Alexander Albon, Toro Rosso, Shanghai International Circuit, 2019

Paddock Diary: Chinese Grand Prix day three

2019 Chinese Grand Prix

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Was Alexander Albon shaken by his heavy crash in practice? Not a bit of it – he told @DieterRencken he’d had a bigger shunt in his very first race.


A bit of a lie-in given FP3 starts at 11am and the circuit is a short rise away. I’m out of the hotel within 45 minutes, and at the circuit a little after 10am, where I grab some fruit salad, apple tarts and tea – which do me fine until lunch.


I take a wander through the paddock and bump into Damon Hill who is in Shanghai on double duty: Sky TV punditry and demonstrate the Lotus 49 his father Graham drove to the 1968 title. Damon had circulated with the red and white car yesterday, but I missed his laps through being otherwise occupied. The 49 was the car when I first fell in love with F1, and it buzzes my senses to this day.

Damon and I exchange banter about whether this actually is the 1,000th F1 grand prix – he’d responded to tweets of mine on the topic – and while chatting I’m reminded of comments he made after testing a Grand Prix Masters car fitted with an updated version of the same Cosworth Ford V8 in 2006, in company with Emerson Fittipaldi – who had raced against Graham.

At the time I’d asked Damon about the experience. “It’s about the closest I have come to racing against my father…” , he said somewhat wistfully. Two-times champion Graham had, of course, died tragically in an aircraft accident in 1975, about ten years before Damon entered the family business.


Final practice is red-flagged due to Alexander Albon’s huge crash after the Toro Rosso driver fish-tailed out of the final turn on a fast lap, the subsequent tank-slappers slamming him into a barrier. Fortunately Albon is only shaken, which bears testimony to the enormous strength of modern F1 cars. I decide to attend his post-qualifying media session to see if his cheery disposition is still intact along with the rest of him.

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A wander about, then lunch at Mercedes – Caesar salad and shredded tuna, followed fruit salad with caramel mousse – in company with Charli, an executive with Petronas’s PR agency, before heading for the media centre and qualifying.


Qualifying done, I head for Toro Rosso and Albon, who had to miss qualifying after destroying his survival cell and will start from the pit lane. He’s chatting to team boss Franz Tost, but ambles across with a spring in his step, then takes a seat. I marvel at his matter-of-fact manner, discussing his hefty hit without a tremble:

Alexander Albon, Toro Rosso, Shanghai International Circuit, 2019DR: How are you feeling?

OK. Not too bad.

DR: Shaken?

Fine. No, not at all. I’ve had bigger crashes.

DR: It was a while before you extracted, were you disorientated?

Not really, [I was] just doing the standard procedures.

Was that your biggest so far?

No, I’ve had a lot worse.

You’ve had a bigger one?

Oh yeah. A lot bigger.


My first ever race I think was my worst one. Double backflip…

DR: And you came back for more?


This sort of stuff makes these guys heroes – not the namby-pamby arguments about ‘gentlemen agreements’ over who may overtake whom before beginning a flying lap…

The following sessions are done in a flash: The Red Bull (Max Verstappen having cooled after his radio rant in qualifying) McLaren’s Meet The Team, the Williams duo and Guenther Steiner.

While at Williams I’d hope to catch Patrick Head, the team’s now-retired technical director who created a string of title-winning cars and has returned to the struggling teams as consultant. I’m told he’s in the garage, and been there all day…

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All stuff sent and duties done it’s time to find a cab – we haggle for a local ‘Uber’- miraculously the price is 20 yuan down on yesterday’s 120 for the three of us. Once back at the hotel my snapper friends and I decide it’s time to sample genuine Chinese fare, and head for a local eaterie they’d previously patronised.

The menu consists of illuminated photographs on a wall, and we order sesame chicken, a fiery beef dish and spicy vegetable: cheap at well under ten quid a head including drinks, but, above all, mega tasty.


Back in the hotel in time to write this up before packing in readiness for early check-out and race day in China.

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2019 Chinese Grand Prix

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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7 comments on “Paddock Diary: Chinese Grand Prix day three”

  1. This sort of stuff makes these guys heroes – not the namby-pamby arguments about ‘gentlemen agreements’ over who may overtake whom before beginning a flying lap…

    Not a Verstappen fan it seems ;)

    1. I heard a comment from Vettel during the post-Qualifying interview saying he was told to hurry up as he had something like a 10 second window to pass the Start-Finish line, so maybe it could have been Vettel or the Renault cars that didn’t get a second run in for Q3. Red Bull could have sent Verstappen out a little earlier, e.g. just before the Mercedes cars.
      If Ferrari thought Verstappen could beat at least one of their cars in the last run then while it might be a bit unsporting, this was a “win” for Ferrari.

  2. There were at least five drivers in that argument, and as many who argued there was no agreement. I did not single out any driver nor take sides – I merely expressed my opinion that these arguments are unheroic in a sport for heroes. Indeed, you singled out a driver…

    1. Can you imagine the fury if VER had did the same with the slowing Leclerc? What he did was normal and the overtaking by Vettel (and the Renaults) effectively screwed up his changes. So there was nothing wrong with his remark and frustration. Putting that remark by you there was..well. a bit unheroic indeed.
      Nevertheless, there where a lot of very late (to late) runs, very neatly compromised by the Merc drivers. Coincidence or tactical play.. who knows.

      1. I think we can all rest assured that next time Verstappen will repay the favor. He might do it out of shear joy to see Vettels reaction.

        1. Get mad, Max, but just don’t crash into Seb!

        2. 2 toddlers with road-rage incidents on the record. looking forward to the press conference following a pay-back event.

          Will Verstappen’s bottom lip achieve greater than 6.44mm extension whilst reading an FIA approved apology? (5:2 on)

          Will Vettel get more than a 10 second stop/go? (FIA community service holiday 3:1 favourite)

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