It’s 8-30am, I’ve just arrived at the track, travelling through empty streets, the city still coming to life.
The track is down the end of the main avenue which leads to the docks. There are boats in the marina, including two super yachts owned by McLaren’s Mansour Ojjeh and Force India’s Vijay Mallya. They are trying but this place is still more Tilbury Docks than Monaco.
There haven’t been many people here all weekend, the crowds in the stands have been sparse, not Turkey levels, but still pretty low. The recession is blamed for the low attendance and also the fact that it is mid August and many people are on holiday. My Spanish colleagues tell me that the organisers have requested a move to October. There has been a rumour all weekend that this is the last race here, but I’m told this isn’t the case, the city has invested a lot to get this race and hasn’t come close to getting its money back. But they do want a date switch.
I was interested to know when was the last time a Ferrari qualified last on merit. There was that time in 2006 when Massa crashed early in qualifying and then Schumacher was moved to the back of the grid for blocking the track in qualifying. In 1958 Wolfgang von Trips started last at the French Grand Prix, having failed to set a time. He came through to finish 3rd in the race, so that is a positive precedent for Luca Badoer.
There has been a lot of talk this weekend about Red Bull trying out KERS in Spa. This story came from one of the other teams, the mechanics and engineers all talk to each other. It seems a risky thing to do as they will not be able to test it before Friday practice and these systems seem to have had quite a few reliability glitches. If they do go for it, it will help Sebastian Vettel more than Mark Webber, as Webber is the heavier driver, so it will put him and his car over the weight limit. It’s likely then that Vettel would be the only one to use it.
This is also the first race since the Concorde Agreement was signed and it’s great that that whole side of things has calmed down now. Part of getting that deal signed was the agreement between teams on resource restrictions. Apparently this document has some numbers in it of employees each team can have, the number declining next year and again in 2011. Those numbers will not be made public, but they will see F1 teams reduce in size to around 300 people. Most of the lay-offs will come this winter and next. It’ll be a painful process, but Formula 1 is contracting to ensure its sustainability.
With BMW and Honda going, the balance and dynamic between the teams is changing, we will now have four manufacturers; Ferrari, Toyota, Renault and Mercedes racing against nine independents. It will feel quite different, back to the way it was in the 1990s and this is no bad thing.
This is also affecting the driver market. With three new teams coming in and many drivers likely to be moving around next year there are plenty of possibilities for teams, who are driving a hard bargain. One driver feeling this at the moment is Jarno Trulli. Toyota boss John Howett said yesterday that there is a strong chance that they will not agree a new deal with Trulli.
Jarno said, “I think that the teams in general are looking at the economics problem. They are all waiting to understand what they can do for next year, what their budgets are, whether they will make a move. At the moment it is hard.”
Breakfast time now, Looking forward to the race, I think it will be a very competitive battle between the McLarens and the Brawns. On paper Barrichello should win it, it’s his best chance of a win since Barcelona, but I’ve a feeling Hamilton will make it happen for himself again.