On his final day in the Formula 1 paddock at the Red Bull Ring @DieterRencken learns why Honda’s breakthrough victory may have been very timely and quizzes Robert Kubica on another difficult race for the Williams driver.
Although one or two journalists (allegedly) cut costs by sleeping in cars, I haven’t resorted to that, although I have stayed in campsites during my early career.
I head to the circuit early for a podcast recording (to be aired Tuesday) and breakfast with colleagues at Ferrari, so factor in time for traffic. It flows smoothly, though, and I make it without a stop.
Over a continental spread in the red hospitality unit – fruit, yogurt, pastries, tea – we discuss the driver market. Word filters through of a summit between Red Bull and Honda that evening, at which the latter’s continued participation in the sport after the 2020 F1 season will be discussed. Mixed messages later emanate from Red Bull sources: some suggest it’s a crunch meeting; others that it’s a long-standing friendly ‘dinner date’.
We also hear that the Austrian promoters procured 100,000 red ‘Danke Niki’ caps, one for each fan. A nice touch with typical thoughtfulness from Red Bull. It would make a fitting addition to the Jackie Stewart flat cap I was given in France last week, so (successfully) go after bagging one.
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I start my paddock rounds, chatting with senior team personnel. It seems most driver discussions will take place during F1’s summer break, just four weeks hence. The conundrum will be for drivers to commit for longer than a year as F1’s competitive order could change dramatically after 2020 once the cost cap and revised regulations bite. Plus, some entities could exit.
Hit media restaurant for lunch, where I’m joined by Marc Surer – former works BMW touring and sports car driver, 1979 F2 champion, ex-F1 driver and now TV pundit. He’s due to don his (Swiss-coloured) helmet again this coming weekend, he tells me over roast pork loin, spuds and veggies: Racing a BMW M1 in support races during DTM’s Norisring round.
According to Marc, the promoters have assembled a field of historic BMW M1 Procars of the type that he and other F1 luminaries raced when the cars supported F1 rounds during their heyday. Pity I’m otherwise occupied.
Start of an amazing air display, staged by historic aircraft from Red Bull’s collection. These are based in Salzburg, alongside Red Bull’s Hangar 7 museum/restaurant. I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited a few times over the years, and can thoroughly recommend a detour to enjoy the absolute top-class cuisine and drool over wonderful exhibits if you’re in the area. Early booking for dining is essential, though.
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Given the 34C heat, direct sunshine and 55C track temperatures it’s no surprise teams have erected gazebo shelters for cars, drivers and crews. I feel for fans in open stands, but so loud and enthusiastic are the cheers and whistles from stands packed with (mainly orange-clad fans that I doubt they’ll notice sunburn until tonight. It’s truly wonderful to sense such high spirits during a packed race hosted by a classic venue.
One of my interviewees is Robert Kubica who was lapped three times by the leaders and was just a few seconds away from going a lap down to team mate George Russell. I ask whether Kubica can see himself continuing at this rate. “Stupid question,” he responds. I wonder whether the team and his sponsors agree with him.
Irrespective of the stewards’ verdict on the race outcome, Honda has clearly demonstrated race-winning pace, so I ask McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl whether the team’s decision to dump Honda in favour of Renault looks so clever in view of the Japanese’s power unit’s race-winning performance.
Naturally, he points out that the decision he had nothing to do with the decision which was taken before he joined, and that the team is happy with Renault. However, Red Bull’s victory here today, regardless of whether it sticks, surely provides food for thought in Woking about the strategic decision they took two years ago.
The wait for stewards’ decision starts. Initially I thought the extremely robust Verstappen would cop it, but after reviewing footage in slow-mo and chatting with colleagues I changed my mind. He was within the rules, if albeit marginally so, but fine margins win races.
Therein lies the conundrum: Fans see shots from certain camera angles and understandably make up their minds – often subjectively – on the spot. Whereas officials have access to the comprehensive RaceWatch system. which we were shown at this race 12 months ago, and eye witness reports.
Oh, that all evidence was available immediately – but, as race director Michael Masi said during his subsequent briefing, in this sport one can’t simply blow a whistle and freeze the action while taking a decision.
Is the verdict correct? This one will run back and forth for a long time, but having read the stewards’ report thoroughly I truly believe the panel reached their tough decision correctly.
During the two-hour wait someone with too much time on their hands posts a fake stewards’ bulletin alleging a five-second penalty for Max. It’s swiftly debunked, so one wonders what the idiot behind it hoped to achieve.
However it points to a consequence of teams and F1’s commercial rights holder’s attempts to reach out to fans directly rather than working through accredited channels which properly check the authenticity of messages. The more this happens, the greater the opportunity for unscrupulous individuals to spread ‘fake news’. You reap what you sew.
After the Ferrari and Red Bull media sessions – each with their own views on the verdict – and Masi’s debrief I hit the road: 220kms to Vienna where I’ll stay overnight (not in a rental car), ready for the 9:25am to Brussels.