“Do the organisers have the money to make a Grand Prix, yes or no?” said Toro Rosso chief Franz Tost in the Friday FIA press conference in Hungary. “France doesn’t have the money and therefore we don’t have a Grand Prix there. We must go to countries that can afford Formula 1, simple as that. If they can’t afford it, we don’t go there. I don’t care whether we race in Germany or in Italy or wherever. We have to race where the financial situation allows F1 to go there.”
Now there’s an opinion to give you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. As you’ll gather from the front cover of our September issue, out this week, we beg to differ with Mr Tost.
Formula 1 without Monza is sadly no longer impossible to imagine, given the way of things in this hard-headed era, but happily the views we gathered from F1 people on the subject for our cover story do at least recognise why Italy’s ‘temple of speed’ is special (well, everyone was on the same page apart from ex-Tyrrell Grand Prix driver Stefano Modena, who was less charitable about the place, but then he always was contrary).
When I heard what Tost said, my blood boiled at how someone in such a position could say something so soulless. Perhaps he was being mischievously antagonistic, given how long and stilted these official press conferences tend to be. The team bosses hate them.
The problem is, on a purely logical and literal basis the man from Toro Rosso has a point.
In any business, from small specialist magazines to global sports watched by millions, investments have to be justified by revenues and, ultimately, profits. Whatever the scale, that’s always the case.
But at the same time, a business that has served customers for many years – whether they be a few readers or tens of millions of TV viewers and spectators – should be sensitive to the value of traditions that have added character and meaning to what they offer. Decisions can’t always be taken purely for money – at least, not in my little world.
And F1? It should be true on this scale, too – but as we’ve seen with the demise of the French Grand Prix, exceptions based on sentimentality have no place.
That’s why I was cheered by Marussia boss Graeme Lowdon, taking the trouble in that same press conference to challenge Tost’s hard-line view and suggest that an exception should be made in Monza’s case. Not very F1, Graeme – but thank you for saying the following: “I don’t think it’s right to just dismiss a view as being romantic. The fans like these venues so I wouldn’t necessarily go to the extreme that Franz suggests. There needs to be a rebalance in the whole structure, so in other words, if Monza is at threat… perhaps that’s more a sign of something that could be done in a more optimum way somewhere else.
“If we do nothing but chase income, then without any question, the sport will just eat itself up.”
This from a man at the head of a team more in need of increased revenues than any on the grid. Good on him.
So should exceptions be made for the Monzas, Spas and – dare I say it – Silverstones of this world, in comparison to more recent additions to the F1 calendar? Absolutely. For some these tracks can be Tost (sorry) into history; for the majority, annual pilgrimages to the old circuits upon which this sport was built tie Grand Prix racing to its roots. That matters.
Emanuele Pirro understands the importance of history better than most drivers of his generation and this cultured five-time Le Mans winner keeps the Italian theme going in the September issue by having lunch with Simon Taylor. Our correspondent, who travelled to Rome to see him, has been invited to the homes of his interview subjects before, but I don’t recall any of them previously cooking the food. In his own charming way, Pirro made another little piece of history with this latest entertaining addition to the series.
Back in Formula 1, Mark Hughes picks through the mess of Renault and Honda’s power struggles, revealing further detail behind the lack of performance we’ve seen on track. And Gordon Kirby rewinds to the 1980s and early 1990s in an interview with former McLaren and Ferrari engineer Gordon Kimball. The father of Indycar racer Charlie Kimball is hardly a regular ‘voice’ from this era, which is why we were interested to hear his stories and memories from a wonderful era of Grand Prix racing. There were raised eyebrows all round when GK’s copy landed, with Kimball pulling no punches on Ferrari cheats, the sometimes malignant influence of Ayrton Senna and much more.
Before I sign off, I feel compelled to return to our friend Mr Tost, who was in sparkling form in Budapest.
Along with the Grand Prix traditions question, a respected journalist also asked him about Azerbaijan, which is scheduled to take its bow on July 17 next year (according to the FIA calendar recently published). Given the country’s questionable record on human rights and freedom of speech, should F1 really be heading there?
“Absolutely correct because F1 is a sport,” Tost volleyed back with verve. “We go there to entertain. We do not go there for any political reasons. It’s the same issue we had a couple of years ago with Bahrain. We can’t be involved in the political topics…”
But at the recent European Games, responded the journalist, reporters from Britain and Germany were denied visas to cover the athletics because of who and what they represented.
“There must be a reason why the visa was denied,” parried Tost. “I don’t know the background. To be honest, I don’t care about this. So we go there, we race there and that’s it. It’s your problem how you get the visa.”
Lovely. Straight from the mouth of a company man. At least we know where we stand.