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.
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…
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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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.
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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