Bag of experience. Eric Boullier packs a lot of winning experience in team and driver management. He is now involved in the promotion of the French Grand Prix.

Q. French GP history goes back to 1906. Is Paul Ricard the long-term future of this event?

A. “Yes, 1906 was the first French Grand Prix near Le Mans if I remember. Paul Ricard is now the track hosting French Grand Prix; we still have a contract running for another three years. Anything is possible after that.”

Sacré bleu. French Riviera, Paul Ricard and the long Mistral straight. “Once in a lifetime.”

Q. Are you happy with the attendance and corporate support at this time?

A. “Yes. We always want more. The Grand Prix was an amazing success for the return. The second year is always more difficult for a Grand Prix.”

Q. Your educational background is aerospace engineering, how did you get the racing bug?

A. “You were talking about 1906 Le Mans, well I was born near Le Mans in a city called Laval. When I was 9 years old, I was racing with some remote-control cars, and this is how I started.”

Q. Ron Dennis once described F1 as a piranha pool. In terms of politics and cut throat nature of this business, do you really need to be a mean shark to survive and succeed in F1?

A. “I think any business is a piranha pool. I think Formula 1 obviously has a lot of egos and lots of attention. You put ten of the most competitive racing competitors in the same area so they obviously are very close to each other and they do tend to develop ego or whatever it is called, may be some of them with a piranha behavior.”

Q. Eddie Jordan once said ‘egos in Formula 1 are so big you can float the Titanic on it’, is that true?

A. “I do tend to agree with Eddie for once.”

Q.Your time at McLaren, in your observation what were the main issues there apart from Honda getting all the blame?

A. “I don’t think it’s true to say that. You know it’s a long story in the past and I’m not sure if I want to develop that story. It was great years for me, it’s a great bunch of people. And I have many friends there. So, I think past is the past and let’s move forward.”

Q. Did anybody from Honda say anything to McLaren management when Alonso was very vocal about their product, especially after the GP2 engine comment at Suzuka?

A. “I can’t comment about the past. I don’t want to say anything about this. It’s a past story. We have to move on.”

Future of France. Boullier pulled then 12-year-old Esteban Ocon into Gravity Management. Now he will race with Renault F1 team under Mercedes Management.

Q.You were involved with Gravity Management, of all the drivers managed by Gravity who were the best?

A. “I will say one who has been winning since then. I remember Marco Wittmann. He has been double DTM Champion. He’s a good driver. And obviously today I am proud to see Romain still in Formula 1, and Esteban Ocon in Formula 1 having a great career. I was the one picking up Esteban when he was 12-years old and I still remember that interview with him. To see him today in the F1 paddock being a mature and professional F1 driver is happiness and pride.”

Q. Esteban Ocon is a great talent and product of French Racing system, how do you rate him and how will he do against Ricciardo?

A. “I do rate him very high obviously. He’s the future for France definitely. I do rate him very high. He will match performance with Daniel. He’s now very much matured and comfortable with his F1 life. He grew up now in the best team environment. He has been in best days with Force India, Racing Point now. He spent few years with Mercedes GP which is the best team organization today. And he’s joining a car manufacturer Renault which is the best place to be when you are an F1 driver, so he will do very well.”

Q. Kimi Raikkonen was racing for you when he made that famous comment ‘leave me alone. I know what I am doing’. Is he the most unique driver you have ever dealt with?

A. “They are all unique. Kimi is a special character, may be a bit different, everyone is fond of him, but they are all unique and I have been lucky enough to work with guys like Robert Kubica, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button. Also, Romain Grosjean, Bruno Senna and some others.”

Q. What would be the main reasons for an F1 fan to attend the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard?

A. “There are many reasons. First, it’s a summer race we call it. Everybody in the world knows the French Riviera. And I am pretty sure everybody wants, at least once in their life, spend holidays there. That’s a good opportunity already to do it. To be fair, being at the end of June, just before summer, it’s a great place to enjoy the French hospitality. We have a lot of activities.

“We are one of the new grand prix models for Liberty. Our paddock is full of activities, exhibition shows, but also on track, off track and you can really enjoy a great weekend.”

— Nasir Hameed

Special thanks to Pierre Guyonnet-Duperat for arranging this interview.

F1Weekly Podcast # 813


Sonoma, Calif.  – The Sonoma Speed Festival has announced its second annual event, set for May 28-31, 2020 at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California. The event will feature the rarest authentic racing cars spanning the history of motorsports from the Brass Era to the modern age competing on track, along with world-class food and wine options, motorsport exhibitions, car shows and more.

The premier historic motorsports festival returns to Sonoma Raceway to showcase the world’s greatest race cars competing on track, along with world-class California wine tasting, gourmet food, curated car show displays, family activities, comedic relief from the Ragtime Racers and full access to motorsports icons from the last century on May 28-31, 2020.

The 2020 Sonoma Speed Festival follows a successful inaugural event in 2019, which featured over 200 cars that could be viewed up close and at speed, including two rare Ferrari 250 GTOs competing on track; demonstration runs by the only winning McLaren F1 GTR Longtail; two ex-John Wyer Gulf Racing Porsche 917Ks and two Gulf Racing Ford GT40s in competition. Drawing cars from Le Mans, Sebring, Formula One and more, the original works drivers include Jack Brabham, Niki Lauda, Mario Andretti, Jacky Ickx, Emerson Fittipaldi, Derek Daly, Jody Scheckter and many others.

The single most successful chassis in the history of Formula 1 – the 2016 Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport F1 W07/04 – made several demonstration runs with team simulation and test driver Esteban Gutierrez. Thrilling the crowd, Esteban pushed his car to the limit and recorded a spectacular lap of 1:15.430 on the “full-course” configuration, breaking the lap record by over five seconds.

Outside of racing action on the track, guests will enjoy a variety of activities and displays along with a craft beer garden and the Sip & Savor Pavilion featuring wine tastings from an array of world-class California wineries with gourmet food pairings. Open air picnicking on a sprawling turf family area, curated historic vehicle displays, comedy routines by the Ragtime Racers and more make the event a must for hardcore race fans and families alike.

“Our inaugural event was a smash hit with both fans and participants,” said Ryan R. Turri, General Manager of the Sonoma Speed Festival. “We look forward to making this event even better for 2020.”

Ticketing and registration information will be available soon online at, along with additional information on special attractions. Learn more on the event website and follow the action on Facebook and Instagram.

Play Podcast: 12-26-19f1weekly813.mp3


F1Weekly’s exclusive interview with Jean Alesi. Famous Ferrari pilot who won his first Formula 1 race on his Birthday. He led many races but this would remain his only GP success.

Q. Good to see the Alesi name winning again in racing, please tell us about your son Giuliano’s progress?

A. “It was for the Formula 2 season for Giuliano very difficult season, but so far he managed to make some progress race after race. But for him it was very difficult every race to have a different teammate.”

Q. You had the best present for your 31st birthday, please tell us what you remember most from that wonderful day and evening in Montreal?

A. “I checked last time I did almost 2,000 laps leading a Grand Prix and I won only one. So for me it was like a freedom to pass the finish line as a leading driver. I’ve been extremely, extremely happy and the night after the race I didn’t celebrate really but when I went in the restaurant the whole restaurant stand up and applaused. That was a great memory for me.”

Q. Your family is from Sicily, do names like Nino Vaccarella and Targa Florio mean anything to you?

A. “Yes. I am a big, big fan of old time. Vaccarella for us in Sicily it was really the Tazio Nuvolari. We respect him and know him. I like this story.”

Q. You and Gerhard Berger were two great characters and teammates at Ferrari, what is the story of overturning Jean Todt’s car after lunch at Fiorano?

A. “We had this moment with Gerhard when we were young and a bit crazy. We had this small inconvenience with Jean Todt’s car. He was very upset. We didn’t really did it on purpose, playing like that in the end we had this accident.”

Jean Alesi. The Street Fighter. The French Ace of Avignon puts the heat on Ayrton Senna to make one of the most memorable passes in the 1990 USGP in Phoenix. Photo.

Q Phoenix, Arizona, 1990, the heat was very hot and so was your performance in a Tyrrell against the McLaren Honda of Ayrton Senna. That race must have great memories for you?

A. “Yes, because it was the first time I drove the Pirelli tires. We knew we had this extra grip in qualifying but for the race we were not sure because the spirit of Pirelli at that time was to do the whole Grand Prix without pitting, without changing the tires. But I didn’t have the experience with this tire, so when I went in there I was not sure at all if it was good or not. And then it was a fantastic surprise because I qualified 5th. I had a super start and took second place.”

Q. Ken Tyrrell was a championship winning team owner. How was your personal and professional relationship with you?

A. “For me it was the best team to start because he was like a father, he gave me a lot of confidence. Always close to me and that was absolutely important for my progress.”

Q. Your relationship with Eddie Jordan?

A. “He was the key of my success because he took me after my Formula 3000 Championship in ‘88 where I was really nowhere, and gave me a winning car and introduced me to the Formula 1 teams. He made the deal to race one Grand Prix with Tyrrell, and then we signed for the rest of the season. So for me Eddie Jordan means everything.”

Q.You had a contract with Williams when the phone call came from Maranello, driving for Ferrari, was that purely an emotional decision or was there more to it?

A. “No, no, no. I had a contract and it was clear I was going to drive for Williams. But because Williams didn’t take the decision of the date we had on this contract it becomes option, and Ferrari decided to give me straight contract, fixed contract so we pull out of the Williams contract.”

Q Finally, your thoughts on Formula 1, your time and today?

A. “You know the time is changing. My time was for sure extremely exciting for me. But I am sure if we now ask Charles how he feels he will say ‘oh, it is a great time for me, very exciting, I love the cars.

“So, Formula 1 is Formula 1. And because we are using machines we cannot compare the previous time.”

— Nasir Hameed

F1Weekly podcast # 812



Indy 500 Veteran, Racing Safety Pioneer Simpson Dies at 79

INDIANAPOLIS, – Veteran racer Bill Simpson, who made one Indianapolis 500 start and was renowned in global motorsports for his development of groundbreaking safety equipment, died Monday, Dec. 16 in Indianapolis due to complications from recent health problems. He was 79.

Simpson competed as a driver in drag racing, sports car racing and open-wheel formula racing, including in SCCA and USAC Indy-car competition. He made 52 career Indy-car starts between 1968 and 1977. He produced 11 top-10 finishes, including a career best of sixth in the 1970 Milwaukee 200.

Southern California native Simpson qualified 20th and finished 13th in the 1974 Indianapolis 500 in the American Kids Racer Eagle-Offy owned by Dick Beith. It was his only career start in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” but competing in that race was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and the pinnacle of his varied driving career.

Another noteworthy highlight of Simpson’s career was providing four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears with a car to make his first career Indy car start, in the 1976 Ontario 500.

Simpson’s racing career ended during an Indianapolis 500 practice lap in May 1977, when he realized he was thinking more about a phone call he needed to make for his racing safety products business than driving a race car at nearly 200 mph. That realization caused him to hang up his helmet for good on the spot, with Formula One veteran Clay Regazzoni taking his seat.

The colorful Simpson started his driving career in drag racing as a teenager in Southern California. His work in motorsports safety started inadvertently when he crashed his dragster as an 18-year-old in 1958, suffering two broken arms. During his recovery time, Simpson devised and developed more sophisticated, purpose-built parachutes – through trial and error on a rented sewing machine in a garage – to slow dragsters after the finish line, starting a company called Simpson Drag Chutes.

Those humble beginnings evolved and grew into Simpson Performance Products and Impact! Racing, highly successful companies that designed, developed and produced more than 200 motorsports safety products used by drivers in all series worldwide, including helmets, gloves, fire-retardant driver suits, seat belts and more.

Perhaps Simpson’s biggest racing safety breakthrough came in 1967. He was introduced to a temperature-resistant fabric called Nomex through NASA astronaut and racing enthusiast Pete Conrad.

Simpson created the world’s first racing suit made of Nomex and brought it to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that May, where it became a safety sensation quickly used by nearly every driver in the starting field and now is standard equipment for every race driver. Donning his Nomex suit and a helmet, Simpson set himself on fire during demonstrations to prove the suit’s effectiveness on several occasions over the years.

Those tireless contributions to motorsports safety led to a host of accolades and honors, including enshrinement into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2003 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in 2014.

Simpson chronicled his colorful and substantial life in racing by writing two books, “Racing Safely, Living Dangerously” and its sequel, “Through the Fire.”

Despite the vast success of his motorsports safety companies, Simpson never forgot his magical year of qualifying for and competing in the Indianapolis 500.

He annually returned to the Speedway during the Month of May for veterans’ activities, including appearances at driver autograph sessions for fans on Legends Day presented by Firestone. Simpson often attended these sessions with fellow colorful motorsports mogul and Indianapolis 500 veteran Chip Ganassi, and he was a passionate supporter of the IMS Museum.

Simpson is survived by a son. He also was a devout animal enthusiast, whose menagerie included his beloved dog, Maia, camels and other pets. A celebration of his life is being planned for this May at the IMS Museum, with details pending.

Play Podcast: 12-19-19f1weekly812.mp3

F1Weekly podcast # 811


Monterey County’s board of supervisors voted to hire the A & D Narigi, LLC (A&D) firm as the new track manager in charge of the county-owned park that contains WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

The five-person board voted unanimously to enter into contract negotiations with A&D. Provided both sides come to terms, the company led by former Monterey Plaza Hotel general manager John Narigi will replace the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) at the onset of 2020.

The board’s decision serves as the second time SCRAMP has been on the losing end of a management contract vote. Following a scathing grand jury report compiled by the county in 2016 that documented systemic problems within SCRAMP’s business practices under a former CEO, the county spearheaded a worldwide search for new management firms.

The board ultimately chose the Friends of Laguna Seca group to replace SCRAMP, but was unable to conclude a deal with the management team. As a result, SCRAMP was given a new three-year contract to continue its management of the park, and with the term reaching its end, a new search began that promoted A&D as the county’s preferred vendor.

Assuming negotiations between the county and A&D are successful, SCRAMP’s 62-year tenure as Laguna Seca’s manager will come to an end ahead of the new racing season.

Separate from SCRAMP’s business infrastructure, the non-profit organization’s volunteer base is considered to hold the greatest value. Assembled over decades, SCRAMP’s volunteer group has facilitated the track’s major events throughout its tenure.

In SCRAMP’s pending absence, it’s unclear whether the hundreds of volunteers who’ve provided physical support, and allowed those events to operate without the vast expenses a paid staff would demand, would shift their allegiance to A&D.

Without the volunteers, it’s also unclear whether A&D would be able to form a similar volunteer base required to hold large events and meet its budget targets.

By: Marshall Pruett

Play Podcast: 12-11-19f1weekly811.mp3