Pre-Covid, Dieter Rencken's daily diaries were a staple read for fans and F1 folk alike. Not only did they provide insights into his hustle and bustle of the paddock and interactions with the sport's major players, but served as a platform for emerging stories – those are worth a watch even if their details are not yet known, but could develop into tomorrow's news. "Evolving facts", our Editorial Director calls them…
In his first diary of 2022, Dieter outlines the goings-on during the 'non-days' that Grand Prix Thursdays have become under the sport's new three-day format, plus the first snippets from the first official day under F1's 'new era' regulations.
Land at Bahrain Airport from Dubai - where I'd attended the EXPO between testing and the Grand Prix - and pass quickly through immigration and customs using dedicated media lanes, then grab an Uber to the aparthotel in Seef district I've used regularly during the past five years. My rental car is delivered, on time.
Have pre-season Zoom call with the entire RacingNews365 team covering both Dutch and Global sites, so a dozen editorial staff. We're constantly hiring, so if you're keen on joining F1's fastest-growing, award-winning outlets, please get in touch.
Colleague Aaron and my regular (Hungarian) travelling mate Sandor Meszaros drive to Bahrain International Circuit, situated about 20kms away. Parked up, we head for the media centre – not a moment too soon: despite being a day without formal activity the media centre is packed, so securing three adjacent desks with good TV viewing and a vantage point across the paddock is tricky.
I have three interviews scheduled: Daniel Ricciardo, Alpine's Chief Technical Officer, Pat Fry, and Mercedes Sporting Director Ron Meadows. Dan and I enjoy an easy relationship - likely through our shared southern hemisphere roots - while Pat and I share a love for motorcycles: he'd planned to work in MotoGP before being grabbed by F1. Ron I've known for 20 years via mates who worked at BAR, as Mercedes was then.
While wandering the paddock I chat with Prodrive and former BAR boss David Richards and FIA Deputy President for Sport Robert Reid, the latter a World Champion co-driver who was elected to motorsport's top job in December. We plan to have a proper sit-down discussion at some stage during the weekend.
Next on the 'bump into' list is Stephane Cohen, CEO of Racing Force, the (locally-based) manufacturer of Bell Helmets – and talk turns to Romain Grosjean's fiery crash here in 2020. Stephane tells me the Franco-Swiss driver's battered and burnt helmet is at the factory on BIC's perimeter. We arrange a viewing.
I learn that the mooted replacement for Russia's cancelled September race is Qatar – despite the region's average high temperatures of 39C and a heat index (combined temperature and humidity) of almost 60C. I wonder whether putting this venue about is a negotiating tactic with other circuits reluctant to pay top dollar.
Grab a beef shwarma (or two) at the 'Ali Baba' stand in the paddock – the Bahrainis go out of their way to ensure we're properly fed and watered and rank amongst the most hospitable F1 promoters on the trail. Watching the 'race in the desert' grow from 2004 outlier to firm favourite has been fascinating.
Then it's time to head for Seef – I skip the media welcome party in Manama city to catch up on stuff I'd missed while in Dubai.
Head for circuit – it is clear the gusty winds have not died down; if anything, they will pose a massive challenge with F1's new ground effects cars. Once there I plan for the weekend's opening day.
Driver press conferences: the revised format calls for four-off 30-minute sessions, each with five drivers, live in the local 'podium tower'. For the past two years, all such conferences had been held on Thursdays, via Zoom – so life is gradually returning to normal. Another good sign is that masks are not required in the paddock, while the public areas are fully open.
My presser questions revolve mainly around Saturday's World Motor Sport Council - the first scheduled meeting under incoming FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem and Reid - and whether drivers believe the investigation into last year's controversial Abu Dhabi finale should be released in full.
Eighty per cent agree it should, some are non-committal and only Fernando Alonso - who was implicated in both the 'Spygate' and 'Crashgate' hearings - believes not…
Pit lane time: as part of the revised format the teams are required to make cars available for media inspection, so I spend an hour wandering the pit lane checking out technologies and designs. I'm particularly interested in the variety of floor designs and stays used to reinforce floors under full ground effects 'suction'. Some use cables, others have rods and still others have neither.
FP1 and the first running in anger of the new cars – and immediately Esteban Ocon's Alpine loses bits of his sidepods. It seems reliability will be the biggest challenge during early races, making for unexpected 'jeopardy', which can only be good for the sport by mixing up the results.
Viewed by others:
Small media session with Alpine Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer, who gives us the inside line on his switch from Aston Martin to the French team - he'd been told he wouldn't run the full green team, there'd be split responsibilities with new hires, so decided to leave - and confirms that Ocon's sidepod was an untested design, but that Alonso managed to complete the session with the same new design without issues.
FP2, and clearly Max Verstappen and Red Bull have the upper hand, followed by Ferrari. But there are no points for Friday practices, so let's wait for Sunday. Our practice reports are available here and here.
With no major media activities on Friday evenings we head for the 'circus tent' – a big top that hosts media and support paddock catering. On the menu are salad starters, then BBQ drumsticks, tandoori salmon, rack of lamb and teriyaki beef, followed by pastries and fruit salad. As I said, the Bahrainis are impeccable hosts.
We pass through the public area on our way to the car park. It is absolutely heaving with an obviously international crowd, all enjoying various stands and entertainment offerings despite the chill. I recall that when I first visited the island in 2004 there was nary a soul in sight; 18 years on the Bahrain Grand Prix hosts F1's 'new era' opener. Who would have thought?
F1 Podcast: Previewing the 2022 Formula 1 season
Ahead of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, F1 journalists Dieter Rencken, Mike Seymour and Thomas Maher preview the 2022 season.