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Too Many Main Characters

Howdy, hi, hello. Welcome to Engine Failure, a culture newsletter that dives into what the fuck is really going on in Formula 1. It’s written by me, Lily Herman.

Greetings! I forgot to mention earlier that things might get a little dicey newsletter-wise during the midterms last week for work reasons, so here we are post-election. And here George William Russell is with his first-ever Grand Prix victory.

But more importantly, this is officially the longest newsletter in EF history at 9,500 words. (It was actually over 10,000 before I decided to cut a section last-minute because it wasn’t ~ready~. Sigh!) We’re almost at Ticketmaster-on-Taylor-Swift-Eras-Tour-Release-Day levels of pandemonium, and we’ve got a lot to talk about.

I’m like the Stefon of Formula 1 writing when I say this newsletter truly has EVERYTHING: More WAGs book club recs! A look at the Mario Kart side of the sport! An analysis of that radio message from the one and only Max Emilian Verstappen!

While you’re sitting here saying, “Holy shit, I can’t believe Lily took so much time to write ALMOST 10,000 WORDS ON THIS CIRCUS OF A SPORT,” might I interest you in tipping me via the EF Patreon? In addition to convos about romance novel-esque drivers, the hex on Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton’s bad sponcon, I also recently dropped a missive about how I tracked a recent potential F1 driver/WAG breakup. Important stuff!

Anyway, we’ve got mad shit to get to. Onward, rascals!

What’s in a Main?

As I’ve alluded to for over a year now, I have a very delightful F1 DM that pops up from time to time in EF called the Sleutheria. One of the random side projects that the Sleutheria inadvertently stumbled into a while ago was discussing — and later tracking — F1 drivers’ Mario Kart mains. That gave way to also tracking IndyCar drivers’ Mario Kart mains as well as the mains of various motorsports-related figures. More recently, this was all compiled in a spreadsheet, a small sampling of which the Sleutheria has permitted me to share via screenshots. (Note that the actual spreadsheet includes official sources for where this info came from, but that was all getting too cumbersome to include.)

Let’s talk about this magnificent and hyper-specific piece of motorsports culture and how it came to be. Please welcome — and in some cases, welcome back — Zach, Byrd, Julio, and Debbie to the EF main stage!


On the Origins of the Mario Kart Main Tracking

Julio: I wanted there to be a question that would be a nice, chill look into drivers and make them more relatable without being the same bored questions athletes get at every press conference. I wanted to have something in case I ever interviewed a driver.

When I was a reporter with KVIA in El Paso, the Vado Speedway Park opened up in New Mexico and I went to cover the opening. We interviewed a driver and that's when I asked him: "Who is your Mario Kart main?"

Ever since that, I have wanted to ask every Formula 1 driver this question, and it's expanded beyond F1. Byrd is the one who came across Jenson Button's explanation as to why he chooses Bowser, which has been a crucial addition to the question.

People may not know this, but drivers, cars, and tires in Mario Kart all have different properties. Heavy characters (Bowser, Link, metal characters) have a higher top speed but slower acceleration. They are also more resistant to bumps. Light characters (Toad, Dry Bones, baby characters) have a lower top speed but a faster acceleration, and they can recover more quickly when bumped off-track or struck by a shell. Cars and tires have an entire system set up that benefits different driving styles.

So the question was started by a local reporter who wanted to ask drivers something they have never been asked before, but the “why?” element is really interesting to find out how much a driver is into Mario Kart and what elements of video game racing they prioritize.

Byrd: I definitely remember reading Jenson Button’s autobiography and YELLING when he opened part one with, “All you need to know about racing, you can learn with Super Mario Kart.” I actually think that chapter of JB’s memoir sold me on the whole project. He goes into the reasons why Bowser is his favorite — he’s the most difficult and unwieldy to drive, but if you can get on top of his quirks, he’s also the fastest. So while a character like Yoshi or Toad (per JB) might seem quickest at first, if you work for it, Bowser is worth it. It felt like an actual slice of insight into how JB thought about racing.

So now, even though I don’t know much about Mario Kart, I’m genuinely curious to hear more explanations from drivers. Even the fact that some drivers (like George Russell) claim they don’t have much interest in Mario Kart feels like it’s revealing. The Scuderia F1 podcast has added a question about mains to the questions they ask interviewees, and it’s yielded some fun tidbits. (And it seems to be a question that drivers enjoy and actually want to answer, which is always a plus.)

Zach: We had been joking about this Mario Kart mains question for a little while, but then we actually started getting some answers — a Jenson Button book mention here, an on-the-ground Sleutheria reporter at a Williams pop-up there. And because my brain works as an extension of the Google Suite, I made the spreadsheet so we could keep track of things.

On How a Bunch of IndyCar Drivers Got Added

Debbie: I still haven't been to an F1 race, but I found out that IndyCar had a race near me at Laguna Seca, so I thought it might be fun to go. Verdict: Best deal in motorsports!

One of the highlights for me was attending the autograph session, where every single driver on the grid was made available for autographs and quick convos. I realized this was a GOLDEN opportunity to go through the entire IndyCar grid and collect as many Mario Kart mains as possible. 

Some of my favorite tidbits: 

  • Conor Daly going, "Really?" at hearing that Alexander Rossi mains Peach and Rossi going, "See?" when I noted I too also main Peach.

  • Both Bus Bros maining Yoshi and Josef Newgarden getting SO excited when I told him that Scott McLaughlin also mained Yoshi. "That's my bro!" 

  • Felix Rosenqvist going deep on the aerodynamic benefits of maining Toad. 

  • David Malukas being so excited that he prepared his answer while I was speaking with another driver and then told me both his Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. mains.

  • Will Power doesn't play Mario Kart; he only plays iRacing.

  • Alex Palou said he didn't play Mario Kart, but then said he could pick a main for me if I wanted him to have one. However, when he picked Luigi, Graham Rahal, who had previously noted that his main was Bowser because he's tall (and who was also eavesdropping) immediately objected saying, "No Alex, you're tiny, you're Toad." 

Is it any wonder that fans of IndyCar talk constantly about how fun and accessible the drivers are?

Zach: Debbie was sending these updates in real time as she interviewed the drivers, so the messages were all like, “Peach Toad no no Luigi because likes green and the red mushroom Rossi Daly who loves my shirt” and we’d have to be like, “Okay, so Alexander Rossi mains Peach and Conor Daly mains Toad and also loves Debbie’s shirt, perfect.”

On Why Logan Sargeant Is Marked as “Blacklisted”

Zach: Logan Sargeant’s IG Live — part of, we assume, Williams’ attempts to make him likable and/or interesting to We the People — was a disaster start to finish. He just sat there puttering through a couple questions, ignoring most of the chat’s inquiries, and then — after the Mario Kart question was asked repeatedly by several of the Sleutheria’s finest — he made a comment about how there needed to be better questions. Was it directly in response to the Mario Kart question? It’s impossible to know. But I can feel his disdain in my heart of hearts and thus I lay my judgment upon him: BLACKLISTED.

On the List’s Surprises

Zach: We have a lot of the more, some may say, “classic” answers — your Marios, your Luigis. But the most interesting one thus far I think is Zhou Guanyu, who played as Peach on Mario Kart 64! I feel like in an environment as hyper-masculine as Formula 1, it’s no small thing to choose Princess Peach. (And, worth noting, we currently don’t have any other F1 drivers cataloged who main Peach!)

On Their Main Predictions for F1 Drivers

Byrd: I’d like to know what Nyck de Vries’ Mario Kart main is (and why), because I suspect it would be whatever character is a little scrappy and lets him drive with his elbows OUT.

Zach: Fernando Alonso mains King Boo, because he doesn’t actually know what this game is but he sees that Boo wears a crown and that makes Alonso feel good.

On Sleutheria's Overall Hope for the List

Zach: Power? Wealth? For Alex Albon to play Mario Kart with me? It’s hard to say. 

Julio: Get a reporter connected to us in that press room and ask drivers during a Formula 1 presser: Who is your Mario Kart main?

Debbie: I continue to be haunted by the fact that during an official F1 race week press conference, Lewis chatted up a storm about how he was playing vintage video games, and had actually looked but failed to find a copy of Mario Kart. NO ONE thought to ask him what his main was as a follow-up question?!? IT WAS RIGHT THERE!

[Editor’s Note: To be clear, I’ve never been a Mario Kart biddy and thus can’t add a single insight or piece of analysis to this discussion. I was, however, a Sims girly and will someday do a ranking that matches F1 drivers to the Sims townies they remind me of.  Who is the Don Lothario of the grid? *shudders* Start thinking about it now.]

Daniel Ricciardo Took Up a Lando Norris Hobby™

Folks, a Momentous Thing™ happened last weekend: Daniel Ricciardo launched his own photography IG account in the style of Lando Norris’ photography IG account. Even wilder, he used a post to hard launch his girlf Heidi Berger with a tag for the first time. Such growth! Look at him becoming a full-fledged adult man in his thirties before our very eyes! Also, I definitely saw that CAA mention. I wonder how things are going with the Entourage-esque Hulu show

I’ve been tough (but fair) with Danny Ric in the past when it comes to his various shenanigans and extracurriculars. But personally, I’m a fan of this endeavor — and I wish he’d started this account sooner. This is a man who really DGAF and is figuring out his immediate future without a Formula 1 seat for the first time in a decade. It’s both fascinating and sad to watch, and his photography style and subject matter reflect that. 

Moreover, while there are some excellent F1 photographers out there snapping more official shots in the paddock, it’s hard to capture the essence of some of these drivers unless the person holding the camera is also a fellow driver. (I mean, just look at these images of KMag!) So far, Danny has taken some truly excellent behind-the-scenes photos on the grid and gave a touching tribute to all of the folks who work back at McLaren HQ and don’t always get all of the glory. I feel like I’ve learned more about the grid just studying what DR and Lando have put up in recent weeks than I have through practically any other source.

I’ve noticed that people around the paddock are sort of tip-toeing around Danny’s exit since they’re not exactly sure if he’s going away for good or coming back in a year (and holding a reserve driver role in the meantime). Unlike Seb, who’s already started getting full-court press over his retirement before the race weekend has officially started, DR’s final GP for the time being has a cloud of mystery. That’s where this account fits in: It offers a certain type of clarity.

No, We Don’t Need to Detox

Before we get going on this section, this is a heads-up that I’m going to talk about topics like calories and food restriction. If those aren’t things you want to wade into, just skip ahead in the newsletter to read about things like WAGs nail polish and gravel cycling crimes.

All right? Let’s go.

*sighs deeply* Folks, I’m just trying to live my life and get my Patreon checks. But alas, some of the WAGs are hellbent making me talk about their shit — specifically their incredibly harmful diet and wellness culture rhetoric. 

As many of you know, I’ve been putting off this feature for a while (since literally...August), as it’s not a fun topic for me to address personally, and I opted to wait to see if more examples would surface before I wrote something. After all, most of us — regardless of background — harbor some not-so-great thoughts around body image, food, exercise, weight, or all of the above; I wouldn’t want to righteously condemn someone who posted something iffy once. (We'd be here all day, week, month, and year if I had the time for that.) But there were just too many things here that were too egregious to ignore.

My agita started over the late summer when Charles Leclerc’s girlfriend Charlotte Sine posted an increasingly large amount of content on Instagram regarding cleanses, calorie counting, and “detox” content. This was before the whole Sunday Riley debacle at Monza that dominated the WAGs discourse at the time, but it’s continued through to the present day. It seemed relatively benign at first, like her posting a “detoxifying” juice or low-calorie bread alternatives. Other WAGs do this sort of thing from time to time, so it was the volume of posts that initially caught my attention.
As all of that was going on, Max Verstappen’s girlfriend Kelly Piquet told her one million followers during a Q&A in late September that she was following a six-month program from an influencer named Jenn Cino, FDN-P, CPT that was helping with “healing [her] body.” (In addition to selling a $19 “three-day gut reset,” Cino also touts solutions to something known as “copper toxicity” and provides the blanket statement that birth control “doesn’t solve” period problems or hormone issues. Oh, and more recently she posted about something called an “adrenal cocktail” specifically involving “Celtic sea salt,” even though adrenal fatigue is a medically fuzzy topic. I certainly know nothing about every single EF subscriber’s individual health concerns, but we can all agree that iffy buzzwords and generalizations do not help matters!) On top of that, Kelly called herself a “health and wellness” coach in a rare interview last month too, and suddenly I had infinitely more questions. She hasn’t brought up this whole ~wellness coach~ business or her work with Jenn Cino since then, but y’all know I’m certainly keeping a close eye on it going forward.

Back to Charlotte: Over the past month, things have ramped up considerably, starting with her questionable jewelry line debuting a new collection of charms that came with different “metaphysical properties.” (We’ll get into the sketchy business practices of that endeavor on a different day, because that would take…forever.)  I rolled my eyes at that whole saga (though hey, if y’all want to buy overpriced plastic necklaces that claim to give you ~*~serenity~*~, it’s your money!), but then in mid-October, Charlotte then started posting “recipes” online in an influencer capacity. I say that with quotation marks because one of them was literally one-third of butternut squash blended with water and some 0% fat plain yogurt to create “soup.” These cooking ventures have only gotten worse over the last few weeks: A half-cup smoothie containing two fruits with water and 0% fat plain yogurt; a salad with just lettuce, cabbage, and smoked salmon with cream cheese on the side; and a tuna spread on a single slice of bread with an egg and a side of zucchini. And by the way she positioned these foods online, it looked like Charlotte was advocating for each of these individual “recipes” to count as a full meal.

As always, we shouldn’t hyper-fixate on a singular moment of bad behavior; I want to think about the big picture here in regards to the conversations we’re having about what these drivers’ significant others — especially those who are knowingly building careers and larger influence off of their partners’ platforms — owe their audiences. Since I don’t know Charlotte or Kelly personally and can’t speak to their mindsets, backgrounds, or private struggles, let’s talk about optics here. It’s just not helpful to be peddling juice “detoxes” in a positive light or always showcasing “low-calorie” or 0% fat options for meals that are often bare to begin with. Similarly, Kelly is free to do whatever she wants with her body in private, but promoting what Jenn Cino appears to be offering is where she starts to get into murky territory. Meanwhile, even if these “recipes” Charlotte is touting were part of a larger meal (i.e. she photographed just the soup but ate it with other food), not showing or mentioning that is a problem.

I’m by no means arguing that someone like Charlotte or Kelly, singular human beings on this large and expansive earth, are at the root of all harmful diet culture, wellness rhetoric and unrealistic beauty standards we see in societies all over the world. But they’re contributing to the unfortunate messaging that billions of people — especially young women — receive every day about their bodies not being enough or that they need to buy hyper-specific products (like, uh, Celtic sea salt) to see medical or aesthetic results. Not to mention, these recommendations are coming from two unqualified wealthy women who meet Western conventions of attractiveness and ideal body size. 

And above all, while someone like Charlotte or Kelly has the resources to seek top-tier medical assistance if something is going on with their mental and/or physical health, plenty of folks who see this content and are impacted by it don’t; instead, they internalize it.

Unfortunately, it looks like we may keep seeing this sort of content from them and other WAGs in the future, and it opens up those larger questions we discuss all the time around responsibility in the digital age. For instance, while every situation is different, Charlotte is both making money off of her influencing (which stems from her boyfriend’s profession in the first place) and building her following on an already largely inaccessible lifestyle; I don’t think it’d be too much of an ask for her to stop talking about how great her various juice detoxes are or trying to make us believe that three berries in water counts as a smoothie. Hell, I’d even take more wacky healing necklace content if it meant she'd cease posting that kind of stuff.

All of the harmful nutritional messaging and catastrophic rabbit food-like posts aside, I’ve also gotta say this as someone who cooks pretty regularly and has long been a viewer of food programming: These posts from Charlotte are culinarily lazy attempts at recipes and just don’t need to be things she’s “recommending.” She doesn’t have to open herself and her lifestyle up to online discussion if she doesn’t want to; she has the money to bypass this digital scrutiny entirely. She can eat her butternut baby puree IRL without ever uttering a word of it online if she wanted to. This is very much a choice on her part to put it out there.

I’m not in any position to diagnose Charlotte or Kelly with anything, but I will say that as the two most-followed WAGs on the grid, both of them have reached a difficult point where they have to decide how much of themselves to put on the internet, especially because finances aren’t dictating that they do so. That said, Kelly’s been uncharacteristically quiet over the past month (as I’ll talk a little more about in a bit), and a few wayward food posts aside, Charlotte has been relatively offline in November; I think that’s for the best for now. It sounds like they both need some time to log off, reassess, and figure out these underlying issues — without an audience or the risk of putting those destructive ideas out there for others.

(Also, for those who are newer to larger societal conversations about harmful wellness culture discourse, I posted the Maintenance Phase podcast’s episodes on juicing and the Master Cleanse on Instagram Stories, and I also recommend this article and this article to start thinking more critically about the world of ~wellness~. Two newsletters I also recommend are The Unpublishable by Jessica DeFino and Burnt Toast by Virginia Sole-Smith.)

Above all, I hope y'all are taking care of yourselves.

While We’re Talking About Toxicity…

I’ve noticed an interesting trend in the world of people calling out sexism, racism, homophobia, and general harassment in Formula 1 over the past few months: The word “toxic” is coming up a lot — without any context or further discussion.

One prominent example of what I mean: I noticed this “toxicity” framework appeared when Alpine addressed the harassment the team saw on social media following that ~dispute~ (to put it mildly) between its drivers Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso during the Brazil sprint race. Alpine is the first team I’ve noticed recently acknowledge this horrible shit in this more quantitative way. The messaging was much appropriately stern, and I’m glad there’s more attention coming to this.

Here’s where I’ll gently challenge the F1 community and teams to make a small adjustment: Let’s get rid of “toxic” as a unit of measurement and instead use some specificity here, because I don’t know what separates a “toxic” comment from a “severely toxic” one (or what even “counts” in either category). When we talk about harassment and misconduct online using these culturally ubiquitous terms that are devoid of actual meaning, we inadvertently dilute the very message we’re trying to amplify. “Racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” and “xenophobia” aren’t dirty words; they’re definitive ones — and ones we should use freely to call heinous speech what it is. 

One initiative that I believe is doing a better job of this is the collaboration between The Female Drive and Areto Labs tracking online abuse during Grand Prix weekends. While they do talk about “toxic” and “severely toxic” comments (check out their Brazilian GP graphic here), they also include examples of harmful content so that there’s no room for debate over what they generally deem inappropriate and hateful. Additionally, they have other posts that more directly showcase what harassment and online abuse looks like (and they include content warnings, which I’m sure folks appreciate).

I’m not saying every account (especially teams) should repost every horrible thing that shows up on their pages all the time to prove a point — though sometimes that can be effective in particular contexts. But providing specificity in cases like this ends up being far more potent in the long run than simply saying that something is vaguely “toxic.” Let's allow Britney Spears reclaim the word and try something else.

How Does It Feel to Live My Dream, Simone Ashley?

I considered just putting this anecdote in the Other People Talk section, but considering it was an intersection of about 18 different interests of mine, it was worthy of its own shout-out: Bridgerton star and sartorial baddy Simone Ashley mentioned in her British Vogue cover story that she met her current partner while attending the Monaco Grand Prix in May. (And no, it's not Jacob Elordi.) Friends, this is a romance novel come to life!!!!!

Here’s the thing: There was a small kerfuffle during that particular GP around if Simone Ashley was being rude to Martin Brundle when he tried to get a grid walk interview with her and she turned him down. (As I’ve already established, I’m not particularly concerned with Martin Brundle’s ego. It’s also become abundantly clear to me that there’s an ongoing breakdown in communication between how F1 talks to these famous people’s entourages about how grid walks work and what access looks like. It just makes no sense to me why certain fans don’t seem to understand the concept that these people are just there because they’re rich celebrities. It’s not that deep, interesting, or surprising!)

All this to say, it now feels like there was a purpose to her not wanting to talk to Martin: She was instead busy falling in love!!!!! Martin was getting in the way!!!! He was cockblocking the romance novel forming right in front of him!!!!! This is the narrative I choose to buy into!!!! (Also love that Simone Ashley could potentially be dating a rando. It’s giving normal person/famous person trope energy. Good for her!)

Elena Is Reading Up a Storm

The F1 world may be in shambles right now, but you know who’s just doing her own thing? Esteban Ocon’s girlfriend Elena Berri, who continues to post all sorts of books on her Instagram Stories. Admittedly, her initial mentions of these books left me worrying for a whole week that she and Esteban had broken up, but I’m glad to see she’s having a good, ol’ identity crisis like the rest of us. (On a serious note, if she really is going through something, I hope she has the help and support she needs to work through it.)

Her recent picks are a bit of a self-help #girlboss starter pack, but you know what? She can read whatever she wants! Those purchases:

And if you want a little something extra: Perennial fave Carmen Montero Mundt is also a reader. She posted an Instagram Story cracking open a copy of The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg.

Like what you see? Check out other recent Engine Failure issues, check out the EF website, join EF’s Patreon, and then forward this newsletter to a friend because you're a nice person who wants to see me ~succeed~:

And if you have tips, suggestions, theories, intel, gossip, or questions, tweet me, send me an email, or use EF’s anonymous tip box.

Esteban Ocon had a bit of A Weekend™ in Brazil, but today’s PR Patrol is brought to you by our reluctant enemies-to-lovers hero Max Verstappen — who’s decided to put himself squarely back in the “enemies” part of that equation for the time being.

As longtime readers will know, I’ve spent much of this year — both in this newsletter and on Instagram Stories — tracking the PR movements of the ~Max apparatus~. From his sudden affinity for smiley race weekend photos to his cover story in a Sports Illustrated Kids issue, everybody at Max HQ as well as RBR has worked overtime since the start of the year to reposition this man as a once-bratty teenager who’s risen above the carnage of the 2021 season and blossomed into a rough-around-the-edges-but-chilled-out butterfly. The goal has always been to overhaul Max’s image to the public, particularly as a new generation of fans have joined the sport and were especially angered at the end of last year.

Before we jump in, I yet again need to point out that when I talk about PR, I don’t see this as a “bad” thing or a Max-specific one. Every driver has a personal team working on this kind of stuff around the clock (except, presumably, Nyck de Vries, though he’s excellent at doing his own PR), and there are entire departments at every F1 team dedicated to making sure these endeavors go smoothly. Much of what we consider “authentic” about our favorite public figures — F1 drivers, movie stars, TikTok celebs, you name it — is often manufactured in some form or another by an entourage. (For instance, the internet’s boyfriend Chris Evans being named PEOPLE’s Sexiest Man Alive? That is the PR stunt to end all PR stunts!) The hard part for these folks, however, is making it not seem so obvious. All this to say, I don’t blame Max’s team or RBR for being like, “We need to image rehab this guy stat!!!!!” after Abu Dhabi, regardless of outcome. It was a mess for everybody, and there were a bazillion dollars on the line.

So there we were heading into Brazil: Max had already easily won his second drivers’ championship, and Red Bull had also taken home the constructors’ title. The only thing the Flying Dutchman had to do was drive the damn car around Interlagos without inc(h)ident. All of that was well and good — until that fragile PR veneer exploded in the span of a single 10-second radio message.

For those who didn’t watch and haven't been on the cesspool known as Twitter, here’s what happened: After Max’s subpar weekend took a turn for the worse on Sunday (capped off with a Lewis Hamilton entanglement and a subsequent five-second penalty), he found himself just fighting to move into the points. He ended up passing his teammate Checo Perez as things wound down, and towards the end of the race, Checo asked RBR if Max could let him through for the sake of his own placement in the drivers’ championship, where he’s currently locked in a tight battle for second place with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

Well, Max not only didn’t move aside, but he proceeded to say the following over team radio: “I told you already last time, you guys don't ask that again to me, okay? Are we clear about that? I gave my reasons and I stand by it.” (I recommend listening to the audio since it…better illustrates why people online are so pissed.)

No shocker here: Checo didn’t take that well and let his sentiments be known during and after the race, telling the press at one point that “If [Max] has two championships, it’s thanks to me.”

What makes this whole situation even trickier is that this single Max snub blew up approximately a million other things for RBR in a matter of minutes. Suddenly, rumors circulated that Max was acting in retaliation for Checo crashing in Monaco qualifying (which some allege was on purpose) all the way back in May, and then someone posted an unverified screenshot that claims Max’s mother Sophie Kumpen wrote a comment on Instagram about Checo’s cheating scandal (also…in Monaco). F1 YouTuber Aldas has a helpful video dishing on the basics of what might've happened between Max and Checo in Monaco and where that whole line of thinking comes from.

As for RBR, the official response from team principal Christian Horner essentially amounted to “nothing to see here,” though I guarantee that the team’s debrief was probably pretty colorful on Sunday.

Let’s just call it what it is: That radio message was bratty. Max alluded to some sort of “agreement” with Red Bull, but even if that’s the case, this still wasn’t great. On the whole, I don’t believe we learned anything new about the dynamics at RBR, but what that moment did do is set the org back about half a year’s worth of PR work trying to make Max more palatable to F1’s larger audience and to dispel long-persistent rumors of bad behavior at the team.

If I’m on the PR teams for Max and Red Bull, I’d probably rather gouge my eyes out, roll them over hot coals, and stick them back in again than deal with the headaches that this singular radio message will create for at least the next four or five months. Every media narrative heading into the 2023 season is definitely going to be centered on this moment, and the team has to start all over again with crafting a new arc for Max and his partnership with Checo. Of course, the question is, what do you do when the star at the center of everything just won’t play ball?

Max has certainly had a few moments of rudeness on the radio and in interviews this season (which is part of his brand), and the recent shenanigans over commentator Ted Kravitz’s comments were already creating controversy. But this further concludes that the Max Verstappen at the end of the 2022 season is the Max Verstappen we’ve always known — which is news to some folks but not to most. For a part of the F1 fandom, that’s just fine; the vast majority of Max fans will see this latest ordeal as a slight lapse in judgment (or may even say this is an example of why they love him). Meanwhile, Max haters will continue to despise him, and this only added fuel to that long-simmering fire. (I’ll also add that data extraordinaire @RacingKate noted on Twitter that Max lost an unusually large number of Instagram followers right after this incident and didn't quite gain them back quickly like many drivers and teams do post-scandal. Checo, on the other hand, has seen an uptick of around the same amount.)

For his part, Checo is pretending to move on quickly because he really doesn’t have any other choice if he wants to keep this RBR train moving. Christian Horner will act like he still has no idea what we’re talking about in the future, and Helmut Marko will continue to sacrifice the innards of talented young drivers to whatever river demon he worships. Such is the way of the world. 

The team released a statement today (Thursday, November 17) that essentially attempts to sweep this whole thing under the rug and chalk it up to an unfortunate misunderstanding while also calling out the abuse several people within the team and their families have dealt with over the ensuing week. It was a bizarre move from a PR standpoint considering the fandom had just started moving on and seemed excited to weep over Seb's retirement instead.

But let’s also not ignore that part of the reason Max’s family has seen so much vitriol was because his own mother unnecessarily inserted herself into the discourse — with no direct provocation — to drag Checo’s wife Carola Martinez into this. Multiple things are true at once: Abuse is bad and shouldn’t be tolerated AND often it’s best to stay in your lane. Perhaps Max's mom — and most WAGs and F1-adjacents, if I’m being honest — can learn a thing or two from Carola, who deleted her entire public Instagram feed months ago and only publishes occasional IG Stories of her, Checo, and their kids doing normal shit (like grabbing iced coffee drinks). The only person who was doing less than Carola up until literally hours before this EF issue went out was Max’s GF Kelly Piquet, whom I have many questions about since she’s gone almost entirely MIA on social media since Lula was elected to the Brazilian presidency. However, she decided to come out of obscurity just for us mere hours ago to write something that Instagram translates to, “Focus on your life, your happiness, and be grateful.” A few Portuguese speakers told me though that there’s a more passive-aggressive “mind your own business” tone to it. Hmm, perhaps she can have a chat with her quasi-mother-in-law.

Overall, this little ordeal makes me curious about what’ll happen if the Red Bull team hits any form of a performance slump or backslide in the near-future. If this is what we see from Max when he’s a two-time world champion who just won that second title handily, I’m mighty intrigued by who he becomes in the face of true adversity on the grid for the first time in a while. I don’t really know if or when we’ll see that, but y’all know me: I’m a messy bitch who loves drama. Bring it on, RBR. My electric kettle is ready for some tea.

And if Checo needs a pick-me-up, I found this playlist of revenge songs that he could put in his rotation for the next few weeks.

So, a confession: All of this stuff above is what I’d originally written about Max and RBR right after Sunday’s race. I was putting the finishing touches on this late lil’ Max addition, and I was ready to ship this week’s EF issue first thing on Monday for once.

And then Mr. Max Emilian Verstappen had to drop a major GQ profile right in the middle of my Monday morning Hot Girl Walk. I was just trying to strut to the POTUS Bitch Beats playlist in peace, but apparently that was too much for Team MV!!!!! Let’s dive into it.

Speaking of people who also want to gouge their eyes out over this latest incident, give it up for the team at GQ who put Max on their cover 18 hours after the Sao Paulo Grand Prix! Where can I send drinks to GQ’s blameless social media team, who are now dealing with thousands of comments telling them to fuck off for posting photos from the shoot?

Before we jump in, for those who don’t know how media operates: This profile was months in the works; it’s likely that GQ’s decision to drop it now was just a product of incredibly (and hilariously) bad timing. Here they were thinking they’d publish this big profile after both Max and Red Bull got their championships locked up, and instead, they walked into an absolute shitstorm. It happens! Also, I want to note that writer Daniel Riley said that this article contains interviews spanning from the middle of the 2021 season to the present day.

I miss counting things off with numerals, so that’s how I’m going to organize my thoughts on how this profile played out:

1. Overall, I’ve been incredibly complimentary of GQ’s F1 coverage on numerous occasions in EF (and I even complimented them on a story below in the Fit Check section that came out before this Max mess!), but I have to say: This profile, while exquisitely written, is a relatively uncritical and redundant look at Max. I don’t think there’s a single anecdote in here I haven’t read or heard elsewhere at least a few times before, including on my own podcast. (The difference, of course, is that I had zero access to Max or the Red Bull team, whereas writer Daniel Riley presumably did — and I was still able to relay these same stories, albeit in maybe only slightly less detail.) I get that this feature’s main audience is the millions of Americans who don’t know F1 like I (or all of you) do, but to me, this problem showcases a certain amount of Max/RBR interference (whether from Max himself and/or the publicity teams around him) than a major lapse on Riley’s part. 

I love a lot of Riley’s work, like this fantastic profile he did for GQ last month on actor Paul Dano, a personal fave. He also wrote some of my favorite coverage of the Miami Grand Prix. In other words, when given unfettered access and opportunity, the man knows how to write about Formula 1 in an interesting, unique way that even hardcore fans like myself can enjoy and learn from. And to Riley’s credit, he did write that Max “has insouciant blue eyes and naturally pursed lips that contribute to his rap as a cold-blooded killer.” I don’t think even my SAT prep course in high school covered the word “insouciant.” That’s some Scripps National Spelling Bee shit.

When it comes to wayward profiles, I don’t put blame on a singular person; cover stories like this for major outlets go through a writer, numerous editors, and a bunch of other folks for sign-off. I don’t know where the wheels fell off along the editorial pipeline here, but I’m sad that this piece didn’t give us a truly new or fresh look at Max (a missed opportunity for him, in my opinion) or give Daniel Riley the ability to fully flex his writerly muscles. Much can be said about GQ’s cover story on Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz earlier this fall, but at least had a little bit of flair. (I’d still posit that the Vanity Fair piece on Lewis Hamilton was the most eye-opening of the American media’s recent spate of driver profiles, though the New Yorker feature on Toto Wolff from earlier this month is god-tier.)

2. I have complex feelings on the sections of this profile dealing with Max’s father Jos. On the one hand, I think Daniel Riley did as good a job as anyone at painting why Max, in his own words, is so deeply bonded to his dad. Having spent much of my childhood and early adolescence in the car with my mom driving to school, the bus stop, and extracurriculars, I can say without a doubt that those were some of my favorite moments growing up and a major thing that solidified the close relationship we have today. 

And yet, I hate that we’re yet again given a folksy version of that well-known tale where Jos left Max at a gas station as a kid following a bad race and it’s treated like some sort of incredible lesson from father to son. More than that, I’d posit that this profile makes it seem like a ~good thing~ that Jos Verstappen is the Kris Jenner of motorsports parents. Momager WHO?

3. I’ve gotten quite a few questions about the styling of this shoot, namely GQ’s decision to have an all-white cover for Max and the fact that he’s wearing a few brands that aren’t AlphaTauri. (The shoot was styled by Kate Phelan btw.) A few things that came to mind:

  • Personally, I don’t think we have to read too much into some of this: Max can’t model and probably doesn’t want to model. I’m not saying that as an insult but instead as a statement of fact as someone who struggles to take a basic Instagram grid shot. As such, the publication was extremely limited in posing as well outfits that would work. (Also, I’m sure they were under some kind of time crunch, as is always the case with F1 drivers and famous people at large, so the simpler the fashion and the set, the better.)

  • It was a smart move to stick with basics when it came to Max’s clothing and styling. There are many reasons why it’s for the best that Max isn’t a Ferrari driver, including that I can’t imagine this man ever enthusiastically trying to make those ridiculous racer outfits work. Max has no ability to be anyone other than Max, and in these photos, he looked like…Max.

  • I see the cover less as white as in ~angelic~ and more as in futuristic and F1 garage-like, which seemed to be the basis of the shoot presented in the other photos we got in the spread. I know y’all wish I had something spicier to say here, but sometimes art is exactly what you think it is! It isn’t that deep with Max in some respects, and that can be a good thing.

I’m sick of talking about widespread controversies, so let’s dive into fashion. Lewis continued his reign of the F1 fashion grid, wearing looks by Craig Green, Raf Simons, Fendi, and Kenzo throughout the weekend.

Something of note: At least one Lewis Hamilton style account I follow put forth that not only did Eric Mcneal (not Law Roach) style Lewis’ entire Brazil trip, but he also messaged back and forth with this account to help identify clothing items. Very cool! We’ll come back to Eric in a second.

Among the many fits, Lewis rolled up to his honorary Brazilian citizenship ceremony in an absolute banger from Burberry.

Two thoughts on this suit:

1. While I love it, I wish he’d gone with a Brazilian designer given this specific occasion. It would’ve been so cool if he’d showed up with an up-and-coming name instead of one of the most British fashion brands to ever live. Burberry is the British stiff upper lip personified and is currently undergoing another identity shift, but hey, partnering with someone like Lewis makes sense.

2. There was some debate online around if Eric Mcneal or Law Roach styled this outfit before Eric came forward. I’ve been curious about Lewis’ increasing amount of work with Eric over the course of this season. Is that an issue of Law getting too busy, Lewis just liking working with Eric, Law and Eric working something out, Lewis not vibing with Law’s vision anymore, or a combo of factors? It really could be anything.

Let’s chat about Law Roach’s busy schedule. On top of still being the go-to stylist for celebrities like Zendaya and Kerry Washington and winning a CFDA award, Law announced a new client this month: Lindsay Lohan, who wore this very loud (and in my opinion, A+) Akris suit to kick off her Falling for Christmas press tour. He’s also very publicly working on her looks for the rest of her holiday movie shenanigans. In other words, Law Roach is making the Lohanaissance's visual aesthetic happen.

One very good reason why I find this absolutely hilarious: Law and Lindsay actually had a little tiff back in 2019 around the Met Gala. It ended with Law saying, “I don’t know her!” about Lohan during a red carpet interview. Well, to state the obvious, it appears that he does, in fact, know her, and she’s paying him a boatload of money to make her look good during the most pivotal part of her career in over a decade.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, the man just dropped a Hervé Léger collab last week. If I had to pick an F1 WAG most likely to wear these looks, I’d actually vote for Elena Berri with maybe a few Sandy Dziwiszek-esque outfits sprinkled in.

Speaking of clothing lines, Pierre has a knit collection with AlphaTauri, which is funny considering he’s no longer their driver in a matter of weeks. This man has been on this team on and off for five years and they only just now got around to giving him a lil’ something to design? Really?

Anyway, now’s your chance to buy a basic $467 blue knit turtleneck that I could get from 20 other retailers for a fraction of the cost. I wonder if Pierre blessed every individual piece with his BDE…

Max Verstappen’s profile aside, I’ve said on multiple occasions that GQ is doing some of the best consistent F1 coverage over here in the States as far as general interest and lifestyle media outlets go, and this interview about fashion with Zhou Guanyu is no exception.

The biggest takeaways as they relate to the interests of Engine Failure:

1. We got official confirmation that Zhou has a partnership with Prada. This will surprise…literally no one who reads the fashion sections of EF. We’ve known this on the DL since March.

2. Zhou doesn’t have a stylist and picks out everything himself. This is actually really cool in the sense that finding and sourcing these fits can be a labor-intensive process, so it’s obvious that Zhou has a lot of passion and genuine interest in fashion. Again, we knew this! It's just fun to hear him talk about it.

3. The man is a huge fan of Rick Owens and follows his eponymous line closely. Owens is sometimes referred to as ~the Lord of Darkness~, so all of this is tracking given how much black Zhou wears on a weekly basis. You can read more about Owens here and learn about his wild 2016 menswear show scandal here.
It’s been pretty quiet as far as WAGs in the paddock go; Tiff really took one for the team in Brazil. Actually, I’d argue that quite a few partners have been relatively quiet in recent weeks, with Carmen’s OOTDs, Elena's vibe-y shots, and Isa Hernaez's gifted and sponsored content holding down the fort. Given what I’ve seen on Instagram, Abu Dhabi is going to be a much louder affair.
Additionally, in case you were wondering: Several WAGs got dark red nails for the start of fall, only to revert to a wide range of colors. (If you want my favorite dark red shade — because of course you do — Olive & June’s Obsessed is where it’s at. You’ll need three coats though.)
We mentioned Naomi Schiff in the last newsletter talking about her work with Nadine Merabi, but we haven't discussed her overall style in a while. She’s still wearing quite a lot of NM (in fact, she wore two different NM ensembles for her Vegas GP launch commentating duties!), but she’s also worn a little Hugo Boss and Gucci, among other brands.

Last on my list of fashion things to talk about: I was admittedly a little thrown (in a good way!) when I saw this Fashionista piece about how “motorcore” and the F1 aesthetic were ~in~. Its writer, India Roby, appears to be a big Lewis Hamilton girly, and I love seeing Formula 1 fans pop up all over the place in the non-motorsports publications I read every day.

Personally, I’m on the fence about whether I fully buy into the idea that this is the trend. I think forecasters are conflating several different motorsport aesthetics; for instance, I’d say NASCAR and Formula 1 bring entirely different sartorial vibes. The F1 paddock isn’t a “gas station sunnies” sort of place, and female fans aren’t looking to dress like grid girls as a general rule. Not to mention, I’ve been incredibly vocal about not taking Ferrari’s fashion line remotely seriously. (This jumpsuit from its most recent collection still offends me, but it offers a needed laugh in our time of darkness.) Chanel put out a much more wearable (though just as expensive) F1-inspired collection this year, but I wouldn’t say a singular fashion show is a “trend.” It’s definitely not nothing though.

If anything, I’d actually say that this recent missive from Sprezza’s Clayton Chambers about the rise of “blokecore” (which mixes fashion with football aka soccer) is infinitely closer to what I think about when musing on the aesthetics of F1 and how consumers make its fashion their own.

Tiff ‘n’ Val spent their week off before the Sao Paulo Grand Prix jetting around Argentina and continuing to live my dream, but let’s talk about something bigger and more meta today. As we’ve discussed in EF (and as anyone who follows Tiff and/or Val online knows), Tiffany has carved her cycling niche over the past year and a half in gravel racing, a new and fast-growing discipline in the sport.

Back in May, Tiffany alluded to a cyclist friend named Moriah Wilson passing away via her Instagram Stories and didn’t go into detail of what had happened. It turns out that the story of Wilson’s death is complicated: A woman named Kaitlin Armstrong is going trial in June 2023 for allegedly murdering Wilson due to romantic jealousy over Colin Strickland, arguably one of the successful cyclists in the gravel discipline. Things got all the more sensational when Armstrong went on the run to Costa Rica following Wilson’s murder and was apprehended three months later, and then it came out that Strickland may have bought the gun she potentially used to shoot Wilson.

The New Yorker published a massive and sprawling report on the case just last week, and the trial has faced delays in recent weeks over a bunch of evidence suppression accusations and media problems. I have an incredibly uneasy relationship with true crime, but if you want something to really sink your teeth into over the next few days, the New Yorker story is it.
Do you know who’s given up on Carlos at this point in the season? Me! So has Ferrari, but they started letting down their drivers months ago. I held onto hope that this man would turn it around on the denim front, but much like Ferrari, consistency's an ongoing problem here. I’ve already taken a peek at the Abu Dhabi media day fit, and shit’s mighty bleak.
Lando makes oil corporations look chic. Renault is splitting into five businesses. More of Law Roach being celebrated. Racing driver Amna Al Qubaisi is on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia. Has the F1 paddock become unsafe for drivers? NYT learned what race engineers are. Here’s who’s directing the Villneuve doc. Willy T. Ribbs talks about diversity in F1 (but not his bestie Chuck Leclerc). Bottas gave Zhou the goss. Formula 1 is being sued over a watch. More on what drivers wear during races. Danny Ric’s looking ahead to 2024. F1 drivers as random cats. Vegas wants to be the F1 capital of America. George Russell isn’t into hobbies right now. Formula 1 loves ~the cloud~. A very Hollywood woman just got hired by F1. The most expensive F1 cars sold at auction. Alex Albon incognito. The new F1 exhibit is going to Madrid. Formula E is overhauling attack mode. You can get an F1 all-access experience for…$1 million. Toto Wolff goes all-in on a Merc rebound. Should Max leave F1 to act? Nelson Piquet is being…normal as usual. Val talks biking. Formula 1 loves crypto. What’s the deal with F1 and sustainable fuels? Remembering Spygate. Lmaaaaoooo Aston Martin says it won’t have a number-one driver in 2023.

Thank you to everyone who wrote into last issue’s Conspiracy Corner question: In an alternate universe, both Mick Schumacher and Nico Hulkenberg were told they're not getting the Haas seat next year. Who's getting it instead? (Wrong answers only!)

People had a lot of opinions on this one (as usual):

  • Elena: A plank of wood with a face painted on it. Haas is committed to having the most boring driver on the grid, and with Logan [Sargeant] [likely] joining Williams, this is the only way to accomplish that.

  • Byrd: Guenther's the real star of that team anyway. It's his time to SHINE.

  • Ysabelle: When Guenther saw DR arrive at the USGP paddock, he knew he needed Horsey McHorse in the Haas seat next year. He's probably calling Gene now trying to pitch the idea.

  • Andrea: Fernando Alonso in glasses and a mustache. This man has been so salty recently that he needs two seats at the same time to try to catch up to his contemporaries (which is starting to seem like everyone who ever has or ever will race). He’s running out of time to do it.

  • Tone: Alanis King. No further notes.

  • Megan: Elon Musk. After meeting Max and Kelly at a "Bolsonaro's Election Was Stolen" rally in Brazil, he will become intrigued by F1 and show up at Gene Haas's door with truck loads of money. Haas will win their first-ever Constructors’ Cup, but Gene will be back in prison for some shady new accounting practices he picked up to hide all of his newfound wealth.

  • Mads: Brad Pitt has purchased the seat specifically to film his new movie.

  • Theresa: Zak Brown. After courting all those young bucks, he got the itch to get back out on the track himself. Haas hopes it will recapture an American image and fanbase with the move.

  • Bee: Romain Grosjean. Time is a flat circle, and we are arriving once again at the beginning.

  • Maya: Haas finally realizes that an American driver in an American team would drive sponsorship, so they bribe the FIA to give Chase Briscoe a super license.

  • Mal: I'm a Haas intern, and here's the tea: They're thinking maybe they'll convince Nigel Mansell to come back.

Today’s question: What did Checo actually do to make Max so vindictive? (Wrong answers only!)

Submit your answer here.

Photo credits: Kym Illman, Mark Sutton, Checo Perez, Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Carmen Montero Mundt, Tiffany Cromwell, Elena Berri, Charlotte Sine, Kelly Piquet, Ferrari, Chanel, Naomi Schiff, Isa Hernaez, Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo, Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri, Mikael Jansson, The Female Drive, Alpine, Jenn Cino, Fernando Alonso, Nyck de Vries, Alex Albon, Logan Sargeant, Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, Jenson Button, and George Russell.
Copyright © 2022 Engine Failure, All rights reserved.

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