grand tour driver - abbie eaton

The Grand Tour Driver – Who is The Stig?

Who is the Stig?

It’s been a slow news week so we thought we’d write a piece on the current Grand Tour Driver. We know who the Stig is, or was. First it was one time F1 racer, Perry McCarthy. Then it was (allegedly) actual F1 racer (and champion) Damon Hill. Rumour has it that it had also been Mark Webber. But probably the most well know Grand Tour Driver was the relative unknown Ben Collins. Ben had had a relatively successful junior career, going as far as competing in GP2, scrubbing up well at the Macau Grand Prix, and actually testing some F1 machinery in anger. Since then he’s been off doubling as James Bond when the driving gets fruity.

Who is the Grand Tour Driver?

But less has been written about the actual Grand Tour Driver. “OK, Let’s see what you’ve got” Abbie Eaton! Abbie is a proper northerner, just like yours truly and his co-director. While her karting career may not have reached the heady highs of International Rotax Max, she competed at Super One level where there is no lack of natural talent (even for those at the back). Graduating to bumper cars, I mean SaxMax, is also worth a mention. Run by the 750 Motor Club, SaxMax may be the cheapest way to get into motor sport, and that makes it seriously competitive at the sharp end. Once season and 4th overall is serious progress. Deciding to move to a single-make series (which are always competitive) Abbie then moved to the Mazda MX-5 Supercup, winning the title in her first full campaign. From then on things start to get very fast. Fourth overall in the British GT Championship the following year, followed by an outing in a factory Ferrari in Blancpain the year after, Abbie would not look out of place in the W Series….or any other prototype racing for that matter!

Fancy joining us on an Grand Tour?

C’était un rendez-vous avec Charles Leclerc

Those of us of a certain age may remember a certain urban myth, usually from friends with older brothers, of a lunatic driver doing 150mph through Paris in a Ferrari. Such tales were almost always embellished to such a degree that 150mph became 200mph, and the driver became an actual F1 driver – Jacky Ickx or Jacques Laffite, according to legend. Corrr! Such thoughts disappeared until my university housemate, closely related to an actual (Gentleman) Le Mans driver, casually asked me whether I’d seen C’était un rendez-vous? I hadn’t, and I needed to!

Like all the best films (i.e. Withnail & I) there is no plot. All we get is a flat-out drive through an empty 1970’s Paris to rendezvous with an unfeasibly pretty girl. With the sun rising over the Arc du Triomphe, and the howling Ferrari 275 GTB providing the soundtrack, this is surely one of the greatest driving films created. And at a mere 8 minutes long, you won’t get told off for tying up the telly all evening.

Alas the truth is a little further from the myth. While a Ferrari 275GTB did provide the soundtrack, the car used was a Mercedes 450SEL. And the driver was neither Mssrs Ickx or Laffite, but filmmaker Claude Lelouch. Fortunately, the reality does not detract from what is an iconic piece of automotive cinema.  Pigeons become lunch, red-lights are ignored, and one-way streets are driven two-way. So we’re clear, we do not recommend such behaviour. But nor do we suggest you shouldn’t enjoy the film, you should! If you haven’t seen it, see it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJYOMFayruw

So why are we discussing this now? Well, with many city streets being more sparsely populated than normal, a number of others have been inspired to recreate the original. Simon Kidston has just filmed a 5 minute blast through Rome, C’était une urgence. The film is visually stunning, with the Colosseum lit against the day/night dusk sky, and the obviously improved camera quality making full-screen viewing a must. The thing that stands out most is the speed difference compared to the original. We aren’t told what car is used, but compared to a 1970’s Merc things have moved on a lot. Watch the film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vhPQ_NRNLY

So what does this have to do with Charles Leclerc? Well, he and Claude Lelouch are about to do the same through Monaco on Sunday. Watch this space!

The Future of F1….Could be Very Bright Indeed

Cast your minds back to the 2010 F1 season. OK, you may need some reminding that it was the year that Sebastian Vettel won his first world drivers crown at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi. Now that we’ve reminded you, you may also remember that Fernando Alonso spent the bulk of the race stuck behind Vitaly Petrov’s Renault, as Ferrari shot themselves in the foot (again) with a strategy error that pitted Alonso to cover Webber, and promptly forgot about Vettel. But the other peculiarity about that season was that the top 4 drivers were separated by only 26 points. Or a race win (plus fastest lap) in todays money. So what happened?

Technical regulations in F1 typically last around 3-4 years, before a major reset. So when new rules are introduced the F1 field (in terms of qualifying times) tend to have a greater spread, which tightens as the years go by and everyone converges on the ‘best’ aero package. 2010 was one of those years. At qualifying of the final race, a mere 1.5s was the difference between 1st and 18th place in Q1. In summary, the field was tight and it was a classic season.

F1 prides itself on the technology that it produces and it very much at the forefront of aerodynamic and mechanical design. Stand next to a contemporary F1 car and most of us would happily have it screwed to our living room wall. They truly are works of art. But from the grandstands, can you see that? Search for “2010 GP2 Car” and (colour scheme apart) I defy all but F1s biggest geeks to distinguish that from an F1 car of the same era. The point is that they don’t need to be works of art, the racing just needs to be good.

Here’s an interesting stat for you – in F1, 80% of a teams budget is spent on R&D, meaning the car. And as we pointed out, the best seasons are when the bulk of the R&D has been done and you cant really go any further. What about other series, such as indycar? Well, a typically indycar team spends around 10% of their budget, the rest is logistics. And the racing is generally fantastic. Sure, the cars are not works of art, but neither are the V8 stock cars racing at the Bathurst 1000, and I know which I would spend an afternoon watching (I can barely name more than a couple of Supercars drivers).

So what’s our point? Well, if F1 wants to get past this difficult period, perhaps a move towards being more of a spec series would be no bad thing. Costs would fall by a massive margin and the smaller teams would survive. The racing would improve dramatically, which would please the drivers and the fans. And while it may be against the ‘ethos’ of Formula One you’d make the same criticism of front-engined F1 cars. But have you seen how beautiful the Ferrari 246 is?!

Reminiscences of the Monaco Grand Prix

Is there anything more frustrating than sitting at Grand Tours Towers, staring out of the window, and dreaming of a swift blast down the Route Napoleon on our way to Monaco? Yes, dreaming of blasting down to Monaco knowing that we’re not allowed to! But the world faces bigger problems at the moment, so we’ve been trying to find things to take our mind off things.

One thing that’s been occupying me recently is old school YouTube videos of the Monaco Grand Prix. Head to Monaco towards the end of May on most years and you will not be able to move. The grandstands are huge, the crowds are vast, and the teams roll up with several hundred people each. Watching highlights from the 1980 Monaco Grand Prix and you realise that things were very different when I was a young boy. The first thing that strikes you is how slow the cars are, but cast your gaze elsewhere and things are even stranger. People are milling around, not just from the grandstand to the loo, but actually walking around the circuit DURING THE RACE! The grandstands are also teeny-tiny. The grandstands that now line the harbour, from the exit of the tunnel all the way to Rascasse, seat thousands and thousands of people. Back in 1980 the swimming pool had a single grandstand, and most people were simply stood at the barriers.

Whether it’s an official film, or not, we cant say. But for as long as it remains on youtube, its compelling viewing all the same: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUglLyxZ5sM

2021 F1 Cars Ross Brawn

Austria To Be First Grand Prix of 2020

Another day, another Grand Prix cancellation. This time, it’s the French Grand Prix has been kicked into the long-grass. When start dates for the Formula One season were being bounced around, it was seen as key that F1 begin in a ‘traditional’ venue. This meant that anywhere outside Europe was a ‘no’. As France was the venue of the venue of the first ever Grand Prix (though not part of the F1 World Championship) this comes as a major blow. The most obvious reason this is so disappointing as because we were planning a fantastic driving holiday there, but also because the Paul Ricard circuit is owned non-other than Bernie Ecclestone.

So what next? Well it also looks like our Austrian Grand Prix Driving Holiday is off that is due to be run behind closed doors. But the good news is that Austria should be held.

So what does this mean for other races on the calendar? Well, we need 8 races to have an actual championship, which now seems a foregone conclusion. But what about the fans? Well, Austria and Great Britain will almost certainly be behind closed doors. That leaves Belgium and Italy for the European season. But what about the fans? Chase Carey, boss of Formula One, commented “We expect the early races to be without fans but hope fans will be part will be part of our events as we move further into the schedule”.

What does this mean for us? It means we’re keeping our fingers and toes crossed for the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix!

F1 Crisis Talks and Spending

F1 officials met (virtually) this week for a meeting chaired by Ross Brawn and Chase Carey. These are precarious time for teams and Formula One (let alone the organisers), the latter of which has furloughed staff and cut pay across the board. And they’re the lucky ones. If your team is backed by FIAT, Daimler, a large sports drink manufacturer, or very wealthy oil states, you’re probably OK. But if you’re a team backed by a tool manufacturer, a clothing magnate, or simply a privateer team, then the picture changes. Very quickly.

2021 was supposed to involve the introduction of an entirely new, and sweeping, set of changes to the aerodynamic and chassis regulations. Due to the cost involved in prepping for regulation changes, these were kicked into 2022. Now, this weeks Formula One crisis meeting mooted extending this all the way out to 2023. If that happens, how will racing be affected?

First, we need to understand why rules are changed at all. The idea, in essence, is that as a set of regulations becomes more mature, all the team gravitate towards the same (optimal) aerodynamic solutions. That means that the better funded teams begin to focus all their efforts on development that the spectator never sees; £50k wheel nuts, and £20k air guns for example. The result is that the less well funded teams simply cannot catch-up. By changing the regulations every 3-4 years, so the theory goes, resets all this and allows the smaller teams to catch up. An oft-cited example is Brawn GP winning on their debut.

But in truth, unless you’ve done a bit of a whoopsy (Ferrari 2009), the bigger teams will just throw more resources at the next development phase and wind up on the front row of the first race of the season……just like Honda did in 2009. Or was it Brawn GP?

So, in answer to the original question, how will racing be affected? Not much.

Ferrari F1

F1 Teams Helping to Fight Covid-19

There doesn’t seem to be much to be happy about right now. Whether it’s as small as spending Sunday afternoon with nothing to watch, to people being arrested for buying Easter Eggs. Generally speaking it’s doom and gloom whether you’re a Grand Prix fan or not. So we’ve been sniffing about for a bit of good news, and we finally found some.

With a good few hours to fill before the next race, the F1 teams have been helping the British Government (and therefore us) by pooling their resources into something called Project Pitlane. The seven ‘British’ teams of Red Bull, Racing Point, Haas, McLaren, Mercedes, Renault and Williams, have begun helping by using their vast technical resources to produce urgently needed medical equipment. This includes things like ventilators, which are so important in helping prevent invasive medical procedures. When you have state-of-the-art design and build equipment, this is a fantastic use of time and resources

This is a good news story for a number of reasons. First, it confirms that British spirit that says we won’t allow this to get us down, and we will do everything we can to beat this. And why will we do this? Well, the obvious answer is ‘to save lives’, but I believe there is more to it than that. One of the reasons that Ayrton Senna was so popular in his home country was because Brazil was going through such economic hardship at the time. People wanted a hero, someone to cheer on, and to celebrate. A hero allows people to cast their stresses aside and LIVE. When times are hard, like they are now, we want to beat that hardship so that we can go motor-racing. Not because going motor-racing is vastly important in itself (because its not), but because the human endeavour involved in going Grand Prix motor-racing is a celebration of everything that life is about. To paraphrase JFK, we choose to go Grand Prix Motor-racing not because it is easy, but because it is hard!

Introducing Group Drives

It wasn’t just Daniel Ricciardo that was ‘gutted’ at the cancellation of the Monaco Grand Prix. When the Automobile Club de Monaco cancelled both the Monaco Grand Prix and the Monaco Historic Grand Prix, disappointed was not the word! And spare a thought for the couple of dozen Grand Prix Grand Tourists that also had their holiday plans scuppered.

But when a driving holiday is forcibly cancelled, we don’t just sit here on our hands and do nothing about it. We find another reason to get out and enjoy our machinery. That’s why, when the Zombie Apocalypse finally ends, we’re going to be running some early morning group drives.

In essence we’ll start at 7am and take a spirited jaunt through the Chiltern Hills, South Downs, North Downs, or wherever gives us the prettiest views and windiest roads.

The Zig-Zag, Snake-Pass, and Bledlow Ridge might not be a patch on the Fluela Pass, Susten Pass, or Mont Cenis, but they’re ours, and that’s good enough until the travel restrictions are lifted. Hopefully this will happen within the three weeks that was promised, and if we promise to stay isolated in our vehicles, then we’re Corona-Virus friendly too. With that in mind, our first drive is planned for the morning of April 19th. You know what to do!

Ferrari F1

The State of F1’s Rookies

The last few years have been flush with incredible Formula One talent. Back in 2016 there seemed a dearth of F1 rising stars. The Red Bull stable seemed pretty bare, as Dr Helmut Marko sent hospital passes in the direction of Brendan Hartley, or anyone else who was prepared to stand in the way of the RBR steamroller. Lewis, Seb, Nico and Dan, were the only drivers picking up the spoils. While they were all still young, they weren’t what you’d describe as Rookies.

The Autosport pages were filled with commentary about who the next Lewis Hamilton might be. While George Russell seemed a known quantity, it was Lando Norris that people were tipping for serious stardom. Now, his first season in F1 might not have the hallmarks of a future world champion, he’s also not doing much wrong. And who’s he up against? One of the most underrated drivers in the business, another Red Bull reject, Carlos Sainz Jnr.

So that’s one solid Rookie on this year’s grid, and we’ve barely mentioned George Russell. He may have been up against a driver that was not the man he once was, but Robert Kubica was once considered to be the best on the grid. And that wasn’t just the armchair hero’s opinion, that was the view of both Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso. Russell absolutely dominated Kubica, in a woefully difficult car, in his first season in F1.

What about Mercedes protégé, Esteban Ocon? Thankfully we have the likeable Frenchman re-joining the F1 fold for next season. And how did his first season go? Well, it was nip-and-tuck with Checo Perez in 2018 who, lets not forget, is an 8 time podium visitor, ex-Ferrari Academy Driver, and ex-McLaren F1 Driver. Checo Perez is a seriously good driver, but when there was a second row start available in that Force India, it was Ocon that put it there. We’re very excited to see how he fares against one of the best in the business next year, Daniel Ricciardo.

Roll on the actual start of the 2020 season!

Sporting Events, Globalisation and Grand Prix

One of the things the younger generation take for granted, especially those of us that live near to an international airport, is the ability to travel. Within a few hours you can be at the location of almost any European Grand Prix. Monaco Grand Prix, no problem, a 1hour 45minute flight. Italian Grand Prix, no problem, 2hours to Milan and then hop into a cab. But when countries begin to face “Lock-Down” then the world becomes a much bigger place.

For the travel industry these are especially challenging times. Grand Prix Grand Tours have already communicated to our guests that a) we’ll do everything we can to run an event, but b) if we can’t then everyone will be offered a complete refund. We’re one of the lucky few, if an event is cancelled then (hopefully/presumably) we’ll be refunded the cost of the ticket. We won’t recoup our ad spend, but things could be much much worse. For an event organiser, cancelling a Grand Prix might mean the difference between turning a small profit that year, to paying back losses for the next five years. This matters because monetary losses mean job losses, and job losses impact peoples health.

And it’s not just the race organisers. Travel to any Grand Prix, and much of the food and drink and merchandising comes from sole traders for whom this could be their biggest weekend of the year. They’ll lose out too. This is perhaps why the Automobile Club de Monaco are currently holding firm that they are still planning to run Monaco Grand Prix and Monaco Historic Grand Prix (despite having closed their offices). As the races are held on public roads, the infrastructure required to run the event begins work months in advance. So what are the ACM to do? State that “we’re going to wait and see”, only to see all construction staff work at 50% pace knowing that the chances of them pulling down Grandstands in a few weeks time is a likelihood? Or announce that “we’re not running the event due to the Coronavirus” only for a cure to be discovered in time and then find themselves unable to run the event because they haven’t begun work constructing the circuit? Needless to say, they are in an unenviable position of being stuck between a rock and a hard place.