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Notebook from Luxembourg
August 29, 2017 by Joe Saward
It seems that every year, on the day after the Belgian Grand Prix, I take someone to a railway station or an airport. Last year I went to the spectacular Liège-Guillemins, designed by one of my favourite architects Santiago Calatrava, who is most famous for his extraordinary City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, where once we went racing. This year it was in the other direction, to drop someone off at Luxembourg Airport at Findel, which I happen to know was used for various motor races in the 1940s and 1950s (not that this matters at all). The trip from Spa is about 75 miles and when I agreed to do this I wasn’t really thinking about it and imagined that it was (sort of) on the way home. It is due south of Spa and Paris is to the south west but what I did not bargain for was that the roads are quite slow because everyone seems to have lost interest in joining the Belgian motorways with those of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Still, it was a lovely day and the route was pretty picturesque and the place names were wonderfully charismatic and all mixed up when it comes to languages: Grufflingen is not far from Troisvierges (which translates as ‘three virgins’) and so on… I did consider pottering over to a very weird area, to the north east of Spa, where they have a magnificent series of bizarre enclaves, with bits of Belgium in Germany, look it up. This was caused by Belgian railways and moving frontiers. In some cases the railways are still there, but in others they have been pulled up and there is just a corridor of Belgian territory passing through what is now Germany.

In truth, we probably would not have had Sparacing circuit were it not for the moving border. In this region are three areas of land, known as the East Cantons (about 280 sq. miles of land) which were deemed to be in Prussia after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. This meant that Francorchamps was the last village before the German frontier (which was located at the top of the hill at Les Combes) and so not many people used the road because they didn’t want to go to Germany. As an aside, this is why the original Spa track in the 1920s and 1930s had a hairpin called the Virage de l’Ancienne Douane (literally, the Old Custom House Corner). It is still there but the circuit now goes straight up the original hill and is known as Eau Rouge…

Anyway, after World War I, the East Cantons were annexed by Belgium, in reparation for war damage, and things were generally tidied up (although this left some Belgian rail lines in Germany!) This meant that there was a triangle of little-used public road from Francorchamps to Malmedy and then to Stavelot and back to Francorchamps. And this is what was spotted when Jules de Thiers, the managing director of the La Meuse newspaper and Henri Langlois Van Ophem, the chairman of the sporting commission of the Royal Automobile Club Belgium, discussed while having lunch one day at the Hotel de Bruyeres (now the Francorchamps Racing Hotel, although it has closed down).

Hotels are a problem in these parts and the locals seem to think that they can pluck any figure out of the sky and the F1 fans will pay it. This year we moved out of our grotty old hotel in a village called Basse-Bodeux, which is little more than a roundabout of a place, when they decided to double their prices. We went in search of alternatives and found that demand outstrips supply and so one gets ripped off whatever you want. However there are limits for what sane (well, vaguely) people will pay for miserable places that have not changed since 1974. We ended up in a place that ought have been renamed the Villa Marie Celeste. It was in Spa town and looked like a hotel but when we arrived we found a darkened house. The door was opened and we wandered around inside and eventually found some keys on the fireplace with an incomprehensible note about who should have which room. In the end we rang the emergency number and spoke to a rather confused individual who did not seem to understand that accommodation is a service industry and expected his guests to be understanding about things. The key to Room 1, he explained, might have a big number 1, but that was actually the key for Room 7. And I could have Room 5 because there was no key for Room 1… Of course, Room 5 has a photographer in it. Ah, the joys of this lifestyle. Room 1 did have a key, but I had to go through dozens of keys to find it. At no point did we ever see a member of staff. Each morning breakfast was laid out but no-one was ever there. I considered nicking various things on Monday morning in revenge for lack of service, but concluded that the place had nothing I wanted – and never will have. Still, I suppose the Internet worked, even if the room did not run to a desk and chair, so all my work was done sitting or lying on the bed (which meant that I fell asleep too much).

‘opeless, as they say in these parts…

So what is going on in the F1 world. Oddly, it was rather quiet, apart from the obvious Ferrari signings. This means that Charles Leclerc, the dominant force in Formula 2 this year (and a Ferrari protégé) will almost certainly be squeezed into a Sauber next year, which will mean that Pascal Wehrlein, the faster of the two Sauber drivers, will be shoved out. If there is logic in all of this, it is very well-hidden. I understand that people want to bang the drum and fly the flag for their own nation, but it is not necessarily a good idea. It does rather depend on the pool of talent available, but when your population is less than the number of people who visited Disneyland in California last year, it is tough to find a competitive one. Marcus Ericsson is a pretty decent driver, but generally he is not a match for Wehrlein and so logic says he should be on the move, and not vice versa. Others say that it would be wiser to hire Felix Rosenqvist, who they argue is a better choice.

One can see the same sort of thinking going on in Japan quite often and I would argue that this is actually the biggest problem that Honda faces in Formula 1. One simply cannot compete if one does not have the right kind of talent, and finding that sort of talent within one single nation is very difficult. Honda only seems to use Japanese people, and it has very few foreign research and development engineers. They are also operating in Japan, out of the main vortex of F1 development, and so new ideas take longer to filter through. This is a problem for all non-British teams (although there is a mini-cluster of expertise around Ferrari in Italy) because hiring in the right people is more difficult. This is why Scuderia Toro Rosso now seems to have 140 people (about a third of its staff) working in the UK.

Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost did himself no favours in a press conference in Spa when asked about talks with Honda. It is very clear that the two parties have had discussions and I hear from multiple good sources that the price being asked by Red Bull was too high. Honda does not want to own a team but does not really have a choice after having broken up with Sauber. It might be helpful if Toro Rosso was bought by someone else who wants a free engine and some cash as well, but Honda continuing to dream that things will be patched up with McLaren is not realistic. And if that policy continues I can see Honda getting itself into a position where it has to leave because it cannot find a partner. The rules may say that no engine manufacturer can have more than three engine supplies but it is down to the FIA to decide what is best for the sport and that is not a hard discussion: losing Honda is less damaging than losing McLaren. The Woking team clearly wants to go with Renault in 2018 and it is really hard to argue that McLaren has not been fantastically patient with Honda. But the McLaren-Honda legend was formed in the 1980s and the world has moved on and after three years waiting, McLaren has realised that it is not going to happen and now feels that it needs to switch to Renault next season in order to keep Alonso, important technical staff, sponsors and – most importantly – credibility. There seems to be a final Honda push to try to create better engines but time has basically run out. Everyone needs to know what they are doing next year. Renault needs to know whether to have three or four supplies, the teams need to know what to design and something had got to give. It may get ugly, but sometimes that has to happen. Toro Rosso is obviously up for sale but Honda needs to move quickly in case someone else snaps it up. I have heard various rumours suggesting that the team could be sold to an Indonesian called Ricardo Gelael, the boss of the Fast Food Indonesia company, which owns the KFC franchise in a country with 261 million people. He has 570 restaurants and, oddly, sells music CDs with his chicken and chips. He has annual sales north of $365 million and his son Sean is in Formula 2 and unlikely to rise further unless his Dad do something dramatic. He already has a testing deal with Toro Rosso and there has been talk of a KFC-liveried car (some artist has probably been talking).

The danger for Honda is that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) might pounce on Toro Rosso in order to secure a team for its much mooted Alfa Romeo F1 team. Toro Rosso is perfect for that. There has been some talk in Italy about Prema Powerteam, currently dominant in Formula 2, might move up to F1 and perhaps this is the way that will be achieved. Ferrari technology bought by Alfa Romeo, which is no longer a sister company, but features the same management and shareholders, and so that makes sense for everyone. Ferrari gets some money in exchange for technology and Alfa Romeo gets a quick F1 team. Alfa Romeo sales are not meeting expectations at the moment and so Fiat and Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne needs to push harder to make the Alfa Romeo brand sexier.

Elsewhere, much attention has been focussed on Force India because the pink cars have been colliding rather a lot. This is daft because without thee crashes Force India would have scored far more than 103 points and while it is not going to challenge Red Bull for third, even with Max Verstappen breaking down all the time, it should keep an eye open for late season dashes from teams that ought to be doing better than they are, notably Williams and Renault.

A lot of folk were upset that Perez was not punished for the second collision with Ocon (not least of them Ocon himself), but if you check out the footage, you will see that Esteban had his right front wheel on the white line before Perez hit him, which means that he was not in the right place and should have backed out of it. Having said that Perez must take some blame because he should have given his team-mate room and did not. So there was fault on both sides… The interesting thing now will be to see if Perez stays at Force India. He might not want to run away from the challenge, but he has seven seasons of experience and is widely considered to be very good, but is under increasing pressure from a kid who has been in a good car for only a dozen races. Renault wants to get Ocon back, but Vijay Mallya’s price to release him looks like a ransom note and Renault cannot justify paying it. Thus it will probably go with Perez, who is cheaper and is followed everywhere by Mexican sponsors… He might also choose to go to Williams to replace Felipe Massa, but the fact that Team Willy has scored only 45 points, compared to Force India’s 103 this year, using the same engine, might scare him away from that idea. The suggestion that Alonso will go to Williams seems unlikely for the same reason, although to be fair Fernando has made a string of bad decisions about his career… Williams needs to do something pretty dramatic… There are new technical staff at Grove and so perhaps things will be better next year. One can hope.

There are a lot of worries in Brazil that the retirement of Felipe Massa (which is coming sooner or later) will cut the last cord with F1. The Brazilian GP has little future at the moment, with no-one wanting to promote it, and so the Formula One group is clearly looking at South American alternatives and it was no surprise at all that Race Director Charlie Whiting popped up in Buenos Aires over the summer “break”. The plan, I’m told is for a group called Fenix Entertainment, which specialises in concert production and management services and owns and operates entertainment stadiums for show business, music and sports, to use the old autodromo, but with a very different layout to the last Grand Prix, back in the 1990s, with the idea being to run the track around the Lago de Regates, a lake that sits in the middle of the facility. It is not going to be easy to fund the event but when one looks at what has happened in Mexico one can see what can happen. Buenos Aires is, in any case, a much sexier city than Sao Paulo in global destination terms. I know I’d be happy to go back, although I am told that the steak houses are not as good as once they were.

Food is always part of the adventure of reporting F1 and at Spa I was happy to get things done early enough to go out for a pizza late in the evening. I met a nice bunch of British fans and got into a conversation and they were nice enough to buy my meal for me. I should have nipped off earlier but it was fun to have an impromptu “Audience”, although it was a long night to get my business newsletter done. I was pretty weary when I set off to Luxembourg on Monday and when I dropped in at my house in the country on the way back to Paris (to pick up the post) I left it on the roof of the car and drove off… A mile or two later I realised what I had done and returned and spent some time going round the village picking up letters, with tyre marks on them… It reminded me that we give up a lot of things by rushing off to Grand Prix after Grand Prix. Last weekend was the annual pig festival in my local town, which they say is great fun (although I’ve never been to it) and the local hillclimb race, which is fun, is next week, when I will be at Monza.

Oh well, cannot have everything
 

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JoenSaward's Notebook from Port Dickson Malaysia

https://joesaward.wordpress.com/

October 3, 2017 by Joe Saward
On Friday in Sepang, Romain Grosjean’s Haas hit a drain grille while running in the first free practice session. The grille was not properly secured (as it should have been) and it tore through Grosjean’s right rear tyre, sending him off the track and into the barriers at high speed. The car was extensively damaged. Normally racing teams are responsible for repairing any damage to the cars caused in any accident. Teams cannot claim against one another, but in this case it was rather more complicated than that. The circuit might be deemed to be responsible for the accident and thus would have to pay for the damage, although circuits and sanctioning bodies purchase specialized insurances to protect their interests.

But who is to blame for a badly-fixed grille? Is it the circuit, or is it the sanctioning body that cleared the circuit to be used? For F1 circuits the tracks are inspected by FIA officials prior to each event, to make sure that all is well. If the inspectors miss a bad weld, is it their fault? The FIA regulations relating to circuits recommend that the national sporting authority should make regular inspections of all facilities, as proper maintenance is a condition of the circuit’s licence. There is even a specific mention of drains in the FIA rules, which says that “drains should be cleaned, and inspected by the ASN for correct operation prior to major competitions”. But does that relate to the grilles or just to the drainage? And should the Malaysian national sporting authority pay, or should it be the circuit?

Clearly Haas does not feel it should be pay for the damage, which was estimated at about $750,000 and the team has raised the question of compensation.

“In my opinion, things like this in 2017 shouldn’t happen on a permanent circuit, they shouldn’t happen on any circuit,” team boss Gunther Steiner said. “This is, in my opinion, not acceptable. This is not up to the standards.”

No doubt the lawyers will sort it all out in the end…

While his Force India F1 team is preparing for the Japanese Grand Prix, out in Suzuka, Vijay Mallya is in more trouble in the UK. He will soon face extradition proceedings at London’s Westminster Magistrates Court, which has been asked to send him home by the Indian authorities to face charges of fraudulently obtaining and misusing funds relating to the now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines. Today in London he was arrested again, this time on charges of money-laundering, with the F1 team being mentioned as the destination for some of the missing money. Mallya was later released on bail.

The initial charges were following an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in India, while the new charges come from a separate investigation by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). Mallya continues to deny all the allegations. His extradition hearing is due to begin on December 4, but there is no doubt that he will continue to try to avoid being sent back to India by appealing as many different grounds as he can possibly find, if the court rules that he must be returned to his homeland. He is stuck in the UK at the moment after India cancelled his passport.

At the same time, Subrata Roy, Mallya’s partner in Force India, is still up to his neck in trouble with the Supreme Court having run out of patience with his ducking and weaving. It has ordered that his Aamby Valley development be sold at auction next week. The authorities say that Roy illegally raised $3.1 billion in 2011 and ordered him to deposit the money with the regulator. He failed to do so and so was sent to jail in May 2014. Since then the authorities have sold off parts on his empire to raise the money owed. The Aamby Valley project is the largest part of his crumbling empire and its sale could raise $1.5 billion, but there are currently only two bidders and the price may not be that high. Roy is currently on parole.

The word in Formula 1 circles is that Force India is for sale, but the two Indians seem to have rather high expectations of its value and so no deal has yet happened. The fear is that if they do not sell quickly, the team could become tied up in the various legal messes – which could be disastrous.

It was clear many years ago that Max Verstappen was something special, even before he had sat in an actual racing car. His progress through karting was impressive and in 2014 Red Bull and Mercedes fought over the young Formula 3 driver. Red Bull won because it was able to offer him an F1 drive, while Mercedes could only agree to put him into its young driver programme. Verstappen, and his dad Jos, who had his F1 career blighted by wrong career decisions, decided that it was better to be racing, adding to Max’s reputation and value. That was the right decision and early in 2016 Red Bull switched him from Scuderia Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing itself, as it considered him a better bet than Daniil Kvyat. Max won on his debut with the team in Spain. It was a fortunate victory because the two Mercedes collided, but it was a win nonetheless. The victory broke a string of different records, making him the youngest F1 winner ever (at 18 years and 228 days), the youngest man ever on a podium, the first Dutchman to win a Grand Prix and the first F1 driver born in the 1990s to become a winner. This year Max has been unlucky and frustrated but it all came together in Malaysia, where he was able to outrun Lewis Hamilton and win, but he wasn’t really satisfied because he knew that if the two Ferraris had not had troubles he would not have won his second victory. He was asked on Saturday about his best moment in racing and said that it was still when he became the World KZ Kart Champion in 2013 at Varennes in France.

“It still is,” he said on Sunday.

So the win in Malaysia did not feel better than that karting victory?

“No,” he said. “Because it doesn’t feel like that…”

Max is remarkable for his age and he is a key player for the future of Formula 1 because he is getting the attention of his own age group, something which the older stars Kimi Raikkonen (37), Fernando Alonso (36), Lewis Hamilton (31), Sebastian Vettel (30) and Daniel Ricciardo (28) have failed to do. There is some excitement in F1 circles about the new generation led by Max, but including Esteban Ocon (21), Pascal Wehrlein (soon to be 23), Lance Stroll (19) and Carlos Sainz (23). They will soon be joined by Charles Leclerc (who will be 20 this month) and, probably, Antonio Giovinazzi (23).

Verstappen has a contract with Red Bull in 2018, but there are performance clauses that Red Bull Racing might not be able to achieve, if that is the case then Max could come onto the market. He seems to be a shoe-in at Mercedes, where Valtteri Bottas is one a one-year contract, but he might also go to Ferrari, where Kimi Raikkonen is also on a one-year deal. Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton are currently the big cheeses of F1, but having Verstappen alongside one or the other could be destabilising. Hamilton seems to be more serene about his team-mates, while Vettel seems a little more insecure in this respect, preferring Raikkonen, who is no great threat these days.

The decision will not be just about money. The Verstappens know that there will be plenty of rewards in the years ahead and so they are looking for the best performance to esnure that Max can win and add to his value – because he likes winning. Red Bull Racing cannot do a great deal to keep Verstappen, based on current performance and the fact that Renault has it own factory team but in Ricciardo they have a solid and very good racer and there will be no shortage of talented youngsters on offer if Max moves on.

Formula 1 is planning to open a commercial office in New York, according to a report in Sports Business Global. The news has been confirmed by the F1 Group, which may also open offices in other regions as it chases after new deals. F1 has a range of trackside sponsors an a few official partners and suppliers, but there is plenty of scope to increase such arrangements in different market sectors. The current partners include Carbon champagne, DHL, Emirates, Heineken, Pirelli, Rolex, Snap Inc. and Tata Communications. Other sectors where deals are possible include soft drinks, fuel, gaming, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, rental cars, sports apparel and so on.

NASCAR has around 35 official partners, plus an additional dozen “performance partners” including such things as convenience stores, chocolate, trailers, hotel booking services, power tools, batteries, construction and even dentistry.

The Malaysian GP pages in my green notebook begin with: “No Sean, no Ross, no surprise”, which tells me that neither Sean Bratches nor Ross Brawn attended the race and that I was not surprised to see that happening. There is no future for F1 in Malaysia, no matter what the Prime Minister says. The chapter is closed. F1 has already moved on. A lot of people in Formula 1 are a little sad, Malaysians being generally likeable folk, but the truth is that while the government blowhards might blame Formula 1 for asking too much money, the F1 folk at least had the good grace to say nothing. They might have said that Malaysia is no longer the kind of place that F1 wants to be seen, but that would have been a bit rude.

It was not always that way. Back in the day, Malaysia was the regional trendsetter, trying to overcome innate disadvantages, notably it’s small population, thanks to the remarkable vision of Dr Mahathir Mohamad. In comparison to many leaders in the world, Dr M believed that the job of a politician was to do what was best for his country, rather than doing whatever he could to fill his own pockets. The race was his idea because he wanted the world to know that Malaysia was developing from its sleepy past and accelerating towards industrialisation. The country’s money was ploughed into infrastructure, technology and education. It was a smart move because Malaysia has only 36 million people, which is nothing compared to Vietnam’s 100 million, Indonesia’s 260 million or China’s 1.4 billion.

In the notebook there is a scrawl about Vietnam wanting a race in Hanoi. It’s not a new rumour, but it is still out there. The idea is to boost tourism in the city, which currently attracts four million international visitors each year, but is aiming to push that upwards dramatically in the next few years. Is Hanoi the kind of place that F1 wants to be in the future? Why not? There are plenty of Chinese who might like to stop by on a coach tour.

But, when you think about it, having a second race in China makes far more sense. A street race in Macau is so logical that it is almost obvious. And, no, it wouldn’t be on the old Formula 3 circuit, with its silly hairpin. It would need to be on a new circuit, laid out on the fast wide roads between the new casinos, built on vast tracts of land reclaimed from the sea in recent years. Macau is now a bigger gambling centre than even Las Vegas and, in a few weeks, it will be linked to Hong Kong by a series of bridges and tunnels crossing the Pearl River estuary – 18.6 miles above water, 4.3 miles beneath it in tunnels between man-made islands. Soon one will be able to drive it in half an hour.

Well, unless you are a Malaysian, because they drive slowly…

“Malaysians have always had an affinity for motorised activities,” says one of those flimsy promotional magazines that one finds in hotel rooms. “We can’t really pinpoint why, but it could be down to these few reasons. For starters, Malaysia has abundant well-connected roads and highways, some of which takes us past some truly stunning vistas.”

True, I’d agree with the stunning vista thing, but the signage is haphazard and the driving shocking. The second page of Malaysian GP notes consists entirely of instructions as to how to get from the hotel to the circuit. This was required because we kept getting lost on our journeys at strange hours of the night. One night we found ourselves lost in the vast oil palm plantations of the region, running out of fuel, with no idea where we were. No, it wasn’t because we forgot to refuel, but rather because our Proton had the consumption figures of a Ferrari, without even a tiny fraction of the performance.

“It could also be due to the love affair Malaysia has with motorsports,” the article continued. “Boasting a pretty impressive international race calendar, along with a world-class racing circuit, the country is a true motorsport hub”.

Hmmm… Well, ye-e-es, Sepang is a world-class facility. That much is true. There are some international races, and maybe Malaysians do like motorsport. They certainly seem to spend a lot of money on wide wheels and other such demon tweaks for their Protons, but the vast majority of them then seem happy to potter along at 30mph, never looking in their mirrors and never considering checking in the direction of oncoming traffic when pulling out of a side road. One can only guess that this is because they think the other people are going so slowly that it doesn’t matter.

Mixed in with these people are a fraction of lunatics who drive at warp speed, yet show few signs of knowing what they are doing, and hundreds of little pop-pop motorcyclists who wander about on the tarmac, blocking the passage of cars. One doesn’t really want to know the road accident statistics (I must remember to ask Jean Todt)…
 

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Part 2

Notebook from Port Dickson part 2

When it comes to motorsport, Malaysia seems at best unremarkable, although history was made at Sepang the other day, when one of the Formula 4 races resulted in not a single car getting to the finish line in an eight-lap race. This may have happened before in the history of the sport, but no-one could remember such a story. Two of the F4 races had to be run back-to-back because of delays caused by Grosjean’s Grille and someone forgot to put fuel into the cars between the two races. And so all but one of the cars ground to a halt during the sixth or seventh lap of the eight-lap event, leaving Anglo-Thai Kane Shepherd as the only driver still going, although his car duly ran out of fuel at the second corner on the last lap, leaving the man with the chequered flag to roll it up and wander off for a cup of tea.

Malaysians seem a docile lot and one might put this down to the fact that getting excited in such hot and humid places is probably not good for your health. The government officials who were complaining about F1 being too expensive did, quietly, explain that the reason that the Grand Prix has not been a success is because the locals did not buy tickets. Perhaps this was because the tickets were too expensive. This year they reduced prices by 82 percent and the circuit was nearly full, although clearly the financial situation was much the same. The Grand Prix was always a government project and one wonders why they did not simply write off the losses as an expense for promoting the country. There does seem to be something of a laissez-faire attitude towards public money in these parts given some reports about Prime Minister Najib Razak.

When he was first elected in 2009, Najib set up a sovereign wealth fund called 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which was supposed to invest billions of dollars of Malaysian money in international things. This became rather blurry in that “Oops, where did I leave that $11 billion?” sort of way. Eventually the Wall Street Journal picked up the story and claimed (after endless fact-checkers, no doubt) that $700 million had appeared in Najib’s personal bank accounts. The Prime Minister denied any wrongdoing. The US Department of Justice did not believe this and has been trying to seize assets worth $1 billion which it believes were acquired using the missing funds. DoJ legal documents include many references to “Malaysian Official 1”, who was alleged to have received around $681 million. The Prime Minister denied being Malaysian Official 1.

All of this so upset Dr Mahathir that he became a vocal critic of Najib and his government. He quit the party and will stand against the the PM in the next elections in 2018.

Mahathir is 92…

When Najib turned up at Sepang on Sunday and made some unwise remarks about the F1 race being too expensive, some of us had to bite our tongues to stop ourselves asking whether, in his position, he might not have been able to come up with some public money to keep the race going…

Another scribble in the notebook said: “Hatz arrested”, which was a reference to the news from Germany that Wolfgang Hatz had been carted off to prison for his role in VW diesel scandal. This was quite a shock for the car industry. Hatz is a racing man, who I encountered back in the 1980s when I was writing about BMW M3 touring cars. Later he was responsible for the development of the utterly disastrous Porsche V12 engine, used albeit briefly by the Arrows team (known at the time as Footwork) in 1991. Before this appeared everyone wanted to get their hands on the engine because of the earlier success of the Porsche-designed TAG Turbo engines used by McLaren, but the V12 turned out to be a major league lemon and the team rapidly retreated to the safety of Cosworth. Porsche has such a good reputation that such things seem (and seemed) unthinkable, but no doubt there will be people at Porsche who remember that belly-flop when discussions take place (as they are at the moment) about Porsche getting into F1 in 2021. It’s not a dead cert, although in lots of ways it makes sense. Porsche ambassador Mark Webber keeps telling me it will never happen, and one must assume that he is right, despite the fact that a man from Porsche is visiting teams and talking the talk.

On the third page of the notebook after the scribble that reads: “Budkowski – Renault” and further on another that says “Swiss law”. These relate to a nice fellow called Marcin Budkowski, the head of the FIA Formula 1 Technical Department, who resigned a few days ago, apparently bored by the prospect of waiting any longer to take over as Race Director from Charlie Whiting. Some of the F1 teams were upset because it has emerged that Budkowski is only serving three months of gardening leave, and has seen many of their secrets. Sadly, three months leave is all that is possible under Swiss law, so if the FIA wants to be trusted by the teams, they need more people on French contracts. Budkowski is not commenting about his future employment, but he will join Renault shortly and will take up a role which will be, or equivalent to, Chief Operating Officer of the F1 operation. Although he is an aerodynamicist, he has management ambitions and Renault needs someone to get its much-revamped factory operating as it needs to do to make the team competitive in the future. There is also a note that says RCI Bank, with which Renault announced a late-season partnership. This is Renault’s own bank and the announcement suggests to me that the team needs more money to continue its revival and so has borrowed some from within the Renault empire.

Further on in the notebook there is a page of notes under the title of “Matt Roberts”. He is the new head of research at Formula One and had a little press gathering to show some of the work he has been doing since he arrived. This revealed that just under two thirds of sports fans say they are interested in F1 and Roberts thinks Formula One should now try to convert vaguely interested fans into avid followers. There are several hundred million of these, according to his numbers and he believes the way to hook them is to get them to go to a race…

The survey work also suggested that the best known F1 driver is Fernando Alonso, who was recognised by 73 percent of the people surveyed, ahead of Lewis Hamilton 72 percent and Sebastian Vettel 68 percent. When it came to the drivers people like the best, it seems that Vettel scored highest (was it before or after Baku, one might ask). Raikkonen was second, ahead of Alonso and Hamilton.

There was the expected announcement that the Chinese Grand Prix has extended its contract and that, subject to the FIA’s agreement (which will come), the Chinese and Bahrain Grands Prix will switch dates in 2018, so that Bahrain will become the second race of the year, on April 8, followed a week later by the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai. The one discordant note was that the new contract is only for three years but this seems to indicate that Formula One is confident that it can make a great deal more money from F1 and so it makes no sense to be locked into long-term deals as the previous management were (trying to lock value into the balance sheets).

We do need to watch out for developments in Spain as it could impact on the Spanish GP, as the current race is held in Catalonia, which wants to break away from the rest of the country. Over two million Catalans, 90 percent of those who voted in the referendum at the weekend, want to leave Spain, and a further 770,000 people were prevented from voting by Spanish police. Around 800 people were injured in clashes and Catalonia’s regional leader, Carles Puigdemont, is now demanding the removal of all Spanish police from his region. Spain says that it has the power to suspend Catalonian autonomy if it declares independence. Things could get very ugly if that happens.

Talking of invasions, further on in the notebook there is a hand-drawn map of numbered boxes. This came from a conversation I was having with Christian Horner about the number of buildings that the Red Bull team now owns in Milton Keynes. If they are not careful, the entire neighbourhood will soon have to be renamed Red Bullville, as all the buildings will be painted in Red Bull’s deep blue.

Further on in the notes, there is a scrawl which says “RB engine supply 2019-2020”. I do not go with the rumours which suggest that Renault will stop supplying Red Bull with engines after 2018 because I believe Renault is contractually-bound to continue, although (strangely) not in a contract with Red Bull. I hear that in the bilateral deal between Renault and Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone insisted on the French firm agreeing to supply his mate Dietrich Mateschitz until the end of 2020. Red Bull might switch to Honda if the Japanese engines are better, but it will be up to Scuderia Toro Rosso to do the donkey work… Thus Red Bull Racing can concentrate on chassis development and let Renault worry about the engines. Whether these engines can be branded as Aston Martin V6s is an interesting question, which I have yet to ask. If they can be called after a watch company like TAG-Heuer, presumably anything is possible.

Toro Rosso gets to do all the dull jobs for Red Bull, training up young drivers and so on. There is a scrawl in the notebook which says that Franz Tost is interested in signing Pascal Wehrlein to replace Daniil Kvyat, but another scribble contradicts this with the words: “Helmut Marko”, which means that Dr Marko would block the idea of signing up a Mercedes reject. That’s a bit silly because Wehrlein is the best driver on the market at the moment (and shouldn’t be) and it’s doubtful that Mercedes will be able to use him next year. If Williams did not have to please its sponsor Martini, he would be the perfect fit at Grove, but it looks like Felipe Massa will stay on. Others in the frame are Paul di Resta and Robert Kubica. The team is planning to test the Polish driver before making a decision, probably not before the end of the year.

The biggest problem at Williams, however, remains the team’s performance and it was interesting to see a figure who never attends races popping up in Malaysia. The team’s head of composite design Brian O’Rourke is one of Williams’s longest serving members, having joined the team from Northrop in 1982. He hadn’t been to a race for 32 years and said he was on holiday, when we had a little chat. Several people did ask me if I knew who the old Williams bloke was, who was so interested in their front wings… Holidays can be funny things.

Sitting in the hotel in Port Dickson, down on the coast, overlooking the Straits of Malacca, the world seems a long way away. As already discussed, nothing happens quickly in Malaysia, except changes in the weather, but is nice to get a day or two off before heading up to Japan.
 

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Ruminations on engines in Formula 1 Joe Saward

30 March 2018 https://www.motorsportweek.com/joesaward/id/00193

In a world where hundredths of seconds are important, compromise is the enemy, and it is this more than anything that explains why Formula 1 customer teams are at a disadvantage. The factory teams are able to integrate the chassis and the engine at the design stage, while the customers have to work with what they are given and cannot easily have a say in the shaping of the power units. This explains the gaps between the factory teams and the customers, except in the case of Renault, which is still rebuilding the factory team after the mess it got into in the underfunded latter days as Lotus. Red Bull remains the Renault vanguard, even if the team’s engines are no longer called Renault and are obscured behind the TAG-Heuer branding, in a car that proclaims Aston Martin loudly.

If all goes to plan Aston Martin will have an engine of its own in 2021. The company cannot really afford to do its own thing, but it can work with other interested parties to create a base engine which they can all then go their separate ways with. I hope that the rumoured Aston Martin/McLaren/Cosworth consortium (in whatever form it takes) will go ahead and that we will also see other F1 engine “platforms” emerging once the engine rules for 2021 are known.

What does that mean? Well, in the car industry the big companies create what they call "platforms", which use the same basic architecture for a wide range of different models, all developed and dressed up differently for the consumer. This creates huge savings in research and development and manufacturing costs, which means that prices can be kept low. These platforms are flexible to a greater or lesser degree, with scope for different engines and transmissions in some cases. Vehicle platforms can be shared between the different brands of a car company, but can also be used by rivals, if they have a gap in their ranges and want to buy in an easy solution.

Where this can work in F1 is with companies working together to fund an engine design which they then take and go their separate ways with. Each engine would have a different name on the cam covers, but the technology would start out the same. When one considers that most of the world doesn't know which car company owns which car brands, this is a good way forward. It could work for collectives of small firms, or for brands within a car company range. If you look at the new FIA World Touring Car Cup for example, the Volkswagen Group AG is competing against itself with three separate brands: VW, Audi and SEAT. The firm also used to do the same in the World Endurance Championship with Porsche and Audi, although the technology in that case was very different. Does it matter to the car buyers? No, they are attracted by the branding and it doesn't really matter where the technology came from. It's not new either because if you go back in history you find examples of celebrated companies feeding from one another. Back in the 1950s, for example, Ferrari raced Lancia F1 cars when they became available, while in the 1970s Lancia used Ferrari engines in its Stratos, and so on, and so forth...

Thus, for example, I could see a Volkswagen F1 platform, with engines being supplied to Porsche and Lamborghini, or even Bugatti, and the brands all getting value from the idea. The FIAT-Ferrari family could do the same with Ferrari and Alfa Romeo and perhaps even one of its American brands, while Renault could do likewise with brands in its portfolio. If this logic was applied across the board then F1 could have every team with its own manufacturer support and they would all enjoy the benefits F1 offers in terms of global market penetration. They cannot all win, but a brand can benefit just by being there. There can, of course, also be customer deals and even an independent engine supplier if the economics can be made to work.

The thing that stops car companies entering F1 at the moment is the cost and also the sport's reputation for profligacy. Thus cost-capping is an essential thing if the sport is to stay healthy. At the moment the big guns can simply outspend the opposition. Money is not the only important thing, as Toyota and Honda have found out, but it does tend to dissuade others from joining the fight. The irony, of course, is that a good part of the money that F1 gobbles up is being spent to discover what doesn't work, rather than what does. The big players throw money at research projects in the hope that they will bear fruit, but some deliver no value at all.

For now, however, F1 must work with what it has and winning with a customer engine is still a stretch. The rules allow for a certain amount of sharing of parts and Force India and more recently Haas have both shown how this can be done. Other teams complain but, as Haas team principal Guenther Steiner says, it they have a beef they should protest. If not, they should shut up rather than making insinuations. He argues that all they are really doing is trying to divert attention away from their failures. It's a fair point. Some of the teams should be doing be better than they are. Last year, for example, Sauber made a big deal about how getting up-to-date engines and hiring new people would improve the performance. It hasn't. It has the same engines as Haas and is nowhere by comparison. Williams has also got a lot to do to be more convincing when one considers it has Mercedes power. And Force India has slipped backwards as well.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Inside F1 with Joe Saward Ep21

Inside F1 with Joe Saward Ep21

 

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Thoughts from Singapore

Thoughts from Singapore

Singapore is the start each year of what feels like the home stretch in Formula 1, although it's quite a long stretch, with some pretty serious hemisphere-leaping coming up. For the next nine weeks we will jumping on and off planes, hurdling through the time zones, covering the last seven races, the final third of the World Championship.
https://www.motorsportweek.com/joesaward/id/00304
 

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Thoughts before Sochi

Thoughts before Sochi
https://www.motorsportweek.com/joesaward/id/00307

So it’s off to Russia shortly and then a quick pit stop, and a date with the wife, before flying away to Austin and Mexico. I apologise for having been rather quiet of late, but moving house is such a disruptive thing - and I moved two house in two days between Monza and Singapore.

So rather than sitting at my desk, mulling over the toings and froings of Formula 1 and the onset of autumn, my life in these recent days has been all about carrying piles of books from one place to another and finding plastic boxes into which thousands of pieces of paper have been put, to protect them from damp in the winter ahead. One might ask: “What’s the point?” because these days, if things are not on the Internet, they do not exist. And who, other than academics, uses original sources in this day and age? It seems that today no one has time to read more than 100 words and you have about three seconds to grab someone’s attention, or else they have swiped on to the next “story” and you are history...

The world of information transfer is changing, but a lot of information is falling into the cracks and rather than being more informed, I fear that the world is becoming less educated as a result. This is the only way I can find to explain some of the dumb results of elections and referendums we have seen of late (let’s avoid the detail lest angry people start writing in). Ah well, I suppose it’s only a matter of time before there’s a Kardashian in the White House...

There is a delicious irony in the fact that I am planning (one day) to install all the books and papers in an old forge, which we call the atelier (complete with old metal car badges, where a blacksmith used to work), as it strikes me that the wordsmiths of today are the blacksmiths of the future, being in a profession that is struggling to find a place in a changing world. The problem these days is not the bottom feeders and the clutter of fake F1 websites (although they are still out there), but rather the rise of video content, which seems to be taking over all forms of news delivery. I don’t have a problem with embracing change, but how can one do that in F1 when one must pay the rights fees demanded by the Formula One group in order to film anything. In effect that means that journalists must either reinvent themselves and find funding, work for the commercial rights holder (where the lines between journalism and propaganda blur completely) or get a TV gig. And, as we know, TV folks don’t always choose people because of their knowledge or ability, but rather because they look and sound good with a microphone. If you want a good example of sexism in motorsport, look no further than female pitlane reporters. TV executives long ago worked out that a pretty blonde will stop an F1 driver in his tracks more effectively than any charging bull elephant... Oddly, you don’t hear the equality brigade going on about that, do you?

Anyway, these are the reflections one has lugging books about and ripping open boxes, wondering what one will find, as the removal men scrawled odd things on the top, such as “Ch2” and “Burau”, which make every box a source of intrigue. Whatever did happen to that wallet full of foreign currencies?

In comparison, the F1 world seems rather distant, although every race is in itself a sealed box, with secrets inside. If Lewis Hamilton wins in Russia, I’m told his lead will be sufficient to finish second in all the remaining races and still win the title. And Ferrari will have blown another title...

I see that the plans for a Danish GP have blown up because various people called Jensen cannot agree on who should pay for it. That’s fine. The Danes are into cycling and it will no doubt draw millions to Copenhagen, which lags behind many European cities in terms of visitors. To be honest, it’s their loss if they don’t understand the value of F1. I see also that Hankook is bidding for the F1 tyre contract from 2020. I think this is terrific news as it will help to bolster F1 in the Korean market, where the sport’s adventures over the years have been less than successful.

Elsewhere, Dan Ticktum has been less than sensible in comments about why he is being beaten by Mick Schumacher. There is now only a very slim chance that Ticktum will win the European Formula 3 Championship and of he does not, he is not going to get a Superlicence and his window of opportunity for an F1 drive will slam shut. Will it ever open again? This leaves Red Bill still struggling to fill its two seats at Toro Rosso, ironic given that Mercedes has two fabulous young drivers and no seat to give them...

There is talk of a proposal to alter qualifying into a four-session affair, with the last eight fighting for pole position, presumably running one at a time to increase the tension and create a better TV show. People don’t like change, but let’s see what they come up with.

In the interim, this next month sees the 21st birthdays of Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc. Let’s hope that they will generate interest in F1 in folks their age, even I they aren’t keen on reading...
 

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Notebook from the road

Joe's green notebook

https://www.motorsportweek.com/joeblogsf1/id/00509

Time flies when you are having fun…

Apologies for the late arrival of the green notebook but post-Monaco is always a busy time. Not least because one has to drive the 1200km home after the race weekend. And after two long nights producing magazines, Monday was a long haul, although it is never such a chore driving across France. Rather than belting up the road they call the Autoroute du Soleil (the A7 followed by the A6) by way of Lyon and Beaune as most folks do, we turned off at Vienne and went by way of Saint-Etienne and through the Forez region to Clermont-Ferrand and then up the A71 by way of the Bocage bourbonnais, Bourges, the Sologne to Orleans and into Paris on the western side. It might take a little longer but the roads are clear, the countryside beautiful one doesn’t have to put up with the traffic jams of Lyon and Paris.

Tuesday was a day to recover a little and Wednesday was filled with writing for the folks who pay. And then Thursday, well, Thursday in France was a national holiday and that means other commitments with little people who come wide-eyed at the world and wanting to help with the gardening. Monaco used to coincide with the Ascension day holiday each year, which is why there was always practice on the Thursday (the holiday) with Friday being a day when the F1 circus rested. When the French have a national holiday on a Tuesday or a Thursday, everyone takes an extra day off work and thus creates a four-day weekend. The idea is to “faire le pont”, build the bridge between the days off. It would be nice to have Monaco back on the Ascension Day weekend, where it is supposed to be. It is a traditional, a bit like having the Indy 500 happening on Memorial Day, regardless of the day of the week, a practice that is now long gone.

There are still some bank holiday Monday races in England, but most of the other similar tradition have died out. I do recall one year going from a race at Donington on the Sunday to Magny-Cours on the Tuesday, as this was May 1, a national holiday in France and so a race day, and then ended up on the Friday at Paul Ricard for another event.

Monaco this year was something of a retrospective weekend as a result of the death of the much-loved Niki Lauda and there was not much else going on. It was great to see so many people wearing red caps in honour of Niki.

The notebook thus was pretty thin in terms of news. There is a note that says Angola because someone whispered in my ear that Morocco and South Africa might not be the only two countries trying to become the one African country to have an F1 race. This may sound a bit odd but Angola has vast oil reserves and has been peaceful for nearly 20 years now. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos was President from 1979 to 2017 but has now been replaced by Joao Lourenco, who began an anti-corruption crusade last year targeting elites under the old regime. It is a little known fact that there is a proper racing circuit in Angola, known as the Autódromo Internacional de Luanda, which was designed by Brazilian architect Lolô Cornelsen, who was more famous for the designs of F1 circuits at Jacarepaguá and Estoril. The Luanda circuit opened in 1972 but civil war broke out a few months later and went on until 2002. Of course, money can fix a lot of things. And there is a tradition of running international races in the city, dating back to the colonial era when there were international sports car races on a street circuit in the city.It struck me as an unlikely idea given that Morocco and South Africa both have circuits that are more advanced, but let’s see. I expect to see an F1 race in Africa (somewhere) in 2021.

The major rumour of the weekend was that Ferrari is looking to reclaim Alfa Romeo’s technical director Simone Resta, who was previously chief designer at Ferrari. I asked Mattia Binotto and he said “Maybe is the right answer”. What is interesting in all of this is that on the drive home on Monday I heard on the radio that there are talks between Renault and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to merge in order to create a mega car company, leaving the Renault-Nissan alliance in place but plans for a full merger put on hold, although Nissan would, it seems, get some voting rights in the new company, something which the Japanese have been keen to get. Such a deal would mean that brands such as Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Fiat, Chrysler, Abarth and Dodge would join up with Renault, Samsung, Dacia, Alpine, although the alliance would also include Nissan, Infiniti and Mitsubishi. It does not take a rocket scientist to work out that this would mean that Renault and Alfa Romeo would be competing in F1, which might make sense. The main focus however would be to help the companies globalise their brands sharing their research and development costs and spreading the technology between the brands. There would be economies of scale with the companies are using the same platforms, plants and engineers but this is not always easy to achieve given different cultures and inevitable government meddling.

A lot of people have made the mistake that Ferrari belongs to FCA. It does not. The company shares some of the shareholders but has been an independent company for several years. It is true that Alfa Romeo is currently using Ferrari engines, but could switch to Renault if such a merger did take place. Having said that the planned acquisition of more Sauber shares by FCA seems to have been postponed. Alfa Romeo is not doing well this year with sales down 30 percent in the United States and an even bigger drop in the European markets, despite new models coming on to the market.

The Monaco GP is often the race at which rumours begin relating to drivers for the following season and I did hear some whispers that Sebastian Vettel is considering retiring from the sport at the end of this year - at the age of 31. I am not sure I believe them, with Vettel still driving with fire in his belly, but one can see the logic that he has made a lot of mistakes and is now under pressure from Charles Leclerc, a driver who is much younger and has more potential to improve, which would make Vettel’s life more difficult. We will see what develops but for the moment I would classify these stories as wild speculation. However, there are lots of different media around the world who would like to have their representatives in the seat, so Mexico, France, Denmark and Finland have all got pretty excited about the rumours.

There is also a note about the 2020 calendar with the first drafts expected to be seen soon. What is clear is that the teams are not keen to go over 21 events and so with new races coming up, there need to be some races that will be dropped to make way for the new events in Vietnam and in the Netherlands, both of which have signed deals for 2020. It is increasingly unlikely that Spain and Germany will be on the calendar and although there is still officially some doubt about Silverstone, multiple well-placed sources continue to insist that the deal is done and is being kept quiet for reasons that are not entirely clear. Perhaps it is because the Grand Prix is holding up the announcement until this year’s race weekend…

The 2020 calendar is still a work in progress but I believe that the season will kick off on March 15 in Australia with Bahrain following on either March 22. This would put the Chinese GP on April 5, with Vietnam two weeks after that on April 19. Normally new races are not back-to-back with existing events, in order to try out the customs and avoid possible problems. This means that the Dutch GP will likely be on May 10, with Monaco on May 24. That would suggest a Canadian GP on June 7 with Baku moving to June 14. The calendar would then follow the recent schedules with France on June 28, Austria on July 5, Britain on July 19 and Hungary on August 2. The summer break would end with the Belgian GP on August 30, Monza on September 6 and Singapore on September 20.

The future of the Brazilian GP remains under discussion with the word being that the promoters in Rio de Janeiro have found an investor – believed to an American – who will fund the construction of the semi-permanent track in the Rio de Janeiro suburb of Deodoro, which sounds like some kind of anti-perspirant for old folks. The goal would be to transform the old military base there into a public park, along the lines of Albert Park in Melbourne. We’ll see if it ever happens but the President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro seems to support the idea. However, Bolsonaro doesn’t always get things right. His recent announcement that he is ending a sponsorship deal between Petrobras and McLaren because it is worth $195 million over five years is not really credible. The Petronas deal with Mercedes is worth around $40 million a year, which gives the Malaysian oil company the title sponsorship and a lot of signage on the cars. The Petrobras deal with McLaren is barely noticeable and thus one must assume that someone somewhere has got their numbers wrong. In F1 circles the deal is reckoned to be worth about $13 million a year…

It is probably worth noting that despite the disaster that was the McLaren Indy 500 programme, Zak Brown is saying that he has not given up on doing it all again – but getting it right next time. Much will depend on whether or not the board of McLaren agrees to the idea… We’ll see how it goes. Whether Fernando Alonso is involved is another question…
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Inside F1 With Joe Saward Ep31 | Missed Apex Podcast

Inside F1 With Joe Saward Ep31 | Missed Apex Podcast

 

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Discussion Starter #13
The definition of insanity...

Since the kerfuffle in Canada, I have read a number of people suggesting that the rules should be changed and that the system of stewarding should be altered. This makes no real sense to me because the current system is the result of years of quiet development, with other systems having been tried and rejected, along the way once their faults were established.

https://www.motorsportweek.com/joesaward/id/00515
 

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Notebook from The Four Seasons

https://www.motorsportweek.com/joesaward/id/00514

The Canadian Grand Prix weekend is one of the favourite Formula 1 races. The city is great. The circuit is great – and with much better facilities than was previously the case.

This year, the weather was great. The food was great. The only problem is that with the media being as it is these days, I spent far too much time looking at the same computer screen I am now using and pumping out words. It’s not that I don’t like doing it, it’s just that it seems to be never-ending and, of course, in this modern day and age, everyone wants words for free. Or editors want reactions to ridiculous stories that they have read online, thinking that the authors know what they are talking about, when most do not.

I am sure that lots of people in F1 see journalists cruising around the paddock all day as having a pretty easy life, but until someone invents a machine that collates the information gathered in note form, melds it into ideas and then produces coherent arguments which are then turned into flowing but crisp text, it has to be done in the old-fashioned way. And that means that when everyone else goes off to party, I spend my F1 nights tapping keyboards in drab hotel rooms. If there is no room service (and the Hotel Fleapit did not run to that), one needs a brisk walk to a convenience store to be fed. It’s not nearly as glamorous a life as people think. Anyway, with all the excitements of Sunday afternoon, my Sunday night ended at around nine-thirty on Monday morning when I fell into bed from a very great height, only to be woken an hour later by a phone call, which was answered in a completely incoherent fashion, as happens when one is woken suddenly from the depths of sleep.

An hour after that I was at the Four Seasons having lunch, trying to feel suitably glitzy and, I guess, failing horribly as one of my fellow lunchers did point out that I looked “scruffy”. I would have disagreed with him but poor old Emanuele had not had an enjoyable 24 hours prior to our lunch and was also looking a little worse for wear. We had been talking about getting together for dinner at some point when we met on the grid the previous day and it was a quirk of fate and mutual friends that brought this about rather earlier than expected. It was a casual chic restaurant with a high-falutin' celebrity chef, and while the conversation centered on what had happened in the race, we did also find time to comment on the quality of the tomatoes, the scallops and other eminently nibblable things. Our hostess had great earrings and despite the weariness I had a very pleasant lunch.

It is fair to say that when it comes to picking my favourite people in this wonderful sport, one of them is very definitely Emanuele Pirro. We have known each other for 36 years, in fact he finished third in the very first race I ever reported on. And, in the course of those 36 years, we have had many happy times in places all over the world. Of all the drivers I know, Emanuele is the one who tries hardest to give back to the sport. He works as a race official both in Formula 1 and in other championships, he is involved in commission work at national and international level and he is the President of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Club as well. He doesn’t need to do any of it, but he wants to do it. So when I heard a bunch of F1 commentator types attacking him for the decision to penalise Sebastian Vettel – and doing it in a nasty way in several cases – I was irked.

Emanuele is a man with impeccable credentials that most F1 drivers would – or should – respect. He was a top single seater racer, who raced in Formula 1 for three seasons. The right opportunities did not come along when they were needed but he then became test driver for McLaren-Honda and worked with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna to create on of the most successful teams in F1 history, which won 15 of the 16 races in 1988. At the time he remained active as racing driver in touring cars, in which he was very successful, winning the Nurburgring 24 Hours, the Guia Race in Macau and a string of other victories. Later he would move into sports cars and became one of the most successful endurance racers of all time, with five Le Mans victories, two Sebring 12 Hour races and three Petit Le Mans. He has since become one of the top officials. He knows the rules, unlike half the commentators who judge things on how things were in their day and not how they are today. The reason the rules exist as they do today is because that is what the drivers (and teams) wanted. They did not want grey areas. They wanted clear rules and clear penalties. And that is what they got. And so the rules were made that way, leaving no margin for error nor for interpretation – and no margin for sensitivity in the decision-making process. Since then the stewards have their hands tied to some extent as they are bound to issue a punishment if an offence is reported to them - even if they might consider it to be a racing incident. One cannot compare the modern era with previous times, as the critics always do, because the rules are more rigid and the guidelines issued to stewards ensure that there is consistency in the decision-making process, which is what everyone is always screaming about. Vettel was in the wrong. It was a marginal call, but he left the track and rejoined in a fashion that forced Hamilton to take avoiding action. Leaving the track and rejoining unsafely requires a penalty of five or 10 seconds, or a drive-through. Because it was such a marginal call, it was decided to give him the most lenient penalty available. So that is what happened.

You can blame the rules, if you like, but they were written that way for a reason and while one can understand that people felt it was harsh, the bottom line was that Vettel had made a crucial mistake – again – and lost the race as a result. You cannot have things both ways. If one creates a rigid rule structure, without the possibility to be interpreted in different ways, one is condemned to have some decisions that are too harsh or too lenient because one does not have flexibility. Not allowing the stewards to interpret the rules and issue punishments that perfectly fit the circumstances means that this sort of thing is inevitable. It should perhaps be added that Vettel was quite fortunate to avoid any punishment for his daft theatricals after the chequered flag as in previous ages he might have been heavily punished for his disrespect of the sport. For me, the most important thing that happened in Montreal was the fact that Ferrari showed that Mercedes can be beaten.

Now all we need is for them to stop falling over their own bootlaces and do the job properly.

You can argue that such decisions are bad for the sport but that is only because people do not understand the decisions - and if commentators do not help them to understand better then I would argue that the fault is in the communication, not in the decision.

After lunch I headed off to the airport where I bumped into Stefano Domenicali, another of my favourite F1 people, who is today the CEO of the Italian super car company Lamborghini. Stefano was recently appointed a Commendatore by the President of Italy, a great honour, which basically translates to a “knight commander” in the English honours system. In England, therefore, he would be Sir Stefano. It is an honour which is fully deserved for his many achievements as head of Ferrari Gestione Sportiva and at Lamborghini, which recently reported record sales in 2018, up 51 percent compared to 2017. The company sold 5,750 cars last year, compared to 3,815 in 2017. The revenues rose 40 percent to €1.4 billion. It’s impressive stuff. We have a running joke that Lamborghini under Stefano’s leadership must be planning some future prestigious motorsport programme, which makes sense when one looks at what Ferrari and McLaren do… The title of Commendatore has a very special meaning in racing terms as this was how Enzo Ferrari was referred to for many years.

The English honours system is rather less impressive because it has failed to mark Lewis Hamilton last year equalling the five World Championships of Juan Manuel Fangio, and closing on the outright record of seven titles, held by Michael Schumacher. The New Year’s Honours List came and went with nothing for Lewis and we assumed that it was probably too soon after Lewis’s title to get the necessary paperwork done in time and so we expected something in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, which is published each year in June. At some strange hour of a jet-lagged night, I read through the latest list looking for some recognition for Lewis for his extraordinary achievements on the global stage.

A British honours list is a fascinating thing, listing endless numbers of anonymous people who have done worthy work in categories that often raise eyebrows. Awards were made for services to choral music, opera, race equality, the Welsh language, badminton, mountaineering, women’s football in Wales, Buddhism in the UK, trampolining, wildflower and pollinator conservation in Lancashire, school Athletics in Cumbria, music in Ballymena, Irish craftwork, highland dancing, running in Wales, kayaking and canoeing in Scotland, minor county cricket, target shooting, ballroom dancing, developing the arts in Wolverhampton, wheelchair curling, snooker, netball, hockey and so on and so forth…

I cannot claim to be an expert in any of these subjects but I struggle to believe that all of these worthy folk are the Lewis Hamiltons of their different sectors, or that the majority have had anything like the effect that Lewis has had in the course of his career. In total more than a thousand awards were made, 47 percent of them to women and 75 percent to people who have worked in local communities. The very fact that the bureaucrats feel the need to spotlight such statistics tells you that this is all about political correctness.

There are about a dozen committees that cover different sectors, including sport (which at the moment is headed by the chairman of the British Olympic Association). Anyone can nominate anyone for an award on the basis that they have been outstanding at what they do and that this has helped Britain. I fail to see why being tiddlywinks champion of Morpeth would do this, but… Whatever the case, the whole system is undermined by such injustices. Lewis has an MBE, (at the time the lowest grade of award). This dates back to 2008. Claire Williams (who has an OBE, which is higher than an MBE) thus has more recognition for her role in the sport than does Lewis, which is odd considering the complete lack of success of Williams in recent years. In the end, of course, such omissions simply serve to undermine the credibility of the system and make it irrelevant as a means of recognising great achievement. Anyway, I guess that before too long people will be getting awards for services to Brexit…

The F1 Paddock is still not yet truly bubbling with silly season activity but the first rumbling of change are being whispered. Right now there is not much to it, just a few conversations going on about possible in-season changes (Robert Kubica being mentioned in this respect). There is a lot of waffle about the ongoing negotiation processes for the rules and regulations and financial agreements that will come in for 2021. Things are moving in the right direction, but it is a slow process and one has to commend Chase Carey for his patience in trying to change the culture of the sport, which has been built on antagonism for the last 40 years. This means that getting people to work together is not easy. But in the end we will get to a solution and if no-one is really happy and no-one is really unhappy then Carey will have succeeded in the task. The company stock is trading not far off its highest ever point and work goes on to restructure the sport to achieve more than it has achieved in the past.

The Canadian weekend coincided with a fan festival in Chicago, which attracted around 60,000 people, according to the F1 group. It might not seem very logical to have such an event over an F1 weekend as that means that there will be no team involvement, although Red Bull was running a car in a separate event in Copenhagen, but the teams have baulked at helping out because they want money to pay the inevitable bills. I guess the only way forward is to have a promotional fund which is shared out on the basis of who makes the effort, but for now F1 is running its own selection of cars which include a two-seater and an old Sauber which makes the right kind of noise. Sponsored by Emirates this event took place in the Museum Campus area around Soldier Field, with cars running on Museum Campus Drive. The festival, which was free of charge, featured a big screen on which the visitors could watch qualifying from Canada.

There is no doubt that there is potential to create a race venue on the Lake Michigan lakefront where the festival was taking place, with roads around the Soldier Field Stadium and other venues such as the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Burnham marina area. There is also an isthmus of land which Solidarity Drive crosses to Northerly Island, a 91-acre man-made peninsula which used to house one of the city’s airports but is still being redeveloped. The area includes the Huntington Bank Pavilion, an outdoor amphitheatre that has a capacity of 30,000 spectators. The whole area is within walking distance of the downtown area, and has stunning views of the skyline. It can be self-contained to avoid traffic disruption and has very few residents nearby. It could thus follow the Albert Park model very successfully. And there is no question that the city is the right kind of destination city that Liberty Media is looking for with F1 and has the kind of infrastructure that F1 requires. That is all a work in progress with little having been heard from Miami and Las Vegas of late, but the ambition remains to grow F1 in the Americas and so it is worth reporting the presence of the Mexican GP promoter Alejandro Soberón in company with Carlos Slim Jr and there is no doubt that talks were taking place to try to get a renewed contract for Mexico agreed. The problem is one of money as the new Mexican government wants to spend its money on other projects and so the bill must be footed by private enterprise. The F1 group seems confident that the Mexicans will find a way, which is a logical conclusion given the financial firepower of the Slim Family, which owns the promotional company.

It was interesting to see a number of race promoters showing up in Montreal this year to take a look at what is being done with representatives from Australia, Bahrain and Vietnam all being spotted in Canada, looking for ideas to improve their events. The Montreal model is probably the closest thing there is to what Liberty Media wants all F1 races to be like, although the island is not big enough to have more commercial activity on-site.

There continues to be discussion about the 2020 calendar but from what I hear there will be only 21 races and 20 promoters now have contracts - the odd one out being Silverstone which says it does not have a deal, despite multiple well-informed sources saying that a deal is agreed and all will go ahead, with an announcement at the British GP next month.

The two new races will be Vietnam and the Netherlands and the races that will disappear are Spain and Germany.

Our spies tell us that the season will look quite similar to this year in terms of structure with the season kicking off with a series of stand-alone events every two weeks starting in Australia, followed by Bahrain, China and Vietnam. The European season will kick off with the Dutch GP (on the Spanish GP date) with Monaco following and then Canada, with Baku a week after Montreal. The season will then become more intense with back-to-back races in France and Austria with Britain and Hungary before the summer break. The delays in producing the calendar are down to uncertainty about the tail end of the season, with question marks over Mexico and Brazil. Still, it will not be too different. Bigger changes will come in 2021 – if all goes to plan.
 

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CH4S Artist , Outstanding Contributor
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Discussion Starter #16
Notebook from a snack bar in Budapest

Notebook from a snack bar in Budapest
I was going to called this “Notebook from a perfect summer day”, which was the case on Monday, but is no longer really true. I spent Monday driving home from Germany, across much of France, on the usual A4 motorway from Metz to Verdun and on to Reims. After that I took a loop north to Saint-Quentin, Amiens and home, in the late afternoon, to Normandy.
https://www.motorsportweek.com/joesaward/id/00542
 

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CH4S Artist , Outstanding Contributor
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Discussion Starter #17
Thoughts at Spa
Sadly, there is no time to put together a green notebook from Belgium, there are simply too many things happening and I am leaving today for Monza. Instead, I thought I would publish the column that I wrote in GP+ magazine about the weekend in Spa.

In the days before political-correctness was truly out of control, I managed to get myself into trouble by describing visits to Spa as being like having a schizophrenic mistress: incredibly seductive one day and leaping out of the cupboard with a knife the next. It’s a long time ago, perhaps even before the phrase “bunny-boiler” had entered the language, which I believe was when the movie Fatal Attraction first came out in 1987. Perhaps I was with an unstable lady at the time and it seemed a good analogy, I honestly don’t remember the details.

The comparison did not go down well with earnest folk who wrote in to complain to my editor that schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder and it should never be mentioned in such a frivolous manner.

Each year when I go back to Spa, which I do with great pleasure, I think of this and conclude that it really is the best analogy there is for the circuit because on a good day Spa is glorious. It’s exciting, evocative and sexy. It’s fast, dangerous and thrilling. And utterly seductive... On a bad day it is horrible - and downright scary. There are times when you curse the place, but we keep coming back and I think perhaps that if there is ever a day when Spa, Monza and Suzuka are no longer on the F1 calendar, it will perhaps be time to seek the pleasures of bucolic backwaters and retire from the sport.

I arrived at Spa after a summer break that was completely different to all the others I have enjoyed over the years. It was what some folk would call “a staycation”. I remained at home and enjoyed the place I live, rather than rushing around the world, as I do most of the time. As things turned out, this was not as restful as I had imagined because a while ago an architect pal of mine came to visit and noted that a very little (and very old) house that sits in my garden was covered in concrete rendering and that this meant that the wooden beams inside would rot, and the structure would eventually fall down as the wood turned to dust. So I started chipping away to see what the situation was and found that things were dire. And so I spent my time off reverse engineering this medieval construction, replacing beams and putting the whole thing back together again. The structural work took much longer than I imagined but one day soon I will have a new half-timbered cottage and also the knowledge that it is something that I did myself.

In any case, it has been an interesting challenge and, in addition to gaining some more muscles and more than a few bruises and splinters, I arrived for the Belgian event feeling completely relaxed and unstressed. It reminded me of Winston Churchill’s habit of building brick walls when he wanted to relax, which led to him joining a building workers’ union in 1928 with a membership card that read: ‘Winston S Churchill, Westerham, Kent. Occupation: Bricklayer’.

Anyway, at Spa the weather on Friday was terrific and there were conversations about whether or not there is anything better in the world than a good day at Spa...

But then on Saturday afternoon, the dark side was there again. Anthoine Hubert, a rising French star, unknown to the general public but rated by those in the business, died following a very nasty crash at Raidillon at the top of the Eau Rouge hill. It was one of those accidents that happen from time to time in the sport when things just go wrong and it cannot be avoided. Safety precautions can only do so much. Yes, one can make cars stronger and push back barriers and while this helps, it will not stop accidents happening. On Saturday night we went back to our digs, feeling wretched. The F1 world is not used to such things these days and the pain of losing a bright young talent, aged only 22, was intense.

It is part of our job to deal with such things when they occur, but this was particularly cruel, because it was one of those accidents which could have befallen any one of the drivers. It was simply a matter of Fate (or whatever) pointing a finger at someone and saying: “It’s your turn!” for no reason other than the fact that the world is fickle and some people are lucky, and others are not. Hubert was just unlucky. It doesn’t make it better to know this. It doesn’t make it any easier to accept. It simply delivers the message that no matter how much work is done with safety, the sport can never be safe. The work that has been done – and continues to be done - cannot stop the fact that things go wrong and if a driver is pushing the limits, he or she must recognise the risks, rationalise them, accept them and know that one day their name might be on the bullet. The thing that drives them to do this is a passion for what they do. They don’t want to die young and they do not believe that they will. It will always be the other guy, but they accept the possibility and this is what makes them special and different. The sport is never going to be completely safe and they are truly living on the edge - and loving what they do. The sport is much more scientific than it used to be and things are learned from each and every accident. But there are still limits and there is still luck. These are not subjects that racing drivers enjoy discussing and it is rare that one expresses what it is they do - and why.

However, at the recent memorial event for F1 Race Director Charlie Whiting, Sebastian Vettel gave a fascinating insight into the motivations of racing drivers. “In motorsport, we depend on the stopwatch,” he said. “We depend on time. We chase time. We become experts in chasing time. Sometimes it appears we catch it. We’re able to hold on to it for a moment before the moment is gone again. We go in circles, chasing time. We forget the world around us. It feels like flying. For us, it is the greatest feeling we can experience. But it comes at a cost. The risk we take is one worth taking to get that feeling, again and again.”

That was what Anthoine Hubert was doing at Spa on Saturday afternoon. He will never grow old and we will never know what he might have achieved, but if nothing else - and it is not much comfort – we know that he died doing what he loved to do. So let us remember Anthoine Hubert in that way, celebrating his victory at Monaco earlier this year.


 
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