Eric Boullier, Paul Ricard, 2018

Stuck cars and chocolate bars make headlines in France

Paddock Diary: French Grand Prix day two

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Formula 1 cars tackled Paul Ricard in anger for the first time in 28 years on Friday. But the traffic moved rather more slowly outside the track, and inside the paddock tempers ran high as McLaren faced the media.

9:30am Friday

I hit the road after locking up the lovely little cottage I’ve rented in Le Beausset, situated around 10 miles from the Circuit Paul Ricard. Within a few clicks of starting off, I hit traffic, so grab my trusty sat nav, which has live traffic updates and thus provides better info on routing. It pays off: where the car’s inbuilt system displays the main route, I cut through the countryside.

I reach the circuit within 30 minutes, where I’m greeted by a empty media centre – the majority of my colleagues are boarding along the coast, so face an hour’s journey, even without the dedicated “F1 Lane” intended to take the sting out of commuting for F1 personnel.

I covered my fears about the traffic situation in yesterday’s diary edition, so won’t bore you further save to say I was amused that major media outlets ignored the situation totally until the FIA put out a release about remedial traffic plans for Saturday/Sunday. Will the plans prove sufficient for the 65,000 fans expected each day? My optimism is kept well in check, particularly about post-race traffic jams.

11:00am

British breakfast at Williams, during which the irony strikes me that the team needs to cover up its (Martini) alcohol logos or fall foul of French law – at a circuit founded by Paul Ricard, a liquor magnate, as a means of circumventing such bans in the first place, at a race promoted by the local government…

2pm

The food made it worth the drive
The food made it worth the drive
After lunch at Mercedes (pictured), it’s time for the FIA’s Friday press conference, and questions I’ve planned for Christian Horner regarding Red Bull’s Honda engine deal, plus Cyril Abiteboul regarding the impact of losing a customer.

However, I’d read about the “toxic” situation at McLaren, so line-up a question for Eric Boullier, too. In the event ‘Freddogate’ – allegedly McLaren staff are rewarded with 18-gram chocolate bars – overshadowed all sensible topics.

My take? The situation was chronically mismanaged by the team, with a hospitality ban on the journalist concerned simply serving to corral the entire Fleet Street pack against the hapless Boullier, whom many view as ‘not one of us’.

The media/team dynamic is a delicate one for both sides: how to work with teams while remaining unbiased is a constant challenge for media members, while teams need to accept that valid criticism, no matter how stinging, is part and parcel of the media’s duty. Highhanded tactics such as banning of journalists smacks of 1950s primary school tactics and indicates just how far McLaren has deteriorated in this regard.

It is no secret – although both parties seldom voluntarily disclose it publicly – that Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing, is also non-executive chairman of Motorsport Network, owner of various major media outlets, which are increasingly favoured by the team. As long as such conflicts exist, McLaren will have no easy media ride – save, of course, from its ‘in-house’ allies…

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6:30pm

More media wrangling: Since Liberty’s take-over of F1’s commercial rights there have been increasing perceptions that the ‘independent” media is gradually being shoved aside in favour of ‘on-message’ outlets, to wit channels and outlets controlled by Liberty, including its own broadcast crews.

Renault operates an ‘open’ Friday approach – i.e. broadcast/print media attend their sessions simultaneously – and after standing through during what were effectively impromptu “one-on-one” interviews with both drivers, I butted in after Carlos Sainz Jnr had answered the umpteenth question. The hissy reaction said it all: How dare I interrupt Liberty, accompanied by much toy throwing. I got my questions in, though…

Here’s the moral: During open sessions all media are equal and Liberty crews, regardless of how they preen themselves, are not a cut above the rest. It’s time Liberty came clean: Does F1’s owner actually desire a free and fair, open media serving the fans they profess to care so deeply about, or does the US-owned commercial rights holder wish to control every word and picture?

9:30pm

I completed my duties for the day, then reflect on the day’s proceedings, particularly as Google Maps shows vivid red lines on all around the circuit. How could the French GP organisers have gotten it so badly wrong after every interview referred to the historic traffic situation? Is it simply ignorance? No, the signs were all there. Arrogance?

It hits me that the day has been about arrogance, arrogance on the part of promoters who simply refused to listen to warning signs first uttered a year ago, arrogance on part of McLaren’s communications team, and the consequences of Liberty’s increasingly arrogant approach to the independent print media.

10:30pm

I reach the cottage and tuck into the half pizza I had stored from the previous evening, washed down by Coke Zero obtained from a team (no, it wasn’t McLaren).

9am Saturday

I receive reports from various folk that the traffic situation is, if anything, worse than on Friday due to the (expected) increased volumes. Indeed, an acquaintance, a veteran of over 50 GP visits, calls to say that, “yesterday was the shittiest time I’ve ever spent at a grand prix, we got there in time to return to the hotel.”

He goes on to tell me that he and his mates have elected to stay at the hotel rather than subject themselves to traffic torture. This after flying in from South Africa to experience France’s return to the F1 calendar.

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2018 French Grand Prix

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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17 comments on “Stuck cars and chocolate bars make headlines in France”

  1. By all accounts a dysphemistic success

  2. Your earlier paddock diaries made for interesting reading, Dieter, but this weekend has really ramped it up a notch. Your inside take on various popular and not commonly known topics (e.g. Liberty’s media angle) has made for great reading.

    Thank you for also pointing out the irony about the blue Williams running at this circuit; while the irony was alluded to in yesterday’s C4 commentary, the reason behind wasn’t explained.

    Also, hat tip for once again pointing out Zak’s Motorsport Network affiliation, which is to be borne in mind by us as coverage of McLaren is likely to be asymmetric.

  3. Pointing out arrogance of McLaren while you state that most of the reporters find Bouillier to be “not one of us”, because he isn’t a damn Brit? Who’s the arrogant ones? They should ban all of you lot. We mostly get official releases and some drivel now and then, nothing really “insightful” at all.

    1. @ibrahim Dieter pointing it out doesn’t mean he supports that attitude. It looks to me that Dieter himself is a bit of an outsider as well in the paddock. He seems to symphasize with Bouiller being put on the chopping board like that.

      1. your right, I am being overly critical.

      2. I am probably more jealous of our man Dieter staying in a quaint cottage munching on left over pizza 10km from the circuit with an all access media pass than I was reading his article objectively! hahahahahahahah. Man, I hope these people in the media that have followed the f1 circus for years, I know, it’s a job, and it has it stresses, and many parts of it suck, but I hope they count their lucky stars at least ONCE a race weekend and know that joe average f1 fan would trade their right foot to be in their position. So when they start complaining about the lack of fresh fruit on offer in the Red Bull hospitality they keep it all in perspective. :)

        1. You could have stayed in the same cottage had you booked it a year ago, as I did. It is not reserved for the media, and was booked via a hotel booking site.

          For the record, a fortnight ago I started making speculative bookings for 2019. You, too, could do that.

        2. Also, if you pick the right places, on the right sites, and check the terms carefully enough, then transferring the date if the FIA makes it necessary is both free and relatively straightforward. I would advise noting your purpose of the visit in the “Special Requests” box if this is a tactic you are considering.

    2. @ibrahim, Eric Boullier has been French since 40 years, but he has been the chief for a mediocre car only since 2018. That should give you a clue as to the reason why media is calling him arrogant.

    3. @ibrahim

      Pointing out arrogance of McLaren while you state that most of the reporters find Bouillier to be “not one of us”, because he isn’t a damn Brit?

      …….Maar hy is van Suid-Afrika(@dieterrenken that said assuming based on your name that your first language isn’t English is not the wisest thing to do, I’ll admit)

      1. Hence it was written in “parenthesis”, implying it was said by someone else.

  4. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
    23rd June 2018, 10:59

    Although I can’t comment on the internal situation at McLaren and have no fondness for Boullier, the Daily Mail sure do seem to take delight in trying to hound a Frenchman out of a ‘British’ job.

    1. @fullcoursecaution, the Daily Mail enjoys making life miserable for a lot of people even if they are British – they enjoyed sticking the boot into figures like Whitmarsh – because that is the way that their business model works: to provoke, harass and anger people because that elicits a strong emotional response from people, and they are more interested in that (because that makes them more attached to the Daily Mail) than in informing people.

  5. Best paddock diary yet Dieter, excellent insight!

  6. “how to work with teams while remaining unbiased is a constant challenge for media members, while teams need to accept that valid criticism, no matter how stinging, is part and parcel of the media’s duty.”
    _

    Journalists don’t do enough to expose the dirty manufacturers involved in F1. Instead they often prefer witch-hunts on drivers such as Alonso and Verstappen, and now Boullier. Three who could never even come close to the dirty politics the manufacturers play and shape our sport for the worse, with our money, for their own selfish needs.
    Ultimately motoring journalists enjoy the sport and love motor cars. Drivers are an easier target, especially as their egos are on show.

    Who really are the toxic people?

    https://www.politico.eu/article/daimler-volkswagen-bmw-porsche-audi-siemens-the-dishonest-germans/

    1. @bigjoe It may interest you to know that few of those people have been in any way involved in F1 this decade.

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