Fly into Venice from South Africa where I'd been on a family visit. I'd hoped to report on the Australian Grand Prix from there via a combination of the country's SuperSport channel - which takes the Sky feed - and F1 TV Pro, the championship's streaming service.
In the event, the Apple Mac platform was down, and while F1 customer service was commendably quick at responding by chat - a work-about was to download Google Chrome, then log in that way - time was of the essence so I stuck to Sky, which offers comprehensive if expensive viewing. A pitfall of streaming is that when it goes wrong an IT degree is required to sort it, so unlikely to gain traction until that's sorted.
Talking traction: en route to the circuit from Venice I receive a call from colleague Aaron who reports for our Dutch site to say he's concerned cars will get stuck on the wetland that passes for F1 personnel parking. His first challenge, though, is to collect his paddock pass. It seems F1's card printer is amongst freight that was delayed from Australia – an increasingly common issue as the world returns to a modicum of normality.
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First trick is to find the correct route to the circuit: during Imola Grands Prix under Covid there was no need for traffic control as no spectators were permitted. This time, though, 60k are expected each day, but it seems someone forgot to erect signage, so F1 personnel and fans travelled back and forth after hitting blockages at virtually every turn. Note to F1 boss Stefano Domenicali: Imola is your hometown, but…
I hear Carlos Tavares, the ex-Renault Number 2 executive who in 10 years built the Stellantis automotive powerhouse that is readying to challenge VW Group for supremacy in Europe, will visit the Grand Prix on Sunday. Paddock speculation has it that Tavares, who masterminded the mergers of Peugeot Group, GM Europe and Fiat Chrysler, is considering buying into Sauber – either fully or a shareholding.
Stellantis have skin in the game via their Alfa Romeo branding deal with Sauber, while the Swiss team are open to investment, so a deal could be in the offing. Tavares, a highly competitive CEO who races historic single-seaters, was pushed out of Renault/Nissan after challenging the now-disgraced then-boss Carlos Ghosn, and would love nothing more than trouncing Alpine while beating VW Group to F1 in its own right.
After the Friday driver press conferences, during which a number of them complain about the new format - in particular the media work they are required to undertake - various F1 figures suggest a collision course is brewing, with team bosses, F1 management and FIA officials united on one side and Grand Prix Drivers' Association on the other.
While GPDA Directors George Russell and Sebastian Vettel are coy about a letter they had written to F1/FIA, they are believed to have raised various objections which are labelled as 'improvements to the show' but seemingly aimed at reducing their weekend workloads by restricting media and fan access.
"It's about they learned drivers are team employees," said one source, while another said, "We'll just pay them less in that case…"
1978 World Champion Mario Andretti once opined that driver pay cheques came in two parts: one for driving; the other for media and sponsor work, saying, "If you don't like the public stuff, pay back half the money."
While I doubt matters will reach the stage of the 1982 Kyalami driver strike, it seems GPDA is using its new-found unity - following the Saudi missile strike - as a bargaining tool. Let's see how long it lasts.
After the last media sessions, it's time to head for the marshy parking area. Aaron's fears are justified: a number of cars are bogged down and a tractor is called to tow them out. It's great to race at traditional circuits, but tradition is no excuse to not upgrade facilities – and those at Imola are lamentable: apart from parking and access issues, the media centre WIFI kept dropping out.
If F1 wishes to charge top dollar for events - with astronomical ticket prices being the bottom line - it must ensure that its venues are able to put give fans the overall fan experience top billing or all F1's 'new era' initiatives will count for nought. It applies equally to F1 TV Pro.
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