Paddock Diary: Qatar Grand Prix part two

2021 Qatar Grand Prix

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Between interminable waits for stewards’ decisions in Qatar, talk in the paddock often turned to whether the next circuit Formula 1 visits will be completed in time.

Saturday

On my way to the track I detour through areas earmarked for FIFA World Cup stadia; clearly considerable work needs to be done before the peninsula is ready for the contest which kicks off properly in November 2022. I guess that, as so often in the Middle East, massive wads of cash and last minute shoves in all directions will ensure just-in-time delivery of facilities.

Which leads me neatly into my first chats of the day, namely speculation that the Jeddah street circuit will not be ready in time for the inaugural Saudi Arabia Grand Prix in a fortnight. Indeed, team personnel were seen scurrying around seeking assurances that the race will go ahead in a fortnight.

However, my sources – one within the F1 organisation, another who visited during the effective two-day period between the Brazilian and Qatari races – both insist the race will go ahead as scheduled.

That said, the former emphasised that essential facilities and services will be in place but little by way of niceties, while the latter warned, “Careful that your shoulders don’t brush the walls or you’ll have paint on them, and steer clear of walking on the track or you’ll have sticky asphalt all over your shoes.” That’s how close it’s likely to be…

Jeddah Formula 1 circuit construction, 2021
Report: Jeddah track construction to be complete “in coming days”
After final practice I meet with folk from Red Bull’s fuel and oils partner ExxonMobil to discuss their take on F1’s plans to introduce synthetic, zero-carbon ‘drop in’ fuels to power the next generation of power units. As the name implies, the fuels are a direct replacement for current fossil fuels and could thus readily be used in the 1.5 billion internal combustion engines estimated to be in use globally and currently belching CO2 and NOx.

I’m told Exxon plans a special year-end promotion in the Netherlands in celebration of the team’s successes this season: Filling station forecourts in Max Verstappens’s homeland will be draped in orange which, given the country’s Verstappen fever, should drive fuel sales sky high while spreading the story of F1’s best season in at least a decade.

Before qualifying I’m shown a copy of a note sent to teams by the FIA regarding the governing body’s intentions of randomly checking wings to ensure they comply with various regulatory load tests. A number of teams then hurriedly change their rear wing specifications, later insisting they intended doing so as part of their final set-up.

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Analysis: The yellow flag confusion which hit Verstappen’s title hopes in Qatar explained
If that raises a smile, what followed after qualifying is little short of farcical: 20-hour delay before final qualifying results are issued after three drivers are summoned to answer allegations they had not respected yellow flags during the closing stages of qualifying.

The delays would be tolerable were it a one-off, but on Friday fans were subjected to an overnight wait for the outcome of the Mercedes request for a review of the Brazilian Grand Prix overtaking incident involving Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton – which was eventually rejected after 22 hours from start to verdict.

The delays are absolutely unacceptable in this day and age, and a complete review of stewarding procedures and timelines is surely long overdue. As I walk to my car, well after 10pm, I hear whispers that the senior F1 officials are equally unimpressed.

Sunday

Depart hotel at 10am after checkout – I’m heading for the airport and home after the last of the post-race interviews. First stop is McLaren, where I have a social coffee with Zak Brown as we discuss his 50-strong collection of road and race classics which includes F1, WEC, NASCAR and IMSA cars and exotica such as a Porsche 959.

The most recent addition is an ex-Allan Moffatt Chevrolet (Holden) Monza which the Australian legend campaigned in both Australian V8s and IMSA, dominating the former. A true enthusiast is Zak, who amassed his considerable wealth the hard way – selling sponsorship.

Next, I follow up on changes to the 2022 sporting regulations, which mandate that each team runs a rookie during first practice at least twice during the season, with the events and drivers being at the discretion of teams. However, given the restricted pool of quality rookies a distinct possibility exists that certain youngsters will feature with various teams during the year, thus potentially benefitting from multiple opportunities. A worthy initiative, provided the seats are not merely sold to the highest bidder.

Equally welcome changes are requirements for teams to explain to the media on the Friday morning of each event what changes have been made to their cars since the previous race, and why. A number of cars – likely six – will also be chosen at random after Saturday qualifying and subjected to the same scrutiny.

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On my way back to the media centre I bump into Mario Isola, Pirelli’s car racing manager, and we discuss their plans to reduce tyre usage without affecting the ‘show’. One of the issues faced by the tyre supplier is that mounted tyres cannot safely be stripped off rims without structural damage – primarily due to the different rim designs used by teams which affect the bead. Thus, all unused tyres are scrapped.

With rims being standardised under the 2022 regulations – BBS was awarded the contract – potential exists for tyres to be stripped and remounted, thereby dramatically reducing wastage. Due to the torque demands on slick tyres Pirelli will initially remount only intermediate and wet tyres, with slicks being recycled once Pirelli is convinced of safety. Still, it’s a step in the right direction, economically and ecologically.

Race time again means grid time – until recently we were banned from the grid due to Covid ‘bubbles’ – so I take the opportunity of catching up with Laurent Rossi, CEO of Alpine. We discuss the team’s race prospects while watching the team go through pre-race preparations on Fernando Alonso’s car. A podium?

“We’ll see,” he smiles, and so it turns out. Post-race I catch him in the lounge and we agree that I should talk to him on the grid at every race.

So ends my Qatar Grand Prix weekend – the event delivered plenty of drama, both on- and off-track and it’s a pity the peninsula’s first race was marred by some hard-to-fathom stewarding matters. Qatar, frankly, deserved better – having taken on the task of staging the event at very short notice.

We’ll be back in 2023 for ten years, but likely at a brand-new circuit currently under consideration. Whether that be a street or track circuit will be revealed soon – but you can bet the event will have massive wads of cash thrown at it.

2021 Qatar 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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20 comments on “Paddock Diary: Qatar Grand Prix part two”

  1. The comment about the current F1 fuels belching CO2 and NOx is misleading as the eFuels coming for the new powertrains will also belch CO2 and NOx. Any differences will depend on the sources of raw materials, the manufacturing processes, and maybe different combustion.

    Reply moderated
    1. The carbon will be sourced from direct air capture, powered by renewable electricity. Check out Porsche’s Haruni Ori project.

  2. Barry Bens (@barryfromdownunder)
    22nd November 2021, 14:17

    “and steer clear of walking on the track or you’ll have sticky asphalt all over your shoes.”

    I didn’t quite get Ted Kravitz’ refference of ‘mozarella-tyres’ last weekend, but this seems like a ‘mozarella-track’ to me. Are we going to get another Turkey 2020? With an exciting championship-ending of a mere 2 races left, I’d hate for one of those 2 to be an absolute farce because nobody dared to say ‘yeah nah this aint gonna cut it’

  3. If the Jeddah circuit is not ready on time do the F1 have a B Plan? Being the WCC and WDC that close they should (Bahrein Outer circuit anyone?)

    1. @doctorlovesexy Either the Saudi-Arabian GP goes ahead as scheduled or nothing, i.e., one less race.
      No other options at this notice anymore – marshal availability is one issue among others.
      If the off-chance extreme scenario of Saudi GP getting called off at the last minute happened, this would only occur on practice day at the earliest.

  4. With rims being standardised under the 2022 regulations

    F1 further heading in the direction of a pseudo-spec series.

    I still hold the view & will always hold the view that everything should be open to competition because that is a big part of what this sport & F1 in particular has always been about & should always be about.

    All these restrictions, spec bits & such are just taking F1 in the wrong direction, It’s dumbing it down to the point of it heading towards been more of an Indycar+ than F1. It’s reaching the point where you can’t even really call it the pinnacle of the sport anymore due to how restrictive & spec it’s getting.

    1. Left with just a few aero bits they can play with.

  5. I hope for a permanent track over a temporary one similar to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
    Easier logistically, more configuration design flexibility, & F1 already has more than enough street circuits.

  6. With rims being standardised under the 2022 regulations – BBS was awarded the contract – potential exists for tyres to be stripped and remounted, thereby dramatically reducing wastage.

    What is the shelf life of Pirelli rubber? In theory the tyres need to be mounted only once, if they are not used the set can be stored until the next time that compound is allocated and reassigned to the teams. The intermediate, and especially the full wet, compounds would stand to see the highest shelf life given they would be mounted at the start of the season (perhaps even in testing) and in theory may not see running all season.

    1. If the teams went to 3 different circuits where all sets were in play that would treble the number of rims required.

      1. It might be interesting to remove the colours so a tyre that is a medium one week could be the soft or hard the next.

        No teams know what any team is up to with tyre choice.

        1. @andyfromsandy

          It might be interesting to remove the colours so a tyre that is a medium one week could be the soft or hard the next.

          This already happens dude.

          1. All the tyres would have no colour at all is what I think you have missed.

  7. Imagine having to fill up one’s car whilst surrounded by Orange/Red Bully motifs and having that straight brimmed gurning face forced upon you, AND having to pay €1.64 a litre for the privilege. Ugh. No thanks.

    1. @jazz what is even more disappointing is the way in which Dieter is passively accepting the statements of ExxonMobil, given that ExxonMobil is reckoned to be the fourth highest producer of CO2 since 1965.

      At 122 million tonnes of CO2 per annum in 2018, ExxonMobil was already emitting more CO2 than most nation states, plans a major oil drilling campaign expected to increase that to at least 143 million tonnes per annum by 2025 and was openly admitting earlier this year that it runs “aggressive” climate change denial programmes, justifying it on the grounds that they were “looking out for shareholders”. I hate to say it, but I think they were basically hoping to feed Dieter a narrative about synthetic fuels that is meant to give a greenwash veneer to them.

      1. Very insightful and informative, thanks anon. I’d not considered any of that.

  8. Its a little concerning that critical decisions seem to be being delayed for the benefit of “adding drama” to the show.

    Hopefully journalists can get to the bottom of it and determine whether or not this is the case or if unforeseen circumstances actually caused the delays.

    I must admit that the last few weeks of constant sniping between two teams in particular has become quite tiresome and off-putting.

  9. Filling station forecourts in Max Verstappens’s homeland will be draped in orange which, given the country’s Verstappen fever, should drive fuel sales sky high

    Is marketing really that effective? Are people so brainless that this kind of thing works? Surely you just buy petrol when you need it.

    Reply moderated
    1. Yes it is. Maybe I’m brainless but so be it. Because of a childhood watching Michael Schumacher and Ferrari, to this day I always try to fill up at a Shell. The irony that these days I do so in a Mercedes is not lost on me and I have a little chuckle to myself. Not to mention the horrible days when I used to stop every morning before work at the Shell Select shop to buy my pack of Marlboro cigarettes and a Red Bull Energy drink. Thank goodness, I kicked those nasty habits …

      Reply moderated
  10. F1’s plans to introduce synthetic, zero-carbon ‘drop in’ fuels to power the next generation of power units.

    I thought efuels were planned for 2030, not 2026? Great news if not! Though Petronas, Shell, Aramco, and friends will surely walk if so.

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