7am Thursday, Monaco
Then again, anyone hoping for big changes in post-2020 F1 is likely to be disappointed, for it seems even Ferrari’s veto will remain, as will some form of bonus structure. Although the deadline for 2021 changes is 30 June, any sporting and technical revisions need to be ratified by the FIA World Motorsport Council, which, I’m told, meets in Paris on 14 June. Time is tight…
Depart apartment in Menton for Pecheurs Parking below the royal palace, situated within walking distance of the media centre on the first floor of a harbour front building. Despite being only 19 kilometres, the journey takes almost an hour due to early morning commuter traffic that congests the winding, narrow roads.
Mopeds clog the streets, while blacked out, (mainly) German-registered Mercedes minivans – the bane of F1 commuters – weave every which way as they ferry impatient high-rollers, most of whom wouldn’t know an F1 car from a Moto GP bike.
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Arrive at Mercedes ahead of Toto Wolff’s media tribute to Niki Lauda. The Austrian’s words about his compatriot are moving. Toto reveals his first wife was a cousin of Niki’s, so the roots of their ‘half-friendship’ – as the usually unsentimental but wholly pragmatic Niki allegedly once described their relationship – go back a long way.
However, I wonder when Lewis Hamilton will eventually face the media about Niki’s passing. I’m told former F1 driver and Niki’s McLaren team-mate John Watson called Lewis’s no-show at Wednesday’s FIA press session “pathetic”, and I see John’s point even if the words choice is a bit strong. If Toto could speak openly about Niki’s contribution to the team’s successes, so too should one of the primary beneficiaries.
Later while talking to Jackie Stewart, the three-times champion makes the point that back in his day they’d continue racing even as one of their number lay dying beside the track. That seems a touch extreme, but ultimately death is a major part of life, which goes on regardless.
Practice begins. Racing Point has issued an invite to watch the session from the rooftop of their (sparkling new) hospitality unit, which provides a wonderful vantage point across the harbour. Little beats quaffing chilled sparkling water and expertly prepared canapes in Monaco while working earnestly…
On the way to the media centre back I bump into Daniele Audetto, who was Niki’s team manager during that fateful 1976 season. He shares some wonderful memories, which we look forward to sharing with you.
Zak Brown faces a closed media session about McLaren’s failure to qualify at Indy, and provides background to the sad and sorry saga, which the American describes as his “most embarrassing moment in 25 years in motorsport”. It’s clear the team was horribly under-prepared for the Brickyard, and paid a heavy price despite having Fernando Alonso on board, who qualified well and led the 2017 race.
I can’t help but feel that factors contributed to McLaren’s humiliation: First, Alonso’s acrimonious relationship with Honda, which reduced McLaren’s partner options; second, the relative success of 2017, albeit in conjunction with Andretti Motorsport, which flattered to deceive; third, Alonso’s practice accident, his fastest career crash, which shook him somewhat.
Whatever, the only way McLaren can make amends is by returning to the Brickyard, (again) in its own right, then put up a respectable showing.
FIA Press Conference time. In Spain I asked the assembled team bosses, including Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto, for their views on whether the scuderia should be allowed to keep its power of veto over changes to F1’s rules after 2021, to a mixed response. With a different group of team representatives assembled, I ask the same question, and in Binotto’s absence the response is overwhelmingly negative:
Sit down with Ivo Bozukov, a director of Racing Point sponsor Sport Pesa, to understand more about the company’s operations and its rationale for entering F1. It’s clear that gaming is part of the sport’s future, and it will be interesting to see whether other such companies follow suit.
Christmas has come early for me. Having received a 90th Anniversary Monaco juice battery in my media pack, today Theo Huschek – referenced here as widower of F1’s First Lady, Maria Teresa de Fillipis, but also General Secretary of F1GPDC – presents me with a copy of the retired F1 drivers’ club 2018 annual.
Included in the envelope is a real surprise: a commemorative plaque produced for their recent annual meeting in Imola, timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s death. Thanks Theo!
Then I bump into Pavel Turek, CEO of poster art company Automobilist, who knows of my love for all things Porsche 917 – which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and being honoured with an exhibition in the Porsche Museum – and presents me with a copy of their limited edition poster of the 917 in which Red Bull’s Helmut Marko won Le Mans in 1971. Thanks also to Pavel.
Hit the interview trail, in particular Mario Isola of Pirelli and Binotto before wandering the paddock in search of news. The overwhelming topic of conversation is Niki’s death, which proves just what a legend the man remains.
Head for Red Bull and the annual Monaco Grand Prix party – great food, loud music and some wonderful company in a relaxed environment. I wonder, as I do every year, at the principality’s magnificent vista by night.
Head for apartment and rest ahead of tomorrow’s ‘off’ day, which is, though, sure to feature breaking news of some type or other.
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