Head for circuit early to make 9:30am appointment re 2022 Motorsport Games at the FIA Hospitality, and am pleasantly surprised how smoothly traffic flows: Yes, it's 8am; yes, it's race weekend Saturday; and yes, we use back roads, but the 40km journey takes that in minutes on a day when 50k punters are expected at arguably the most inaccessible venue on the calendar.
The Motorsport Games announcement makes the early start worthwhile: First held in 2019, the concept grew out of the GT Nations Cup previously held in Bahrain, and added Karting, Drifting, F4, Touring Cars and e-Sports categories to the programme, thus creating the inaugural FIA Motorsport Games.
For the record, the venue was the Vallelunga Circuit situated outside Rome, with Russia topping the medal table with three versus Australia/Italy (two) and Japan on one.
49 teams contested that first edition, with the plan being to host Motorsport Games every two years. Then came Covid, which scuppered the best-laid plans.
Now, though, they're back and the FIA hopes to attract upwards of 80 nations to Paul Ricard at end-October, having added Cross Car – a rally-type category – to the mix. The Games will be globally televised, so you can cheer on your national motorsport heroes from afar.
Latest on Posche/Audi F1 entry
After the launch/breakfast I scour the paddock in search of intel on France's hazy crypto situation: It seems eight of 10 teams needed to at least take legal advice if not totally remove crypto branding, with two – Williams and Haas – being unaffected only because they don't have partners in the crypto space. We'll publish an analysis of the situation later.
Another thread I chase is the 2026 power unit status and whether VW bombshell announcement on Friday that Group CEO Herbert Diess – who in May said Porsche and Audi would be joining F1, although no confirmation has since been forthcoming – steps down in September could affect their plans. Audi hoped to announce its entry next week in Hungary but has since rowed back while awaiting final regulations.
My sources are split three ways: Some say there will be no effect, that matters will proceed as planned; others fear there could be further delays – with each day lost making it easier for the main board to say 'No' – while still others point to the internal politicking between Diess' successor Oliver Blume (ex-Porsche) and Audi CEO Markus Duesmann, and suggest the former could approve just one programme, namely Porsche…
It would be ironic should one (or both) VW Group brands withdraw after the hard work the FIA expended on making the next-gen power units not only sustainable in 'green' terms but sufficiently attractive to additional power unit suppliers, only for a change of CEO at the top level to kill off the plans. The FIA had hoped to finalise the PU regulations last December and if there is a the moral it is clearly: Don't delay the process.
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Meeting Shaila-Ann Rao
Talking of which, after lunch I'm introduced to Shaila-Ann Rao, the FIA (Interim) Secretary-General for Sport and thus the most important individual in global motorsporting terms, having the power to influence the direction of all future FIA regulations. It is no coincidence that the contentious Technical Directive 39 – aimed at controlling 'bouncing' – was one of the first documents issued by her office.
During our 45-minute interview, the first to be granted to any outlet, Shaila-Ann, a highly qualified international lawyer with wide-reaching sports law and contracts experience, is charming yet direct, open although occasionally guarded, and clearly aware of the enormous responsibilities that rest on her shoulders.
We'll be publishing the main points during F1's summer break but suffice to say Shaila-Ann suggests the 2026 engine regulations will be finalised "early August" – let's see in which direction Porsche/Audi jump.
She admits, though, to feeling "aggrieved" by concerns over her alleged partiality to Mercedes simply because she had been Special Advisor and General Counsel to the team, pointing out her previous role as FIA Legal Director. Having spoken to her at length I have no doubts about her professional integrity.
Does F1 need to rethink media sessions?
After qualifying it is time to hit the so-called 'mix zone' for media sessions, which turns out to be a massively uncomfortable experience for all: drivers, team communications and the media.
The bottom line is that the parading of drivers past barriers for sound bites worked fine under Covid – when there were a handful of media members attending races – but to cram 50 of us into a space designed for 20 does not work.
Pre-Covid the teams held media sessions in their own hospitality units and that worked fine. With all main restrictions now lifted, there are no reasons why we could not return to that format.
McLaren are the only team currently hosting sessions in their hospitality and it is win-win all round: During today's session we have 20 minutes with them as opposed to an average of less than half that in the MZ. You, our reader, scores most.
For all the traffic flow measures said to be in place around the Ricard circuit, the trip back to Toulon proves a disaster: apparently there was an accident between a car and a motorcycle, blocking the dedicated F1 Lane and creating major jams on arterial roads – proving how fragile the infrastructure around the circuit is. Our usual 40 minute-trip takes over two hours, 90 minutes of it spent stuck within five kilometres of the circuit.
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