Dieter’s Diary: Contract and calendar wranglings as Porsche go cold on Red Bull

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Thursday

Depart home for Zandvoort at 7am: usually it’s a three-hour drive but I plan to detour via Blaricum to the west of Amsterdam to visit Gijs van Lennep in the hope that the double Le Mans 24 Hour winner – he won with Helmut Marko in 1971 and five years later with Jacky Ickx, each time with Porsche – to sign items of memorabilia for my collection. The 80-year-old proves utterly charming as he obliges. Thanks Gijs!

As we approach Zandvoort it’s clear traffic chaos awaits this weekend: The circuitous F1 route leads down leafy lanes with 30km/h limits and the 20-odd kilometres from the A2 take an hour – without race traffic. Once parked up we catch a bus, which runs every 30 minutes or so, so more time lost. Much is made about cycling to the circuit, but the media hotel is 21km away and we have heavy kit to lug about late at night.

The 2pm press conference is, frankly, just a waiting game ahead of the verdict from the FIA-appointed Contract Recognition Board, an arbitration mechanism to decide the validity of driver agreements – in this case that of Australian Oscar Piastri.

On 5 August we analysed the wrangle between Alpine and McLaren over the hotshot’s services, and concluded he would be rigged out in papaya orange next year. Will our take stand up?

Friday

Head for circuit – a 90-minute commute due to workday and GP traffic. Much is made of cycling to the event and while that works for locals and fans, we lug about heavy (and costly) kit and need to work strange hours under pressure, so cannot simply doss down on a mate’s sofa. What happens should it pour with rain? Thus far the GP has been fortunate…

First task of the day is to follow up on the Red Bull / Porsche relationship: Having last week revealed a cooling between the two, I investigate whether the mooted 2026-onwards power unit deal will go ahead.

It seems the breakdown was caused by Porsche’s last-minute insistence to amend voting structures, which Red Bull, a free-spirited team determined to control its F1 autonomy, will not countenance.

Much has evolved since talks commenced last year July – not least Porsche’s subsequently announced stock exchange listing (which caused second thoughts?), recent changes at VW Group main board level including a change of CEO, Audi’s now confirmed F1 entry and, one hears with utmost regret, the declining health of Red Bull’s 78-year-old founder Diedrich Mateschitz – so overall the breakdown in relations is no surprise.

What happens next? Red Bull is awaiting a counter proposal from Porsche – without, though, holding its breath – all while going ahead with its own power unit project. Negotiations are continuing with Honda, but these centre around hybrid technology, an area which will be a major F1 performance area going forward given the 50% hybrid contribution. Honda is particularly strong in this area, so my bet is on this outcome.

The CRB verdict is announced after lunch, and while I am not surprised at the unanimous verdict – as we predicted Piastri is free to join McLaren on 5 August – what happens next takes me by surprise: Shortly after the announcement, the verdict lands on my computer anonymously, enabling us to exclusively reveal the level of Alpine’s “shilly shallying”, as the four arbitrators referred to some of Alpine’s conduct.

Of course I have suspicions as to which of the four parties involved in the debacle – McLaren, Alpine, Piastri and the FIA – had reason to leak the verdict, but, crucially, it could have been any of them: the two ‘winners’ for self-serving reasons, the ‘loser’ in order to smear the ‘winners’ by innuendo that confidentiality was breached, and the governing body to ‘get the truth out there’ after unnecessary embarrassment for F1.

The fact is that in F1 that everybody has an agenda, and the truth always outs. Apart from team boss Otmar Szafnauer, who joined Alpine after the bulk of contractual neglect occurred, no team executives are present – merely press officers – to respond to questions despite it being clear the verdict would break this weekend. Thus, if Alpine were unable to counter our revelations they have themselves to blame, not the messengers.

Crucially, after all the comments about driver and team ethics it is only right for the paddock and wider public to know who did – and did not – act ethically, and by publishing the verdict those who were unfairly maligned during the process are now vindicated.

Equally, the levels of management naivety highlighted by the verdict are astonishing, and I wonder not only whether the executive team can survive the debacle, but about the future of entire team. In 2009 it was sold off (by Renault) in the wake of ‘Crashgate’ – during which I had a hand in revealing classified documents after receiving a similarly fortuitous dossier by anonymous email – and Oscargate is surely as damning.

My day is rounded off by a Red Bull media dinner in the team’s hospitality. For the first part I’m sat between team boss Christian Horner and his PA Fiona, and much laughter is enjoyed by all. Thanks for lightening up an extremely eventful day.

			© Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
© Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Saturday

The day opens with the FIA team boss conference and there are two main talking points: The CRB verdict, and questions about Superlicence points for IndyCar drivers, last-named in a push from Red Bull to get a US driver, more specifically Colton Herta, onto the grid.

I’m of the opinion that motorsport comprises various disciplines much as do racquet (tennis, squash, badminton), bat (cricket, baseball), and team ball sports (rugby, football, American football), and such are their individual nuances that competitors do not automatically qualify for another category. A badminton world champion does not gain a top seeding for Wimbledon so why make exceptions in F1?

Indeed, the number of drivers who over the past 70-odd years have successfully made transitions from US racing (or other categories) to F1 or vice versa and much as I welcome a wider spread of nationalities on the F1 grid, relaxing the rules to accommodate XYZ reduces F1’s meritocracy. Herta is welcome to cross the Atlantic to prove his skills in F2 before making the step to F1.

Thereafter it’s calendar chasing time, particularly after F1 last week axed hopes of a South Africa Grand Prix by burying news of Spa’s one-year reprieve an hour before Belgium’s race. Perturbingly, I hear rumours that last-ditch attempts were made by a new promoter to race at Kyalami in 2023 despite it being clear the circuit (and country) is not yet ready for a grand prix. Thankfully it now won’t happen next year, with 2024 likely.

The delay in announcing the final calendar centres around the Chinese Grand Prix: The Shanghai promoter is pushing for October to add the F1 event to tennis and golf for a massive sporting celebration to (hopefully) herald the end of Corona, while F1 wishes to twin the event with Australia’s race in April.

Complicating the matter is that the FIA (understandably) refuses to ‘confirm’ calendars with provisional dates attached. There are various concept calendars floating around and I caution readers to wait a week or two before committing to non-cancellable travel and accommodation booking for next year.

Sunday

While taking a morning walk around the circuit to gauge crowd numbers and enthusiasm I spy a commotion in the tunnel and catch a glimpse of FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem doing an interview with Viaplay, the Dutch TV broadcaster – while riding a bicycle! Either the Emirati is an avid cyclist or a very brave man…possibly the later given his rally career.

On the grid I catch site of Eddie Irvine and David Coulthard jesting about and realise its 1-odd years since the two raced each other, with our mutually greying hairlines attesting to the timeline. Thereafter I head trackside to catch the opening laps before returning to watch the race in the media centre.

Post-race we have the usual interviews before it’s time to head home in Belgium, but only after the most chaotic of shuttle bus arrangements: Five of us are told to board a 60-seater coach, which promptly heads in the wrong direction – the driver says he’s never been to Zandvoort before! When he calls for directions, he’s instructed to return through massive traffic jams to collect more passengers!

Thus, an hour after we leave the stand we’re back there! All this means that I reach home after well after midnight, yet need to leave early Monday for Italy as I have meetings scheduled in Maranello before the Italian Grand Prix kicks off. Now you know why this diary edition is a day later than usual…



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