Paddock Diary: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix day four

2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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A year since Haas protested Racing Point at Yas Marina, @DieterRencken discovers their wrangle over prize money is likely to continue for much longer. Here’s his final Paddock Diary of 2019.

12:30

After a brief stop at the gigantic Yas Mall situated between Ferrari World and the circuit, where a few orange items dent my credit card, I arrive at the media centre. I tour the paddock but there’s little in the way of gossip, unsurprisingly, as it’s the final race of the season.

Following Williams’ announcement of Nicholas Latifi, the 2019 F1 driver line-up is complete, and most folk are in wind-down mode.

1:45pm

I interview with Otmar Szafnauer, CEO of Racing Point, about the pink team’s commercial performance. We swap a few numbers, details of which will be published in the upcoming sequel to last year’s feature on team budgets.

Lance Stroll, Racing Point, Yas Marina, 2019In closing I enquire about the latest regarding the arbitration matter between his team, Liberty and Haas over Racing Point’s share of F1’s revenues. Covenants demand that teams finish in the top ten twice in three years before qualifying for what are known as Column 1 monies. Haas forfeited these for the first two years of its existence.

It was at this race a year ago that Haas’s protest established that Racing Point was a new entity, not a continuation of Force India – and was thus not strictly eligible for Column 1 payments. Haas subsequently demanded that Racing Point either forfeit such monies received to date, or that Liberty cough up an arrears estimated at $60m.

Although he won’t be drawn on the topic, I’m told by reliable sources that the hearing date has been set for late 2020 – two years after the original protest.

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2:30pm

[icon2019autocoursempu]Lunch at McLaren (roast beef), then I spy FIA steward Dennis Dean – a land speed record guru and official – strolling the paddock, so chat with him about the Bloodhound LSR project, which was rescued from near-collapse almost a year ago. Former Minardi boss Paul Stoddard joins us, and, as we talk, he notices a Charlie Whiting memorial badge on Dennis’s FIA shirt.

Stoddard, who now runs the two-seater programmes at selected F1 races, relates a previously untold anecdote. Before track activities started at Melbourne on the morning of Whiting’s untimely death, the two-seater was being put through its paces by former Minardi driver Zsolt Baumgartner. Suddenly its rear wing – already bearing the word “Charlie” in memory of the late F1 race director – detached while speeding down the main straight.

According to Stoddard the wing came to rest, absolutely upright, on the start/finish line directly opposite the ‘race director’ box where Charlie traditionally stood at the start of a race. An eerie coincidence.

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Yas Marina, 2019Baumgartner brought the now wingless car to a safe halt, but the passenger, an Uber rider who’d won the seat in a competition, had the scare of a lifetime.

3:30pm

Return to media centre to prepare for the race, and bump into a source who knew the late Sergio Marchionne (formerly Ferrari’s CEO) well and has in-depth knowledge of the team’s modus operandi. We discuss the state of Ferrari at present, and we agree that the hard-man of the motor industry would not have tolerated the team’s recent misdemeanours.

Then news breaks that Ferrari has been accused of a pre-race fuel weight irregularity. Such matters can occur in the best of teams but, frankly, coming hot on the heels of the farcical crash between its drivers in Brazil, screw-ups in qualifying and mysterious dips in performance after the FIA issued engine directives, the head honchos in Maranello need to take head-banging action of the type Marchionne was known for.

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4:30pm

I hit the grid and am struck by the number of folk with grid access. As the Etihad flotilla flies past I note that – save for Monaco’s start area, which is short and narrow – I’ve never seen a more packed grid. I check the look of frustration on the faces of team folk as they weave tyres and kit through a throng of gawkers, and wonder whether Liberty’s open policy might have gone a touch too far.

6pm

Lewis Hamilton dominates are somewhat lifeless Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, though a few position swaps enliven the final racing laps of 2019. The worrying about engine mileage is over for the year as well, so we end the year with a spectacular serving of doughnuts.

I hear from a few of the drivers, but am particularly interested to learn from race director Michael Masi why the Drag Reduction System was disabled for the opening third of the race. He won’t be drawn on who carries responsibility for the data server that failed at the start of the race, saying only: “We, FIA and F1, are in this together.”

A laudable display of unity. But I note Roberto Dalla, F1’s head of trackside engineering, sat behind us in the room, and draw my own conclusions.

9:30pm

Hit the road for my hotel in Dubai, from where I return home early tomorrow morning. Still it won’t stop there: a few year-end functions loom, including the FIA Prize Giving gala in Paris on Friday (French strikes permitting).

It’s been a wonderful privilege to experience yet another great year of grand prix racing at close quarters. True, the final classifications show that Mercedes scored a sixth set of double titles on the bounce, but the tables conceal subtle performance swings between the Three-Pointed Star, an oft-limping Ferrari and resurgent Red Bull-Honda. That bodes well for the 2020 F1 season.

I look forward to bringing my next diary from pre-season testing at Circuit de Catalunya in 2020. You can add the dates of those tests and all of next year’s races to your calendar using the RaceFans F1 Calendar.

Until then, take good care and have a happy festive season!

Yas Marina hot lap with Carlos Sainz Jnr

As promised earlier in the weekend, here’s the video of my hot lap of the circuit with Carlos Sainz Jnr, before the smooth operator’s thrilling last-lap pass to take sixth place in the championship.

2019 Abu Dhabi 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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10 comments on “Paddock Diary: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix day four”

  1. Thank you Dieter for another great season of Paddock Diaries. It was a pleasure reading them. Enjoy the holidays and until next year.

      1. I love that column. Reminds me of Hunter S. Thompson. You know, some Gonzo-Vibe, well minus the drug abuse ;D

  2. Dieter-thanks for these “on the scene” daily reports.
    I never miss reading one-they are always informative and enjoyable.

  3. Yes thank you. Always insightful

  4. It looks like the faster sainz drives the more his mouth opens.

  5. Invariably the first item I click to open on the Racefans homepage. Thanks Dieter!

  6. Thank you for another season of the paddock diary-series from me as well. Overall, these have been an enjoyable reading.

  7. Thank you, Dieter, for your gourmet paddock reports – enjoyed eating with you without gaining an ounce.

  8. Thank you for these great stories. Looking forward to next season diaries!

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