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Dieter's Diary: An action-packed day for F1 on and off the track

RacingNews365.com Editorial Director Dieter Rencken reports directly from the F1 paddock after qualifying day at the Bahrain International Circuit.


11:00 Depart for circuit. Being Saturday in the Middle East, the roads are fairly quiet but as we near the circuit so traffic density increases. A good sign. 12:30 After a brisk catch-up walk through the paddock it's time for the team bosses' press conferences – the first of the season and thus also under the new weekend format, which has certainly not found universal flavour. Indeed, Toto Wolff remarks that the timing is fine for dusk races but under a 'normal' schedule the revised press conference starts at 09:00… Given that driver sessions (held Friday mornings) are scheduled to start at 08:30, in Europe it will be interesting to see a) how many drivers are late and what excuses they trot out, and b) how many fans are tuned in at that time… The sport needs to experiment to progress, but equally has a habit of blasting itself in both feet with a double-barrel shotgun. The folk who are best placed to judge whether the format actually works are the teams, and the jury is out on this one even if teams only publicly make positive comments. Indeed, side bets are on that the format will revert to the old schedule for next year.

13:30 After the conference it's time for lunch - make it 'brunch' given it's my first meal of the day – and again the circuit excels itself with a full spread of salads and local and western dishes. My table companions and I discuss today's FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel in Manama. Given the FIA's pledge to release some form of report on the events in Abu Dhabi after the meeting, I'd posed the question during all driver and team boss sessions: should the FIA be transparent and release the full report, an executive summary of its findings, or drop the whole thing? The majority - including, tellingly, Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton - called for transparency, with the rider being that F1 should then put the past behind it and move on as it faces a new era under a new president. Let's see which path the governing body chooses. 16:00 After FP3, I head for the control tower for a chat with the ever-obliging Sheik Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, the circuit CEO, about the race, its future and his insights into F1 in the wider region. The first question I pose is whether Bahrain covets the opening slot "forever", to which he responds that the falling of Ramadan - which follows the lunar calendar and thus starts 11 days earlier each year - precludes that. Ramadan is scheduled to start on 2 April this year, so from next year - and for at least the next three years - any early-season Grands Prix in the Middle East will need to be carefully and most respectfully scheduled. That obviously also applies to the Saudi race. Salman, a member of the ruling family, assures me the race is sold out - that's 34k tickets sold, full capacity - with a 35 per cent foreign attendance, which means that hotels and allied trades on the island all benefit massively. Indeed, plans are afoot to expand grandstand capacity by up to 5k seats in the near future. That is why the government backs the event so massively and signed up through to 2036, the longest contract in F1 history.

16:30 During my visit to Salman's offices, the FIA announces the WMSC decisions which, amongst other items, outline the events and include a link to the executive summary. Hopefully all stakeholders – including, fans of all affected teams and drivers - can now move on. 19:00 After qualifying - which delivers a rather jumbled grid - it's driver facetime, and I'm amused when Valtteri Bottas tells me he'll call former team boss Wolff after his unfancied Alfa Romeo out-qualified his Mercedes successor George Russell to make the point… The sessions last through to 21:30, and after sending the recordings to the hard-working team back at base to turn into stories I head for the car park – and then to the nearby Al Dana Open Air Amphitheatre to attend the Eric Clapton concert staged as part of the F1 festivities. I'd always wanted to hear Slow Hand Eric play live and now that box is ticked. Believe me, he is still a master guitar player being 76.

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