Paddock Diary: French Grand Prix day two

2019 French Grand Prix

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Hard facts spoke louder than Karun Chandhok’s analysis when Ferrari tried to have Sebastian Vettel’s Canadian Grand Prix penalty reviewed, writes @DieterRencken at Paul Ricard.

7am

Awaken to glorious day. Say what you wish about city-based, ‘destination venue’ grands prix such as the last two in Monaco and Montreal, nothing beats waking up in pastoral regions to proper racing weather. Upcoming races in Spielberg and Silverstone will complete this rural trilogy – although I’m told temperatures of up to 42C (with regular thunderstorms) may await us in Austria.

8am

I weigh up my traffic options. Should I leave my B&B in historic Le Castellet early to beat Ricard’s feared traffic, or trust the Waze app which forms the basis of the grand prix’s traffic control system? I decide on the latter with some trepidation: Last year’s jams resulted in a South African mate of mine completely miss two days of action, only making the race after leaving Marseilles at 5am on Sunday. To compound matters, the circuit denied him a refund…

I fortify myself with two cups of strong coffee and hit the road. To my pleasant surprise I encounter only light traffic, mainly motorcycles. But every silver lining has its cloud: is the traffic lighter because last year’s congestion has scared off punters? I make a note to follow up with the organisers. They have admitted sales are down on last year but not, they say, by scary numbers (I should get a full interview on Saturday).

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10am

Paul Ricard, 2019Parked up and in media centre – hear similar tales of easy access, and am not surprised to see the stands are fundamentally empty. Still, let’s wait for the interview before passing judgement – with only Friday (at €19 for general admission) and three-day tickets available, it’s possible most fans will only turn up on Saturday and Sunday given the lack of competitive action on the first day.

11am

Healthy brunch at Williams – avocado and ham on whole-wheat followed by fruit and yogurt – before wandering the paddock during FP1 in search of folk not on the pit wall who are prepared to share snippets. It seems F1’s sponsorship arena remains tough as teams face increasing competition from Formula E and music tours, both being aimed at emerging markets. I hear a blue chip whose deal expires this year is switching to the latter.

1pm

Claire Williams, Frederic Vasseur, Cyril Abiteboul, Paul Ricard, 2019The FIA ‘team boss’ press conference – the first such session since the rules delay was agreed a week ago. My Reuters colleague Alan Baldwin – who has a reputation for utmost diligence – alludes to the (alleged) expiration of F1 CEO/chairman Chase Carey’s contract at end-2020, something we reported in early May.

“Clearly we all hear the rumours but it’s not something that’s been discussed in an open forum,” offers Claire Williams, deputy team principal of Mercedes engine customer Williams. “We’re just working to the current situation that we have at the moment.

“I’m too busy with other stuff at Williams to focus on a whole load of speculation in the wider paddock.” With the FW42s propping up the times sheets as usual, she clearly isn’t exaggerating.

For the rest, the overwhelming message is that team bosses are concerned about the impact of the new regulations, in particular cost caps and much-mooted move to a 25-race F1 calendar, on employees and their families. Such is the projected cost of F1’s 2021 ‘new dawn’.

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2pm

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Paul Ricard, 2019Having grabbed a quick prawn caesar salad at Mercedes I sit down with Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer. Regular readers will know we feature an interview with senior team personnel each month – most recently McLaren’s Andreas Seidl – and the next, which features Racing Point’s short-to-medium term plans, is scheduled for early July.

The big news, though, is Ferrari’s attempt to have Sebastian Vettel’s Montreal penalty reviewed. The ploy leaves most of the paddock baffled as to exactly what the team is aiming for. There’s much speculation about ‘new evidence’, and I hear Ferrari is pinning its hopes on a Sky TV post-race analysis by Karun Chandhok, who believes Vettel’s ‘recovery’ move across Lewis Hamilton was due to oversteer, and not deliberate.

Equally, the car’s ‘attitude’ data, which records yaw versus driver input, apparently tells a different story…

3:30pm

Post-practice interviews, and my immediate task is reduced by Max Verstappen’s no-show after he’s summoned to the stewards over an incident with Hamilton. Amusingly, Hamilton appears to have committed a similar foul to the one Vettel was penalised for Canada, but in the event the stewards take no action. It will be interesting to get race director Michael Masi’s take on it, and the wider debate around how the FIA should police driving standards, when he briefs us on Sunday.

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4pm

News comes through that no relevant new evidence was tabled by Ferrari, so the review request is rejected. Of course, cyberspace is soon filled with wide-ranging opinions – regardless of merits, these show that passion for F1 runs deep, particularly where Ferrari is concerned.

As an aside, I increasingly wonder why Ferrari bothers to host media sessions when their red-clad media folk block discussion on the most topical of subjects. So much for promises of a more media-friendly Scuderia under Mattia Binotto. It seems ingrained paranoia dies hard…

6pm

Interviews done, I head for Renault, who are celebrating not only its home race but also the unveiling of a new hospitality centre, which replaces the ex-Genii Lotus ‘bouncy castle’ unit, in turn acquired from Toyota after that team’s exit from F1 at end-2009. That one was built, I was previously told in 2001, so it certainly earned its keep.

After partaking in Renault’s ‘walking buffet’ – the mini burgers are delicious – and sparkling water I hit the road for Le Castellet, not even bothering to engage Waze or alternatives so light is the traffic. I hit home within 20 minutes – last year the similar journey lasted an agonising hour. I truly hope for the promoters that rumours tickets sales have fallen by as much as 70% are not true.

2019 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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10 comments on “Paddock Diary: French Grand Prix day two”

  1. The brouhaha around the Vettel penalty is more disturbing than the incident itself.

    The behaviour of some drivers would earn them a match ban in rugby or football, and their contempt for the referee and whining about the rules is just hypocritical. They have and will use any rules to get an advantage.

    The controversy will generate a temporary blip of interest but longer term just ingrain the view that F1 is overpaid people going round and round in circles burning hydrocarbons for the benefit of the unreconstructed petrol heads and sooooooooo boring.

    I can’t believe someone like Johnnie Herbert saying that rules are not needed as drivers will “sort out” miscreants. How, Johnnie, more fights in the pits, more intentional forcing off the road? Fantasy. And fantasy is the other dominant thread running through the Vettel incident fallout, not least Ferrari putting their faith in ‘evidence’ where the main element was a video concocted by a Sky man ‘after the broadcast’ according to the Sky’s own.

    Is it any wonder that the Sky witterers were banging on and on and on about the Vettel incident as if they were his lawyers and demanding drivers are ‘allowed to race’ whatever that means.

    Sky talkers were saying again and again that Hamilton should have a penalty for the incident with Verstappen knowing they are on air and the message will get through. At the same time they managed to cut most of Hamilton’s fast laps by going to ad breaks. And one of their driver pundits openly saying they hope Mercedes fail this weekend while others agreed with him.

    Have they all lost their heads? Are we going through a meteor shower that is effecting brains in the world of politics, racing and much else?

    Can we please have some adults take control, enforce a respect for the rules and for the referees. If a decisions seems wrong first go and kick a wall in private until you have calmed down and then make a proper appeal, act honourably and shut up and take it, don’t behave like a two year old in a tantrum or stand up and trash the system and rule book. If it seems a rule is wrong work to have it changed in a sensible and polite manner and not talk crazy stuff about burning the whole rule book or drivers policing other drivers without any formal rules.

    F1 is a great sport. I love it. When a race is on it makes my weekend. But it is not a lack of freedom for drivers that will destroy it but the hedonism of many of the participants and the lack of commonsense throughout the circus.

    When they bang on about ‘the show’ the more of a circus it becomes.

    1. You ask for calm and then make the whole incident and resultant debate sound like it’s been WWIII. I disagree with your heavy handed exaggerations. Many don’t think there should have even been an investigation of the incident, let alone a penalty. No wonder all the drivers were willing to chime in, where they wouldn’t have even been asked and the issue would have been forgotten quickly if SV’s penalty was a no-brainer.

      1. Have you been watching the Sky practice sessions? Yes, Herbert has been pushing that all on track regulations cease, and the drivers sort it out post race. And no, he wasn’t joking. Yesterday DeResta (jokingly, and way over the top) called for the most draconian penalties possible be issued to Hamilton for the basic non-event with Max in practice. The others jumped in demanding the same. It ended with DeResta saying ‘No,no, no, joke, I was only joking!’ And this is not a they all hate Ham theme, pre-Canada they were trying to out do each other ridiculing Vettel and pushing the he’s finished. But at least some reputable F1 reporters are now calling out their behaviour, in particular the continual finger pointing at Pirro post race. No, it’s not WW111, but threats against the wife and children of a steward for example are going to far.
        The sport is being turned into a circus for whatever reason ; I can only assume theirs an audience of clowns out there who want that.

        1. @riptide No the actions of a few clowns outside of F1 does not mean the sport is being turned into a circus. Nor does Herbert’s opinion have to be anything other than his opinion, subject to be agreed or disagreed with at will, he knowing that there is no way they would do things as he would like to see.

        2. @riptide

          But at least some reputable F1 reporters are now calling out their behaviour, in particular the continual finger pointing at Pirro post race.

          They’ve developed a kind of low-grade mob mentality, precisely not what you want from a group of race commentators. You want diversity of opinion, different angles, not in-joke banter that’s verging on meaningless to anyone else, dumbed-down consensus and the kind of tone of disdain for everyone they’ve increasingly been employing. They need to get a grip.

      2. @robbie, would they have been quite so quick to rally round if it hadn’t involved Vettel and Hamilton though?

        If this had taken place between a couple of midfield runners over a minor position, do you think that the fan base would still be discussing this by now? How much of this is really about how those two drivers and their teams are viewed, rather than the incident itself?

        If it had been between two midfield runners, and if the midfield runner in Vettel’s place was one whom the press has characterised as clumsy and incompetent, I strongly suspect that there would have been nothing like as much fuss about the penalty. Would those same drivers have spoken out in favour of Kvyat in the same way, for example? If it had involved an inexperienced driver, such as Giovinazzi or Albon, how many would be so keen to stand up for them?

        I’m willing to wager that a higher proportion of the fan base would probably have supported the decision because they would have probably gone “well, that driver in front is incompetent, so of course it is his fault”, or if it was an inexperienced driver they’d go “it was a rookie mistake under pressure”. They probably would not have cared that much if the incident was or wasn’t investigated, and they probably wouldn’t rush to sympathise with the penalised driver, either at the time or in the days afterwards.

        If it had involved two midfield drivers, would their teams even have dared to try and challenge the ruling in the first place, knowing that they would be very unlikely to get anything like the same amount of support from the media that Ferrari and Vettel have been getting? I suspect quite a few of them wouldn’t have taken the risk and would have simply stayed quiet.

        I believe Witan is right to point out that, whatever the merits of the original decision, the aftermath of it is being driven by populism and politics, given that Vettel and Ferrari are two figures within the sport who do have the political influence and the necessary leverage within the media to get them on their side and to leverage their outrage in a way that would be impossible for a smaller team with a less popular driver to do.

        How much of the whole debate is really down to racing principals at heart, and how much of this is really more of a political show and a popularity contest at a time when several of the parties involved will be wanting to demonstrate their popularity in wider political moves?

        1. @anon Seems to me this has been more about something TW pointed out after Canada. If you an LH fan you’re going to agree with the penalty and if you are an SV fan you’re not. Fans are the ones that have been polarized over this much moreso than F1 itself with drivers currently and from the past almost universally agreeing the incident wasn’t even investigation worthy. Within F1 itself I think the incident has been fairly mundane and straightforward, even with Ferrari taking their opportunity to contest it. Rulings and the rules will never satisfy all parties every time no matter how they are shaped. This won’t be the last debate we’ll have in the topic. Yesterday’s LH/MV ‘incident’ was a non-issue and is already forgotten.

          1. And yes I agree with you about if this was a couple of mid-fielders and the lesser attention it would have drawn, but of course this was for the win.

  2. I truly hope for the promoters that rumours tickets sales have fallen by as much as 70% are not true.

    If that figure is only half right then it is a serious problem that needs addressing.
    I seem to recall comments last year from people saying they would avoid Ricard this year (due to the traffic nightmare) and attend Austria instead?
    Could mean a crowded event next week.

  3. A bit of an exaggeration there. Concerning the weather in Austria I mean. At present, it looks like the race weekend would/should be sunny and in the low-30s. 31, 32, and 32 degrees for practice, qualifying, and the race day respectively.

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