8amMarcus Ericsson could substitute for Kimi Raikkonen, having been seen in Stockholm Airport on Wednesday. Sources said he was on his way to Belgium.
Thus, my departure is delayed an hour while we sift the story lines: Yes, the Swede has been called up as a precautionary measure, and, no, Kimi’s pulled leg muscle is not as serious as first thought. When I later see Marcus, I ask how he feels about missing Portland’s IndyCar round. He simply says: “I do as I’m told…”
Embark on the 140km drive south-east to the circuit – which takes about 90 minutes door-to-gate. Until the rise of Max Verstappen I used to commute Thursday through Saturday, spending just one night away from home. Then, though, the orange-clad army adopted Spa as their home race, clogging up south-bound motorways on a daily basis, thus adding anything up to two hours to my journeys.
So I now lodge with a family in nearby Ster village, which reduces my travel time to 10 minutes each way, even on Sunday. It does, though, feel somewhat strange, to leave home for three nights for a ‘home’ race.
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Arrive at circuit, and the first thing that strikes me is that the media parking area has been relocated – and obviously it is now further away from the paddock. True, as before there are shuttles available, yet the feeling lingers that the media is being increasingly snubbed by F1’s new owners.
However, it’s great to catch up with colleagues I hadn’t seen or heard from since Hungary. We have a lot to discuss: Not only the 2020 F1 calendar been released, albeit in draft form, but a flurry of announcements are expected. They duly arrive: confirmation that Valtteri Bottas stays at Mercedes for 2020 and Esteban Ocon’s returns to racing (with Renault) in place of Nico Hulkenberg.
Lewis Hamilton adds to the news pile by announcing his new “plant-based” burger chain. I can’t help but wonder why teams seem bent on drowning each other out by flooding the wires simultaneously. Each snippet would have had longer legs had it been revealed during the summer break – and it is not as though all decisions were taken simultaneously on Thursday. For example, I’m told Ocon’s deal was agreed over a week ago.
Interviews take me through to 2:30pm, then I head for Hotel de la Source situated below the famous hairpin: Alfa Romeo Belgium has invited a select group of journalists to chat with Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi in a relaxed setting.
It’s clear Kimi prefers such an environment to the usual formal media sessions, for he turns out to be very chatty and delivers some very witty answers and responses.
When I ask about the 22-race calendar, he shoots back that there are over 35 races in NASCAR, where he dabbled during his two-year lay-off from F1. I point out that all those are contested in a single country. “Yeah,” he shoots back, “but [the USA] is a fucking big country…”
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Back in the paddock, the formal interview sessions continue. Strange but true: After this race the hospitality units, all of them mini palaces constructed at great costs, face just one more 2019 race, Monza, then get refurbished and are stored until testing commences at the end of February next year, or in some cases even the first European round in early May. It seems like only yesterday that they were erected in Barcelona.
During my wanderings I bump into Rodrigo Sanchez, the marketing boss of Mexico City Grand Prix – note the change of name – who has a bag of sombreros with him, and kindly gives me one of the large hats. It will make a great addition to the memorabilia collection in my office. Thanks Rodrigo, looking forward to your race in October!
Now that the calendar is all but confirmed I’m able to cancel superfluous hotel bookings: In order to obtain best prices, during the year I second guess the incoming calendar, then make cancell-able reservations for the most likely dates with back-up booking on either side. Thus, I have around 50 bookings listed, and can now whittle these down to 20-odd.
I do confess to smiling upon check-in when receptionists regularly check my prices with their bosses and, no, I don’t feel in the least bit guilty for paying 100 bucks for a room they’ve hiked to 300 once a date is known.
Overall, the exercise is time-consuming, but given that the leeching hoteliers profit massively from grands prix weekends without making a single contribution, this practise saves me thousands during the course of a season.
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Head for Luc’s home where I’ll be spending the next three nights, with a quick detour to visit a friteuse (chip shop) in Malmedy to grab a takeaway. It’s always good to see the local teacher who ships his wife and kids away for the weekend to make space for his grand prix regulars. Thanks Luc!
2019 Belgian Grand Prix
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- Kubica: Hamilton’s sixth title special because he didn’t always have the fastest car
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- Norris says he thought of Hubert during Belgian GP
- 2019 Belgian Grand Prix Star Performers