Europe has had a long history of war – which is why the European Union was eventually invented. Wars result in countries winning and losing territory and so there are today all kinds of strange anomalies when it comes to frontiers.

The country known today as Belgium was often involved in the fighting as it had the misfortune to be a place where the French, German and Dutch borders meet. Not far from Antwerp, for example, one can find a complicated district consisting of Baarle-Hertog (which is Belgian) and Baarle-Nassau (which is Dutch). There are 22 Belgian exclaves inside Dutch territory and six Dutch exclaves inside the largest of the Belgian exclaves. You can cross the border several times simply by walking down the main street.

On the other side of Belgium, near Eupen, one can find several strips of Belgian land, just a few metres wide, that meander through Germany along the path of a railway line. These remained Belgian when the borders changed, in some places the tracks have been torn up, but the land remains Belgian…

Still, there is one good thing about all of  this for motor racing fans, because without borders moving around, we would probably not have the Spa Francorchamps circuit.

The region to the east of Spa has long been a messy part of Europe. Parts of it belonged to Luxembourg, other bits to the Archbishop of Trier and some districts to the Holy Roman Empire. The whole region became French in 1795 but then, after the Congress of Vienna in 1815, most of it was ceded to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, although the East Cantons (Eupen, Malmedy and St Vith ) were given to Prussia. The Belgian Revolution in 1830 led to the southern part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands breaking away to become Belgium.

Spa developed as a resort, where people visited to take the iron-rich waters. Eventually it became a little too popular for some and so a new hotel was built opposite the first station on the railway line towards Luxembourg. It was quiet but allowed easy access to Spa. The village was called Francorchamps and the new establishment was named the Hotel des Bruyères, which literally translates as the Hotel of the Heather. The land around Francorchamps was either marshy heathland or thick forest. It was the last village before the German border, which was at the top of the hill after the road to Malmedy rose up after crossing the Eau Rouge stream.

World War I and the Treaty of Versailles which followed altered the borders once again and gave the East Cantons to Belgium, in reparation for some of the damage the Germans had done. The new frontier meant that Francorchamps was no longer the last village before the border and had free access to Malmedy, which had become Belgian. The town was also linked to Stavelot by another road which passed through the hamlet of Masta. So there was a triangle of road in Belgian territory – which almost no-one used.

This fact was noticed by Jules de Thiers, the managing director of the La Meuse newspaper, and he proposed using it as a racing circuit, taking Henri Langlois Van Ophem, a gentleman sportsman who was chairman of the sporting commission of the Royal Automobile Club Belgium, to lunch at the Hotel des Bruyères to discuss the idea.

The club was looking for a racing circuit that would be fast, cause minimal disruption and be easily accessible for spectators by railway. The concluded that the Francorchamps-Malmedy-Stavelot triangle would be perfect, as it was fast, had a station in each town and the population was sparse. The Mayor of Spa, Baron Joseph de Crawhez, liked the idea. He was an automobilist and with his brother Baron Pierre had had some interesting adventures with automobiles in the early years, driving Panhards into the Sahara Desert, to see if they could get through to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Thus it was all agreed and the first race was planned for a few weeks after the Automobile Club de France revived its Grand Prix at Le Mans, in the summer of 1921. The problem was that the Belgians received only one entry for their race. De Thiers was unperturbed and held the race for motorcycles instead. The riders were excited about the circuit – and the word got out to the car racing people…

And that is why the original Eau Rouge corner was known as the Virage de Ancienne Douane – the Old Custom House Bend.

Force India has landed backing from an Austrian company called BWT, which stands for Best Water Technology . The company deals in products that improve the quality of water. The cars will this be raced in a new pink livery. This is not a bad idea, as the team has been fairly nondescript in recent years and with pink will certainly stand out. It is also possible that the new look will attract new sponsorship as there are many companies that may wish to be associated with the pink colour. If that works, then good for them for thinking about it. The concept of visual “real estate” in F1 has really taken off this year, with McLaren claiming orange, Sauber switching to a navy blue and Toro Rosso coming up with a very sexy livery. Green is still available…


Odessa is a beautiful place. It became part of Russia after the two Russo-Turkish Wars of the late 18th Century. It was a warm water port, something Russia needed, and Catherine the Great ordered a new city to be built. Much of its development was overseen by French exiles, who had fled the Revolution in 1789. In 1815 Odessa was declared a free port, in order to boost trade. It quickly became a cosmopolitan and rich city where, according to Alexander Pushkin, the air was “filled with all Europe, French is spoken and there are European papers and magazines to read”. The city had a huge Jewish population, up to 35 percent of the citizens, and this led to troubles from time to time when anti-Semitic Russians attacked and killed Jews.

Joseph Poberejsky was Jewish, born in Odessa in 1885. His family seems to have been wealthy and he was a member of the city’s financial elite. This allowed him to work as an inventor. With the arrival of electricity there were plenty of new ideas to be developed.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 threw the country into chaos and many of Odessa’s rich decided to leave, in fear of the Bolsheviks. Poberejsky was 32 and he headed for Paris, where at least he could speak the language. He settled in the comfortable 16th arrondissement and began using the name Jacques in order to integrate more. He would eventually become a naturalised French citizen. He continued to invent and also acquired the rights to the inventions of others. Automobiles and aviation created new opportunities and he patented flexible hoses which could withstand vibration and a self-sealing fuel tank. There was also a water heater for farms so that animals could get water in freezing conditions. The profits he made by licensing the inventions were invested in real estate and in new ideas. He was keen on cars and bought a Rolls Royce which he had re-bodied in a much sportier fashion by the the Binder carriage-building firm on the Boulevard Haussmann.

Jacques soon moved his growing family into a mansion in exclusive Neuilly sur Seine. But when the war came in 1939 the family, fearing persecution, sailed to America and settled in affluent Westchester County, just outside New York. They returned to Paris after the war ended and Jacques built a new car which he intended to sell. It was a Rolls Royce with his own Carrosserie Poberejsky bodywork. It was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 1949. Rolls Royce threatened legal action…

Jacques died later that year at the age of 64, leaving his fortune to his son Michel, who was then 19. Fascinated by automobiles, the youngster was a regular visitor to Gaston Docime’s Bugatti garage in Neuilly and the garage owner decided to take him under his wing. In 1950 they visited the Lamberjack garage in the rue Bayen, in the 17th arrondissement, and Poberejsky was convinced to buy a unique 1938 Bugatti Atalante 57SC, the only supercharged Atalante produced by the factory, although many other Atalantes had superchargers added by their owners.

He soon began racing the car at Montlhéry, using the pseudonym “Mike Sparken”. He enjoyed racing and soon acquired Aston Martin DB2 and DB3 sports cars, which he re-bodied before moving on to a Ferrari 750 Monza. He won occasional races and was considered a very decent driver. In 1955 “Mike Sparken” shared his Ferrari with Masten Gregory at Le Mans – although the pair suffered an engine failure early on.

Poberejsky was then 25 and keen to try Grand Prix racing and so did a deal with Amedée Gordini to race a factory Gordini in the British Grand Prix at Aintree. He qualified 23rd and drove a solid race to finish seventh, despite a clutch failure. It was a pretty good effort. For whatever reason, however, he then decided to stop racing, although he continued to deal in interesting automobiles for the rest of his days. He was the owner of a number of extraordinary machines, including a second Bugatti Atalante and, most impressively, an Alfa Romeo Alfetta Grand Prix car, which he prised from the factory by offering them the streamlined 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B which had shone at Le Mans in the hands of Clemente Biondetti and Raymond Sommer. Alfa Romeo wanted that car and the Alfetta was in a poor state. It was the only Alfetta to ever get into private hands.

Poberejsky moved from Neuilly to Cap Ferrat on the Cote d’Azur as he grew older. In the end he was diagnosed with cancer. He died in 2012 at the age of 82.

Roger Penske was 80 recently. He is an extraordinary businessman. Starting out with a single car lot in Pennsylvania, Penske has built an amazing empire, including the publicly-traded Penske Automotive Group, one of the world’s biggest car dealers, a truck rental and leasing business and transportation logistics firms. Today he is reckoned to be worth about $1.5 billion and his empire employs around 47,000 people, with annual revenues of tens of billions. He has sat on many corporate boards, including General Electric, the Home Depot and Delphi Automotive. He has invested huge amounts in trying to revive the city of Detroit, including being the chairman of Super Bowl XL.

But Penske is a racer at heart and each weekend his racing teams are in action in IndyCar and NASCAR. Penske Racing has won the Indy 500 no fewer than 16 times between 1972 and 2017, in addition to winning 14 IndyCar titles, including a dominant season in 2016. The team won the Daytona 500 in 2008 with Ryan Newmam and added a second win in 2015 with Joey Logano. In 2010 Brad Keselowski took Penske to the title in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and two years later won the Sprint Cup.

What few people remember is that Roger Penske was not only a Formula 1 team owner – with a team that won a race, but he was also an F1 driver as well.

Penske was always mad about cars and went to see his first Indianapolis 500 with his dad in 1951. He was 14. Born in Shaker Heights, Ohio – a nice part of Cleveland – he started out riding motorcycles. After smashing himself up at 16 he started working in a gas station, buying, rebuilding and selling sports cars, beginning with an MG. He raced the cars when he could, did hillclimbs and then some midget races at Sportsman Park, Cleveland, before heading off to study business administration at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He started racing a Chevrolet in SCCA events, went to a racing school at the Marlboro Speedway near Washington and then dropped out of school and become an aluminium salesman for Alcoa. He got married, settled down and quit racing – and then went back to it again.

He won his first national title with the SCCA in 1961 and that year raced a customer Cooper-Climax in the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, finishing eighth. The following year he won the USAC road racing championship and driving a Zerex Special won the Riverside, Monterey and Puerto Rico GPs, the Nassau TT and his class in the Sebring 12 Hours. He competed in the US GP a second time, driving a Lotus-Climax to ninth place.

In 1963 he tried his hand at NASCAR, won the Riverside 250 and led the Yankee 300 before deciding that it was time to retire and concentrate on business. He was 27. He quit Alcoa and took a job with McKean Chevrolet in Philadelphia. A year later he bought his first dealership and started to acquire more and more of them. He was soon making enough to start Penske Racing in 1966, in league with engineer-driver Mark Donohue. The team won its first CanAm race at Mosport Park with a Lola that year and in 1967 Donohue won the US Road Racing Championship and in 1968 dominated TransAm in a Penske Camaro.

The success just kept coming with title after title and victory in the Daytona 24 Hours, not to mention to Rookie of the Year at Indianapolis, finishing seventh in the team’s first visit. Success followed success and the team’s high point was in 1972 when Donohue won the Indianapolis 500 and the team won the CanAm title with George Follmer driving a Porsche 917.

Further successes were added in NASCAR and at the end of 1974 Penske decided to enter a team in Formula 1. Penske the salesman talked the First National City bank into sponsoring the operation and a factory was opened in Poole, Dorset. The first car – the Penske PC1 – appeared at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1974 where Donohue finished 12th. In 1975 the team switched to a March chassis but then in Austria Donohue suffered a tyre failure and crashed in the warm-up. It seemed that he was not badly hurt, but he died three days later from brain injuries.

Penske decided to go on and ran John Watson later in the year. The following season Wattie drove a new PC4 to victory in Austria, a year after Donohue’s death. But Penske realised that F1 was not really sustainable for his team and sold the operation at the end of 1976. The factory in Poole began building Indycars. The PC5 appeared in the summer of 1977 and Tom Sneva used one of the cars to win the USAC title in 1977 and followed up with a second championship in the PC6 in 1978. In 1979 Rick Mears gave Penske its third consecutive title… and it went from there.

You would think that finding a place to build the new headquarters for a glamorous Formula 1 team, with a growing supercar company attached, would be a pretty easy thing to do. Local authorities would be falling over one another to land such a terrific prize, which would provide of jobs, finance and glitz for their their area.

Yes, there are always a few NIMBYs who argue that nothing should ever happen in their back yard, but when McLaren’s Ron Dennis set out in the late 1980s to build his new headquarters, nicknamed “McLarenello” by some of the media, as a nod to Ferrari’s Maranello factory, he found that it was a lot harder than he had imagined it would.

He had a team of people in Woking, Surrey, so he wanted a new facility to be close to the old factory, in order to keep his staff. He also wanted a test track, and the best way to get this would be to find an old airfield and rebuild it. Britain is chock-full of crumbling old WW2 Royal Air Force stations, built hurriedly between 1941 and 1945 for use in the war. Their presence played a big role in the growth of the motorsport industry in the UK in the 1950s, the most famous of them being Silverstone.

In the Woking area there were several aerodromes: Fairoaks, owned by former racing driver and team owner Alan Mann, Farnborough, a celebrated aviation centre and Blackbushe. There was also potential at the old Brooklands and at the Military Vehicles and Engineering Establishment on a 315 acre site in Chertsey, next to a motorway. The last-named as unavailable at the time but would probably have struggled with planning permission because it is close to Wentworth golf course. The problem with Surrey, you see, is that rich people live there. Rich people can afford lawyers, and lawyers find ways to stop development if paid to do so.

The one venue in the area that looked most promising was an old airfield at Wisley, next to the junction between the A3 highway and the M25 motorway. Originally farmland, it had been requisitioned during the war on the understanding that it would be returned to farmland again after the war. But flying ceased there only in 1973, but it would be seven years before anything happened, because theere was no paperwork to cover the terms of the requisition and the local council insisted that the owner remove all trace of there ever having been an airfield, something which obviously costs money. In the end, after Parliament had been involved, there was a compromise. The buildings were all knocked down, but the runways remained. The land was farmed and the runway used for occasional film-making. There were so many legal arguments involved that in the end Dennis gave up on Wisley. It was a wise decision, nearly 20 years later there are still arguments going on, as the local council now wants to convert it all into housing and the locals are up in arms. The old airfield remains empty and unused.

Dennis turned instead to a different idea: to acquire the Lydden Hill racing circuit, 95 miles east of Woking, near the port of Dover and close to the Channel Tunnel, which was due to open in 1994. This, he felt, would make a terrific McLarenello. It was well-positioned for access to Europe and close to the A2 highway, a fast road to London. In March 1991 Tom Bissett, the owner of Lydden, agreed to a joint venture with McLaren and planning permission was applied for to build the McLaren headquarters. Things moved slowly. Bissett and Dennis fell out, the planners were not keen and the whole thing was cancelled when it became clear that a large number of McLaren staff would not move from Woking to rural Kent. In the end McLaren had to pay a sizeable sum of money to buy out Bissett and the team then leased the facility to people who wanted to use the racing circuit – for racing.

By then Dennis had given up on having a test track and in 1995, he bought Mizens Farm, a 155-acre facility just to the north of Woking. It was located in a protected “Green Belt” area and so McLaren had to go to court to win planning permission. Ironically, it was next door to Fairoaks Aerodrome, but perhaps there was an unspoken plan to one day buy the airfield, if it became available. The vast McLaren Technology Centre was finally completed in 2003, with all manner of restrictions having to be overcome. The Woking planning committee, for example, insisted on a height limitation and so the facility had to be sunk into the ground and shielded from view by earth banks and 100,000 new trees. Despite the problems, the MTC has been a great success and earned architects Foster & Company many accolades. McLaren had to go through similar problems when it needed to expand to create a new road car unit, called the McLaren Production Centre, which opened in 2011. Alan Mann sold Fairoaks airfield in 2008, but it remained an airfield. A year later Formula 1 testing was banned and so creating an F1 test track became less of a priority, as the teams turned to simulation instead. Ferrari remains the only team with an on-site testing facility, although Force India is located next door to Silverstone.

Dennis was removed from his functions at McLaren in late November last year – a week before it was announced that the owners of Fairoaks plan to close the airport, and build a “Fairoaks Garden Village”, with up to 1500 new habitations. Opposition to the idea is building up.

who knows? Perhaps one day McLaren will be able to acquire Fairoaks to test its road cars – with occasional (quiet) F1 runs as well…

Since the end of the 1974 season only one man has driven a Formula 1 car with the number 1, without being the World Champion. Who was it? And how did it happen? In the early years of the FIA Formula One World Championship, there was no such thing as a numbering system. The race organisers would give out numbers based on whatever they wanted to do. This was why, for example, the highest number ever seen in F1 was 136, which was given to East Germany’s Rudolf Krause, who raced a Reif-BMW at the German GP in 1952. That race saw all the Grand Prix cars numbered above 100, a system which meant that each car in every race had a unique number. People may write in if I do not say that there was a Formula 1 car that carried the number 208 in 1974 when Lella Lombardi tried to qualify a Brabham BT42 in Radio Luxembourg colours (208 being the radio station’s wavelength). She failed to make the field.

The number 13 was never used because of racing tradition, dating back to the 1920s, although cars with that number did appear in Mexico in 1963 with Moises Solana using it for his BRM P57 and in 1976 when Divina Galica used the number for her Surtees TS16, but failed to qualify for the race.

The lowest Formula 1 number used was 0, which has only been used twice – when a World Champion moved from the team with which he won the title. This happened in 1993 and 1994 with Williams as Nigel Mansell and then Alain Prost both left Williams as World Champions. As a result, Williams had the right to use numbers 1-2 because it had won the Constructors title in the previous year, but the lead driver did not have the right to use number 1, because he was not the World Champion. Thus in 1993 Prost used number 2, while Damon Hill was given 0, and in 1994 Ayrton Senna (and his successors) used number 2, while Hill continued to use 0.

The lack of numbering system lasted only until 1973 when it was decided that it might be an idea to keep the same numbers. This began to happen in the second half of the season and the numbers were then set in stone from 1974 onwards, with the only change each year being the number 1 and 2 being given to the World Champion and his team-mate in the season after he won the title. It began in 1974 with Ronnie Peterson running with #1 and Jacky Ickx with #2 for Team Lotus as a result of the team having won the Constructors’ Championship in 1973. The 1973 World Champion Jackie Stewart had retired at the end of the season.

After that the previous World Champion would get the new World Champion’s old number. Thus, for example, Alain Jones switched from 27 to 1 in 1981, while Gilles Villeneuve went from 2 to 27 because Ferrari took over the Williams numbers (27 and 28) and Villeneuve stepped up to be team leader after Jody Scheckter (previously #1) retired at the end of a very disappointing season. This system remained unchanged until the end of 1995 when the FIA decided it needed to clean up the system as there were fewer teams and the new operations had not taken over the numbers that had been left by older teams disappearing. Thus the numbering system became such that the World Champion and his team-mate took 1 and 2 the following season, while the other teams took their numbers according to their finishing position in the Constructors’ Championship. This meant that teams could not easily use their numbers in marketing campaigns, because they would change year by year.

In the end, before the 2014 season the FIA agreed to allow the drivers to choose their own permanent numbers, with the #1 being left open for the World Champion, if he wanted to use it. The number 13 also appeared that year as Pastor Maldonado wanted to use it.

All of this means that since the start of 1975 only one driver has ever appeared in the #1 car who was not a World Champion. This was John Watson, who appeared at the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in 1985. He was standing in for Niki Lauda, who was out of action having suffered a wrist injury when he crashed in the Friday practice session at the Belgian Grand Prix. The steering wheel whipped around in the impact and Lauda’s wrist was strained. It was felt best that he miss the next race and Watson was called up to help.

A look at testing

The last of the eight days of pre-season testing in Barcelona has finished with Kimi Raikkonen setting the fastest time overall with a best lap on super-soft tyres of 1m18.634s, after 111 laps today. This gave Ferrari an eight-day total of 957 laps of the Spanish track, which is 2,767.6 miles of running. Second fastest overall in the test was Sebastian Vettel, who set a 1m19.024s lap yesterday, but was clearly backing off at the end of the lap. His best possible lap time was probably about the same as Raikkonen. The key question, however, is not whether the Ferrari were fast but rather to what extent the Mercedes were sandbagging, if indeed they were… And, of course, there is the question of long distance runs, although these are more difficult to assess because of possible manipulations that only the team in question would know about. In other words, we can analyse as much as we like, but we will not really know the answer until Sunday night in Melbourne – and even then this may not be the full picture of what to expect for the season ahead. Would that it were easy…

Lewis Hamilton ended up fourth fastest of the week with a best of 1m19.352s, using ultra-soft tyres. He once again shared the car with Valtteri Bottas and the team completed another 105 laps bringing its pre-season testing total (not allowing for filming) to 1098 laps, which means that the team completed 3,175 miles of running, which means that it ran 13 percent more miles than the Ferraris. Is that significant? Well, it’s impressive for a new car. Both totals are. Indeed, it is fair to say that the mileage achieved by almost all of the teams was extraordinary given the fact that all the cars are new. Bottas ended up third quickest of the week with a 1m19.310s lap.

The fifth fastest of the week was Felipe Massa in the Williams, with his team-mate Lance Stroll 13th, six-tenths off the pace of his team-mate. Stroll had several incidents early on but the team made up for it and ended the testing with 800 laps, which put it third overall, just ahead of Sauber. Nonetheless, the team managed 27 percent fewer laps than Mercedes.

Max Verstappen was sixth fastest overall, with a best of 1m19.438s on super-soft tyres, so there is probably more to come from the Red Bull. Daniel Ricciardo had a quiet week, setting his fastest time on the first day, although this was good for ninth overall. It was achieved on ultra-soft tyres, but conditions changed a lot during the week. Overall the Red Bull team completed a total of 684 laps, which is 1,978 miles. This is only 62 percent of the mileage achieved by Mercedes, which suggests that the Red Bulls may be more susceptible to reliability problems in the early races, which is not good when you are aiming for World Championships.

Seventh overall was the Toro Rosso-Renault of Carlos Sainz with a best of 1m19.837s on ultra-soft rubber. This meant that Toro Rosso ended up with 584 laps, which was not terribly impressive compared to Mercedes and others – and the second lowest total. Daniil Kvyat was 14th fastest but only used super-soft rubber, his best of the week being a 1m20.416s.

Nico Hulkenberg was eighth overall in his Renault, with a 1m19.885s, set on ultra-soft rubber. His team-mate Jolyon Palmer was 12th, also on ultra-soft, but on a different day. The two took Renault’s lap count to 607 laps, about 55 percent of the total laps by Mercedes – and third smallest total after McLaren and Toro Rosso.

Sergio Perez was 10th fastest overall with a 1m20.116s, set on ultra-soft tyres, which Esteban Ocon right with him with the 11th fastest lap at 1m20.161s. The team completed 785 laps, which was the fifth best mileage of the testing. Nonetheless, the lap times were not great.

The Haas-Ferraris were 15th and 17th fastest of the week with Kevin Magnussen setting a best of 1.20.504s on ultra-soft tyres, while Romain Grosjean did a 1m21.110s on similar tyres. The team has done 716 laps.

McLaren was next, with Stoffel Vandoorne setting a best lap of 1m21.348s on ultra-softs, just ahead of Fernando Alonso’s 1m21.389s on similar tyres. The team has done only 425 laps in total in testing, which is not great. Sauber is at the back in terms of laps time with Marcus Ericsson 20th and Pascal Wehrlein 21st overall. The laps times were not great but the team is reliable with 787 laps of running. This could pay dividends in the early races if points are up for grabs.