Yuki Tsunoda didn’t realise how badly he’d affected the Red Bull drivers’ laps at the end of qualifying until he spoke to media. Dieter Rencken brings that story and more from the paddock.
We discuss his driver plans plus other snippets, then he is off to a team boss meeting with Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali. I’m later told by an F1 source that the meeting was advised that three grands prix had extended their contracts, or plan to in the near future. The smart money is on Abu Dhabi, Spain and Singapore putting pen to paper, which in turn scuppers the hopes of a number of hopefuls.
Usually I’d head trackside for final practice but the FIA has loosened a number of restrictions so I request a pit lane tabard instead and spend the hour wandering up and down, observing the teams working through their run schedules. It’s my first pit lane visit during a session for almost two years – another welcome sign that F1 is gradually returning to normal – and I feel slightly nervous whenever I hear an engine being started.
I fill the time to qualifying talking to various team media officers, then have lunch in the media canteen – roast beef and mash with vegetables, followed by ‘chocbanana’ cake. Tasty stuff. I also happen across one of the colourful paddock inhabitants in ‘Day of the Dead’ attire.
No sooner eaten than I receive a call from Graham Stoker, deputy president for sport and FIA presidential candidate in Mexico as part of the governing body’s affordable helmet project – which last week cut a pact with Uber Eats for all their delivery drivers to wear the cheap but effective headgear. The teams have each liveried up a helmet per driver as part of the campaign, and pretty swish they are too. Time is too short for Stoker and I to drill down into his election manifesto so we agree to catch up next week.
After the qualifying hour about the only story in the paddock is how Red Bull managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but the standout moment for me is Yuki Tsunoda’s face in the so-called media ‘mixed zone’ when he realises his polite move out of the way of Sergio Perez indirectly scuppered the final runs of both Red Bull drivers.
The full implications of the incident only dawned on the 21-year-old after the assembled media request his views on the incident and his media officer replays the footage on her phone. Clearly, Tsunoda had been unaware of what transpired behind him.
“Did I do something wrong?” he asks us as worry lines crease his youthful face. No he did not, as analysis of the incident made clear.
After the last of the interviews I pack up and head for the shuttle. The traffic is as horrendous as 10 hours earlier and no wonder – the promoters report a day two crowd of 135,000. Had they reported double I would have believed that too so packed were the stands.
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Although I don’t have any early appointments, I depart at my usual time to compensate for traffic, which turns out to be, if anything, worse than on Saturday. Once at the circuit I head for the Covid test centre for my final nasal invasion of the weekend before flying home on Monday evening.
I seek background information from teams on their respective takes about the cost cap and 2022’s regulations changes. Without exception, all seem to believe the upcoming season will be an improvement over this year – yet logic dictates that for every team that progresses up the grid another must slip down. Of course, they can’t all be right. More on this later in the week.
My next stop is Haas to chat with team principal Guenther Steiner about 2022 and to meet up with Uralkali director Paul Ostling, who is in Mexico to oversee the company’s partnership with the US team. Its driver Nikita Mazepin is the son of Uralkali’s majority shareholder Dmitry Mazepin.
I ask Ostling about their plans to appeal the lost judgement in the case they brought against the administrators of Force India, which was sold to Lawrence Stroll (and has since mutated into Aston Martin F1 Team) rather than Uralkali, which allegedly tendered a better offer.
Although Ostling won’t comment about the plans he does state that Uralkali is focused on the future and helping Haas improve, which is the closest one gets to an admission that any appeal is off the table.
The next stop is a highlight of the weekend. I rush to the grid as I need to be there before 12:20 (when the pit lane opens) or wait until 12:30 (closes). The much-missed grid walks were the favourite part of my race weekends pre-Covid, and now they’re back, albeit with restrictions on numbers. One doesn’t realise how much one misses something good until it’s taken away.
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I catch up with various team personnel as I make my way up the grid, eventually stopping by safety car driver Bernd Maylander, standing beside the red AMG GT R. As originally revealed by RaceFans, from this season the duties are split between Mercedes and Aston Martin’s Vantage, so I ask Bernd which of the two he prefers.
He reckons the Vantage is better on tight circuits, being lighter and more compact, while the heavier and larger AMG is at its best on fast, flowing circuits where it can put its additional 60bhp to good use. So Silverstone is tailor-made for the AMG, while the Vantage is better suited to Monaco, I ask? “Yes,” he nods with a grin.
With one o’clock start to the race – the earlier the better, say I – it’s all over by 3pm, so I head for the mixed zone for feedback from drivers before the (indoor) Zoom calls starts. During his session Christian Horner, who suggested on Saturday that both his drivers had been “Tsunoda’d”, concedes that he had been a little harsh on the AlphaTauri rookie.
I leave the circuit after half past five, arriving at hotel an hour later to leave enough time to pack for my next flight. I also quickly catch up on the newspapers, learning from The Times that universities are urged not to accept donations from a trust formed by former FIA president Max Mosley, in light of his connection to racist material distributed by his father’s political party. Mosley can’t even find peace after his death…