Renault fans, Paul Ricard, 2018

Woeful organisation spoils F1’s return to France

Paddock Diary: French Grand Prix day four

Posted on

| Written by

Formula 1’s long-awaited return to the French Grand Prix was spoiled by four days of woeful disorganisation which made getting to and from the circuit a misery for fans. @DieterRencken reflects on his experience of Paul Ricard’s first grand prix for 28 years.

9:30 Sunday

After checking out of my cottage I hit the road, arriving at circuit around 30 minutes later. Again my (barricaded) route is manned by two gendarmerie and blocked to non-pass holders, so is devoid of traffic. This, within earshot of the historic sports cars chasing each other around as part of the support package.

Then it hits me – even though I left home two hours later than usual it’s still over six hours to the race. My sentiments are echoed by a team media officer whom I see en route to Ferrari for breakfast. “Yesterday was the longest day I’ve ever spent while working in F1,” she says. “We left the hotel at 6am to ensure we beat the traffic and arrived back at the hotel well after midnight…”

10:00

Breakfast consists of yoghurt, fruit, toast with delicious orange marmalade, followed by tea and a sweet pastry the Italians are known for. Just what I need given that lunch will be served after 2pm.

11:00

Lance Stroll, Williams, Paul Ricard, 2018
Williams had another horrible weekend
I catch up with my good friends at Williams, and leave much saddened: That such a doggedly tenacious team finds itself in such dire straits. I reflect on the fact that two ‘doors’ away McLaren has hit similar straits, with both legendary British F1 teams now firmly stuck at the back of the grid – with seemingly no way out.

Clearly the media sympathises with Williams’ plight, for the team has not come under the merciless attacks aimed at McLaren. Why one, and not the other? Could be about humility, I wonder? That Williams openly admits to its failings, and works with the media, not against the pack?

I also chat with Chris Murray, Williams head of marketing and a man who’s been around the F1 sponsorship block more than a few times. We discuss the legal complications teams faces due to different territorial restrictions – a surprisingly fascinating area of discussion we will cover here later.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

12:00

Still four hours to the race, and stands are filling up. How they managed to get in is beyond me; how we’ll all get out afterwards is a major worry. I put the matter aside by more sleuthing, including a chat with Gerard Neveu, who confirms a “strong chance” of a date clash for Sebring, which in 2019 forms part of WEC, and is scheduled for 13-16 March, the weekend currently pencilled in for the Australian Grand Prix.

Saliently Fernando Alonso will be under contract to Toyota then but, as things presently stand, not an F1 team. Assume he’s leading the World Endurance Championship in early 2019, which seems a safe bet, where do you think he’ll race?

2pm

Lunch at Mercedes, where the televisions are tuned to a World Cup match. A few of my colleagues have donned blue/red/white shirts in support of their team, and for a moment I thought they’ve become French. I admit to being similarly confused when blue/white/red flags were waved in both the French and Dutch driver ‘areas’ before the start…

A blessing, though: The media centre is absolutely deserted until 3:30pm, allowing me to crack on with work.

3:30pm

I hit the grid, then realise the cars are on their out-laps – 10 minutes early, following requests from Liberty for more media access time with drivers. Has it worked? Of course not: F1 being F1, the first instinct is to circumvent new regulations, so drivers complete their out-laps, park the car and retreat to their garages until compulsory appearance for the national anthem. The regulation will need to be rewritten, or scrapped.

4:10pm

Paul Ricard, 2018
One fan found a way to beat the traffic
The race starts, which I watch on FanVision as the media centre is insufficiently equipped with TVs, so much so that many colleagues wander across to the photographer room, where desks are empty during the race. Another fail by French Grand Prix organisers.

6pm

Race over, I head off to the paddock in search of interviews. Due to the later start and traffic situation most drivers and team bosses have headed off to the local airport (charter flights) or to Marseilles for the 10pm flight to London.

This is why you will have noticed a paucity of post-race coverage thus far across much of the F1 media. Where we would usually have around 12 scheduled interview sessions, in France we have just five. Another side-effect of grand prix’s woeful (dis)organisation.

9:30pm

Despite tales of traffic chaos I risk departure, and promptly spend 45 minutes at stand-still before eventually reaching the “F1 Lane” to Marseilles – where I’m booked into a hotel near the airport. The 40 miles eventually take two-and-a-half hours, so I check in well after midnight.

Monday, 1am

I reflect on the weekend: Despite £12m in taxpayer funding, the promoters couldn’t organise a sandstorm in a desert and, frankly, deserve to lose the race unless cast-iron guarantees – including full ticket refunds and additional compensation for fans – are provided to Liberty, and in turn to the public.

That, though, won’t happen: too many politicians are involved, plus Liberty puts its share price ahead of fan engagement.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2018 French Grand Prix

Browse all 2018 French Grand Prix articles

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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

44 comments on “Woeful organisation spoils F1’s return to France”

    1. Previously F1Fanatic fan in Atlanta
      25th June 2018, 12:42

      I’m with you there, I used to enjoy this site for news but it has turned into pure commentary and gimme gimme gimme attitude. Really 100% refunds for the race or it should be taken from them? Wow, does Europe just not have large events or is the prevailing attitude my life is important why should I wait? Sorry but this constant whinging has turned me off from a previously decent site for news. Too much hysteria and thinking the world revolves around F1 and F1 reporters are doing anything that will change the world. You’re reporting on SPORT, it’s a leisure activity not politics or the economy

      1. I do understand and sympathise with everything you say. But the French GP was part of an $8bn business and participants, sponsors and audience have a right to expect that the event is managed proffessionaly.
        I agree that we are not talking about the TV audience, and only talking about the (paying) audience at the track. But these are the people who are providing the promoters with the hard cash with which to pay the hosting fees without which the event would not happen.
        Yes, it’s only sport. No, it’s actually $20m plus per race.
        More importantly than that, it’s about people who paid in advance for something (an event experience) that for reasons of their own incompetence, the Promoters where not able to fully deliver.

        1. I dunno, It was not THAT long ago that I used to spend hours in stationary traffic queuing to get into Silverstone. As fans we just accepted that the traffic was going to be a nightmare and would leave as early as we could cope with. It wasn’t until Bernie started threatening to take the race away when we all got stuck in the mud that anything got done about it and that’s what will eventually happen here, If they want to keep the race at Paul Ricard then they’ll have to do something about it eventually or risk losing the race to another French venue.

          Traffic problems are one of those things that should be expected anyway at and around big international sporting events.

          I am sure that the relevant authorities/stakeholders have learned something from the weekend and next year will be improved. It is the first time the circuit has had to deal with this many race goers in a very long time and I think we should allow them a period of adjustment before the public hanging.

          As for ticket refunds….I recall being stuck on the dual carriageway trying to get into the circuit and hearing those screaming V10’s come out for morning practice, massively frustrated that I wasn’t in to see them but at the same time loving the sound of them in the distance. We would just suck it up, accepted that we should have started the journey earlier and promised ourselves that we wouldn’t make the same mistake next year.

      2. A couple of things: Frank Williams, who has forgotten more about F1 than most will ever know, famously said that ‘F1 is a business for 2 hours in 16 Sundays ( as the calendar was then) and for the other 349 days its’s a big business. Big global business.’ So it’s business and economics.

        This grand prix was was promoted by a GIP, a parastatal founded by local and regional politicians, and majority funded by taxpayers. So it’s both politics and economics – played by the politicians and their economists, not us.

        Finally, it is not ‘gimme, gimme, gimme’ – I have my annual pass and parking credentials for every GP across the world without paying for them. it’s ‘givU, givU, gibU’ – every diary edition this weekend past had focussed on the cans who were badly done by. It’s for U that I am fighting, not ME or US…

        There are fans who spent very good money on what turned out to be a disappointing experience, and it is our duty to ensure it never happens again and that all possible corrective action is taken.

        1. Fans not cans, sorry.

        2. @dieterrencken, Dear Dieter, please disregard the critics, as a fan on the other side of the world where the actual racing is hidden behind a paywall I am finding your diary the best part of a race-weekend, long may you continue.

          And an editing tool would really be helpful, no?

  1. I also chat with Chris Murray, Williams head of marketing and a man who’s been around the F1 sponsorship block more than a few times. We discuss the legal complications teams faces due to different territorial restrictions – a surprisingly fascinating area of discussion we will cover here later.

    Nice, I look forward to this article.

  2. I have to admit, speaking to drivers before an F1 race has never seemed correct to me, media should be nowhere near these people preparing for a major sporting event.

    It doesn’t happen in any other major sport. Sure increase fan/media contact at other times of the weekend, more time after the race, etc. but not at a time where the drivers need to prepare mentally. Sorry I don’t get it.

    1. Not in Europe maybe but for example in Japan fans are allowed on the grid prior to a race (!) and in the US the press is everywhere before and after NBA games etc.

    2. Somewhat agree, simply because these interviews rarely give anything new to the viewers/listeners. “So driver X, everything good?” “Yes.” “How’s the weather?” “We’ll see.”

      Of course, there are some exceptions like Kimi’s remarks in 2006 Brazil, but those are quite few and far between.

  3. @dieterrencken Thanks Dieter, been good to read your inside view of the event organisation alongside our first hand spectator experience. The Race day entertainment was quite funny, the crazy guy on the flying-drone-thingy was amusing and nice piece of French-eccentricity.

    If I could summarise the experience as a fan who has attended a fair number of GPs in one-word it would be ‘QUEUEING’. A real test of patience! After the thunderstorm and deluge had subsided to just rain! we arrived back at our car at 8:30pm in Car Park ‘A’, there had been an accident somewhere that meant we finally headed away from the circuit complex at around 10:50pm, arrivining on Monaco at 1:00a.m. ( having left hotel at 5:00 am).

    FYI, there was a French Facebook group (GP France F1 – Organisation merdique :) ) created on Friday to discuss the poor organisation of the event with 1,800 members, considering that this represents families you are looking at this group representing around 3,000 – 4,000 spectators. The mood was frustration and disbelief at the poor organisation. The surfaces of the public car parks were atrocious, one poor person had driven over a piece of metal that punctured their radiator and was awaiting a recovery vehicle at 10:30pm….

    However we had a good time overall, I was privileged to speak to a fan sat behind me from Canada who had been to the 1966 Monaco GP, now off to Austria!

    1. It does make me chuckle a bit knowing how much Bernie held Silverstone to account for the traffic issues yet his own circuit is potentially even worse!

  4. 10 minutes early, following requests from Liberty for more media access time with drivers

    Almost as idiotic as this season’s eforts to interview the drivers the moment they get out of the car at the end. Especially given the generally moronic quality of questions they’re asked. “So, Lewis, you’ve won the race and are now back in the lead for the Championship, how do you feel?” “Absolutely gutted, mate, this is the worst day of my life.”

    1. @charleski

      Almost as idiotic as this season’s eforts to interview the drivers the moment they get out of the car at the end.

      I have absolutely no idea why people complain about this. It seems entirely reasonable to me. What difference does it make interviewing them to waiting until they’ve gone on the podium or something? None at all.

      What I really dislike in other championships, which I hope F1 does not introduce, is when they the interview the drivers in the car during races. BTCC is particularly bad for this. IndyCar did for a while as well, but I think they stopped after that awful day at Las Vegas in 2011 when Dan Wheldon was killed – he’d given an in-car interview during the formation lap, if I remember correctly (I am not saying this contributed in any way to the crash).

      When they’re in the car, let them get on with the competition. Once they’re out, it’s perfectly fair game to interview them. Whether that’s five hours afterwards or five seconds I don’t see any difference.

      1. @keithcollantine What irks me is when they shove the microphone under their nose while they’re still trying to put the steering wheel back in and before they’ve had a moment to catch their breath or even wipe the sweat from their forehead. If someone came bugging me like that right after I’d spent 2 hrs doing a gruelling drive I’d probably be considerably less amenable, so I have to doff my cap at the drivers’ professionalism.

      2. @keithcollantine I think the biggest problem with the interviews been done in parc ferme is that they simply havn’t been that interesting, They seem far more like the old press conference format in questions/tone & nothing of any note has happened or been said during any of them so far.

        When they were conducted on the podium there was more of an atmosphere somehow & the way the interviewer & drivers would often interact with the crowd in some way added to that & made them far more interesting to watch. Additionally with drivers having more time to look over the results & digest everything I think we got more interesting answers from them, Especially when they added in a bit of crowd interaction thrown in.

        The podium interviews weren’t always perfect, Especially when it was some random uninformed celebrity conducting them but even they they were far more interesting & entertaining than what we have now, IMO.

        1. @stefmeister I mostly agree with you on this; all with the exception of Hamilton who never bloody answered the questions and said the same line every time; along the lines of:

          “First of all I’d just like to thank all the fans for coming out today. really does have the best fans, you’ve been great. I’d like to thank my team and all the guys back at the factory who have worked so hard to deliver me such a great car this weekend. I really feel blessed to be part of such a great team.”

          (Goes on to congratulate other drivers, talk about how much they pushed him blah blah blah).

          Every. Single. Time.

          Never actually answers the questions. You could see Brundle get annoyed, and have to move on.

          I could usually match him word for word the first couple of sentences.

      3. NASCAR still does this: commentators talk to drivers during formation laps and full course yellow flags. I think it’s NASCAR and many team sponsors probably want this.

      4. I have two issues with the immediate interviews:

        1) To me, it simply seems unfair. Give them 5 or 10 minutes to catch their breath, grab some water and collect themselves.

        2) It adds nothing. The standard “so, tell us how you feel” to someone who has just climbed out of the car is pointless at best, and potentially trouble-making at the worst.

        Imagine if the famous Hulkenberg-Magnussen exchange had been between two leading drivers right after the race end: I think that it this case it would have put them in a situation where something unneeded rash would be said – to no one’s benefit, just to create some “show”.

        1. +1. The rush for the instant quote isn’t that exciting. If F1 has to deal with processional races, the media mavens can wait in line too.

          1. Derek Edwards
            26th June 2018, 8:57

            I still remember this…

            https://i.redd.it/sytco5gzusux.jpg

  5. What I would like to know is when someone is going to grasp the nettle and get drivers and mechanics and fans to adhere to the correct protocol for standing to attention for two minutes whilst National Anthems are being played, instead of waving to friends, fiddling with their hair etc. If we continue to allow this sort of behaviour then why bother to play National Anthems!!!

    1. Agreed… drop the national anthems!

  6. José Lopes da Silva
    25th June 2018, 14:38

    This reminds me of an F1 Grand Prix in Silverstone.

  7. Why one, and not the other?

    I think it’s because Williams plight started way back in 2004. The team has been in the midfield ever since, with only some flashes of speed with the new engine regulations in 2014. McLaren on the other hand was a championship contender until 2012, and the rate of its decreasing performance was and still is alarming. In 2 years they went to hero to zero…

    1. Agree. And to emphasize the point, I guess, McLaren is last team to win regularly before the current six-year span of 3-team domination. So they still have the air of a contender being let down by some bad decisions and bad management, not a fallen team groping in the dark, like Williams. McLaren still seems fixable.

  8. Rupert Potter
    25th June 2018, 17:11

    Yes, this is the worst organised Grand Prix I’ve been to. The organisation outside the circuit was plain daft. People coming in from Marseille had to drive round a triangle round the circuit to get to the parking. And then driver round it again to leave. This meant there was much more traffic on the rounds round the circuit than was necessary.

    On leaving the circuit, the police were moving people away from the circuit on the first road away. This was often not in the direction they were going and there were no diversion signs. I saw people double back and presumably add to the chaos round the circuit. A policeman blowing a whistle is less use than a sign.

    Inside the track I counted 82 people in 1 queue for a sandwich.

    If Liberty Media is serious about attracting fans they should give some attention to the basics.

  9. Too bad… the actual race was quite good. A breath of fresh air after three absolutely dreadful races in a row. That in spite of the injustice of losing a potential battle at the front because of once again, Vettel failed heroic attempts.

  10. “woeful organisation spoils F1’s return to France”
    you mean more than the track which looks like a parking lot gymkhana course set up by someone on LSD?

    1. LOL @3304hl
      Don’t hold back, tell us what you really think!

  11. I can see that the traffic is terrible, but I’m not sure what the organizers are supposed do about it. This is a major event apparently in a exurban or rural area with limited road access. Is the local government supposed to build new roads or widen them? I imagine one thing they could do is run free buses from areas with major accommodations.

    1. About seven or eight years ago I remember flying in to Le Castellet on business with someone in the entertainment industry. As we left the airfield in the car, we passed the Grand Prix Hotel. “Grand Prix” he murmured. “God help them if they ever get a Grand Prix here!”
      The roads surrounding the airport and circuit are not designed or intended for that volume of traffic – ever. Shuttle busses to and from Toulon would have been a good idea. So would closing the roads to opposing traffic and running the two lanes towards the circuit in the early morning and away from the circuit in the afternoon. But I understand that one of the major problems was the management of the car parks – or lack of it. And that has to be the responsibility of the organisers.

  12. Guybrush Threepwood
    26th June 2018, 1:20

    I’ve never been to France, but how Renault have acted with their engines and the way this GP has been organized makes me think the country’s biggest problem is it’s arrogance which drives under performance. I really have no interest in the place based on these sorts of events.

  13. Hi Dieterr, After reading your article I just had to respond to thank you for saying that one single word that no one else bothered (or dared ?) to say ! namely the word “ refund “
    All the press and media complained but none uttered that magic word!
    If traffic is likely to be a problem then the circuit should encourage the fans to take the official shuttle bus from the several neighboring towns. Instead they DISCOURAGED them by :
    1- charging a whopping 147 euros for a 3 day return
    2- putting an insufficient number of buses ( I couldn’t book a seat as it’s all sold out)
    3- HOWEVER THE MOST DISCOURAGING FACTOR WAS THE 0715 AM Departure time !! Most flight don’t arrive early enough to enable fans to make it by 0715 and those with children simply can’t make it at such an early time! Besides those folks are on vacation ! This meant that far to many fans had to take a cab or rent a car!.
    The French GP obviously sold more tickets than they were prepared to provide seats on the bus for and far more than the local transport system can provide.
    Can you please remind LIBERTY OF WHAT HAPPENS WHEN AIRLINES OVERBOOK ? Not only do airlines refund but also give you a good will voucher for future use.
    And oh by the way! Liberty is talking about enticing more people to the sport ! Do you know how I was enticed ? It’s because I attended an F1 GP where the organizer delivered what they promised ! I paid 500 euros and booked an expensive hotel but never could make it to the race. Until now I haven’t got a single response from the official French GP website regarding my request for a refund!

    1. Liberty doesn’t sell the tickets. The race promoter does.

      1. The clue is in the name, “race promoter”.

      2. Just as the McDonalds holding company doesn’t sell you a burger, the local franchise holder does and is required to comply with quality standards BEFORE being granted the right to sell, so the local race promoter is required to comply with Liberty standards BEFORE he is granted the right to promote the race to ensure minimum F1 standards. In this case he clearly didn’t.

        1. @dieterrencken but how can you comply before the thing you need to comply for happens? A franchisee can always say they are going to follow the quality standards and then not follow the quality standards.

          I’m not sure if Liberty have minimum event standard agreements with race promoters, but I imagine after the French GP organisers tainting their product in such a way they’ll be scrambling to get agreements put in place so it doesn’t happen again.

          1. There is a standards manual – and the promoter promised they had a proper traffic plan in place. In fact I thrice spoke to them in Dec/Jan and raised the issue, only to be accused of being negative.

            Fact is they didn’t have any plan in place at all – and Liberty should have run simulations with the promoter.

            McDonalds insist on a certain number of ablutions per expected customers over x period, and don’t simply wait until the toilets overflow before saying ‘We’ve learned something today’ as they view a pile of sh%*t flowing down the road.

            Fact is, F1 has staged 990 GPs, so has a bank of experience. Ricard’s infrastructure was woefully insufficient in 1990 – what made anybody think the roads had miraculously improved in 28 years is inexplicable.

      3. @justrhysism I wasn’t asking a refund from Liberty. I purchased my ticket directly from the race promoter via their official website gpfrance.com. They never bothered to reply with an apology let alone a refund. There is evidence of gross negligence and incompetence and as a consumer/ customer/ fan I should have some minimum rights. If the airlines over book and refuse to compensate then the ombudsman/ designated agency is required to step in. If the promoter of the French GP wont even bother to respond or even acknowledge then Liberty needs to step in. I donot expect Liberty to open their cheque books immediately and refund but I do expect them to act professionally and responsibily : the least they can do is set up a team of independent/impartial experts and let them conduct a proper investigation.
        Every F1 fan needs to know that What happened to us COULD ONE DAY HAPPEN TO THEM. If we don’t all work together and support one another we will always remain vulnerable.

        1. Can you please remind LIBERTY OF WHAT HAPPENS WHEN AIRLINES OVERBOOK ?

          @triples It was this line that suggested you were blaming Liberty.

          Not saying Liberty shouldn’t be stepping in, but your tone felt that you were pointing the finger squarely at Liberty. I’m sure Liberty themselves are equally annoyed having their product tainted by the false-promises of the French GP race organisers.

          1. True, my post could have being better worded so as not to give the incorrect impression that I’m blaming this whole thing entirely on Liberty. I’m sure there is a clause somewhere in the contract between liberty and the French promoters that should the promoters fail in complying with certain requirements /standards or do anything that could bring disrepute to the brand then liberty can legally step in and intervene.
            Compared to the 70s and 80s, F1 nowadays had taken a quantum leap in improving Safety for the drivers and in maximizing profits for the share holders but we are still where we are when it comes to looking after the rights of the F1 fans. If we fans all work together and fight this out we might have chance.
            .

  14. Just as a motor manufacturer would intervene if a franchise dealer provides poor service to a car owner, so Liberty has a responsibility to ensure that consumers of its product, albeit ultimately provided by a third party just as car dealers are third parties, are justifiably dissatisfied. So the promoter should provide refunds and Liberty should ensure that happens.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments are moderated. See the Comment Policy and FAQ for more.
If the person you're replying to is a registered user you can notify them of your reply using '@username'.