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Dieter’s Diary: A better penalty system, and an insight into Nyck de Vries’ stunning F1 debut

In the latest edition of his diary, Editorial Director Dieter Rencken looks back on the last European race of the season, and wonders whether a drive-thru penalty system would better serve F1. He also has news about the calendar and a new book on Kyalami.


With various visits across Germany and Italy planned before and after Monza’s grand prix I elect to drive down by (electric) car from Belgium. A bonus is that driving provides flexibility while avoiding inevitable airline delays and rip-off car rentals. In brief, the 1200km journey is painless due to the number of high-speed charge points en route, with recharging running at around 40% the cost of petrol. My journey takes me to Maranello on Wednesday, where I visit the (self-contained) Haas technical department situated deep within the overall Ferrari complex, but with totally separate entrances and facilities to prevent ‘coffee machine’ talk. Indeed, once inside the building I don’t see a single red shirt. I love the intricacy of wind tunnel models and Technical Director Simone Resta kindly allows me to take shot of last year’s rear wing, which perfectly illustrates the level of detail required in F1, even for teams with lesser budgets. We’ll be publishing Simone’s thoughts on Haas’s 2022 season shortly. Thereafter I visit the local Ferrari Museo – one of two the company maintains, the other being in Modena close to the birthplace of company founder Enzo. Although it’s about my tenth visit to the Maranello museum it’s never the same as exhibits and special display rotate regularly, with the history of Fiorano being the current special offering.


Apart from driver press conferences I chase the 2023 calendar and next year’s driver market: The former is very much a work-in-progress and we refuse to publish ‘concept’ calendars which do fans a disservice as they make travel arrangements around dates that are likely to change given some concepts are a month out of date yet punted as ‘breaking’. If fans fell for some of those ‘calendars’ they’d be booking for Kyalami… The word is that a final calendar – subject to FIA ratification – will be issued early next week. Talking of Kyalami, a new book about the history of the South African circuit is about to be released, and from the excerpts I’ve been sent it runs to over 600 pages and the photographs look stunning. I’m proud to have contributed some interviews. Stay tuned. The driver market is evolving slowly, what with just three seats remaining, namely second drives at (alphabetically) Alpine, Haas and Williams – four if Guanyu Zhou’s berth is included, but sources are adamant confirmation for the Chinese is a formality to be sorted by Singapore. Wise money has Nyck de Vries at Alpine, backed by Jack Doohan as reserve, with Nico Hulkenberg making a return, with Haas. That leaves Williams – where Nicolas Latifi’s father is said to be upping the ante substantially, leaving the team with the headache of taking the money or gambling on Daniel Ricciardo’s potential return to form. Once news about the passing of Queen Elizabeth II is confirmed the paddock becomes muted – understandable given the deep ties the sport has to the United Kingdom. Indeed, Mercedes cancel their media BBQ as a sign of respect and other activities are either postponed or scrapped entirely.


The day opens to a press release from Porsche and, as revealed here a fortnight ago , the mooted partnership with Red Bull is dead - no surprise given the numerous occasions Red Bull boss Christian Horner cautioned media against claiming a deal had been sealed. During his subsequent media briefing it’s amusing to observe reporters pose questions in (vain) hopes of answers justifying their earlier claims… During my wanderings I bump into Paul Stewart, son of triple champion Sir Jackie who won his first championship grand prix here exactly 57 years ago this weekend. Paul shares with me that his father isn’t present at Monza, an event he visits perennially, due to Covid. I wish Jackie, who has close ties to the British royal family and was due to meet the Queen this week in Balmoral, well and a very speedy recovery. Following his Friday morning ‘rookie’ run with Aston Martin Nyck de Vries hosts media conference. The eloquent Dutchman bats questions with aplomb and it is clear the Formula E World Champion deserves an F1 seat - little do we know his chance will come with Williams under the ‘wrong’ circumstances 24 hours later. On my way out of the paddock I hear talk of a driver standards meeting to be convened for drivers, team sporting directors, stewards and officials by the FIA on Monday in Monza under the guidance of Ronan Morgan, long-time motorsport administrator and former world championship co-driver. It is the first such gathering since 2013. In addition, updates to the FIA’s Remote Operations Centre (virtual race control) situated in Geneva are expected to be shared. Although ROC enables race control to improve procedures and decision-taking, it has no regulatory powers nor can it be used to alter past decisions. Still, it’s a step in the right direction and one of many sweeping changes to F1 planned by FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem.


News breaks that Alex Albon has a medical issue and that Nyck could be shoehorned into the blue car - and so it transpires for FP3, qualifying and the race. While I obviously feel for Alex and hope he recovers quickly, the sub role could not happen to a more deserving fellow. Then it’s treat time: For FP3 I go trackside, timing my walk to the first corner/chicane to catch the cars at full chat down the main straight, then braking hard for the right-left complex. It’s the first time I’ve seen the new cars reach such speeds - Nicolas Latifi was fastest, hitting 345km/h – and very impressive and stable they look. Equally, the difference in sounds between the Ferrari, Honda, Mercedes and Renault units is startling. On my way back I walk through the support event re-race area and catch a glimpse of the Lotus parade field, including the gorgeous 56B turbine car campaigned by the team in 1971 – in Worldwide Racing gold/black as boss Colin Chapman was concerned that the Italian authorities may impound Team Lotus assets in the wake of the previous year’s Jochen Rindt tragedy. Post qualifying there is, of course, an outcry over lack of clarity about who starts where after all sporting and engine penalties are tallied. Of course, F1 should have bullet-proof regulations in place that enable the FIA to issue results within minutes of a session ending and hopefully Monday’s meeting will sort that - but the bigger question is whether a better procedure exists that does not detract from the pole position fight. A reader suggested a drive-thru and/or stop-and-go system rather than grid place penalties which I then refined before discussing it with the FIA (and Martin Brundle, who kindly name-checked me during his grid walk). An element of jeopardy could be introduced by making the team elect when to take the penalty (or stop-and-go for multiple infringements by a driver), yet the sanctity of qualifying would be preserved. After the usual sessions I head for Aston Martin’s top terrace for a sundowner in celebration of the final European race of F1’s ‘new era’. While there I learn from the FIA that Red Bull’s plan to install Colton Herta in Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri to enable the Frenchman to move to Alpine stalled after Ben Sulayem refuses to be brow-beaten by teams into adjusting the superlicence points system to suit. Good on him.


First off, a word about Monza traffic: Why do circuits (and local police) need to change traffic arrangements on a daily basis? Three days in a row I’ve needed to argue that the Monza Golf Club entrance is valid for F1 personnel and that I really DO NOT wish to be diverted straight into traffic jams. Today I need to robustly argue the case, aided by a local car marshal who translates. Eventually I’m allowed through but others aren’t. Once in the paddock I’m introduced to Hendrik Jan, Nyck’s proud father who sacrificed the family’s Renault dealerships to fund his son’s early career, and what a thorough gentleman de Vries Snr turns out to be. We also catch up on the grid, and it’s clear his son’s F1 debut is an emotional occasion. Thereafter I meet with Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi over the Piastri affair. The Frenchman admits his team made ‘some mistakes’ but is adamant Alpine acted totally ethically. He also suggests the company’s young driver is being re-evaluated. I’ll publish the full interview before the next round in Singapore. Post-race we have the usual squabbles about red flags and Safety Cars - whoever benefits is happy and whoever loses out is critical, and that applies to teams, drivers, fans and the media. Fact is such incidents can and will happen in F1 and while the Safety Car could well have been deployed earlier, race control takes decisions to neutralise a race based on the best information available at the time. Again, a topic for Monday. That’s it until Singapore, where Max Verstappen could conceivably be crowned again. Take care until then.

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