Green Notebook from the Autoroute de Soleil

I cannot tell you where it was exactly, but as soon as I heard that Max Mosley had died I peeled off the motorway into one of the rest areas that the French call aires and took out my computer. I have rather a lot of folders of biographies of F1 people and so I can pull together something quite quickly when these things are required. And with the magic of 4G it was up on the Internet on the other side of the world not long after I accelerated back on to the Autoroute de Soleil (which translates as The Motorway of the Sun).

It wasn’t the first obituary I have written in a service area, and it probably won’t be the last.

I didn’t get home until about 10pm, after 14 hours on the road from Monaco. This was way longer than it should take, but Monday was a French national holiday, the end of a three-day weekend known in France as Pentecôte, or Whitsun in English. It was also the first weekend when some of France’s lockdown restrictions were lifted. This meant that millions of French people took an extra day off work before and/or after the break and had a mini-holiday, which meant that the roads were crammed with people with the inevitable result being that there were traffic jams, particularly as the weather was changeable. And so the journey took much longer than it should. This happens every year but this seemed a little more than usual. It meant that one is often travelling en accordion, a lovely French expression to describe traffic that squeezes up and expands like an accordion. These ebbs and flows eventually create blockages that exist for no reason at all. If you remember last year’s Tuscan Grand Prix you could see that in action in Formula 1.

This usually means someone will run into the back of someone else and then everything stops and in an effort to avoid this the authorities imposed slower speed limits on the motorways in the hope that people would drive at a constant pace. Yeah, right…

In the end the reports on motorway radio (107.7) of traffic jams ahead going into Paris led to a decision to do something different on a road called the A19 that zips west to the south of Paris. In a perfect world this would then link up with a fast road up to Rouen, but the plans to have that all up and running in 2020 seem quite a way from reality. Still, I’d rather be moving and drive further than sitting in traffic jams en accordion.

I had plenty of time to think on my long ride home and it struck me that in days of old Monaco was always on the weekend of Ascension Day, which is why the Friday is a day off, and a week later Pau took place on the Pentecôte weekend, so many teams and drivers would go from one to the other.

Pau is one of the great events, dating back to the early 1930s, when they copied the Monaco idea of racing around a town and created a fantastic event, which used to be one of the highlights of the season. Pau has been a victim of F1 to some extent. Originally it was an F1 race but in the 1950s it became one of the big Formula 2 races. In 1998, when the then Formula 3000 linked up with F1, Pau was left out. It switched to Formula 3 for some years before an unsuccessful phase with the World Touring Championship and a return to Formula 3 until 2018 when Formula 3 was also hoovered up by Formula 1. The last Pau GP in 2019 was held for the Euroformula Open Championship, but since then the last two events have been cancelled because of the pandemic and although there are plans to revive the event in 2022, the future is less than certain.

The Ascension-Whitsun double-header stopped some years ago, when the Automobile Club of Monaco agreed to move off its traditional event if required, because F1 needed more flexibility with the calendar. Getting the ACM to change anything is not easy, which one can see from the Monaco TV coverage as this is now the only event left that is not covered by F1’s own TV crews and relies on the locals. This is why the TV coverage was not very good this year. Obviously the locals don’t have as much experience as the F1 crews.

This is one aspect of the sport that is always frustrating because Monaco may be the most glamorous and exciting race of the year, but the working conditions always seem to end up exasperating those involved.

“I am always glad to come to Monaco each year,” said a French colleague. “…but unfortunately I am always happy to leave.”

Why? Because it is isn’t like the other Grands Prix and, to be quite frank, it is not as well organised. There are a myriad of things that are nearly right – but not quite. Monaco is always about “You cannot do this” and “You cannot do that”. Often it is because the people saying “Non” have been told the wrong thing by a superior who doesn’t have a clue and while the staff do their best and are generally helpful and courteous, there are always problems. It is never a good idea to mention such shortcomings to the ACM because they always seem to think that no-one in the world knows how to organise a Grand Prix as well as they do – and how dare anyone suggest that they are not perfect.

It is all very silly stuff, usually involving the ACM or the local police. The Safety Car was stopped and ordered off the public road this year because it did not have a suitable number plate. I had to laugh when I saw a security person using a metal detector on a Formula 1 driver, blissfully unaware that Sergio Perez is not about to blow up the paddock. The Monaco bomb squad was much in evidence, although they never seemed to be doing much apart from getting in the way. If they ever do find a bomb, I’m running in the other direction…

The Accreditation Centre was another small and silly example. It was located on a busy road in Monte Carlo, without any possibility of parking. The entire district was filled with posses of flustered F1 folk trying to find a way to pick up a pass.

This year, apparently because of the pandemic, they changed the location of the media parking – no big deal – except that there were no signs anywhere because the ACM assumes that everyone knows where everything is.

In the end everyone finds workarounds to make the whole thing more efficient and so this year, we took to going to the paddock area each morning walking through dank tunnels under the famous palace. It wasn’t quite the glamorous Monaco you read about and every morning I had a good giggle as I tramped through this grotty grotto…

In the end these annoyances did not ruin my weekend because I was constantly happy as a result of the F1 written media finally being allowed back into the paddock for the first time since Australia last year. We were able to talk to people we’d not been able to chat to for almost a year, and to meet new arrivals in the sport, of which there have been a few. Ross Brawn remarked that he couldn’t remember the last time I asked him a question and I bit my tongue to stop myself saying: “it’s not my fault we were barred from the paddock”, but in the end it was something to celebrate and not complain about. We can do our jobs properly again. And it is a joy to be back in contact with the rest of the F1 village. It’s these quiet discussions that produce the good stories, the whispers to chase and to consider.

I quickly picked up a wonderful story that had been missed because of lack of contact with the movers and shakers in F1. Back in April it was announced in the newspapers in the Südtirol that there was going to be a Grand Prix there in 2022. This was not picked up internationally at all…

The Südtirol is one of Europe’s odd places – a bit like Monaco – which has been left behind by history. It is in the very north of Italy, in the shadow of the Alps, where the Italians speak German as well as Italian because at some point they were ruled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Because languages are useful in F1, there are quite a few Südtirolers in F1 and one – Guenther Steiner – was behind the story. The newspaper said that there would be a street race around Steiner’s home city of Merano and here was a track map, a logo and a photograph of Steiner shaking hands on a deal with F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, who knows the region well.

It was all there, front page news, on April 1.

It was good to see that the bosses of F1 can have some fun…

There’s not much fun going on at Alfa Romeo at the moment, although Monaco saw the team score a point for the first time this year. The word in Monaco is that there will be important meetings regarding the future of Alfa Romeo as the sponsor of Sauber in the next few days, and also whispers of discussions of what might happen if that deal is not extended. The obvious thing to do if the Alfa Romeo money stops coming is for the team to try to do a deal with Renault. There was talk some months ago that the team would renew its engine supply deal with Ferrari until the new engine formula begins in 2025, but trying to cut a deal with Renault makes more sense in many ways.

The French manufacturer currently gets technical feedback only from its own factory team, which is a disadvantage, and it also lacks political clout for the same reason. Renault might not want to provide money for another team, but it could reduce Sauber’s costs in exchange for the team taking on some of Renault’s young drivers. There are rather a lot of them at the moment and they are piling up (en accordion?) behind Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon. The list currently includes China’s Guanyu Zhou, Denmark’s Christian Lundgaard and Australian Oscar Piastri, who are all in Formula 2, and Brazil’s Caio Collet and France’s Victor Martins in Formula 3.

Sauber also has a young driver deal with Monaco F2 Theo Pourchaire, who turns 18 in August, and looks like being a special driver. This might be an attraction for Alpine as it would give them another French rising star.

One should also consider the possibility that the team might attract Pierre Gasly, as there is little to be gained from him staying at Scuderia AlphaTauri. Pierre no longer fits into the ethos of AlphaTauri, which exists to develop young talent for Red Bull. It would also solve Red Bull’s problem of having five drivers for four seats, with Max Verstappen staying on at Red Bull Racing with Sergio Perez and Yuki Tsunoda pairing up with… Alex Albon.

A break with Alfa Romeo is quite likely, unless the company’s new boss Jean-Philippe Imparato thinks it is worth it. Perhaps there is some logic in developing Alfa Romeo’s image in F1, but doing that with a Ferrari engine doesn’t make a lot of sense. Besides, all future Alfa Romeos will be electrified, with either full battery electric or plug-in hybrid power-trains and it makes no sense for Alfa Romeo to invest in an F1 powertrain until 2025 at the earliest.

Given the lack of success at Sauber you would think that taking over the team might make sense but when you look at the numbers involved it really doesn’t. Sauber’s biggest problem is that it is based in Switzerland, an expensive place to do business. And here’s a fascinating fact: the average salary in Switzerland is 112,228 CHF, which these days equates to $125,096 with the current rate of exchange.  In recent years the team at Hinwil has expanded from around 300 people to 500 – although the results have not improved a great deal.

This means that costs have risen significantly while revenues have not. With the F1 budget cap Sauber is going to have a salary bill that will use up a big percentage of the available budget. We don’t know the exact numbers but lots of F1 folk are paid more than the average salary in their country and if you multiply the average by the size of the staff you realise that it’s a really big problem. A significant chunk of the team’s remaining budget goes to Ferrari, which provides the entire drive-train, including the gearbox and the rear suspension, although some of this cost is believed to be offset by the team’s acceptance of a Ferrari-nominated driver.

One cannot imagine that Alfa Romeo would want to buy into such a situation and so other solutions are needed.

And at this point I admit that I’m wandering off into speculation but it is interesting to note that Alpine recently went into an alliance with Lotus to develop an electric sports vehicle in the future. Lotus is owned these days by the Chinese giant Geely, which seems to have big ambitions for the brand, to transform the range of cars and to expand into other vehicle segments, while remaining true to the company’s DNA. Part of this strategy is to raise the company’s profile and be a more global company with China and the US as its primary markets. Geely has already invested heavily in the firm and has added 670 people at Hethel in recent years, with plans for another 250. It strikes me that if Lotus is looking for promotion and to build on its DNA, a Formula 1 project would be perfect and one in league with Alpine makes sense. We will see, but if I was Laurent Rossi, I’d be on the phone to the Chinese telling them all about the opportunities at Sauber, using Alpine F1 technology and taking on a properly quick Chinese driver, which Alpine happens to have…

It is clear that Sauber would need to slim down but Geely could probably find a use for the Swiss organisation’s road car activities. And, of course, it would give F1 a boost with a proper racing brand coming back to the fold. And, why not paint the cars black and gold as well…

All that is needed is a Chunky Chapman-like figure to breathe some life into the team.

Anyway, the only real question on the driver market at the moment after Ocon and Alpine is what happens next with Valtteri Bottas. There has been much speculation in recent weeks that Mercedes may decide that it now needs to promote George Russell into the main team to prepare him for a leading role in the future.

Lewis Hamilton is now 36, but is showing no signs of slowing down, while 31-year-old Bottas will not want to give up on having a winning car, but might see the logic in moving elsewhere to emerge from the shadow of Hamilton. It is a little known fact that last year Valtteri came close to signing for Renault, but he lost out when the company’s top bosses decided to go with Alonso.

Mercedes could decide to keep the Hamilton-Bottas partnership, but with Lewis’s long-term future unclear, they might also want to bring on Russell so that he is fully integrated into the operation before Hamilton decides to retire.

This might destabilise the team, but Mercedes has managed difficult driver line-ups before (think Hamilton-Rosberg) and might decide to take Russell. That would leave Bottas looking for a job, although he could find a place at Aston Martin, if Sebastian Vettel does not continue with the form shown in Monaco. It is not likely that team owner Lawrence Stroll will shift his own son out of the team – unless there is a better drive available – but for the moment Lance has still not done enough to have the big teams beating down the door to get to him.

Hamilton is perhaps a little unpredictable with regard to the future but he is driving better than ever and is clearly enjoying what he does, although Monaco was a blow. This year he could win a record eighth World Championship but then might want to take on the challenge of winning the most FIA World Championships of any driver in history, a record that Sébastien Loeb holds, having won nine World Rally Championship titles in the course of his career. I cannot see why he wouldn’t sign another one-year deal to see how Mercedes does with the new rules in 2022 and then decide on a suitable career path. We say that no individual is bigger than the sport and that the sport goes on as each generation moves onward and this remains true but it is worth noting Hamilton’s Twitter following is now at 6.3 million, more than twice the size of Scuderia Ferrari’s Twitter army of three million. It is an even bigger gap on Instagram where Lewis has 22.4m followers and Ferrari has only 6.4m.

Formula 1, by the way, has 5.7 million followers on Twitter and 13.3 million on Instagram, which goes to show that in social media terms an individual can be bigger than a sport…

Why not try a virtual audience?

In case you missed it, I’m having another virtual audience this week. For those who don’t know, this is a private two hour zoom conference call with you and a small group of F1 fans who want to know about the inner workings of F1, the latest gossip, history or whatever. The content is driven by the questions. We will keep it as close to the live format as possible but you will need to provide your own drinks and snacks! We keep the numbers low so that everyone can get the chance to ask a question and we will endeavour to ensure that everyone gets at least one chance. It costs just £20 a head

The Virtual Audience with Joe will take place tomorrow, Thursday 27th May, at 6pm (UK TIME) (GMT+1). For more details and to buy tickets, click here.

Max Mosley 1940 -2021

To say that Max Rufus Mosley was a complicated character is like noting that the Nile is quite a long river. In many respects one cannot blame him for this because he was a victim of his background and, one can argue, his DNA.

Max was the second son of British politician Sir Oswald Mosley and Diana Mitford, one of the famous Mitford Girls, six beautiful sisters who played a major part in British high society in the 1930s.

Max’s mother was an admirer of (and was admired by) both Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler – and she knew both men well. Churchill called her “Dianamite”. Max’s aunts were wildly colourful and controversial. Nancy was a celebrated (and brilliant) author. Pamela kept out of the limelight as a farmer, while Unity was Hitler’s lover and shot herself just hours after war was declared in 1939. She failed to kill herself and was repatriated to England a few months later, but never fully recovered and died in 1948. Jessica was a communist who eloped to fight in the Spanish Civil War and later became an investigative journalist, while Deborah became the Duchess of Devonshire.

His father’s family had once owned the manor of Manchester, which had the right to charge a fee on every item sold in Manchester market. After the industrial revolution this became incredibly valuable and the Mosleys made a vast fortune, even before selling their rights to the Manchester Corporation in 1845 for £200,000 (around £25 million in modern terms). Old fortunes are often well-hidden and it is believed that the idea of leasing the rights of Formula 1 for 100 years may have come from Mosley, as his family wealth had been sustained for generations with 100-year leases on the property it owned.

Sir Oswald Mosley (the Sir came from the Mosley of Ancoats baronetcy) was a skilled politician who switched allegiances from Conservative to Labour in the 1920s and served in the Labour government of 1929. He was seen as a potential leader of the party and a possible Prime Minister but he then made the mistake of trying to emulate European leaders by starting the British Union of Fascists – known as the Black Shirts – in 1932. Britain was not cut out for fascism, however, and he was never able to grab power as Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler and Francisco Franco had done.

Max’s parents were interned by the British government in the UK a month after Max was born in the spring of 1940 and they were not released until the end of 1943. Oswald was a despised figure in Britain after the war and Max spent much of his childhood in Ireland before the family settled in France, living in a neoclassical folly called Le Temple de la Gloire, in the southern suburbs of Paris.  Oswald became a leading advocate of a united Europe, although his fascist past haunted him until his death.

In an effort to make Max a suitable European, Oswald sent his son to schools in France and Germany before finishing his education at Millfield in Somerset. He then studied physics at Christ Church, Oxford. He was active in student politics but was not President of the Oxford Union as is often reported.

Max went on to Gray’s Inn to study patent law, and qualified as a barrister in 1964. By then, however, he was focussed on motor racing. It was a passion that began when he was still at university when he visited Silverstone with his future wife Jean and became fascinated by the sport. He was already a thrill-seeker and had become a Territorial Army paratrooper and was also arrested on one occasion in 1962 while protecting his father from a hostile mob in Dalston, in east London.

He harboured ambitions to enter politics, for which he would have been well-suited, but because of his father’s reputation he was told that his name was electoral poison and he would never be elected. Later there was a period when he hoped to get into the House of Lords as a result of his achievements in the automobile world, but that never happened.

Racing became Mosley’s life. He drove in mainly club events but having access to money he was able to buy himself a Formula 2 car in 1968,  having founded the London Racing Team with Chris Lambert. Max raced In the F2 event at Hockenheim in which Jim Clark was killed. After Lambert was killed later the same year Max became Piers Courage’s team-mate in Frank Williams’s Formula 2 team.

Max realised that he was never quick enough to go to Formula 1 and retired as a driver in 1969 and joined forces with Robin Herd, Alan Rees and Graham Coaker to establish March Engineering, which was a great success as a racing car production company. March cars won many championships, including enjoying huge success in IndyCar racing, but it never really lived up to expectations in Formula 1. Jackie Stewart drove a March to victory for Tyrrell at the Spanish GP of 1970 but the March factory team won only twice with Vittorio Brambilla in Austria in 1975 and with Ronnie Peterson at Monza in 1976.

Mosley found that the politics of the sport were enough to allow him to use his skills, and in league with Bernie Ecclestone he took on the governing body of the sport, then known as FISA, for commercial control of the fast-developing F1. This became his primary motivation and after March withdrew from F1 at the end of 1977 Mosley sold his shares and became legal advisor to the Formula One Constructors’ Association (FOCA).

He played a leading role in the FISA-FOCA war of 1980-82, which led to the Concorde Agreement, of which he was one of the architects. This gave commercial control of the sport to FOCA, while leaving the FIA as the ultimate owners, with sufficient revenues from F1 to remain happy. While Ecclestone went his own way and gradually took control of FOCA by moving the rights won to his own personal empire, Mosley took several years out of the sport, looking at ways to enter real politics before returning in 1986 with a plan to take over the international federation. He became the president of the Manufacturers Commission first and then made a bid for the FISA Presidency in 1991. At the same time he was involved in some racing businesses, notably Simtek Research, which he founded with Nick Wirth in 1989.

The FISA election of 1991 was a turning point for the sport as it ousted Mosley’s old opponent Jean-Marie Balestre by 43 votes to 29, the Frenchman having been blindsided by promises of support that evaporated at the last moment. Mosley then engineered the merger between the FIA and the FISA, with Balestre’s support and in October 1993 he succeeded Balestre in the role of FIA President. He would be re-elected in 1997 and again in 2001 and 2005.

He next engineered the merger of the FIA with the international touring association (AIT) to establish a very powerful pressure group for the automobile world against governments. This helped to assuage his desire to be a politician as it gave him a platform to play political games with politicians all over the world.

He achieved a huge amount in terms of road safety, particularly with the Euro NCAP crash test programme, while also understanding that the rising tide of environmentalism needed to be dealt with. He thus set about changing F1 to avoid attacks from politicians and environmental groups. He tried to cut F1 costs by standardising components, and to develop useful technologies such as the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS). He fought hard to delay the inevitable bans on tobacco advertising and when it became clear that he could go no further, pre-empted the bans and forced the sport to find money from other sources. In Formula 1 terms his greatest impact, however, came in terms of safety after the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at Imola in 1994 when he led the campaigns to use a scientific approach to saving lives. His work in this respect saved many lives. 

In July 2000 he and Bernie Ecclestone negotiated a deal with the FIA to lease the commercial rights to F1 for 100 years for a one-off payment of $315m. This money as used to create the FIA Foundation, which funds many different kinds of reesearch and development for the federation.

He reached his zenith, probably, in 2006 when he was named a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur in France, although his achievements were never officially recognised in Britain, which perhaps they should have been.

In his latter years as FIA President something changed. Perhaps he became bored by constantly having to find solutions and compromises and he began to behave in a more dictatorial manner. This was particularly evident in his attempted destruction of McLaren with a $100 millon fine for the team after allegations that the team had cheated. In reality what McLaren did was no different to what other teams were doing – which was made clear when similar activity at Renault was left largely unpunished. In the end the affair gave the impression of being a vendetta against Ron Dennis. Ron was always mystified about Mosley’s antagonism but the conclusion he reached was that Max was jealous of his achievements, while Max’s own efforts as an F1 team boss had been at best mediocre. Mosley steam-rollered opposition and attacked critics.

There was more than a little enjoyment in F1 circles in March 2008 when The News of the World newspaper published photographs and details of a sado-masochistic orgy, involving Mosley, five prostitutes and military-style uniforms. The story came as quite a surprise as although there had been some hints that he had a less than conventional private life, no-one knew very much, although a few of us knew that he had a keen interest in ballerinas. There has long been speculation about how and why the scandal happened, but the evidence suggests that Max was a victim of himself because he was warned by Bernie Ecclestone that there was some kind of plot to expose him. How Ecclestone knew is another question, but it is clear that there was no great conspiracy but rather some desperate individuals who wanted to blackmail him for money. Mosley walked into a trap that he had been warned about, even if those who warned him didn’t know what he did to get his kicks. Certainly, Ron Dennis was as surprised as everyone else and even an Ecclestone eyebrow was raised by the revelations.

From a personal point of view the scandal was incredibly destructive. Max had spent his whole professional life trying to rebuild the family name and it all collapsed after the scandal. He fought to survive as FIA President (and succeeded thanks in no small part to the support of Mohammed Bin Sulayem, who rallied many clubs to Mosley’s aid in a confidence vote that followed).

Mosley dug in and turned on his opponent. He believed, as some believe, that what you do in your private life is not a reflection on your morality in professional life, and he went after The News of the World with a quiet fury. The newspaper had made one very sloppy error in its story, using the word “Nazi” to describe the uniforms. This was clearly not the case and Mosley sued the newspaper and won although the judge described his activities as  “reckless and almost self-destructive”. He won £60,000 in damages and £450,000 in legal costs but that was not enough. He supported the Hacked Off campaign to persuade Prime Minister David Cameron to set up the Leveson Inquiry into media practices and ethics in 2011 and underwrote the costs of some claimants in cases of phone-hacking, in a scandal that led to the closure of The News of the World in July 2011. 

Mosley characterised himself as a champion of privacy but there are still many people who believe that one’s actions in private are a reflection of the personality and should always be taken into account with public figures.

Mosley had a remarkable mind although perhaps his greatest weakness was to always believe that he was the smartest person in the room, when in fact the smartest people are always aware that there may be others who might be cleverer than they are.

At the same time Mosley was charming and funny. Beneath the suave exterior he could be a very volatile individual and one sensed that there was always an underlying frustration and anger that he could never be what he ought to have been. In many ways, although always gregarious, Mosley was a lonely and solitary man. He could be harsh and cruel and at the same time was vulnerable and pained, particularly after his son Alexander committed suicide in 2009, at the age of 39.

For all his skills, achievements and faults, Max was always good company and perhaps that is the best epitaph for this complicated yet charming man.

Max is survived by his wife Jean and by his son Patrick.

Stoker names Tom K

Graham Stoker has announced his candidacy to be the next FIA President. The current Deputy President (Sport) has named nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen – the most successful racing driver in sports car history – as his candidate for Deputy President Sport; Belgium’s Thierry Willemarck to continue as Deputy President for Mobility; and New Zealand’s Brian Gibbons to continue as President of the FIA Senate.

It’s clearly a bid which will maintain stability in the organisation and will, more than likely, continue the current activities and strategies, rather than trying to make big changes. This probably gives the campaign the edge over challenger Mohammed bin Sulayem. Jean Todt’s organisation may not be 100 perfect but it has run the federation with little real controversy, which is ultimately what a federation should do. Previous Presidents were more controversial figures, often with very different motivations.

Stoker is a figure who has worked quietly with Todt for many years and is likely to garner strong support from the clubs. The election is in December.

A really sexy F1 car

McLaren is going to race its two F1 cars in Gulf Oil colours at Monaco. The celebrated Gulf livery dates back to 1967 after Gulf Vice-President Grady Davis got to know team owner John Wyer after the former bought a Ford GT40 road car. Wyer wanted to go to Le Mans with his own version of the GT40, called a Mirage MK1 and Davis was happy to be the sponsor. In the course of the nine years that followed the combination enjoyed huge success with the Mirages and then with the mighty Porsche 917s, including three world titles and three wins at Le Mans and the cars were featured in Steve McQueen’s celebrated 1971 movie Le Mans. The Gulf livery passed into legend.

McLaren first used the livery for the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1997 in which there were three F1 GTRs entered and Pierre-Henri Raphanel, Jean-Marc Gounon and Anders Olofsson took one of them to second overall and won the GT1 class. 

Gulf became a strategic partner of McLaren in July 2020. The livery will be featured on both McLarens at Monaco and Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo will where similar overalls and the race team kit will also reflect the change.

The team says that “a key feature” of the one-off livery is to sell a bespoke range of limited-edition merchandise, inspired by the design, which is available from the McLaren on-line store.

“This will be McLaren’s homage to Gulf’s celebrated race car design,” says Zak Brown. “We’re enormous fans of brave and bold design, and the striking Gulf blue is among the most loved liveries in racing, a celebrated piece of culture which transcends the world of motorsport.

“Design has always been important to McLaren – you see this in everything we do from our return to papaya to our stunning headquarters, the McLaren Technology Centre. We’re excited to exhibit this as a team and celebrate our proud association with Gulf in Monaco.”

Formula 1 teams are supposed to keep the same liveries throughout a season but McLaren got permission for the change from the FIA and the Formula 1 Group. It is not the first time we have seen such things with Ferrari running a special burgundy red scheme last year at Mugello to celebrate its 1000th Grand Prix, while Mercedes changed its livery to celebrate the company’s 125th anniversary of the company’s involvement in motorsport at the German Grand Prix in 2019.

“To see the reaction of both Lando and Daniel as well as the whole McLaren team to this livery has been really special and we are thrilled to unveil it to motorsport fans around the world,” said Mike Jones, Chief Executive Officer, Gulf Oil.

New dates for F1

The Turkish GP has been called off (for now) and there will now be two races in Austria, back to back, on June 25-27 and July 2-4, the first being the Styrian Grand Prix, the second being the Austrian Grand Prix. The French Grand Prix will move forward a week to June 18-20. This means that there will still be 23 planned races for the 2021 season. 

The Formula 1 community continue to have a successful record avoiding COVID-19 with over 78,000 tests conducted last season returning only 78 positive results, a rate of 0.1%. So far this season there have been 17,000 tests with 15 positive cases, again a rate of 0.1%. This is alongside the vaccines that a number of teams have already received and the good rollout of the vaccine in the UK where seven of the 10 teams are based.

“We were all looking forward to racing in Turkey but the travel restrictions in place have meant we are not able to be there in June,” said Stefano Domenicali. “Formula 1 has shown again that it is able to react quickly to developments and find solutions and we are delighted that we will have a double header in Austria meaning our season remains at 23 races. I want to thank the promoter and authorities in Turkey for all of their efforts in recent weeks and want to thank the promoters in France and Austria for their speed, flexibility and enthusiasm in accommodating this solution. We have had very good conversations will all the other promoters since the start of the year and continue to work closely with them during this period.” 

Green Notebook from Authezat

Many years ago I wrote a column called “Breakfast and the Empire”, in which I argued that in the days when Europe ruled the world the British had the grandest empire because they started every day with eggs, bacon, bangers, beans, fried bread and black pudding.

“They then marched all day long, stopping only to claim bits of land and shoot locals who complained about being invaded”.

The French thought this poor show but they ate only croissants and had tiny little cups of coffee. By the time they had hoisted on their back packs they were already lacking energy and a half an hour of marching would mean that they soon started to discuss the need for a big lunch and that meant that they had to threaten to strike in order to stop to prepare something delightful. So it was not until late afternoon that they were in the mood for a bit of invading – by which time all the juicy colonies had gone.

The Germans never really got going because they had discomfort all day, after eating too many hard-boiled eggs with their coffee, while the Italians ate only sweet things and had to go to the dentist a lot.

And the Spanish, oh dear, they were going to bed when everyone else got up – and so had no chance at all in the construction of terrific Great Power empires, all they had were the leftovers from earlier adventures.

OK, I admit it’s a rough guide, and it wouldn’t happen today because the British would have to spend all day in immigration queues clasping their beloved blue passports and being outraged that no-one else cares if Her Majesty “requests and requires” that the bearer be allowed to pass freely “without let or hindrance”.

But some of it remains true.

The Spanish did, however, invent the siesta, one thing that plays an essential role of my life. It is a mystery how they did this because the word siesta derives from the Latin expression hora sexta, which means “the sixth hour” after you wake up. So in Spanish terms that should be the cocktail hour…

Still, I understand how the habit was formed. In the searing heat of summery Spain, it is best to make the most of the cool hours of the night and then rest when the heat is at its worst, although this is not good for empire-building, nor for Englishmen and mad dogs who like to go out in the midday sun to build their empires.

I was reminded of these habits on Saturday night in the flimsy-walled hotel where I foolishly decided to stay for the Spanish GP, on the basis that it was close to the track, was cheap and had a restraurant that was open. The room next door to mine seemed to be the headquarters of the Granollers Debating Society and from about 3am onwards was the venue for a lengthy argument (presumably about Catalan independence) and then, when most had departed and the sun was about to appear, a pair remained, grew more fond of one another and serenaded the dawn with animal impersonations. Still, it sounded like they enjoyed their safari. They didn’t seem too bothered when I knocked on the wall. So, I wasn’t too bothered putting on the morning show on the TV when I got up at 7am. We racing folk tend to be a little deaf and so you need a high volume…

Sunday was a long day as a result of this, with heavy eyelids and working deep into the following night became a real challenge. All this meant that by Monday morning a very weary reporter set off to drive the 800 miles home. And it didn’t help that it rained for most of the first 400 miles, making life a little more complicated as I worked up way across Catalonia, along the Languedoc coast and then turned north to Lodeve and climbed up from the Mediterranean plain to the high Larzac plateau by way of Pégairolles-de-l’Escalette, which I presume gets its name from somehow being related to an escalier (a staircase). Up on top of the plateau it was still miserable and even the grandeur of the Viaduct de Millau was lost in the mist and rain.

By the time I reached Authezat, at the bottom of the descent from the Massif Centrale towards Clermont-Ferrand, I was a Tesla in need of a charging station… I could go no further.

It had been a busy weekend in Spain with a terrific race for the victory between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. I think in the years to come we may look back on this era as having been a little bit special, as one titan coming to the end of his F1 career fought another rising to his peak.

Anyway, it wasn’t the cut-and-thrust of NASCAR, of passing and repassing, but something more subtle than that. It was a terrific contest of strategic thinking between Mercedes and Red Bull as their drivers gave everything they had. Could we have asked for a better battle on a track that is makes racing so hard? It’s not always easy telling casual F1 fans about how fascinating some of these races are. It’s not just warriors trading blows. It’s a rich and complex story of competition on so many different levels. Mercedes might have won on the track (again), but there was big blow struck to the team in the days before the race when Red Bull announced that it had hired five top engineers from the Mercedes AMG HPP team at Brixworth, joining the new technical director Ben Hodgkinson at Red Bull Powertrains. This group will build the Red Bull engines of the future. And what impact will their departure have on Mercedes performance? Perhaps one day we will see this moment as the day the Mercedes flagship took a torpedo in the midships. Perhaps not.

With limited access to the paddock (and hopefully this will be the last race with such restrictions) the F1 media numbered only 55 – and a lot were Spanish – but attendance is better than last year when that number of media present dipped into single figures in Russia.

This meant that there was not much gossip going on, except stuff dreamed up by the Bedroom Bernsteins and the Wannabe Woodwards.

Everyone misses the gossip element of the F1 show and what little interaction there is between the real F1 media and the team bosses usually features a “what’s happening?” moment from both sides. This has always been a system in which people can start rumours for their own purposes, if they wish to stir up trouble against a rival. We’ve seen that a lot in recent days with rumours that Aston Martin might get rid of Otmar Szafnauer. There was no truth to the stories, but it was – it seems – revenge of another team that didn’t convince Cognizant to join them, rather than signing up with Aston Martin. I’m not saying Cognizant made the right decision, but obviously the other team wasn’t happy about it… and I’m told the team bosses are less than friendly these days.

One point that I didn’t see mentioned anywhere was that the Spanish Grand Prix doesn’t have a contract for 2022. In fact this year’s race was a one-off deal to keep the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya track on the F1 schedule, while they try to work out a deal to keep a Spanish race on the calendar. We should have one given that Fernando Alonso is back in action with Alpine (albeit being shown up a little so far by Esteban Ocon) – and Carlos Sainz is, of course, racing for Ferrari. At the same time, we have Sebastian Vettel in an Aston Martin and Mercedes winning a lot and we still don’t have a German Grand Prix.

Well, not at the time of writing anyway, but I wonder whether with Turkey up to its neck in COVID-19 and other countries putting up obstacles to movement for those who have been there, I can imagine that the Turkish GP might have to go and perhaps we could end up in Hockenheim.

A rather optimistic French magazine suggested that we could be in for two French GPs this summer, but I fear that paying for one is hard enough… In Formula 1 the best advice for a reporter is to always follow the money, because that is what always creates the story.

Spain has a problem with money but it is complicated because Catalunya has been a bit naughty in recent years by trying to gain independence from Spain, and so the Spanish central government is not keep to help the Catalans with an F1 race, but doesn’t currently have an alternative venue into which money can be poured. It might even be a good moment for someone to build a circuit near Madrid because the Spanish government might be willing to help, leaving the Catalans in a pickle. Carlos Jr is also a madrileño, which would help.

If you look at the history of the Brazilian GP, for example, this is important as the switching between Rio and Sao Paulo was largely related to whether a paulista (a native of Sao Paulo) or a carioca (a native of Rio) was the top F1 driver at the time…

But there are other problems as well in Catalunya not least the fact that the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya does not produce good races. The F1 drivers love it, because it is fun to drive, but racing in almost impossible because (like Monaco) there is nowhere to overtake. It was interesting to see that the Catalans tried reprofiling Turns 10 and 11 this year (working hand-in-glove with the Racing Department of the Formula 1 group, so they said). It made no difference at all, in fact it was worse.

“It was probably the only overtaking opportunity apart from Turn 1,” Pierre Gasly reported. “And now there’s not as much of a big braking zone.”

And with the cars today having so much downforce, even Turn 1 is very difficult unless there is a significant delta between the two cars. And F1 performance today is so tight that this rarely exists unless the cars are on different tyre strategies. The drivers – even the Spaniards – are polite about this monstrous flaw, but they all talk about the importance of the start and how strategy is important in Spain.

This has always been the case at the track and if one wants to argue the point, the statistics make it rather obvious. In the 31 races held at the track 24 have been won from pole and another four from second on the grid. Only three winners came from behind the front row and no-one has won the race from lower than fifth on the grid…

For me that’s a problem, but it is a bigger problem that when they tried to fix it, they didn’t succeed. If we do get to race in Melbourne this year (and it’s still very doubtful, in my opinion) we will see another attempt by the Racing Department of the Formula 1 group to fix a circuit where racing is not easy, so if they don’t get that one right…

To me, and I am obviously not a scientist, there has to be some sort of science which leads to good races at one track and bad ones at others. It cannot be magic. So, if one can identify the right ingredients, surely a chef would argue that one can bake a good cake?

I spotted US Grand Prix promoter Bobby Epstein in the paddock and managed to have a quiet conversation with him about where the race in Austin is going. The track is out of contract after this year’s race but Epstein is confident that a new deal will be struck as F1 and is happy that Miami has joined in to help grow the sport in the Unitd States. He says there are no fears about the race being cancelled because of COVID-19 and says that all tickets that have been put up for sale to date have been sold. He’s planning to beat attendance records set in 2019 and while the Saturday night concert with 71-year-old Billy Joel may not get F1’s new young US fans (thanks to Netflix) rocking, he says that he’s got a deal for the Friday concert with a band that is “massive” but this will not be announced for another three weeks. He says that this group will appeal to a younger demographic.

Netflix has been key in driving interest in F1 in the US, particularly among women, which Epstein says means that more tickets will be sold because the sport is now beginning to appeal to the whole family. Epstein says that 65 percent of the tickets sold are to out-of-state people but reckons that this could be 80 percent if foreign visitors get the confidence to travel to the US. The track recently achieved a big goal which went unnoticed when it got a change of zoning for large sections of the 1,155-acre venue. It can now start investing in new facilities and activities to broaden the appeal and become more of a tourist hub, including a non-racing entertainment park for kids, a water park, more indoor and outdoor sports facilities, convention and retail space, condominiums and a private motorsport club, with garaging for cars. At the centre of the project is an 11-storey hotel that can be expanded in the future to more than 500 rooms. It all sounds very exciting…

What other scribbles are there? I have heard in recent days of a documentary that will be launched soon about former FIA President Max Mosley, which will tell his story. “Mosley: It’s Complicated” will cover many subjects including his family background, his racing career, his work with the FIA and  the spanking of media conglomerates that followed titillating revelations in the News of the World. One can only wonder what certification the film will have.

There is also whispers of a similar project about Bernie Ecclestone…

In the F1 world one is never far from someone famous, even if one is stuck in the media cage. The media may not be allowed in the paddock to do its job, but the justification for such restriction is becoming increasingly untenable. I’d like the Granollers Debating Society to take on the discussion: In a media sport, is a cleaning lady more essential than the media? I am sure that they would get into the definition of “essential”. Last weekend I spotted Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the chairman and chief executive officer of Ineos. He’s a team shareholder at Mercedes, so one can argue that owners are essential. Based on my experience of some of these people, I would argue that they are not really essential at all, as most have no clue how to make a team successful. I’ve seen Susie Wolff in the Paddock in the past but she can be justified as a wife of an owner, as these days wives have as much right to ownership of an F1 team as a husband does, unless there is a prenup.

If we are looking to discover the secret owner of Williams we should perhaps investigate two new leads: Geri Horner (formerly of The Spice Girls) was in Barcelona and her hubby Christian is definitely not an F1 team owner, so I’m not sure why his wife is allowed in and FC Barcelona’s French striker Antoine Griezmann doesn’t seem a likely team owner, but he was wandering around too. Who knows, maybe he (and Geri) are planning to build an F1 circuit in Lesotho, an essential thing because everyone thinks a race in Africa is just a splendid idea.

One can have endless flights of fancy about Formula 1 and given the access problem, imaginations have been quite active. I loved last week’s announcement that Penske Racing is going into partnership (again) with Porsche to compete in the acronymous LMDh class in sports car racing. They are going to set up a European operation to run the racing on this side of The Pond. Wouldn’t it be great if Roger then decided to help boost F1 in America by using this as a future headquarters for Porsche and Penske in F1. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s ridiculous… but why not? Roger’s only 84… and he’ll get bored once they have won Le Mans.

Another octagenarian who we should keep an eye on is John Malone, the owner of the Formula 1 group through his Liberty Media. He has his fingers in a lot pies. Last week, the FIA forgot to mention this when it announced that they had found a promoter for the FIA Electric GT Championship, which will be launched in 2023. The series, they declared would be promoted by the media company Discovery Inc’s events management division, Eurosport Events, following a competitive tender process.

Discovery Inc. is a publicly-traded company, but such entities can (and are) controlled by people. Discovery is effectively run by Liberty Global, another of Malone’s companies. Liberty Global also owns a significant shareholding in Formula E Holdings…

So when it comes to merging championships and so on in the future, one man will make the decisions (if he’s still going). And one suspects that the FIA, which relies on funding from its commercial rights-holders, will cut the best deal possible, while also saying (quietly) “Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir…”

Anyway, after a good snooze in Authezat, I hit the road again and, feeling refreshed, was home in time for dinner… at a sensible French hour.

Green Notebook from Portimao

I often use the expression “pecking order” in articles about Formula 1, but I realised the other night that I had no idea what it actually meant. I discovered this vital gem of knowledge because a poorly-calibrated Portuguese rooster decided to crow at three forty-five in the morning, waking sleeping dogs who naturally wanted to continue to enjoy the Land of Nod and so barked what I took to be canine abuse at the foul fowl. I presume this included threats to turn said cockerel into a capon. I am not one who believes in violence but I have to admit that he, she or it (even chickens must be treated fairly in the Age of Woke) should have been transformed into a chicken nugget to be dunked into tomato ketchup and eaten by a fat kid, which I concluded was the ultimate in humiliation for a proud rooster.

Once I was awake, of course, that was it and so, being an inquisitive soul by nature, I decided to investigate why it is that cocks crow in the morning and I soon stumbled upon a 2013 research paper from the University of Nagoya in Japan, which explained that chickens have a very complex societal structure, which means that the most powerful hen is allowed to peck the others, but the second most powerful can only peck those less powerful and so on until there is one poor chicken who can only indulge in self-harm or trampling poor unsuspecting worms.

Amazingly, it seems that crowing is the same. The most powerful rooster gets to crow first and then the others may follow, but only in the order of their importance. So, if the leader of the gang is out of sync with nature, they all are… As to why they crow when they crow, it seems that they have some built-in mechanism that usually works.

I relate these tales only because it might help the reader to understand the trials of life as a Formula 1 racing reporter on the road in Portugal. To be fair, we don’t have much dealing with chickens in F1, although some of the Continental members of the F1 community seem to think that a deviation in the race track is called a “chicken” rather than a chicane.

Still, we do have a pecking order and after three races things are becoming a little more clear. For now, everyone can still say: “We’ve only had three races…” but a couple more Grands Prix and we’ll be getting towards a quarter of the season (because I don’t think anyone really believes we will get 23 races this year) and that means that the Silly Season can begin and decisions can be made about who is going to drive where in 2022. And the signs are that the market will probably move quite quickly because drivers and their managements will be wary of suggestions (from Zak Brown) that driver costs should be regulated to put the sport on a more level playing field. What he means by this is that drivers should have a salary cap.

Thus deals that are done early could end up being more valuable than contracts that are negotiated later in the year, if any action comes as a result of Brown’s suggestions. We know that a number of drivers are on the market at the end of the current season and there will probably be some other changes brought on by poor performances from a driver or a team. The older generation of F1 drivers are still hoping that their experience is worth more than speed, but the fact remains that racing is about getting results and if they are not doing so then they need to watch out. So, Kimi needs to beat Antonio, Seb needs to beat Lance and Fernando needs to beat Esteban. Oh, and Valtteri needs to beat Lewis as well, because George is snapping at VB’s heels. And Red Bull has to decide whether it wants to keep Sergio Perez for another year and things are complicated because the Austrians have five drivers and four seats and Alex Albon is too good to waste, as there are other teams who would be happy to get him. 

Pierre Gasly has more than proved his worth at Scuderia AlphaTauri but there are currently no obvious opportunities for him outside the Red Bull structure, unless he is pushed out. He doesn’t fit with the ethos of Scuderia AlphaTauri, which is to develop young drivers for Red Bull Racing… 

Traditionally, the start of the European season is when the talks begin to get serious and with Monaco coming up, the so-called “Silly Season” should become more lively. After five races teams and drivers are in a better position to know where there are – and what they want to do in the future.

Brown’s letter to the world, which was published by McLaren, made a few interesting points, including mentioning the fact that it is unheard of on Netflix for a series to rate better with its third iteration than with its first. He concluded that this was down to the human stories of the protagonists and because Drive to Survive is an entry level guide to a very complex sport. He was not very keen on the ever-increasing schedule of races which “places a challenging physical and mental strain on travelling personnel” and said that it would be better to race across 25 markets but have only 20 races with 15 of them fixed and five rotating between two different venues. Variety, he concluded, is good and allows room for new countries to host a grand prix, while maintaining a level of scarcity value in our sport.

My view on this is pretty much the same. I think 25 races is too many and if they want to push up revenues they should squeeze more money out of the “nasty” and rich governments and hit their revenue targets in this way. It’s not that I don’t like travelling, but I also like some time at home and as the years have gone on, that has been squeezed more and more. A season used to be just 16 races, mainly in Europe and now it is (in theory) 23 all across the world. This year, of course, it is harder than ever because of COVID restrictions. We thought it was tough last year, but this year is a lot harder and we are now down to just two journalists who have done all 20 races since the world went mental. This is hurting the sport because pay-TV, which has all the access these days can only do so much. If you look at the numbers of viewers, it is a fraction of what it used to be, even if the revenues are better. This is no good for any sport.

It is interesting to note that in Germany, where the rights are held by Sky Deutschland, he viewing numbers have collapsed of late, but the former broadcaster RTL has just done a deal with Sky to broadcast four F1 races this year because it seems to have realised that giving up F1 was not a great idea as Sebastian Vettel’s move to Aston Martin and the arrival of Mick Schumacher have made more Germans interested in the sport.

Ultimately the way to go is probably for the sport to get rid of the middle men and go direct to consumers with a reasonable price for watching a race, and if they like other levels of access for the richer folk who want more. But pay-TV does not generate new business. This is why Netflix has been so important for F1 but it is also why they need the written media (which, by the way, has a far larger reach than pay-TV) because it is the scribblers who give the TV chatterers their leads. In any case, TV can only ever tell a pretty basic story, with a few sound bites, stitched in. It is the writers who weave the tapestry that turns casual fans into people who will pay money to attend races and buy F1 merchandise. F1’s stated goal is to turn its casual fans into paying customers and so it should really be supporting the media. Some of the people at the FIA understand this but I get the impression that some of people who deal with COVID rules don’t have a clue, but are enjoying their time in power.

Some TV people may have the ability to get drivers to open up and be themselves, but a TV camera is an intimidating piece of machinery and with a team PR person standing nearby, the drivers – particularly the younger ones – tend to say only bland things, if only to protect themselves. But while bland might be good for them, it very definitely isn’t the best thing for the sport. We need a grid full of characters: good guys, bad guys, monosyllabic Finns and garrulous Australians. What we don’t need is PR police so teams should allow the drivers more freedom to say what they really think. Hopefully, F1 writers will soon be allowed back into the paddock and not have to stand in a cage with COVID police peeking out of windows policing them lest they get within 1m75 of the person they are talking to. I still struggle to understand what the difference is between a TV journalist and a written journalist when it comes to our ability to spread viruses. The statistics clearly shows that the TV people are far more dangerous to the sport than the journalists are, and the worst of the lot are the drivers, who seem to be a bunch of superspreaders and should be avoided at all costs!

Anyway, I continue to avoid airports, which look more and more like virus factories. The open road is free and easy and airy and one is in control of one’s own destiny and not stuck in an airport at the mercy of airlines that cancel flights without even blinking. The paperwork involved in driving seems to be less as well, although it is still pretty daunting and if one documents is not there, you are torpedoed if anyone asks. The trip to Portugal is the longest of the year, as the drive from home to Budapest is a piffling 1,000 miles, while the trip to Portimao is a solid 1,300. I didn’t work it all out very much but I am pretty sure that driving costs more, takes longer and causes wear and tear on the person and the vehicle, but I don’t care. I get to go to the races and I feel safe doing it. I take a stack of documents wherever I go and I keep shoving bits of paper at policemen, if they ask, until they give up asking questions and wave you through.

Driving also gives you a little more respect for the F1 teams need to do, sending dozens of trucks from place to place. But we all seem to keep turning up in the right places, so we must be doing something vaguely right. I am sure that the teams have everything planned out in military detail, but I tend not to do that. I just wing it (it’s not hard these days, as there are so few people on the move) and so, after a beautiful day driving across France, I found myself in the rather unbeautiful city of Miranda de Ebro.

If I was writing a travel blog rather than a motor racing column I could wax lyrical about the glories of the A28, which crosses Normandy from Rouen to Le Mans and never has any traffic as it works it way from glory to glory, but let’s just say that it starts near the Circuit of Rouen-Les-Essarts and ends up near Circuit de La Sarthe. I had time to stop and look up Robert le Diable, because there is a chateau (ruin) named after him, which one sees on those brown “Points of interest” signs you see across Europe. I was wondering who he was because I didn’t remember the name and so I was delighted to learn that I hadn’t forgotten some obscure king with a silly name like Charles the Simple, Louis le Fainéant (Lazy) or William the Bastard, because Robert was a medieval myth, who discovered, so they say, that he was the son of Satan. I guess Mummy has a wild night out with some undesirables at some point…

The Franco-Spanish frontier had a lot of blue flashing lights but no-one paid me any attention and I was waved through without a document being inspected. After leaving France I didn’t see a non-Spanish car until I had crossed the border into Portugal. The signs in Spain declare every few miles that there is a “Estado d’alarma” – a state of emergency.

If you haven’t heard of Miranda de Ebro, you should try to imagine a sort Spanish version of Crewe, a big railway junction, where lines from east and west met those from north and south. Sadly, it’s not really remembered for that, but rather because it was a very nasty prison camp where the unlovely General Franco had lots of people killed and incarcerated international prisoners.

I left without a backward glance and pottered amid majestic cathedral-like rock formations of the Montes Obarenes range before finding the motorway again and climbing up on to the plateau of Castille, where one is about 2,500ft above sea level. The signs suggest that one should watch out for “bancos de nieblas” and there are snow poles and signs for refuges so this must be wild country when the sun is not out.

I decided at Salamanca to take a different route to last year and headed south on the Autovia de La Plata (literally, the silver motorway) which follows the path of an old pilgrimage route that goes north to Santiago de Compostela. Heading south, one crosses the Sierra de Béjar (where the fog is super-thick) and then across the plains of Extramadura to Caceres and Merida, and from there into Portugal, by way of Badajoz.

Roosters aside, it has been an enjoyable week in Portugal, even if we were under lockdown conditions in some areas (but not in others). Now F1 has gone and the hotel is filled with bicycle teams which have arrived for the Volta ao Algarve.

If people think F1 is invasive, they should watch out for cycle teams. My car in the hotel car park is completely surrounded by Ineos Grenadier vehicles are other paraphenalia and the hotel dining room (quite important in these days without restaurants) has been taken over by the said team, UAE Team Emirates and Deceuninck Quick-Step.

It’s interesting to see how they operate, but I’ll be happy to get on the road again. Next stop Ciudad Real, en route to Barcelona…