Jackie Stewart, Paul Ricard, 2019

Paddock Diary: French Grand Prix day four

2019 French Grand Prix

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The F1 community celebrated Sir Jackie Stewart’s 80th birthday ahead of yesterday’s French Grand Prix. Dieter Rencken brings his final instalment of paddock chatter from Paul Ricard.


Up as usual, then pack ahead of preparing for day ahead. Pack and check out of B&B in La Castellet – I’m booked into a hotel near Marseilles Airport as my homeward flight is scheduled for 6:45am Monday.


Head for local parking lot to collect car – the authorities have kindly waived daily charges to encourage folk to catch buses to circuit – then depart Le Castellet for Paul Ricard, with, admittedly, a slightly heavy heart: I loved my stay in the medieval village, and would have loved to linger.

The upside to my morning start is that again traffic flows freely, a relief as I’m meeting colleagues for breakfast at Ferrari at 9am. In the event I’m parked up and in the media centre by 8:45am, and easily make the appointment. Clearly the expected spectators have not yet hit the region.


Breakfast is typically continental: fresh fruit, yogurt, juice and the freshest croissants I’ve tasted in many years, accompanied by strong tea. One of the delights of F1 is the superb selection of dishes we’re served: Regardless of team pecking order, the fare up and down the paddock is invariably first-rate. I for one am grateful that marketing and hospitality costs are excluded from the budget caps due to appear in 2021.

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Jackie Stewart 80th birthday celebration, Russell, Charles Leclerc, Paul Ricard, 2019Walk through paddock. Strangely there’s not much concrete information to report on, although a well-meaning colleague suggests that there’s a visiting South African delegation here to investigate a grand prix. The information proves wide off the mark – it seems there are SA visitors in the paddock, but they’re not connected with any project.

Still, a pleasant surprise: Rolex and Liberty have ordered a limited number of Sir Jackie Stewart-style tartan flat caps in celebration of the three-times champion’s 80th birthday earlier this week. Stewart dominated Paul Ricard’s first French Grand Prix on the way to his second world championship in 1971: winning from pole position and setting fastest lap.

He’s a man I admire enormously; a personality who’s arguably done more good for F1 than any other living individual. Thus, I feel honoured to have been given a cap. One for the office mantelpiece, not wearing.

For the rest, I obtain opinions about F1’s proposed new financial regulations due to be implemented in 2021 – and am rather surprised to hear that various team bosses hold a number of (different) reservations about them. A little over a week ago they unanimously waived their rights to challenge the regulations, yet a good number now apparently have second thoughts about some of the clauses.

I grab lunch at Mercedes: Grilled beef/chicken skewers and Mediterranean vegetables (what else?), followed by fruit salad and dulce de leche mousse.


Fans, Paul Ricard, 2019Grid time, as always the highlight of my ‘fan’ experience during grands prix weekends. I spot Sheikh Mohammed – who represents Mumtalakat, Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund, the largest shareholder in McLaren – heading towards the grid with guests.

At the access point they’re unsure which way to turn, so I point right: “That way towards the sharp end” – a reference to the team’s best qualifying performance since 2014.

Sheikh Mohammed smiles, then says, “It’s a nice problem to have…”

I note the main stand is about 85% full. While returning to the media centre I check out stands at the back of the circuit: 65%. Although the general admission areas seem a bit thin, I reckon suggestions of 30,000 race day punters are pessimistic, with 50,000 being a more accurate reflection. The promoters speak of a 135,000 weekend attendance, but I put it at closer to 120,000 – still well down on last year’s reported 165,000.

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Andreas Seidl, Paul Ricard, 2019Race over (none too soon), time to hit the interview trail, with the Mix Zone, through which drivers pass after the race, being first stop. I chat to Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll, Max Verstappen, George Russell and Daniel Ricciardo before heading for McLaren with a first (debrief) with team boss Andreas Seidl.

I’d interviewed him in Canada a fortnight ago, but that was general chat. Tonight he’s in race mode, and, if anything, more impressive than in Montreal. In the German recruit (from Porsche) the team has a genuine racer on its hands, and one cannot help but feel a return by the orange team to the top echelon is just a matter of time.


The FIA has scheduled a media debrief with Michael Masi, who stepped into Charlie Whiting’s (sizeable) shoes after his death on the eve of the 2019 season. It’s Michael’s first such session, but he carries it off with aplomb, providing sensible answers and lucid explanations to some tough questions. Not only were there F1 matters to contend with, but also the banning of F2 driver Mahaveer Raghunathan after he exceeded the 12 penalties point limit in just nine starts.

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Carlos Sainz Jnr, McLaren, Paul Ricard, 2019I need to be in Marseilles by 9pm to check into my airport hotel, and fearful of traffic – last year’s journey took four hours, but I’m optimistic. In slow but seldom stop-start traffic I reflect on the grand prix.

I find, frankly, little commendable about this event: insufficient accommodation in close proximity and woefully inadequate infrastructure make it user-unfriendly. The track design does not lend itself to close action and wide run-offs neuter the spectacle and lead to inevitable and tedious rows over track limits. If Liberty needs to cull European events in order to facilitate its planned global expansion, this event should top the hit lit.

Talk to you next week from what promises to be a sweltering Austrian Grand Prix.

2019 French Grand Prix

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15 comments on “Paddock Diary: French Grand Prix day four”

  1. F1’s proposed new financial regulations due to be implemented in 2021 – and am rather surprised to hear that various team bosses hold a number of (different) reservations about them

    Without naming names, could you please shed some light on what might be a few of the concerns? Or is that slated for a more comprehensive future article?

    1. Would I be cynical to say top teams are happy to vote for delays because the later it is the more chance of compromise or even scrapping the cost cap?

    2. Ferrari: “What does it mean we can no longer spend 400+ million?!?!? VETO!!!!”
      Mercedes: “Wait, you want us to fire two thirds of our staff? Are you crazy?!”
      RBR: “Unfair! We have to build cars for 2 teams, and you restrict our budget!”
      Renault: “Carlos? We need 175 million, please. What? What does it mean it is an inconvenient time to ask?!”
      McLaren: “New Wind Tunnel – check, recovery plans – check, Now hon on Earth do we cram this into 175 million?”
      Racing Point: “Mr.Stroll, don’t you think it is time to deal with our driver problem? Well… you know what I mean… But Sir, we have to spend 1Billion to make a car, which may make him champion, but we have only 175 million!”
      Toro Rosso: “What budget?! We don’t deal with Finances, please ask RBR”
      Alfa Romeo: “Spending spree!!! New Front wing designs every race!”
      Haas: “Who’s speaking? Ferrari? Can you please sell more of your car for 2021? And can you please tailor parts to suit our part of the car, as this year you sold us a dud? 200 Million!?!? How are we supposed to pay you that much?!”
      Williams: “175 million… wait! It is still more than a budget we have now and we are on a brink! god save us!”

      1. Renault: “Carlos? We need 175 million, please. What? What does it mean it is an inconvenient time to ask?!”

        You had me momentarily confused there – what’s Sainz got to do anymore with Renault, until the penny dropped about Ghosn. :)

        LOL, nice reasons there, @dallein

      2. Thoroughly enjoyed!

      3. @dallein, New windtunnel ? The cost will of course be shared proportionally between the 2 race cars and 750 road cars developed.

  2. In the German recruit (from Porsche) [McLaren] has a genuine racer on its hands, and one cannot help but feel a return by the orange team to the top echelon is just a matter of time.

    With the benefit of hindsight, would it be fair to say that Eric Boullier underperformed?

    1. There was a totally different dynamic in the team under Martin Whitmarsh (who recruited Eric), Ron Dennis (who inherited him a month later) and Zak Brown, appointed by the shareholders to clear out the old. Eric fell between three stools.

      1. Thank you, Dieter.

  3. As well as the track problems you mention I also think the track just looks awful. What it is like to watch on TV I can’t imagine but I’m pretty sure it would encourage me to turn off.
    They could definitely remove this one from the series for me.

    Personally I would blame the lower attendance on a mix of last years traffic problems and the season being pretty much finished already in a lot of peoples eyes.

    1. It’s terrible to watch on TV – horrid stripes everywhere – it’s like trying to watch something with a strobe light on. One of my least favourite tracks – would be happy to see it gone.

      1. I think the best they can do, is show a lot of onboards – because it does seem to be an interesting track to actually drive, and from that low vantage point, the stripes are less visible :)

      2. I don’t know what you say – I enjoyed it.
        No problems with stripes.

  4. I’ve often wondered why Chase Carey looks familiar to me, but seeing him sporting one of JYS’s tartan “bunnets” finally made the penny drop for me, he is the spitting image of Paw Broon from the Scottish cartoon series “The Broons”.

    The non-Scots among you won’t have a clue what that is, but The Broons was staple reading for us when we were growing up!

  5. Dieter, when you go to a team to eat lunch, do you pay for them or it is free?

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