at least 2024. If that happens Alonso will be 43 by the time he retires.
And finally, there was some amusement when BWT water company boss Andreas Weissenbacher told the Austrian media that he is trying to convince Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll to switch his F1 team from British racing green to pink.
Good luck with that. I’m not sure James Bond would be keen…
June 21 is the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, the longest day of the year and the official start of summer. In France it is also the Fête de la musique, a day to celebrate music, on which there are free concerts in many cities and when both amateur and professional musicians are encouraged to perform in the streets. This can be wonderful but it is also what they call a nuit blanche, which means it goes on all night and after a strenuous Grand Prix weekend with little sleep, I decided on Monday morning that if I wanted to sleep well, it might be better to leave the country, lest some misguided minstrel decided to caterwaul beneath the windows of the hotel in La Ciotat.
In any case, there were 1,200 km to be covered from Paul Ricard to the Red Bull Ring – and I wasn’t planning to go in a straight line, this being a great opportunity to visit places that one hasn’t been before.
It was a beautiful day, in stark to contrast to Sunday, which would have been a grey day if the skies had actually been grey. In fact, they were slightly brown and when it rained late in the night after the Grand Prix, the result was that all the cars that had been out in the rain were covered in sandy blotches where Saharan sand had been dropped by the troublesome sky. I set off, in search of a car wash, before hitting the motorway – but they were hard to find. The beaches were filling up with the first wave of summer holidaymakers, but the temptation to stay and take some rays was not sufficient and so I hurried down to Toulon and then across Provence, the land of Marcel Pagnol, towards the Cote d’Azur.
If you don’t know Pagnol, he is worth discovering. He was a remarkable man who made his name first as a film-maker in the 1930s – including a movie called La femme du Boulanger (The Baker’s Wife), which was shot in the village of Le Castellet. Later in life he became a novelist and wrote some wonderful stuff, such as La Gloire de Mon Père, Le Château de ma Mère, Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, all about peasant life in Provence.
If there is a an equivalent in English it would be Thomas Hardy’s relationship with country life in Dorset, and in Russian it would be Mikhail Sholokhov’s stories of the Don cossacks.
By the time I reached the heights above Monaco, I was in need of a power snooze and so stopped at the Beausoleil service area, which is a great place to get a bird’s eye view of Monaco, although I had no desire to engage with the traffic down below in the Principality.
Then it was on into Italy – with no border controls to worry about these days – and I was soon on the Autostrada dei Fiori, that runs along the Italian Riviera. Sadly, this has become a 100-mile road work in recent times and you have to be careful when things are running freely because one can hit a sudden traffic jam at any moment. The road was filled with Austria-bound F1 flotsam and jetsam, with endless Aston Martin, Toro Rosso, DHL and Haas trucks lugging bits of motorhome across to the Red Bull Ring.
After sitting for 45 minutes in one jam, I decided that signs suggesting a forthcoming 11km jam might be worth paying attention to, and so I went on a unwanted tour of Savona and found myself sitting in traffic jams all along the waterfront in the seaside towns that followed. When I got back on the motorway, I wasn’t sure if I was far behind, or far ahead, of the trucks I had been travelling with previously – but I didn’t see any I recognised. So I don’t know if what I did was a good move or not. It didn’t really matter.
I set my sites on the city of Cremona, if only because it was a place I had never visited before.
It is a city famed for music, notably for Stradivarius violins. I had a marvellous dinner in a little albergo, with featherlight gnocchi in Gorgonzola, and a mozzarella and basil pizza the size of an elephant’s ear (Indian) but wafer thin, washed down by a caraffa of rustic red. It was an evening with everything that one loves about Italy, with the warmness of the people, bubbling conversations and endless energy.
The waitress was as thin as a nail – and hard, no doubt having been hit on sufficiently to render her oblivious to the local gentlemen.
I am always amazed by how much time the Italians spend on their mobile phones, talking (one presumes) to their mamas and mistresses. It struck me that nowadays it is also amazing how F1 people always get calls when I start asking questions – which I take as a compliment.
Anyway, as I sat listening to the hubbub, I am sure that I heard words like “Monza” and “Ferrari” and knew there was only one place I could be.
This brings me, in a roundabaout way to my notes from the weekend, with Ferrari appearing in France without its green Mission Winnow logos. They will not be seen again at races in the European Union and Philip Morris put out a statement which (to paraphrase dramatically) said that they are fed up with people mistrusting the tobacco industry and just want to move on and “re-frame global conversations, building communities, and supporting innovative ideas that drive positive change”.
Tobacco is a subject that always used to divide the F1 world with some fervent in their opposition to smoking and others seeing the paradox that no country has banned tobacco itself, because of the revenues that can be obtained from heavy taxation, and yet they do not see that banning the advertising of a product that is not illegal is a fairly flawed argument.
Anyone who thinks they can see the Marlboro logo in the green Mission Winnow branding really needs to have their eyes (and heads) examined, but they still battle on trying to drive the tobacco companies into the sea.
Philip Morris International stopped putting Marlboro logos on F1 cars in 2006. They gave up with bar code logos in 2010 and then more recently tried the Mission Winnow message. PMI still supports Ferrari, so that they can entertain VIPs and corporate guests and create opportunities with B2B activity.
Personally, I thought the greatest bit of thinking was when they reversed the sponsorship in the face of such attacks and used the glamour of F1 by putting racing cars on cigarette packets, rather than cigarette packets on racing cars. That was right up there with marketing Marmite as a love-hate product.
British American Tobacco has been doing things on similar lines with McLaren using “A Better Tomorrow”, Velo and Vuse on the cars depending on the market involved.
Last year all Mission Winnow branding was removed after threats of legal action based on the concept that anything red and white might remind anti-tobacco campaigners that there are still cigarettes out there, but the switch to green this year seemed to make this an impossible argument… but obviously not.
It may be that the decision to remove the green logos will be the final straw for PMI in terms of branding, but it is unlikely to stop using F1 to entertain and encourage its staff and customers.
There is no doubt that the PMI involvement with Ferrari has reduced in the last 15 years and there are signs that it may finish once and for all at the end of the current season. There have no announcements of a contract extension and these were always done at least a year in advance. So Ferrari may be on the market for a new title sponsor.
The likelihood is that any new backer will come from the technology sector (as has the new CEO) and it is thus interesting to see a new relationship that has been announced between Ferrari and Amazon Web Services, which will help the team in various ways with its cloud service and machine learning capabilities – and the development of “a new fan engagement platform which, through personalisation tools, exclusive content and interactive applications, will strengthen the relationship between Ferrari and its millions of fans around the world, with the goal being to offer even the youngest fans more insight into the daily life of the team and its drivers.
The big news of the weekend – no real surprise – was the confirmation of Esteban Ocon as an Alpine driver for the next three years. This is interesting in that Ocon has committed himself to Alpine despite having long had an underlying Mercedes Benz contract. Thus it is far to say that Ocon has reached the conclusion that there is no chance of a ride in the short- to mid- term with Mercedes. He cannot sit around waiting forever as his career will slip by quickly and so he has jumped. This means that he sees no opportunity at Mercedes and from that one can conclude that either Valtteri Bottas will stay or George Russell will step up. The official line is that there is no decision yet, but it is interesting to note that there is now much talk about what Williams will be doing next year, which seems to suggest that George Russell is going to be on the move. No-one is talking about George staying at Williams in 2022…
With Ocon signed, there is no real point in Dany Kvyat being at Alpine as the reserve and his name has been mentioned as a possible Williams recruit.
There is a possibility, of course, that a displaced Bottas could return to Williams and it might be a good move as Williams should (in theory) be on an upward path from 2022 onwards. However, there has also been some talk that Mercedes might want to put another driver into the team to get someone experienced in F1 in case there is a need for another driver when Lewis Hamilton retires at some undetermined point. ,Mercedes has a bunch of youngsters but they are very young and the closest to F1 is Frederik Vesti in Formula 3 – and he is not doing awfully well this year.
The other name that has been mentioned is that of Nyck de Vries, the test and reserve driver of Mercedes AMG Petronas, who is currently competing with the Mercedes-EQ team in Formula E. The former double World Karting Champion, who won the Formula 2 title in 2019, is a talent but did not have the money to get an F1 drive in 2020. He seems to be hungry for success and a chance to drive F1 cars. Thus he should be considered a possible candidate given that Mercedes might be willing to help Williams pay its bills if a Mercedes driver is there (continuing the current arrangements).
There is no question that Nicholas Latifi is competent and brings considerable finance from his family’s connections with Sofina and Lavazza, but he has yet to show any signs that he is a potential F1 winner. The other name being mentioned is Guanyu Zhou, the Chinese driver. He is a decent option, but has yet to show that he will ever be more than an also-ran in F1. His primary advantage is that being Chinese he is someone that everyone in F1 wants to see in an F1 seat because it will help boost the sport in the world’s biggest car market.
To be brutal, Williams has no excuse for performing as poorly as has been the case when one has a Mercedes engine. Next year the team will have a Mercedes rear end and so it only has to get the chassis right to be in the mix. The good news for Williams fans is that Dorilton (or whoever is behind the company) seems to be willing to invest. The focus in recent days has been on the departure of team principal Simon Roberts, but in the background there has been another significant change with the departure of design director Doug McKiernan, and the tweaking of the team’s technical management under new technical director François-Xavier Demaison.
Demaison may be a brilliant fellow but he has no F1 experience and so to overcome this team boss Jost Capito has drafted in another former Volkswagen colleague Willy Rampf, who has many years experience as the technical director of Sauber, although that was a while ago now.
The other team that is much in the paddock chatter is Alfa Romeo (aka Sauber). There is still no decision from Alfa Romeo as to whether there will be a continued sponsorship in 2022. Given that it was a cheap deal this year, it might go on as the money involved is really minimal for a big car company, but the key question is whether it makes strategic sense given that Alfa Romeo seems to be moving into a more electric car future. There are also questions about Orlen funding as without Robert Kubica in a race seat there is not much logic in that relationship. The team has grown from 300 to 500 people in the last few years but has not gained anything in terms of championship position, so the investment in new staff has not brought additional prize money – and let’s not forget that this year F1’s prize money has dived by nearly half.
There are signs of discontent with the team’s imported expertise and the recent weeks have seen the departures of chief designer Luca Furbatto, to become engineering director at Aston Martin, and Frenchman Nicolas Hennel de Beaupreau, who has been the team’s chief aerodynamicist for the last five years. He has top level experience in F1 going back to 1997 so he’s not someone a team really wants to lose. He has previously worked at Enstone (twice), Ferrari (twice), McLaren and Toyota.
A whisper from Asia the other day suggested that an investment bank out there is circulating a prospectus offering 60 percent of Sauber for sale, although the price would value the team at $750 million. This is far too high and it would seem to suggest that the current owner is looking to find someone who will help him pay off the huge investments he has made.Whether there is anyone out there to buy is another story.
I was also told that there is a hurry-up suggestion that a buyer needs to move quickly because VW’s Lamborghini might buy it. This should not be taken seriously, as I really cannot imagine a Lamborghini car powered by a Ferrari engine – and no company is going to build a new engine before the engine rules change in 2025. It is also unlikely that any manufacturer would want to fund a team for three seasons without promoting a brand – so a clandestine operation is unlikely as well. On top of all this the word is that team principal Fred Vasseur is working on a month-by-month contract at the moment, which suggests that the owners aren’t ready to extend a deal, but cannot find a replacement who wants to take the job. They need someone who could get Sauber going forward again and with Andreas Seidl gone to McLaren and Capito at Williams, potential new leaders are thin on the ground.
Right, onward we go. I was reading the other day about Ove Andersson, who died 13 years ago last week. At the time, Andersson and I had agreed to work together on a biography – but he had gone to South Africa which slowed things down. Then he was killed and the project faded away. I still have his handwritten story about his early years, in a hand-written notebook. This is a wonderful glimpse into motorsport in the 1960s and includes a story about how Saab wanted him to take part in the Acropolis Rally – and gave him some money to cover expenses, and told him to drive there! He and his co-driver drove the rally car down through Germany and Austria and across what used to be Yugoslavia until they finally arrived in Greece, where they celebrated by spending all the money on a party to mar the end of the journey. They took part in the rally and managed to borrow some cash to take a ferry back to Brindisi and then drove back home – through Italy, France and Germany. Ove wrote that this was a great adventure and that the world would be a better place if people didn’t jump on planes to go places and instead travelled on the ground, to broaden their minds, increase their knowledge and tolerance of others.
It teaches you that your home country is not necessarily the best and gives you perspective.
Wise words indeed… Right, I’m off to the mountains…
When it comes to tyre failures in F1, tyre companies get rather defensive. It’s not surprising. It’s a standing joke in F1 circles that all tyre failures are caused by debris because tyre suppliers don’t want to use F1 to promote failure. That’s logical. Pirelli doesn’t have to be in F1 and if the firm decided to leave, it would not be easy to find a replacement. But it is also fair to say that there is no need for failures as Pirelli has no competition and thus there is no need to push the envelope for any competitive reason. It’s better to build solid tyres and put up with drivers complaining that the tyres are too hard.
This year, however, Pirelli went for softer compounds across the board, to try to improve the F1 show. The two failures in Baku were perplexing in that while debris was a possibility the similarities between the two incidents hinted at something else. The tyres let go with no warning or vibration, but checks on tyres on other cars that had done similar distances, or more, showed no signs of the same problem.
Pirelli said that an investigation had revealed that the causes of the failures had been clearly identified as being down to “a circumferential break on the inner sidewall, which can be related to the running conditions of the tyres.” It added that this was “in spite of the prescribed starting parameters (minimum pressure and maximum blanket temperature) having been followed” by the two teams, which could thus not be blamed because they followed Pirelli instructions. Red Bull issued a statement saying that it had adhered to “Pirelli’s tyre parameters at all times and will continue to follow their guidance.”
Pirelli added that the investigation “established that there was no production or quality defect on any of the tyres; nor was there any sign of fatigue or delamination.”
Pirelli also said that it and the FIA had agreed a new set of protocols, with an upgraded technical directive distributed to teams, for monitoring operating tyre conditions during a race weekend.
If it all sounds like a game of Cluedo, in which the reasons for the failures is established by a process of elimination, the next question to be asked must surely be that if the failure wasn’t caused by the way the teams used the tyres or by the tyre production process, and it didn’t affect other cars, was the problem one of the design of the tyres, in relation to specific cars with specific drivers?
Lance Stroll has a reputation for keeping tyres alive longer than others, but then so too does race winner Sergio Perez, who didn’t have a problem. Nor did Sebastian Vettel, who has the same car as Stroll. And as we have heard this year, the design philosophies of the Red Bulls and Aston Martins are very different, notably when it comes to rake angles.
So, right now, it’s all rather mysterious. Although that is not unusual with the “black round rubber things” in F1 that few understand, which work sometimes but not always in the way the drivers want.
The village of Beauvoir lives up to its name. It has a great view across the Pays de Bray, with just a little mist between the gentle ridges this morning. It’s dairy country, a land of celebrated cheeses… and bucolic simplicity.
But on a Tuesday morning Beauvoir is very quiet. The kids are being dropped off at the village school, next to the mairie, but otherwise not much is happening. The old boys are out pruning and weeding their gardens, but the boulangerie doesn’t open on Tuesdays, nor does the épicerie and the cafe shows no sign of life – and no indication if it might at some point provide a coffee and a croissant.
But the little garage is busy, getting my car ready for the next F1 adventure: a 900 km run down to the Circuit Paul Ricard at Le Castellet (pretty much the same as going to Monaco a few weeks ago), followed by 1200km (give or take) along the Riviera and into Italy and then up to the Red Bull Ring for the Austrian and Styrian Grands Prix, and a fair bit of to-ing and fro-ing up in the area as the accommodation available is spread far and wide.
There will then be the 1300 km run home, on the first Monday in July. So that will mean another 5000-odd clicks on the trusty automobile, which will take it over 380,000 km in total.
There really isn’t a lot of logic in going home between the three races, unless someone else is paying for air fares and hire cars. The internet pretty much everywhere these days, one can work in the gasthofs in Austria for the free days between each race – and so avoid the rush, paperwork, queues, PCR tests and other hassles of going from airport to airport to get home for very limited times.
So I’m off for 20 days, the penance one pays for a life in F1. Still, there are worse things in life than relatively free days in France, Italy and Austria. The lockdowns are easing in most places and life is less complicated than once it was.
But things are still not easy. Last weekend was supposed to be a Grand Prix weekend, originally in Canada and then in Turkey after Montreal was axed. Then Turkey was cancelled as well and so I ended up having a glorious weekend at home, working in the garden and having a barbecue with the neighbours. It’s hard to plan ahead at the moment. Logically, the British GP will follow this triple-header, but the news yesterday that Britain has delayed its lifting of restrictions on public gatherings because of the of the so-called delta variant (the one from India) means that the British GP may have to operate with a reduced crowd. Everyone is making positive noises at the moment but a reduced crowd means reduced revenues and if the limit is too low, Silverstone cannot really afford it.
It will, no doubt, ask for a cheaper deal if the circumstances require it, but the noises coming from the F1 group suggest that deals are no longer on the table. You pay or you don’t get a race. It’s hard to imagine F1 without a British GP, but the sport is unemotional. It was once hard to imagine F1 without Germany or France, but we’ve seen both disappear in the past. Money makes the cars go around…
After Silverstone Hungary should be fine (things were worse last year and we made it) and then we get to the August break. The second half of the season is pretty unclear as of now, but we know that the “orange belt” races in Belgium and the Netherlands will go ahead as there might be an uprising in the country if the great Max Verstappen cannot be celebrated… then Italy and Russia will likely be as they should be.
After that who knows? The pandemic complicates all things and although we hope we’ve seen the back of the worst of it there are still problems, as the quiet uptick of case numbers in the UK in recents weeks has shown. Last summer things went relatively quiet for a while before the second waves began. This year we have vaccines to add to the equations, but life is still not really back to normal.
But some things don’t change. The church bell is ringing on the hour, as it has done through wars, revolutions and previous pandemics. So I’m off to see if the cafe has opened.
Beautiful views are fine – but a coffee is required.