Paul Ricard, 2019

Paddock Diary: French Grand Prix day three

2019 French Grand Prix

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Three circuits appear to be vying for the final place on the 2020 F1 calendar, @DieterRencken reports from the French Grand Prix paddock.

7am

Up at usual time, strong coffee and prepare for day. The weather simply could not be better, and I feel for folk who’ve reserved seats in open stands; any of them wearing blue and white are going to end up looking like Tricolours (indeed, I later see a few such, clearly painful, sights.)

8am

Depart for circuit. Yes, There’s no traffic and I reach the circuit without once crawling to a stop, yet lose 30 minutes: oddly, the promoters send support race cars down parking access lanes, and we’re held up by a Clio Cup train.

9:30am

Enjoy bacon and scrambled egg on toast as I catch up with Marcin Budkowski, Renault F1 Team Executive Director, whom I’ve hardly chatted to since he left the FIA over a year ago. It’s a casual chat, so nothing to report. He’s settled in well in his quest to help the yellow team regain its former form. As qualifying later demonstrates, a resurgent Renault and upwardly mobile McLaren, means the sharp end of the midfield is tighter than ever.

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11am

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Renault, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2018Watch team bosses return from ‘Coffee with Chase’ – their regular Saturday session with F1’s CEO. I’m told nothing new was discussed: no wonder as on the regulatory side we’re in limbo land until October 31st, the revised deadline for the 2021 regulations.

I do hear, though, that there are continuing snags with the 2020 F1 calendar. The possible loss of the Mexican Grand Prix threatens to create a headache at the end of the season, as it forms part of a logistical triangle with Austin and Sao Paulo.

Neither races at the Circuit de Catalunya nor Hockenheim – the two other venues in doubt – could be slotted into that date. Encouragingly for Silverstone, its race is seemingly secure, or it would have been mentioned in the same breath…

2:30pm

Lunch at Pirelli with my good friend Ari Vatanen and his son Max, who visiting Paul Ricard for the day. As always Pirelli’s fare is superb; Ari chooses sea bass off the menu, and Max and I eat from the buffet.

Will Buxton – author of My Greatest Defeat, which contains a chapter on Ari’s recovery after his horrific 1985 Argentina Rally crash – joins us briefly. Ari’s biography, “Every Second Counts”, is also worth a read if you can track down a copy – a little known fact is that Ari and Chris Rea shared a house in the mid-seventies, and the crooner’s song of the same title is dedicated to the 1981 World Rally Champion.

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3pm

Lando Norris, McLaren, Paul Ricard, 2019The surprise of qualifying is McLaren, who are enjoying a very strong weekend – three-and-a-half seconds faster than last year having introduced an interesting new suspension update on the MCL34 this weekend.

But the stands are far from full, with many red and blue spaces visible. I generously put the crowd at 30,000 for the day, a point I plan to put to my mate Eric Boullier, now a consultant to the race. Whatever the true number, it’s clear the circuit is paying the price for last year’s debacle.

He admits ticket sales are down – by about 25% – but I can’t ignore that there’s simply no traffic about, that camp sites are far from packed and that a tour operator, who last year filled two coaches with 78 punters, is this year using a minivan to convey nine fans. The expected (paying) race day crowd is around 50,000, well down on last year’s much-trumpeted 65,000. Let’s see…

5pm

Interviews, and the focus is on McLaren, where the team’s best overall qualifying result since 2014 is complemented by news they are investing in a new state-of-art wind tunnel. The team also lets slip that, having agreed terms with Renault to use its third driver Sergey Sirotkin should they need to, Fernando Alonso will not be returning to drive its F1 car.

The team cites Alonso’s other commitments as part of the reason. But what are they? His Le Mans 24 Hours victory last week was his last scheduled outing this year.

Either way, it seems to be the end of the F1 road for a driver who was once the sport’s greatest track warrior. There’s a lesson lurking in there somewhere.

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7pm

Hit the road to return to my B&B, marginal traffic which causes a delay of around 10 minutes – enough, though, to ensure I miss the local supermarket’s opening hours, so head across the road for a take-out pizza. Perfect for a warm summer evening, and all I need to sustain myself after Renault’s breakfast and Pirelli’s lunch.

I munch away al fresco under 25C clear blue skies while enjoying the views across the valley, and decide there and then that my bench on the edge of Le Castellet is simply the best dining room I could imagine anywhere on earth. Truly blessed.

8pm

Pack in preparation for an early start on Sunday.

2019 French 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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5 comments on “Paddock Diary: French Grand Prix day three”

  1. Should the Mexican GP face the ax (as is possible to happen) then simply pair the US and the Brazilian GP as was the case from 2012 to ’14.

    1. Except, Jere – Brazil doesn’t pay a fee. So one race would cover the entire Americas logistics cost.

  2. Another day in paradise, Dieter. Wonderful view from your dining room. Bon Appétit.

    Oh and enjoy the race. Surprisingly, I’m enjoying this track more than expected. The technical layout and the mischievous mistral made qualifying more interesting too. That the track is located in the south of France and where I’d like to be located is mere coincidence. ;-)

  3. Enjoy Dieter, surely a coq au vin meal awaits you somewhere in the south of France!

  4. On behalf of all of us here I just want to thank you Dieter for all the suffering you go through to bring us the inside gossip ;P

    Seriously man keep it up. We love all the little insights and titbits of info that you bring us :)

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