Paddock Diary: Monaco Grand Prix part one

2021 Monaco Grand Prix

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For the first time since the pandemic began, journalists are allowed back in the paddock in Monaco, and Dieter Rencken is taking full advantage of the extra opportunities it offers to bring stories from the track.

Tuesday 18th May

The unreliability of airline schedules during the pandemic – I had more flights cancelled or inconveniently rescheduled last year then during the previous 20 – led me to a left-field choice for the trip to Monaco. I let the train take the strain, hopping on a TGV from Brussels to Nice. I checked it with the powers-that-be: the journey meets F1’s COVID travel protocols, is cost-effective and 1st class seat is obviously more bearable than a cattle class Boeing perch. Ticket booked.

The journey took nine hours door-to-door. Within similar parameters a direct flight (if available at similar pricing) takes half that, but most of that would be spent hanging about, plus I’d be able to work through on the train. With 50% of the overall journey done, I don’t regret my decision one iota, but will likely revert to sky travel once airlines return to normality, whenever and whatever that may be.

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Wednesday 19th May

Talking of ‘normality’: The big news ahead of the grand prix is that the paddock is (conditionally) opened to the print media for the first time since Covid struck. Thus, as I head for the principality shortly before noon from my rented apartment in Nice (a 25-minute train journey, plus 800 metre walk from station to media centre) I feel a renewed sense of purpose almost to that when I first swiped a paddock pass in 1997.

Statutory Covid test dispensed with at the circuit, I immediately head for the paddock turnstiles, and instantly feel ‘home’. My colleagues are easy to spot: they bear ear-to-ear grins while chatting with folk they haven’t seen face-to-face for over a year.

At 2pm I join the FIA press conference: first up are Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, and I’ve mischief up my sleeve: last time, in Spain, the seven-time champion again remarked on my preference for orange, suggesting other colours would suit me equally well – so I packed a turquoise polo to surprise him. When my name is called, Lewis says, “The orange man,” exclaiming, “He’s wearing blue,” as I appear on screen.

Cue slipping on my orange mask as I pose the question. Full credit to Lewis: he breaks into a broad smile as he provides an incisive answer. Sure, he is a global superstar but still retains the human touch, and full credit to him for that.

Thursday 20th May

First ‘proper’ day in the paddock and I have a long chat with (Sir) Jackie Stewart, obliging as always and dapper as ever in matching hunting Stewart tweed trousers, flat cap and mask. The triple champion says Portimao was his first race since last year’s Australian Grand Prix but that he’d been restricted to VIP areas, so this marks his first paddock visit in 15 months – the longest such stretch since he arrived in F1 in 1965!

Jackie reveals that he recently spoke to the folk in Australia – Rolex, for which the Scot is a long-standing brand ambassador, is traditionally sponsor of the race – and they are concerned that Covid will not have receded sufficiently for the event to be staged in November. This ties in with media reports that only 1% of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated. Is a return to Bahrain’s Outer Circuit on the cards?

Between first practice and the FIA ‘team bosses’ conferences I meet briefly with Ian Holmes, F1’s director of broadcasting, to discuss my recent call for research into returning F1 predominantly to free-to-air TV. We also discuss the backstories to changes in the Dutch TV space, where streaming via Nent will replace current broadcaster, Ziggo – intriguingly owned by Liberty Media’s ‘cousin’ company Liberty Global.

Needless to say, Ian robustly defends explains his corner on the former topic (and I mine), and I maintain that in-depth research should be undertaken. Research was used to as a basis for various decisions – such as the introductions of Sprint Qualifying, time-shifts of race starts and the 2022 regulations – so why not for F1’s largest revenue spinner? While it is clear streaming is the future, paywalls can be lifted…

Next I catch up with Jacques Villeneuve, always good value on account of his outspokenness. We discuss plans for him to appear in an edition of our “My F1 Cars’ feature, so on those scores alone my paddock access has more than delivered – and that excludes two later paddock interviews I have scheduled, one with Laurent Rossi, the other with Lando Norris.

The former, son of a car-mad rally mechanic, tells me he grew up in Corsica and that the Monaco Grand Prix was an annual father-son pilgrimage – more in the full interview to be published shortly – while Norris admits Ross Brawn had a point when he recently said that the younger generation generally has shorter attention spans and that sprint qualifying may appeal more to that demographic than to traditionalists.

During my return to Nice I reflect on my first day with paddock access in over a year: there are no doubts that face-to-face chats deliver better results, most likely due to the real ‘chemistry’ at play between the two parties. I had not, for example, met Laurent Rossi in person, and it was a real pleasure doing so. Equally, I remarked to Lando about how much more comfortable he seems in interviews when we chat in person.

2021 Monaco Grand Prix

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26 comments on “Paddock Diary: Monaco Grand Prix part one”

  1. Great to have an from-the-paddock paddock diary again.

  2. There is no way the Australian GP is going ahead this year. Our borders are still closed to the unwashed masses and 90% of the country is waiting for the Pz vaccine to be delivered which doesn’t start until October.

    The AstraZeneca is giving blood clots 1:100000 but in a country that is essentially free of Covid were all just going to wait on a vaccine that isn’t going to kill people.

    Australian government has all but admitted the borders are staying closed until sometime in 2022.

    1. @Paul I’m also somewhat skeptical, but specifically because of the quarantine requirement for arrivals that could still be in place in November or, more relevantly, September, when the build-up process should commence.

    2. @paul, @jerejj, Paul is right, there has been discussion about the tennis AGP being transferred to Qatar in March 2022. We don’t want to be the next GB, USA, India, or even Taiwan. Being a vanguard Boomer I’ve had my 1st A-Z vaccine shot and I’ll be lining up for Pfizer as well when I can, once these new variants get loose in the community it will be survival of the fittest (mentally) and the anti-vaxers will reap their just reward.

      1. @hohum you clearly haven’t researched what you’ve had shoved in your arm. Or the yellow card warning process where over a thousand Brits have died already after being jabbed. Fyi the yellow card warning registration records, by the government’s own estimates, records only at best 10% of events. I doubt you saw that on Newsround..

        1. The true figures of blood clots is 6/7.2 million. If you mean thousands died from any cause after vaccination, which I suspect you do, then congratulations, you’ve just put forward a very convincing argument that the vaccine prevents death for any reason, because ‘thousands’ is low when you correct for the demographics having received the vaccine being the oldest and most vulnerable in society.

          Do try to stop spreading misinformation

          1. Will jones, basically, it appears that poster has made the rather dangerous false assumption that the data shows a link between the two and really doesn’t seem to understand what he is actually reading.

            As you note, it is also quite easy to find mortality data for the UK – saying that “over a thousand Brits have died already after being jabbed” is actually not saying a lot when around 1,400 to 1,500 people die on a daily basis in the UK.

            When you add to that the fact that those were the highest priority for the vaccine – i.e. older citizens and those who have underlying medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to infections – then, when you look at the number of deaths that have been reported within that reporting period, it comes out as being about what you would have expected if you monitored the normal mortality rate amongst that group in any other random period of time.

        2. @gmacz, Like I said, it will be the mentally fittest that will survive ie; those with sufficient acumen to analyse the data and not succumb to conspiracy hysteria, good luck.

        3. HoHum said he’s a Boomer, so therefore at low risk of the clots younger people are experiencing with the AZ vaccine.

          Also of note: it’s relatively common for people to experience blood clots just normally (well, often from other health issues).

          You anti-vaxxers do my head in.

          1. See how you leap to name call, just repeating what your media drums into you. I wish people would do their own research like me. I look at conclusions by independent scientists. The 1000 deaths is vastly underestimated, as I indicated, but that does meet the narrative you are consuming clearly and is dismissed.
            I have nothing against vaccines but @hohum seems very keen to stick an experimental gene therapy into his body, not a vaccine in it’s normal sense, one which the manufacturers insisted they would not be liable for damages from. Odd. It’s received EUA use approval only and is in phase 2 of 3 phases of testing. Long or medium term? They don’t know. In fact the manufacturers are prevaricating on releasing existing test data, also unusual.
            A treatment that doesn’t stop infection.
            And the plan is for children to get it despite millions to one risks of infection.
            Your body, your choice but count me out. I’m a fit “boomer” btw. Chances of survival if infected 99.9%.
            Good luck!

  3. F1’s next Bahrain visit for racing will come next March or April. Bahrain is done for this year as racing in the same place twice within the same season is workable only on consecutive weekends, not separately. I’ve seen similar thoughts by some people elsewhere, and nothing wrong with this, but unrealistic. Shanghai, Istanbul Park, European circuits like Mugello, Jerez, possibly Aragon, or even Sepang could be alternatives in some scenarios for late-Northern Hemisphere autumn, but too premature for speculation this far in advance.

    1. It is sustainable as part of a Jeddah-Bahrain-AbuD set. Simple.

      1. @dieterrencken If Jeddah was brought forward by seven days as otherwise unnecessary back-and-forth travelling.

  4. Thanks Dieter. I always look forward to your paddock talksf and insights. Travelling by plane is not sustainable (yet) so please try to travel by the most sustainable travel method if it is a reasonable possibility. We all need to change our habits. We can’t go back to the old normal. And as you say, the train took the strain and you had benefits from this method of travel.

  5. Jennifer Jacotine
    21st May 2021, 13:06

    Hello , That is my beautiful dog at the Monaco Grand Prix . Her name is Gina and she has her own insta account @gina_monaco . Thanks

    1. Jennifer, she is beautiful. Soooo cute. Nice pics on Insta.

  6. This is one of the finest editions of this feature – your enthusiasm for and excitement about being back in the actual paddock is palpable from every sentence. It’s so refreshing and certainly a relief from the dour, negative drudgery some sports journalism has become.

  7. I like your idea of the train. Did the same for the 2008 French GP-train from Paris to Magny.
    Back in time Sunday night for dinner at a Cafe with family. Completely relaxed.
    Great report as usual.

  8. What is that book in the picture ?!?

  9. Jonathan Parkin
    21st May 2021, 19:59

    Apologies for what might seem a silly question, but if a negative Covid test is mandatory to enter the paddock, why does everybody wear a mask. You can’t spread something you haven’t got

    1. Dear Jon, a negative test is only valid for the moment it was taken, Covid could be acquired on the way out of the test station. Is wearing a mask in public too much to ask to save lives?

  10. Train always seems fine until the hours drag endlessly on, and then comes again the realization that there’s nothing like air travel, even for short trips.

    1. @balue, have you ridden on a TGV? it’s vastly different to train services that have not improved in a century.

      1. @hohum No but still takes bloody hours compared to plane

        1. @balue, Maybe, but often the time spent waiting to board at the airport cancels out the speed advantage, especially if you have to change planes en-route.

  11. But Dieter, what is the food like up to now?! :)
    Are there some treats in the paddock that you were happy to again have access to?

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