Cyril Abiteboul, Esteban Ocon, Toto Wolff, Monza, 2019

Paddock Diary: Italian Grand Prix day three

2019 Italian Grand Prix

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What does Esteban Ocon’s Renault drive for the 2020 F1 season mean for his future at Mercedes? The driver and his current and future team bosses explained at Monza.


I catch the start of Saturday’s shopping traffic on the way into the circuit. It flows easily and I’m parked up and in the media centre within 45 minutes.


A media alert arrives advising FIA President Jean Todt is to host a road safety photo call and media session. Given last week’s events and his enormous push for safety in all aspects of motoring, I’m sure he’ll touch on Anthoine Hubert’s tragic death.


Todt duly arrives with footballer Didier Drogba, the FIA’s latest ambassador for its ‘3,500 Lives’ campaign, who will spread road safety messages in Africa where he is an international hero. During the subsequent Q&A with Todt I put to him that a lot more lives are lost in other motorsport categories, but that high-level circuit racing deaths are more visible. A death is, after all, one death too many, regardless of category.

He points that this year there’ve been 21 motorsport-related fatalities across the globe, with only a small percentage being in circuit racing. He also admits that the perceived safety of current motorsport leads youngsters to assume motorsport to be danger-free, leading them to take risks they may not with full grasps of the situation. “Never assume, [youngsters] should not assume that,” he says.

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Alex Peroni, F3, Campos, Monza, 2019Ironically, while we’re talking about safety news filters through about an enormous accident in F3. The footage I later see in slow motion is sickening, and Alex Peroni is fortunate to have escaped with spine injuries and concussion. One thing is clear, though: the Halo and fencing were up to it, a credit to the scientific safety work which has gone into the systems which protect the drivers. Still, there’s no room for complacency, particularly given the circumstances under which the crash happened.

The start of final practice is delayed. During the wait I’m told by a source in the loop that the crash the ‘sausage kerb’ Peroni struck may have been damaged before he hit it. Sounds eminently feasible.


Lunch at Mercedes: I go for caesar salad with Mediterranean quinoa and cold meat platter, then head for Red Bull Racing to formally meet the team’s new head of communications. Although F1 has a forbidding image, personal relationships are crucial in what is a massive global business, but, equally a very small world.

Thereafter I roam the paddock in search of news, particularly about discussions held during Saturday’s meeting between the team bosses and F1 CEO Chase Carey, attended by all team bosses and held this time at Red Bull. I’m told nothing much was discussed save the 2020 tyre regulations (little if any change) and procedures for 2021’s 18-inch tyre testing. Apart from that, ‘nothing’, according to team boss. ‘Nero fiddles; Rome burns’ springs to mind.

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Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Monza, 2019Qualifying starts, and bets are on that traffic jams will develop towards the end of Q3 as drivers prevent being ‘drafted’ – so it turns out. Don’t blame the drivers: as our transcript of radio messages largely proves, the drivers were instructed from the wall by their teams. Being employees, they do as told…


Interviews start, and drivers effectively blame the regulations that facilitate such traffic jams, pointing out that a good draft is worth up to four-tenths of a second per lap if timed correctly. The ‘tunnels’ created by trees close to the track mean that the air does not sill over, multiplying the usual benefit.

Given that teams spend up to $100k to find a tenth of a second, four times that for zero outlay represents a bit of a bargain. Though of course, if you fail to set a lap time, that bargain is purely theoretical.

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Cyril Abiteboul, Esteban Ocon, Toto Wolff, Monza, 2019After Mercedes junior driver Esteban Ocon’s move to Renault was announced last week a press conference between the two team bosses and the young talent was scheduled for Saturday at Spa. Then Anthoine Hubert’s terrible crash happened, and the meeting was postponed at today.

At the conference Toto Wolff, Cyril Abiteboul and Esteban Ocon explain how the deal works: essentially it’s a two-year suspension of the Frenchman’s contract with Mercedes, with long-term options on both sides. Though it seems a strange arrangement given Mercedes’ other contractual commitments.

I ask Wolff whether that does not send a message that Mercedes could leave after next season. He talks about other contracts that go ‘beyond that time, and many [other] contracts than can be cancelled’, so all in we are none the wiser, but suspicions linger, and his answer did nothing to allay them.


Head for B&B, stopping in at the local grill house to enjoy an entrecote with baby potatoes and salads. I skip dessert as I’ve had my fill of sorbet from the gelateria stands in the paddock kindly provided by the promoters.

Once in my room I pack up, ready for early departure ahead of flying home late Sunday. Once back in Belgium its Russian visa sorting time before heading for Frankfurt and next week’s motor show.

2019 Italian 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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2 comments on “Paddock Diary: Italian Grand Prix day three”

  1. I love these reports and the little snippets that you dig out from Team Principals and drivers.

    I get the feeling that there’s quite a bit of news left for this year in terms of 2021, the regulations and team futures.

  2. If Mercedes do leave, would much of the existing operation likely be sold on again? That would make a very tempting purchase for someone I’m sure.

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