Diary of Dieter: why this could be Paul Ricard’s last French GP

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Thursday

Having missed the Austrian Grand Prix due to family bereavement, I am looking forward to attending what will most likely be the last French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, certainly for the foreseeable future. Sure, the country gave us the term “Grand Prix” and hosted the first-ever international motor race, but such sentiments count for nothing in a sport ruled by American financial interests.

The fact is that the circuit is in the wrong place and owned by the wrong entity – it is part of the Bernie Ecclestone family trust, currently in the spotlight of the UK tax authorities – and the race has never managed to capture the imagination of fans despite some incredible efforts from the innovative Eric Boullier and his enthusiastic team. Moreover, the deal was one of the last signed by Ecclestone before being ousted by Liberty…

Once on the circuit, I take care of catching up with what I missed since Silverstone, my last race, then I go down to see Sebastian Vettel driving around in “Green Pea”, a 1922 Aston Martin which competed in the Grand Prix de France of 1922. I am, however, amused by the company’s claims that “no current Formula 1 constructor enjoys such an early history of top-level competition”.

Alpine unveils its new sports car

The fact is that Renault – the owner of Alpine F1 and the operation of Renault’s F1 engines – won the 1906 French Grand Prix, while Mercedes, which contested this event and won it two years later, is a major shareholder in the eponymous team and supplies engines to three others – including Aston Martin F1. The only links between Aston Martin and “his” F1 team are green paint, a logo and Lawrence Stroll, who owns shares in both.

Talking Alpine: Before heading to the Mercedes barbecue, in fact the first media appointment since Covid hit, I witness the unveiling of the Alpine A110 E-Ternite in pit lane. I chat with project manager Phillipe Varet about this electrified version of the svelte sports car, and he tells me that, thanks to the more torquier electric motor, the performance of the car is similar to that of the original, despite the weight higher of the car due to its batteries.

After the barbecue – Mercedes has eaten well – my colleague Sandor and I head for our apartments at the University of Toulon about 40 km away, as the region lacks accommodation.

© Dieter Rencken

Friday

Arrive at Circuit Paul Ricard with time in hand before my 10.30am interview with Ferrari Racing Director Laurent Mekies, who shares a wealth of stories that we will bring to you during the summer break. Subsequently, I begin to sniff out the situation of crypto in France: I am told that some teams have concealed the logos of Crypto sponsors out of respect for local advertising laws, which have always been out of step with the rest of the world. ‘Europe.

I remember the hurdles Williams went through in 2018 to remove Martini logos from cars, team gear and trucks, although the product could be legally drunk at a circuit named after Paul Ricard, founder of the brand of alcohol with anise! It seems that cryptos are treated the same way in France: some products can be sold but not advertised, while, perversely, Ferrari can display Velas logos on the car. Why is that?

It seems that the (somewhat unclear) French laws allow crypto trading platforms to advertise, but not crypto products – much like commercial banks advertising their existence but not individual products or debit cards. credit they provide. Bizarre, but in keeping with the difficulties of tobacco sponsorship in France: the government-controlled SEITA sold cigarettes under its Gitanes and Gauloise brands – yet its owner banned tobacco sponsorship!

Over lunch, I learn of the passing of Paddy Hopkirk, the legendary Irish rally driver who made Mini a household name during the Swinging Sixties with his giant-killing exploits. I had been honored to meet Paddy a few times while he was BRDC President and remember a charming man whose smiley banter concealed an unwavering will to win. RIP Paddy.

© Dieter Rencken

© Dieter Rencken

Could the Belgian GP keep its place for 2023?

As my Friday comes to an end, I learn that South African billionaire industrialist and President of the African Football Confederation Patrice Motsepe, who is believed to be one of the supporters of the South African Grand Prix project, is expected to talk to F1 this weekend. in a last ditch attempt to save the race for 2023 – but the omens don’t look good.

A return to Spa-Francorchamps in 2023 seems to be on the cards, but not France…

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