Once again the traffic en route to the circuit is jammed, indeed, heavier than I have seen it on race day since visiting Budapest in 1998 – and little wonder: the promoter claims a weekend attendance of 290,000 across the three days, pointing to over 100k on Sunday. Here’s a pointer: Waze does not realise we have access to a dedicated F1 lane so estimates 30 minutes longer than it actually takes us. At 9am, six hours before the start!
I start the day with an informal breakfast with Alfa Romeo team boss Frederic Vasseur, and a most informative 30 minutes it is, too: The Frenchman is a master young driver mentor, having groomed Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Charles Leclerc, George Russell and others in various feeder series, and our breakfast coincides with the F3 feature race. Fred provides some incisive insights into the budding talents.
As I leave the team’s hospitality I hear my name called as Didier Coton, manager to Valtteri Bottas, beckons me across. Knowing about my liking for orange, he presents me with a pair of matching sunglasses. It turns out that apart from his management company, Didier holds the licence for F1-branded spectacle frames and shows me the range. These will soon be available in a variety of styles and colours at an optician near you.
© Dieter Rencken
Next I chase the latest on the FIA’s proposed regulations changes to reduce/eliminate bouncing on safety grounds by raising minimum ride heights by 25mm. The paddock is split on the matter, with Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff on Saturday suggesting that such a change is necessary, while others, including Christian Horner – whose Red Bulls are hardly afflicted – disputing that changes are needed, saying it is a set-up issue.
Given that any changes for 2023 at this late stage can only be forced through under the auspices of safety, there are some very real threats that the matter could go legal – which the FIA is obviously anxious to avoid. Thus, the FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem and the governing body’s technical staff have been in lengthy discussions over the matter with teams and drivers as all parties work towards some sort of compromise.
A decision in this regard plus (and potentially an update on the 2026 power unit regulations) is expected this week. Indeed, the word is that the documents will be timed for 5pm on Friday to scupper any further griping during F1’s two-week summer break, which officially starts then…
Also bubbling under are discussions about new team entrants, with two if not three potential independents on the horizon – subject to F1 sorting out its (arguably illegal) $200m ‘anti-dilution fee’, to be shared amongst existing entrants in compensation for a prize ‘pot’ to be shared amongst a greater number of participants. Entities showing interest are Andretti, Asia-linked Panthera outfit and a Monaco-based team.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says consideration would be given to waiving the fee should a company such as Audi enter, but not for Andretti on the grounds that the Four Rings would add considerably more value to the sport. A bit rich, that, given that Mercedes originally started as privateer customer team Tyrrell in a Surrey timber yard shed. True, Mercedes have invested heavily since, but so too would a team such as Andretti…
During my pre-race grid walk – always a highlight of my Sunday – I chat with Williams boss Jost Capito, who suggests that taking up the team’s option on Alex Albon is a no-brainer but won’t be drawn about the identity of the team’s second driver. Watch out for an extension announcement for Alex, potentially this week.
After the race, a real stonker which proves beyond doubt that the new regulations have significantly improved the ‘show’, it is time for post-event media sessions – with the demeanour of both Ferrari drivers suggesting they realise that both titles have now slipped away, and that they will now spend the rest of the year focussing on their defence against Mercedes rather than looking at challenging Red Bull. Sad, but this sport takes no prisoners.
With that, the summer break beckons – but don’t despair: We have a wealth of interviews and features stashed away in readiness for the next three weeks, plus some fascinating podcast interviews lined up, so stay tuned! Talk again from Spa.