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Dieter's Diary: F1 grinds on in Saudi after an unsettling first day

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


12:00 Depart for circuit from hotel – a 30-minute drive on this non-working day. Apart from Hungarian colleague Sandor, I have three passengers: a mix of Italian and Spanish youngsters working in the Paddock Club as waiters etc. They are staying in my hotel and had missed the coach to the circuit, so begged a ride. Little known is that a regular army of waiters is flown into all Grands Prix by concession holder Do & Co. It may ensure consistent levels of service for VIPs, but surely does nothing for F1's sustainability drive. 13:30 Team boss press conference time, and it's clear considerable persuasion was required to convince all drivers to race in the wake of Friday's missile attack. Why else would it take a three-hour meeting at midnight? On the flipside, drivers and teams in the support race paddock were not appraised about the situation – pointing to massive disconnects and lack of respect for other categories, which are, after all, equally vulnerable. 15:00 Lunchtime, during which I talk to promoter staff with knowledge of the Qatar Grand Prix situation. My source says that while the gas-rich country is in talks to step into the breach left by the cancellation of Russia's race, Qataris are not particularly worried for two reasons: searing heat and insufferable humidity in September and the fact that they are seeking a period of recovery after hosting the FIFA World Cup. He suggested that they see themselves as bargaining pawns sitting in F1's back pocket as fall back while the sport's bosses negotiate elsewhere. However, nobody seems to have told the local hotel industry about a possible race at Losail for there are still many hotels available at bargain prices.

16:00 Head for paddock en route for trackside viewing during FP3. As I pass through, a senior team marketing type and I discuss Friday's missile attack: he was hosting a mix of sponsor guests in their hospitality unit when news about the offensive broke – he says locals were totally non-plussed while foreigners were horrified. A Saudi explained to him that such incidents are commonplace in the region and that life simply carries on. I also catch up with Rob Smedley, Ferrari race engineer to Felipe Massa when the Brazilian lost the 2008 title by a single point on the last lap of the last race. Rob now runs a low-cost arrive-and-drive electric karting operation - Total Karting - which he intends to take global to introduce youngsters to grassroots motorsport. 17:00 Going trackside with a tabard is a massive privilege, but the more traditional the circuit the better: street tracks generally have high walls and barriers, while they tend to be flat with few good vantage points. While it's wonderful to see cars flash their ways past through the snaky bits, the vista is not what it is at, say, Spa or Red Bull Ring. I realise what a tough job our photographer Michael Potts has to get quality shots to you. The overall (lack of) views explain why the circuit rented an apartment on the 50th floor of a nearby block. When the attack occurred, the apartment was immediately locked for security purposes - albeit word has it to prevent dramatic visuals of the inferno - but unfortunately a photographer was still inside…

Talking security, there is serious overreach. Sandor and I are blocked from accessing a perfectly safe spot: not by post marshals who have authority to do so, but by F1's blue/yellow clad goons who do not, given we had the correct credentials. It was not a particularly good spot, so we moved on without arguing, but it was not an isolated incident. A colleague was interrogated by F1 security about photos he had taken, while on Friday evening, snappers were stopped from taking shots of drivers leaving their meeting. In Bahrain, we were blocked from entering the grid at our allotted time due to 'misunderstandings'. There were apologies, but four incidents in two races when we're simply doing our jobs point to heavy-handedness. 22:00 Post-qualifying - an hour later due to the red flags - it's time for interviews, and it seems the balance of power has shifted from Mercedes. True, it's early days, but when teams experiment with settings in qualifying it points to serious, extended misunderstandings. By all means play about during practice, but not when grid positions depend on it. Possibly they should simply change the W13's designation… 00:30 Time to head for the hotel – once again the traffic is horrendous due to both the race's late support race programme and late-night shopping in Jeddah: some malls are open to midnight.

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