Thursday, 1:30pm – Barcelona Airport
As you may have read in last week’s extra editions of the Paddock Diary, I reported from the FIA’s Conference at Sun City in South Africa, and as I’m originally from those parts it made sense to fill the gap between it and the Spanish Grand Prix visiting family and friends, plus catching up on business.
I left Johannesburg on Wednesday via Emirates and was, frankly, surprised at how many SA folk on the same flight seemed headed for the grand prix – if their gear or (overheard) discussions were any indicators. Despite the country having last hosted a grand prix 26 years ago, enthusiasm for F1 clearly still runs deep.
Arrive at circuit, and take a stroll down the paddock. A sense of déjà vu hits me: back in the mid-noughties, the start of every new European season saw teams unveil new hospitality units – then still quaintly known as ‘motorhomes’ despite their sheer size and opulence – but as budget cuts hit and manufacturers departed, so units were pressed into service year after year.
A classic is Renault’s double unit, then known as ‘Bouncy Castle’ due to its similarity with kiddie playground kit, and originally Toyota’s state-of-art hospitality. Then it got handed down to the Genii (Lotus) team before Renault (re)acquired the outfit, and the unit with it.
Alfa Romeo’s facility was originally manufactured for BMW and inherited by Sauber. And so on.
This year, though, the Red Bull teams have a new, Alpine-themed Holzhaus (wooden house) similar to the design used last year for the Austrian Grand Prix (time as tight during the triple-header, so the MotoGP unit was pressed into service), while Racing Point has a new massive structure to replace the former Force India unit – thus killing off all links with the Vijay Mallya era.
Not content with its three-year-old hospitality, Haas has expanded its former single unit, effectively doubling up on space, while McLaren’s has unit – well over ten years old by now – has been somewhat spruced up.
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Hit the interview trail, and am again seriously impressed with the mature manner in which Charles Leclerc answers tricky questions, this time about the team’s Baku tactics, and about Ferrari’s inability to consistently take the fight to Mercedes.
Talking of which, our story on Wednesday about Toto Wolff having been offered the top executive F1 role caused a stir, with a few more sources providing further snippets. 48 hours since we broke the story, there has been no denial or even comment from either side – in itself is no confirmation – but I’m told a guarded statement can be expected today.
Interviews over, time to head for Racing Point for the inauguration of its hospitality and introduction of title sponsor SportPesa, an unknown brand to most F1 folk before the betting platform entered the sport this year, as revealed by RaceFans.
One thing is clear: an enormous amount of thought has gone into the design of the unit, with top class workmanship and materials being evident on every one of its three floors.
SportPesa’s footballing links are underscored by the appearance of former pro Gaizka Mendieta Zabala, now an ambassador for La Liga, who shared the stage with Sergio Perez – with the latter telling us he’d hoped to be a football pro, but switched to racing when he realised he wouldn’t make the top grade…
Clearly, though, the team’s financial issues are a thing of the past now the Lawrence Stroll consortium has acquired it.
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Wander back to car park, wondering whether my rental car’s windows would be whole: last year a spate of vandalism saw over 40 cars broken into in the media car park during race weekend, while colleagues lost valuables in a similar run during testing. The recent World Rallycross Championship round saw further break-ins – and although the circuit maintains it’s beefed up security, fact is we all feel uneasy. No worries (today), though: the car is untouched.
Dump baggage at the apartment in Argentona – 20 minutes from circuit – I’m sharing with a Dutch colleague, then head for Fonda Europa, one of the best hotels in nearby Granollers, for dinner hosted by Stuart Pringle, CEO of Silverstone Circuit.
Stuart puts us in the picture regarding the British GP over a sumptuous three-course meal. The bottom line is that, contrary to reports, no deal has been done for 2020-onwards, and that a number of sticking points remain.
Arrive back at apartment and catch-up sleep, having departed South Africa 30 hours earlier.
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