By Bob Constanduros
First of all, a massive apology for not posting this column earlier. It is down to two things: the first is a little incident at US immigration at Chicago, which shouldn’t really have had an effect on this column, and the second is what took me to Chicago in the first place and saw my luggage go to Houston as it should, but then fail to rejoin me until 36 hours later.
Travelling in the USA really is a bit of a lottery. You have to be very flexible and think very flexibly. This came home to us on Monday morning, leaving Mexico on the Day of the Dead, as it is called in Mexico. There, in the departures lounge, was a slimline skeleton wearing a very tight fitting dress and a massive floral hat. I had quite some time to contemplate this lady. I was there for five hours. She’d obviously been there a lot longer.
My United flight back to Houston was first of all delayed and then went technical, so that it was now so delayed to the extent that none of us would make our connections to London. Photographer James Moy was due to connect with an Emirates flight in London to Dubai and then to Shanghai for the WEC race. Historic racer Greg Thornton – with whom I missed my flight from Houston to London last year – was to due to connect with an Emirates flight at Gatwick whence he was due to fly with his wheelchair-bound mother to Dubai and then to Melbourne where he was racing F5000 at Sandown.
Those two were the first to go for new flights out of Mexico – to New York where their next flight to London then also went technical. They both missed their Emirates flights. It may be the last time we see Greg racing his Lotus in Austin and Mexico. I can’t blame him.
Some of the rest of us were then booked on a flight to Chicago and thence to London. We were going to arrive about four hours after we should. Two photographer friends took this course of action before me and their luggage duly arrived in London. In spite of twice filling out forms, my luggage went to Houston as originally prescribed and then waited in the sun to find out what it should do next. It arrived 36 hours after I did.
Meanwhile, I arrived in Chicago, relieved to see that the immigration queue was much shorter than the lengthy one at Houston which had caused Greg and I to miss our flights the previous year. (You have to go through immigration in the US, even if you are in transit.) That was until my conscientious immigration officer thought he might gain some brownie points by noticing that I was doing something which was not according to the book.
Basically, as a journalist, I have an ‘I’ visa. As a tourist, you have an Esta visa. I had used my ‘I’ visa to enter the country to work at Austin but entering the country to transit on an ‘I’ visa was not correct. Apparently. I did it last year on the way back from Mexico, one of my photographer buddies did it a few desks from me on Monday evening, but my guy decided this was out of order and I was duly detained.
I was taken to a very basic room, wooden benches, a TV, some water and lots of other ‘undesirables’ whose reasons for entry to the US were being doubted. At this stage I didn’t know why I was being detained. And I waited. For over an hour. Occasionally others were interviewed and even released. I still had some time before my flight to London. But then it began to get a little tight so I asked, quite calmly, why I was being detained. Had I ever been arrested, I was asked? (No). They looked at my passport, then one of them said ‘oh, I see what the problem is, we’ll come back to you soon.’
Fifteen minutes later my passport was return, I could go but still no explanation. Rather than ask that straight question and for them to have to admit that it was a rather picky reason, I asked how it could be prevented in future, and the explanation finally came out: don’t use an ‘I’ visa for transit. You should have an Esta.
I hope you’ve found that fascinating; OK, probably not but it should be a precautionary tale. And after an average race in Mexico (following an average race in Austin) it kind of dominated my post-American thoughts.
Mexico is a fun Grand Prix in many ways. It’s a reasonable paddock, the city is lively when the traffic is on the move, and this year they put us up in a hotel just ten minutes from the circuit, with nice rooms, a good and quite cheap restaurant. OK, we couldn’t walk to anything else but it was OK, until they doubled the room rate for Friday and Saturday night.
They also appoint three ambassadors: Brazilian World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi, former Rodriguez and McLaren mechanic Joe Ramirez and former IndyCar driver Adrian Fernandez. They came to be interviewed by us on Saturday morning and as in the press conference the previous day, their views on improving F1 were pretty much what we all feel: make the racing closer by equalising the distribution of finances to each team; allow the drivers to say what they want, to become personalities. (Emerson pointed out that in his day drivers would turn up with a Hollywood actress on one arm and Miss Italy or someone on the other. These days they all bring their fathers!) And put a cap on penalties.
And what happened the next day? We had so many penalties that we had three different drivers in third place at various times and a driver who said what he felt being castigated – even if it was a bit over the top, which he subsequently concurred with and apologised for. And just to cap it all, Bernie Ecclestone has since said don’t expect any major changes in F1 any time soon even if Liberty Media are due to take it over in March next year. There are too many agreements and contracts in place for any major changes until those contracts expire.
At least that gives time for a full consultation process, in which Ross Brawn may or may not be involved. Ross gets connected to any job that’s going in F1 at the moment; he seems to be the only sane unemployed person to fill all kinds of jobs. No one asks whether he would like to do these jobs or not, and whether he has the motivation, having done just about every job there is to do with a team. But up comes his name every time. Well, it would be great for him to be involved if he wants to be. That’s all we can say.
And the World Championship? Lewis wins again having had a lucky escape at the first corner, but then suffers a flatspot on his tyres which causes massive vibration, to the extent that he isn’t certain that he’s going to finish. Not something that Mercedes have majored on.
Nico, meanwhile, says that managing the tyres in the cooler temperatures found this year in Mexico City was the major challenge. Pirelli say the temperature was only 38 degrees maximum, but on Saturday afternoon we saw 58 degrees on the FIA weather screen. Who is telling the truth? This situation happens so often with information given to journalists by teams, for instance, which have massive discrepancies from one team to another, giving the same piece of information. It really undermines journalistic credibility.
And so we move to the penultimate race, a real wild card if the weather dictates and a tricky, very short circuit in terms of time (we were told by one team that Mexico is the second shortest circuit). This is the one that really could shake up the status quo – Abu Dhabi will be much more predictable. So we could see the World Champion crowned in Brazil in one week; otherwise it may plod on to its conclusion in the Middle East. Lewis may keep on winning but consistency may, in the end, win the day.