E s is the beginning of the triple. For me it's five weeks in a row. My hot summer already starts in Montreal. While the Formula 1 entourage can rest for another weekend afterwards, I travel to Le Mans with my colleague Andreas Haupt to watch Fernando Alonso tick off Part 2 of the Triple Crown. On Monday we are driving from Le Mans towards Stuttgart. A miserably long day that naturally ends in traffic jams in Germany. So we avoid parts of the Mulhouse-Karlsruhe route on the country road.
I'll be in the editorial office on Tuesday. The next day, at 5.30 a.m., we head back to France. This time with colleague Grüner. We have to get to France before the first traffic jams form on the A5. It's getting tough at Freiburg. The French motorway is praised. Thanks to the toll, at least the roads are free. Cruise control to 140 km /h, and it's going quite well. Only around Lyon will it be tough again.
The road to southern France is long. Valence, Montelimar, Avignon, Aix-en-Provence: the goal just doesn't want to get any closer. For me it's a reunion after a 28 year break. In 1990 I saw my last Grand Prix at Paul Ricard. I used to be a regular on the high plateau between Marseille and Toulon. Most of the winter tests took place up there.
Traffic jams at the racetrack
Nevertheless, my memories faded. All I remembered was that I had stayed in other hotels all the time, many of which were so bad that you'd like to forget about them right away. That there was a great restaurant called “Le poivre ane”, where everyone had to be who had something to do with Formula 1. And that we always started early in the morning because traffic jams quickly formed on the two access roads to the racetrack.
Even before we left we had to find out on the Internet that our restaurant for the 'peppered donkey' no longer existed. When we arrived at Circuit Paul Ricard on Wednesday afternoon, memories slowly returned. The entrance to the track, the roundabout in front of the underpass, the two-part paddock. Almost as if time stood still. Of course she wasn't. The press center was no longer in the main building, but in a new building at the end of the pit lane. Below us are the FIA garages.
Not much is going on in the paddock yet. Most arrive as late as possible before the triple. You will be on the road enough for the next few weeks. Colleague Grüner and I have a mandatory appointment in the evening. New route means a route tour. And that at a sweaty 33 degrees. Huge black clouds are already piling up on the horizon. I am convinced that we have to end the lap early. But the thunderstorms are passing Le Castellet.
First lap in Le Castellet
Our colleague Bianca Leppert told me in advance that the race for the Blancpain GT series had been a few weeks earlier the asphalt was broken. The flooring actually looks like a patchwork quilt. It feels like Tobi photographs every asphalt repair. That's why the lap takes longer than usual. Shortly before the finish line, I meet Charlie Whiting, who is inspecting the track with the local race director. He sees no problem in the asphalt. Nevertheless, the story about the condition of the route brings a lot of clicks.
Our hotel is 30 kilometers away in Toulon. Tobi found it on the internet. It is so cheap compared to all other hotels that we are skeptical. We check every week beforehand whether the booking is still open. Maybe they realized too late that it was Grand Prix. Contrary to expectations, we are still on the guest list upon arrival. So expectwe the worst.
The hotel is an old box in the middle of Toulon. But when we move into the room, we experience a positive surprise. The whole hotel seems newly renovated. In general, Toulon turns out to be the perfect location. There are restaurants that are open until late at night. On Friday the punk goes off in the city. Not because of Formula 1. A music festival (“Fête de la musique”) draws people to the streets on the longest day of the year.
We actually want to drive up the shortest route to the track on Thursday, but Tobi discovers in the mobile phone navigation system that a veritable traffic jam has already formed up the mountain. So we drive the route that is reserved for people with Formula 1 passports. The day before, the organizer gave us a piece of paper and warmly recommended that we drive on this road.
Traffic jams worse than before
We are now covering 50 instead of 30 kilometers back, but completely free of traffic jams. Colleagues who have been on the official roads are already reporting long idle times. The Mercedes troop is also caught. It takes two and a half hours for the last 10 kilometers from Le Beausset to Le Castellet. Things are supposed to get worse on Friday. The two main access roads are completely sealed. The viewers need up to seven hours.
Some miss the first training completely, the second partially. Others are about to turn around. The organizer praises improvement. From Saturday he wants to open all parking spaces at the same time and not one after the other, which provokes long waiting times at the entrances. We say: the French could have known that earlier. A French TV colleague who, like me, still knows the old days, tells me: “They used to open the small forest paths. Those who knew their way got up without traffic jams. They are now closed to the fire brigade and ambulance. ”
Mercedes is making a huge circus around the use of the Spec 2 engine. You want to decide at short notice whether he will come or not. Toto Wolff tells me in confidence that the new engine has received approval. In the afternoonNiki Lauda arrives in the paddock. He just landed at the airport opposite, but sent his jet on to Marseille because the parking fees are astronomical. Lauda torpedoes Mercedes' secrecy policy. “Of course we drive the new engine. What is the secrecy? Come out anyway. ”
That's why we love our Niki. A man of clear words. He also tells me that the contract with Lewis Hamilton has long been signed, but will not be communicated until the GP Germany. “I don't know why we're waiting so long.” By the way, it is the weekend on which Lauda catches a cold that turns into a drama six weeks later.
World Cup party at Sauber
Speaking of high prices. Sebastian Vettel tells me that he stays in the mobile home. The hotel across the street has raised room rates for the GP week to 2,500 euros per night. That is too much for a Formula 1 world champion. On principle. But the organizer also wants to dig deep into the pockets of the drivers when it comes to parking spaces for the motorhomes. Anyone who wanted to set up their quarters on the site would have had to pay 15,000 euros. Vettel emigrates, lives 8 kilometers from the track and commutes back and forth on his motorcycle between his mobile home and his work place.
When we are in Paul Ricard, the preliminary round of the soccer World Cup is underway. In a restaurant I see my Argentinians playing poorly and losing to Croatia. For colleague Grüner it is existentially important that Germany become world champions. Jogi Löw's squad will play their second game against Sweden on Saturday. Because we don't want to get stuck in traffic when driving home to the hotel, we watch the game in the Sauber Motorhome.
At the next table is Marcus Ericsson, who of course keeps his fingers crossed for Sweden. Ericsson is confident up to 1: 1 and suffers with every missed chance of his compatriots. But the bitter end comes in stoppage time. When Toni Kroos scores the winning goal for Germany, colleague Grüner performs a dance of joy, but apologizes immediatelyClean pilots. He takes it sporty. “It's our turn next time.” Ericsson couldn't have guessed how right he was going to be.
The race ends with a clear Hamilton victory. Vettel crashes right at the start in Bottas. That gave us two great races to catch up and 57 overtaking maneuvers. The drivers cursed the chicane beforehand and feared that overtaking would be as difficult as in Monte Carlo. A strong headwind on the Mistral Straight throws all forecasts upside down. “The man in front is punished twice. He drives in the wind. The one behind him has the slipstream and has DRS. Overtaking was almost too easy, ”recalls Vettel.
After the race everyone is in a hurry to get home. A thunderstorm delayed dismantling by an hour and a half. We leave the press center at one in the morning. And still have to queue up on the way down to Toulon. In front of us are many trucks from the F1 circus.
The night will be short. Already at 7 a.m. we head home. This time the traffic jam hits us in France too. In Aix-en-Provence we lose half an hour, in Lyon 45 minutes.
On the way home, we shoot our video for Formula Schmidt in the car. A first. The GoPro camera takes better pictures than expected. At 5 p.m. we are finally in the editorial office. For me the day is not over yet. I'm still going to Bavaria. Because two days later the trip to the Austrian GP is due. A third of the way is already done.