17 July 2019

Notebook from atop Beachy Head

How did I end up here? Standing on the edge of a famous cliff, looking down - rather tentatively, lest something happens and I find myself 530 feet below, after a six second fall, which I have concluded would not be a great career move. Still, I must have seemed happy enough because I was not approached by any of the people who supposedly prowl Britain's most notorious suicide spot, trying to talk people out of jumping. To be honest I’ve never thought much about doing such things as I have always seen life as a gift and have never felt the urge to do anything other than enjoy it to the full. In any case, Beachy Head is such a beautiful place that it ought really to inspire positive thoughts, rather than have such a sad reputation.

I ended up here because my dash to get to Newhaven on time for my boat back to France was restrained by a plodding bureaucrat in London, who took two hours to do the work of 30 minutes, followed by traffic crawling out of the city, through never-ending traffic lights and sleeping policemen and then those ghastly average speed traps for miles and miles on the motorway before the coup de grace came with rush hour in Brighton… As a French resident, this is the first thing one notices about the UK. It has SO many cars clogging the roads that there is little fun left in driving. Talking to the visiting F1 Frenchies at Silverstone, I noted that they all seem to have flown into Birmingham and driven south, rather than going anywhere near the vast snarl-up otherwise known as London.

…and so I ended up having to rebook my departure on the 11pm ferry and found myself with some hours to kill. And after a quick trip to a supermarket to stock up on things the French don’t accept as being edible: jelly babies being top of the list, along with ginger wine and pork scratchings, I decided to potter along the coast and visit places I have never visited and so found myself in Exceat, East Dean and at Birling Gap before climbing the hill to Beachy Head. Aside from the tourism, I intended to find myself a decent dinner.

The strangest thing about Beachy Head is that just behind the famous cliff is a pub called The Beachy Head. I decided to give it a try. A while later I pondered how many anonymous inspectors from the Good Food Guide had thrown themselves over the edge when finished with the cuisine in this seemingly harmless place. An anaemic prawn and lobster cocktail with lettuce cut from sheets and mayonnaise scooped from a jar was the poor beginning and the steak pie which followed was probably a worse advert for Britain than Nigel Farage. It has one of those Big Top pastry domes beneath which no circus music played, no lion tamers wowed and the ringmaster had a droopy moustache. It was the kind of food that would make the French enthusiastic for Brexit. It might even be a possible explanation as to why the two countries spent an entire century at war, arguing about warm beer and a number of dishes deemed to be crimes against humanity by the opposite side...

It might even have been the explanation for why the Normans invaded England, to improve the food for when they wanted to spend dirty weekends raping and pillaging along the English coastline. Of course, that was long before the pretty little English roses got too broad in the beam to be slung over the shoulder, at least not without inflicting a hernia on oneself...

In a state of post-prandial desperation, I talked myself down from the ledge and went back to Newhaven, where a yellow boat, collaborating with the English in culinary matters, took me back cross the Channel and, with stiffened sinews and blood summoned, it was once more unto the beach in Normandy. And as I sped through the empty country lanes with gentle mists rising from the fields, I was able to focus on a great weekend for F1, even if some other sports had produced dramatic showdowns. This was actually rather annoying as most of my less busy colleagues stayed on in the media centre after they had produced their words and were oohing and aahingwith the excitement and then began making odd squeaky sounds as the cricket and the tennis both became so exciting that they were quite literally hopping about like schoolboys needing to pee. This was very disruptive, and I must confess that I was just about ready to call in an air strike to stop the squawking when they all finally shut up and went home, discussing whether this really was the best day ever in the history of sport, and what WG Grace would have made of it all...

I was reminded over the weekend of that overly-bearded Victorian thanks to the bizarre activities of William Storey, the man who represents Rich Energy, the Haas F1 sponsor who has an energy drink that no-one has ever seen in a shop and yet can afford to sign a sponsorship deal with Haas worth around £45 million. The details were revealed as a result of all the paperwork flying about, which showed that the team was owed £6 million for the second instalment of this year’s fee, plus £14 million for 2020 and £15 million for 2021. The team noted Storey’s announcement that the deal was being cancelled and so billed him for the full amount, asking for £35 million within 14 days. It soon became clear that Storey did not represent the wishes of the other investors and he was duly removed from his position. What happens to him now is irrelevant and uninteresting. One hopes that the folk behind Rich Energy will keep the sponsorship alive as Haas has obviously budgeted on having the money. The whole thing was fairly predictable given that Storey has appeared from the start to be an attention-seeking fantasist with his absurd tweeting about his business challenging Red Bull. Perhaps in a few years we will remember him with a chuckle, as we do in F1 with such people, but we probably won’t…

The only big news of the weekend was that Silverstone had signed a new five-year deal for the Grand Prix. This was hardly news but what is interesting is that, according to our sources, the deal is exclusive for three years, which means that any London Grand Prix cannot begin until 2023. This may have been the sticking point in the final day, which was agreed, to all intents and purposes, several months ago. If nothing else, it highlights the fact that Silverstone is now taking the threat of a London race seriously…

Down among the undercurrents at Silverstone was talk of a couple of new teams, which are hoping to enter the sport in 2021. This makes sense from a strategic point of view, as it creates something of a level playing field for newcomers, but it is not yet clear how this will work from a governance standpoint as the entry requirements will probably be changed. Why? Because there is no point in having new teams if they get none of the benefits that the existing teams get and so tend to go out of business (as happened to all three of the teams which started in F1 in 2010.

The current rules require a $20 million bond, which is paid back when the team are operational. The idea of paying new teams prize money does not go down well with the existing teams as they will take a hit in their revenues, which isn’t really fair. The word is that new teams will be allowed to come in and will get immediate rights and benefits but will need to pay $200 million up front to get an entry. This money will be shared between the other teams, to stop them complaining. Thus if two new teams arrive, the existing 10 teams will get a budget boost of $40 million in 2021. In addition to their $80 million or so in prize money… The budget cap needs to come down and the revenues need to rise but in theory, at least, when these two things meet, the teams will suddenly have a value. At least, in a perfect world…

Very little is known about the two teams being planned but one is linked to the name Graeme Lowdon, who was involved with the Virgin/Manor/ Marussia operation, while the other name I have heard is that of longtime F1 wheeler-dealer Daniele Audetto. He is 76 and so is unlikely to be actively involved in the team but he seems to be doing the groundwork for someone, although there is no indication who. The only downside of this $200 million barrier is that it will be cheaper for newcomers to buy existing teams which are struggling, rather than trying to build a new one.

Despite the constantly negative coverage of F1 at the moment from the majority of the media, there continue to be signs that all is well and that the future is pretty rosy. The word is that the TV viewing figures in the Middle East have multiplied by five in recent months, following the decision to switch the coverage from pay-per-view to free-to-air. This will be the trend in the future because it is clear that the sport needs more eyeballs, except perhaps in markets where pay-per-view is accepted as being normal. In markets where it is not, such as the UK there is not much that can be done, except to encourage the pay-per-view vendor that they will sell more subscriptions if people know what it is that they are buying…

One of the goals of Liberty Media was to have a calendar ready much earlier than was previously the case, but this remains a problem because all the race promoters have different priorities, and each has local events which make calendar-planning complicated. The 2020 calendar was being held up by problems in Austin and Mexico but I’m told that these are now fixed and that the races will go ahead but there is now delay because the mid-season races are trying to avoid clashes with other sports. The big problem is the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which will take place between July 24 and August 9. This will obviously impact on the Hungarian GP, which traditionally has a late July date but should not impact on anything else. However, in order to avoid a clash the Tour de France has been moved and will run from June 27 to July 19. It will start in Nice. This is all very well except that June 28 was going to be the date of the French GP at Paul Ricard and to clash with the Tour would not be a smart thing to do. So France wants to move to the July 12 date, as this would produce more spectators as France has a national holiday on July 14 and so lots of folk would make it a long weekend… Britain would thus have to swap with France, but a Britain-Austria back-to-back would be tough, particularly if there has been Brexit. Thus, it might involve the Austrian GP moving to June 28, with Britain switching to July 5…  It is a complicated jigsaw puzzle. However with Britain pulling in more than 353,000 spectators over the four days, including a record 141,000 on Sunday, the British GP is doing quite well.

« The return of Lotus...

Changes at Ferrari and Alfa Romeo »