Paddock Diary: Italian Grand Prix part two

2021 Italian Grand Prix

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Did Carlos Sainz Jnr’s HANS fail in his crash? Will Imola replace Monaco in 2022? Dieter Rencken brings more stories from Monza.


My first Saturday appointment is with Beat Zehnder, sporting director of Sauber, which runs Alfa Romeo’s F1 team. I first met him back in January 2001 when Kimi Raikkonen was announced as the team’s new F1 driver despite having just 23 car races on his CV.

The pair have remained firm friends ever since, and thus Zehnder is the ideal source to tap about Raikkonen, who leaves F1 after this season.

On my way back to the media centre I spot Mark Webber and we chat about the state of the rookie market. The Australian manages Oscar Piastri, the 2019 Formula Renault Eurocup champion and reigning Formula 3 title holder who is also the current Formula 2 points leader. Piastri is unlikely to find a 2022 F1 drive despite “having more super licence points than he knows what to do with, mate”, as Webber puts it. More from both coming here soon.

At noon I head out for my now-traditional Saturday morning trackside session and select the first chicane as initial vantage point. Although the complex is taken at (relatively) slow speed it is a highly technical sequence and its fascinating to watch the different approaches. McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull look good through here, which seems a good omen for Sunday…

Next stop is the Parabolica – now formally renamed after Michele Alboreto – and on my walk towards the paddock I stop shortly before the braking zone for the chicane to listen to the engine sounds at full chat. Intriguingly, even cars fitted with the same engines sound different – Mercedes, McLaren, Aston Martin and Williams have distinctly different sounds despite the same specification engines, ditto Ferrari and its customers.

During my walk the session gets red-flagged due to Carlos Sainz Jnr’s hefty shunt in the middle part of the Ascari chicane. From the big screen footage it appears as though his HANS straps snapped. I later ask him for comment, and he explains that it did not rip, but both the HANS and seat belt straps stretched to the maximum to the extent that he thumped the steering wheel with his chest.

On Sunday Formula 1 race director Michael Masi tells me that they are designed to stretch to absorb body impact, but they will be examined to ascertain whether they went beyond limits.

There’s a long wait to the sprint qualifying race so I seek some news. A team source tells me they had expected a draft 2022 F1 calendar this weekend but that it is now unlikely to be presented before Russia due to complexities caused by Covid.

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However, Imola is likely to return full-time, while the futures of Paul Ricard and (whisper it) Monaco – which is out of contract and can no longer rely on the ‘old boys club’ for support – look shaky. That could explain why Miami is confident of a May date.

As regards this year’s final calendar format: a decision regarding Qatar will be taken this week after the FIA and FI submitted the vaccination information required by the Qatari government. Turkey is a given despite concerns over Covid: F1 informed teams that ‘red zones’ will no longer play an overriding role when it comes to venue selection, and that they will need to manage any national quarantine or isolation requirements.

Dinner is a simply ginormous pizza followed by probably the best panacotta I’ve tasted – reason enough to look forward to two Italian grands prix next year if, that is, Imola returns and Monza gets its financial act together. As related on Saturday, ticket prices were hiked astronomically this year, causing a significant drop in attendance.

Spectator numbers are capped at 50% of grandstand capacity – with no general admittance permitted – by government decree, which translates to 28,000 per day. Yet on Friday Monza attracted 10,000 and saw just 16,000 on Saturday. Sunday numbers are not available as this is written but a source indicated that 5,000 tickets were still available on Sunday morning.


Report: F1 engine manufacturers want new entrants to pay ‘commitment fee’
As I stroll into the paddock on Sunday I notice a dark-jacketed individual ahead of me – Porsche CEO Oliver Blume, in Monza for the engine meeting. It lasted about 90 minutes and fortunately my sources provide the lowdown. It seems the meeting was not as positive as was spun – true, progress was made but three major issues remain and without agreement on these it’s back to square one: without Audi and Porsche.

Next chat is with Thierry Willemarck, the FIA deputy president for mobility and in the running for the same role should Graham Stoker be elected as replacement for Jean Todt. Thierry has fascinating ideas about the internal combustion engine – he is convinced it remains relevant for future mobility applications, particularly non-city and long-distance travel – and is on a mission to persuade Brussels that electrification is not the panacea to pollution.

Willemarck believes that motorsport can play a crucial part in this quest by developing e-fuels and other zero-carbon technologies, something I fully subscribe to. Willemarck knows of what he talks: he comes from a motor family and is a graduate engineer who worked in the automotive fuel and lubrication industry in Belgium before joining heading the Royal Touring Club of Belgium as CEO, which led to his FIA role.

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Before the race start, another weekend treat: the pit lane is open to the media on a quota basis. I savour strolling through the pits, being able to examine F1 cars at such close quarters and differing pre-start modus operandi per team. I spy Peter Sauber, a man for whom I’ve always had enormous respect, and we catch up briefly before he agrees to take my call later in the week. He has Raikkonen anecdotes to share, he says…

Post-race I head for McLaren to congratulate CEO Zak Brown on the team’s one-two and we reflect on the feature I wrote about his successful management of various motorsport activities. The secret he told me here in April is to have the right people for the various roles, and Sunday vindicated that approach. A fortnight ago his Extreme E team won in Greenland; on Sunday McLaren scored a one-two on Ferrari turf.

True, Saturday’s sprint race result set them up for it, but there is no denying that both Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris were in a position to do the business even before the two title protagonists took each other out.

I depart Monza at 8pm, heading for Belgium via Switzerland, Ingolstadt, and Munich. Then it’s time to prepare for Sochi.

2021 Italian Grand Prix

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30 comments on “Paddock Diary: Italian Grand Prix part two”

  1. “Next stop is the Parabolica – now formally renamed after Alexander Albon –”

    Not sure if mistake or sarcasm?

    Otherwise an enjoyable read!

    1. I liked that as well…. :) A great read otherwise though.

      1. @hammerheadgb @geemac Afraid the error crept in during the edit – it’s sorted now.

  2. I thought Parabolica got renamed after Michael Alborete rather than Alex Albon. I guess everyone got the name wrong.

    Surprising to know both Paul Ricard and Monaco being at risk, not that I’d be overly sad about losing the latter anyway.
    Concerning the Red List thing: In this case, I wish Brazil on November 7 and Qatar (or Bahrain) on November 28 would be the case instead, as two consecutive non-race weekends would make a quarantine more doable.
    Overall, F1 could have handled this season’s schedule better, but I hope next season stays stable throughout. A 3rd successive season of schedule changes past the preceding December would be unideal.

    1. @jerejj I thought the comment about Paul Ricard was odd – back in 2016, the announcement from the regional authorities was that Paul Ricard had a five year contract, which would cover the races from 2018 to 2022 inclusive, with the option to extend the contract by another five years. Whilst Monaco’s contract has now expired and would need to be renewed, I would have thought Paul Ricard should still be on the calendar for 2022.

      Also, if Miami is expecting to be given a date in May, I’m not sure that dropping Paul Ricard does help that much when the French GP has been held in late June in recent years. Whilst you could shift other races from May into June if Paul Ricard was dropped, given the Spanish GP, which has generally been in early to mid May, is also out of contract for 2022, I would have thought that it is more likely that it would be the Spanish GP that ends up being dropped, along with Portimao (given that Portimao was only really a temporary venue anyway).

      As it stands, assuming the Chinese GP retains an early to mid April date when it returns in 2022, Imola would probably go back to its usual late April slot. If Portimao and Catalunya are both dropped, wouldn’t that naturally open up a gap for Miami in early to mid May?

      1. @anon Imola has equally only been a temporary one for COVID. Spanish GP indeed seems a lost cause.
        Zandvoort concerning when in next season is a question mark, though.
        For now, I’m not entirely sure about the rest you mentioned

        1. @jerejj I mentioned Imola because Dieter explicitly stated in this article that Imola was one race that, although originally expected to be temporary, is likely to see another race in 2022.

          As for Spain, Dieter also mentioned earlier this year that, because the Spanish GP is out of contract for 2022, that was being looked at as the most likely one to drop off the calendar, and that it probably would be dropped in favour of Miami.

          To quote “When Miami was announced for the 2022 F1 season the sport’s CEO Stefano Domenicali made the point that the race in Florida would replace an existing event – which I took to mean Spain’s race […]”.

  3. @Dieter Rencken Re. next year’s calendar, I thought that the original French GP contract was for 5 years, ie 2018-2022. So they would end the contract one year early? I am also aware Monaco does not have a contract for next year but so does Singapore, right?

    1. @zecrunch87 Yes, Singapore is also up. This year’s race was supposed to be the last of a five-year stint starting from 2017.

  4. I know it’s not popular as a race, but ditching Monaco would be the ultimate proof that Liberty are just a money grabbing monster with no regard for the sport itself.

    How can they say they respect the history of the sport with a straight face while striking off one of it’s flagship venues for the last 70 years?

    They wanted more out of Silverstone but it’s historical significance had them over a barrel.

    1. Yep. Kinda leaves a bad taste doesn’t it.

      Some of the greatest drives I’ve ever seen in the last 50 years have been at Monaco. To me it’s one of those tracks that is an ultimate test of man and machine where there are such incredibly fine tolerance between greatness and failure.

      If I was going to watch just one race in any year, Monaco would be at the top of the list every time.

      I’m sure Liberty will manage to find a despot somewhere that is willing to pay huge $ to try to legitimise their country – Belarus GP anyone?

    2. I’d say the opposite. The fact that such an incredibly tedious, dull event featuring cars which are less suited to the circuit by the year, illustrates to me that the previous management chased the dollar signs rather than cared about the racing.

      I’ve watched since around ‘91, and have no desire to have Monaco remain on the calendar any longer.

      1. Bradders, Monaco doesn’t pay for it’s race like other events.

        1. No, but sponsorship contributes an awful lot to its place calendar, Gav.

          1. No more than than an oil rich race in the middle east, plus sponsorship, Bradders

    3. Gav, as an aside, it should be noted that Monaco was dropped off the calendar from 1951 to 1954 inclusive. More pertinently, Monaco originally wasn’t the most prestigious race in F1 – Monaco’s reputation as a flagship race is somewhat artificial and a more modern invention.

      Traditionally, the French Grand Prix was the flagship event of F1, not Monaco – the French GP was the older event, and thus had more heritage to it, and also had a much more substantial prize fund to boot.

      Also, with regards to your comment about Silverstone and its historic value – it is worth noting that has dropped off the calendar quite a lot over the years, with 17 British GPs being held at different venues (12 at Brands Hatch and 5 at Aintree).

      1. Sorry anon, in replying to your post I accidently reported it. Nothing to see there.

        The Monaco event has been run more than the French (as an F1 race) and was on the calendar in the championship in the inaugaral year (as I know France was). It’s often referred to as the jewel in the crown. There is simply nothing quite like it (for better or worse, and we should separate the non-event the race is, with it’s prestige as an event).

        Your using pure numbers to interpret my comment. Silverstone’s historic value is not only in the amount of GP’s it has held, but also that it held #1 (as well as being one of the few ‘traditional’ venues remaining.

        1. Yes, there are now more Monaco GPs that have taken place – however, I am talking about the situation that existed in the past, not today.

          The comments billing Monaco in those terms are more recent – it was a choice of the sport to portray Monaco in that light.

          You say that there is nothing quite like it, but there are a lot of street races that also have high prestige, such as Macau. Monaco has prestige because people have marketed the event to create that image. Otherwise, why not say that Monza is more prestigious as being used for longer than Monaco? Why not, by your argument, say the British GP is a more prestigious event?

          Prestige is a slippery concept, and sometimes it is as much about the image you create and the desire by others to promote that idea.

    4. Daniel Ricciardo won the 2018 Monaco GP in a car that was several seconds slower than the cars behind him. His car had a performance impairing fault, yet he still managed to win. Position is everything at Monaco. Monaco is better than this year’s farcical Belgian Grand prix, but not a lot better. It would be much better if F1 just stopped racing there. The race distance is about 40 km shorter than FIA’s minimum race distance.
      The only justification one might consider for the Monaco GP is it is one of the races considered to be part of the Triple Crown, but that isn’t an officially recognised accomplishment, so it shouldn’t be hard to come up with an approximate equivalent to winning an F1 race at Monaco, e.g. winning an F1 race at Spa or Monza or an Australian Supercars win at Bathurst.

      1. @drycrust – yes he did but for the most part I was on the edge of my seat as Daniel battled with his car’s faults trying not to have it die on him and lose yet another one.
        If I recall correctly (and I could be wrong) the next car behind him was Hamilton who was hardly likely to risk a move to protect his points tally as was the car behind him. Had it been Max directly behind him, I suspect it would have been a whole different story.
        The fact is that is “is” possible to overtake at Monaco but there’s risk involved and drivers tend to stay the course in the first few positions rather than attempt a risky pass. Look further down the field and you’ll see them.
        I’d expect the 2022 design cars “might” see more attempts at the front but I suspect we’ll never get to see whether or not that would be the case, something, in my opinion we’ll be all the poorer for.

        I accept that Monaco is not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s OK – I happen to be one that enjoys watching drivers right on the edge of disaster for most of a race rather than watching races at venues where its almost impossible to be punished for a mistake or poor driving skills.

        1. @dbradock

          If I recall correctly (and I could be wrong) the next car behind him was Hamilton….

          I think it was Vettel in the Ferrari if memory serves.

  5. Willemarck believes that motorsport can play a crucial part in this quest by developing e-fuels and other zero-carbon technologies, something I fully subscribe to.

    “Synthetic fuels” are incredibly inefficient. For the same work to be performed, i.e. moving a or multiple passengers from point A to point B, ICEs powered “synthetic fuels” require somewhere in the vicinity of 5x as much energy when compared to BEVs.

    Would you rather pay for X kWh of energy to charge your BEV or 5X kWhs of energy plus the work and margins of turning that energy into liquid hydrocarbons, shipping those to a select few remaining gas stations, and holding them for you and people like you?

    5x + work + margin to own a car that takes constantly requires extra maintenance? 5x + work + margin just to keep your car making more noise? 5x + work + margin to create pollution wherever you go?

    5x + work + margin.

    This is what these people are trying to sell you and the world at large.

    1. I think the point of synthetic fuel is more in its capability to power existing vehicles until their life cycle runs out @proesterchenrschen (and extend that life), apart from the advantage of being more energy per volume/kg, since we just won’t be able to replace all of then in any sensible way within the next 2 decades (that includes building, mining, shipping, as well as transport in all corners of the earth). Off course working to get normal life vehicles close to the efficiency of the current F1 engines would also help make the whole thing somewhat more sustainable mid term.

      But in the long run, it will almost certainly make more sense to look at different energy storage mediums (different types of batteries etc.) and run electrical motors from those. And use any optimized processes to make synthetic fuels to make synthetic plastics and chemicals instead (maybe out of waste plastics from dumps as well?).

      1. sorry, i got that linkage wrong there @proesterchen

      2. Due to their cost structure, “synthetic fuels” have basically no chance of being viable as a substitute for people who believe continuing to run their ICE-based cars is a financially beneficial (vulgo: cheap) way forward.

        The moment the proponents of “synthetic fuels” have to put numbers to their “solution”, their entire argument collapses as it becomes apparent that this is a very high cost, low-volume way of keeping high-value ICEs in operation beyond the end of regular large-scale gasoline production.

        On the other hand, BEVs are increasing in numbers. Used BEVs are no longer a rare occurrence. To an ever-increasing number of people, BEVs are becoming the financially smart choice for their next replacement vehicle.

  6. Synthetic fuels are far from being efficient, and we already had the enourmous expensive project developed around MGU-H, only to have it dropped 7 years later because it’s not road-relevant, it’s too complex and too expensive…

    They better start realizing that we need simpler, applicable technologies, developed to the maximum. We’re a long way before anything else becomes useful for the general public.

  7. However, Imola is likely to return full-time

    Oh no…

  8. Great to hear from Dieter, one of the best F1 journalist, very detailed on his writings and insights into the world of Formula 1.

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