Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Red Bull Ring, 2019

Paddock Diary: Austrian Grand Prix day three

2019 Austrian Grand Prix

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Are Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel’s Formula 1 futures connected? Will Hanoi be ready in time for next year’s Vietnam Grand Prix? @DieterRencken pursues the news at the Red Bull Ring.

7am

I catch up with the F1 and daily news: nothing much about save that, as mentioned yesterday, there is growing speculation that Max Verstappen’s Red Bull contract indeed contains get-out clauses that could soon be triggered unless the team returns to its winning ways. A focus for today, I decide.

8:30am

Ready to depart for circuit when I’m asked to assist fellow-residents in my B&B whose car has a flat tyre. Problem sorted, I hit the road with two of the party – ardent Verstappen fans from the Netherlands – while the car owner heads to the local village for repairs.

9:30am

Traffic is light, unlike on Friday so local authorities seem to have resolved whatever the problem was, but the incident means a slight delayed for a coffee appointment with friend Dennis Dean, an American who this weekend is chairman of the F2 and F3 stewards, and also an experienced F1 steward and land speed record adjudicator.

FIA, Red Bull Ring, 2019I stress it’s purely social, but obviously conversation strays to the recent fall-outs from Montreal and Paul Ricard. We’re on the same page and agree that in all instances – Dennis was not involved, but followed proceedings keenly – the stewards acted according to the book.

In my opinion there’s a perception problem: the stewards are seen by fans as part and parcel of the FIA and imposing the wills of ‘blazers’. Thus gripes are prefaced with ‘FIA this…’ or “FIA that…”, when, in fact, the stewards’ panels act totally independently, with no FIA officials in the room during their sittings. The closest race director Michael Masi gets to the stewards’ room is when he refers incidents to them.

Compare the situation to the football World Cup: referees penalise players, yet there are no suggestions that FIFA did ‘this or that’. So it is with F1 stewards: they are and act totally independently, without agendas.

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10am

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2019Breakfast at Ferrari – in fact, Philip Morris, for the team’s sponsor provides media hospitality. I have typically continental fare: fruit, yogurt and pastries, with tea.

Thereafter I dig into the Verstappen story, and discover from sources both within the driver’s camp and Red Bull that ‘out’ clause exist. More intriguingly, Sebastian Vettel, who never seemed truly content in red, has been a regular visitor to Red Bull’s Holzhaus hospitality unit this weekend, meeting with various team executives. Ferrari team boss Matthia Binotto is also said to have visited, so the plot thickens…

Could it be that Red Bull is resigned to losing Verstappen – who was never a true Red Bull Junior, and could thus dictate contract terms – be headed for Ferrari for 2020, and hopes to limit the damage by persuading Vettel to head the other way? That seems the most likely scenario, particularly with Mercedes, Verstappen’s only other potential serious suitor, not (yet) committed to the sport after the 2020 F1 season.

11am

I hear that Hanoi will be under enormous pressure to complete its circuit and all facilities in time for April next year. Asked whether the street circuit will be ready in time for an April race, my source says, “It has to be.” Will the rest of the F1 infrastructure be completed by then? Blank stare…

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Noon

Robert Kubica, Williams, Red Bull Ring, 2019Final practice, and it’s clear this track is a lot more demanding than Ricard a week ago. It should be a good race – just what F1 needs after last weekend’s torpidity.

While watching the session I marvel at the location, and am in two minds as to whether Spa or Red Bull Ring has the better setting. I patriotically settle for the former, but only by a carbon fibre sliver. That said, this circuit offers better facilities by far, as befits a venue ultimately owned by one of this century’s most successful entrepreneurs, Dietrich Mateschitz.

1pm

Head downstairs for lunch: meat balls on mash with gravy and fried onions, followed by tart, vanilla sauce and berry mousse. Simple, but delicious.

Then I roam the paddock, seeking out bits here and there. Nothing concrete, but some snippets may eventually come together to provide a story of substance. For example, I hear Niki Lauda’s 10 per cent in Mercedes has been (or is being) sold to a party not unconnected with the original negotiations. When I later put this to Toto Wolff, he denies it, albeit after a few moments of silence. Let’s wait and see…

3pm

Qualifying produces a much-needed change at the front following Mercedes’ dominance last week. However, the number of incidents and controversies reinforces my opinion that we’ll have a scintillating race.

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4pm

Fans, Red Bull Ring, 2019Interview time, and amongst others I grab both Toro Rosso drivers and Pierre Gasly, followed by McLaren and then Mercedes with Valtteri and Toto – where I pop the ‘10 per cent’ question. Asked about the chances of Verstappen joining Mercedes, Toto says team policy is to prioritise the current line-up – including reserve Esteban Ocon – and I guess Mercedes don’t want the Dutchman rocking Lewis Hamilton’s boat.

But imagine those two as team mates…

7pm

Interviews done, I enjoy a bowl of ragu sauce over noodles in the media canteen before packing up and heading for the B&B. Sunday will bring with it check-out as I’m stopping overnight in Vienna, so need to start packing up ready for an early start to race day at a truly classic circuit.

2019 Austrian 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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9 comments on “Paddock Diary: Austrian Grand Prix day three”

  1. A Verstappen /Vettel swap seems like a good thing for the fans, with Vettel established, but not happy or in a great place at Ferrari, and Verstappen eager to move on to bigger things (and hope of a WDC, if he can get 2017—18 like Ferrari’s), so they both would likely be happier too.

    I do hope that gives Leclerc opportunity to grow and show his worth this year, so that Ferrari doesn’t further push him into supporting driver role, instead of having two young, exciting and fast drivers with years to grow and become a legendary team-up

    1. Find it hard to see why V would swap to a slower car if he has a contract which he does!

  2. Fascinating stuff about Max’s contract.
    I was worried that he might be semi-trapped at Red Bull for a while but this is definitely going to liven up the chances of some seat swapping.
    I am pretty confident that Red Bull/Honda will eventually get back up to speed but the problem is when.

  3. yet there are no suggestions that FIFA did ‘this or that’

    Not much of a football fan I suppose. Yes, there are! Specially with FIFA which is a freaking mafia.

  4. I wonder why would Verstappen move to Ferrari. It’s a hell hole in there. The chances of that move working are justa as good as the chances of it being a big mistake. The pressure on the team is just too big and they are only starting to (yet again) change the structure of the team.

  5. Imho Mercedes won’t put Max alongside LH, and Ferrari this year has been closer to competing with RBR than Merc, so if I’m Max I’m going to strongly consider staying with RBR through 2021 when he can then truly see where his options lie wrt the best team at which to be. With what I see as no better option for 2020 than RBR, why not stay for the big change and the chance that Newey might pull off some magic, and Honda will be two more years further along as well.

  6. Dieter, You paddock talk always make me hungry with all the meal choices :-) And I’ve only just had breakfast.

  7. I think it’d be a good PR movie if Mercedes signed Max, he’s a young up and comer and will surely distract the fans from another season of silver domination of the drivers are battling it out more than they currently are.

  8. Lenny (@leonardodicappucino)
    30th June 2019, 19:15

    Dieter, as others have already said, in football, especially in international football, anger is most often directed at the concept of VAR or at how the rules are written. I personally think it is much better to criticise the powerful faceless organisation for designing a bad system or making bad rules then to criticise individual, private people, as the stewards are, for doing their job.

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