FORMULA ONE: Was that really a motor race?
WHAT a sad anticlimax. No doubt the F1 apologists won’t find fault with a mind-numbing race in Shanghai that finished with the protagonists dribbling around behind a safety car.
Formula One grands prix don’t often finish that way, so perhaps we should be thankful for that. But F1 should be trying harder to put on a genuine contest with an appropriate soundtrack and without the manufactured uncertainties of different tyres and compulsory stops.
Thank heavens for MotoGP, where the riders race from lights-out to chequer in a marvellously pure form of combat.
NASCAR, so often maligned by purists, had the good sense to implement a green/white/chequer regulation to try to ensure its races don’t finish with nary a whimper behind a slow-moving safety car.
There will be critics of such an idea. “The cars will need to carry more fuel.” Or…”the race could run beyond telecast times”. Or…”the sun may go down”. Or whatever.
But those at the track in Shanghai and millions more around the world were left unfulfilled when the safety came out a couple of laps from the set 56 lap distance … and stayed out while the Chinese track workers went all Mack Sennett on us as they laughably attempted to remove Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso, replete with blown Renault engine.
Perhaps the safety car ending was a fitting, shallow end. It was produced after a race that provided a lot less than promised, a race in which the two Mercedes cruised to an easy one-two while Ferrari gave a futile chase, and the rest argued over scraps.
Yes, there was some entertaining racing … usually for worthless non-points paying positions. But at the pointy end, the top six didn’t really interact after the first few corners.
Nico Rosberg, who finished second to the rampant Lewis Hamilton, was aggrieved that the Brit appeared to take it easy up front mid race, backing up the Son of Keke almost into the clutches of third-placed Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari. Rosberg was upset that Lewis was selfishly thinking of himself. Okay Sunshine, there is a simple remedy for your issues: out-qualify Hamilton, make a killer start and then YOU control the race.
After a Mark Webber-inspired start which tumbled him from seventh on the grid to 17th, our hope Daniel Ricciardo fought back to finish ninth, making more errors in one race than he made in total last year. Instead of battling with Ferrari and Williams, Ricciardo and team-mate Daniil Kvyat found themselves back with the little kids, Sauber, Lotus and (until they stopped), Toro Rosso. That Red Bull must be a beast. Daniel is already on his third Renault engine (from an allocation of four). So not only are the Red Bulls underpowered when compared to the Mercs and Ferraris, but they are also hand grenades. The next couple of races will be a real test of that almost mandatory smile.
“We got into anti-stall on the start, which hasn’t happened before; we have to look and see what happened,” reported Ricciardo afterwards. “It’s frustrating; that shaped the race and in the traffic we struggled to get by. At least some positives are that we learned a few areas where we need to improve and the smart guys in the team can find a solution. I had a little battle with Daniil, I don’t know if I was optimistic in trying to get past, we were on different race strategies but we’ll sort it out in the debrief. We underachieved today, but hopefully we find something in the next few days and have a better result in Bahrain.”
Until his late engine failure which brought out the safety car, man-child Verstappen was on course for eighth, and after showing some enterprising overtaking skills.
McLaren's Jenson Button was hit with an F1 licence points penalty and demoted to 14th place from 13th after he was judged the guilty party in the shunt with Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado. Bet that penalty really hurt!
SPORTSCAR: WEC opener at Silverstone
MARK Webber had a flash of glory in the first 80 minutes of yesterday’s Six Hours of Silverstone, the opening round of the World Endurance Championship, before his pole-winning Porsche 919 was pushed into retirement with a drivetrain issue.
After six hours, Marcel Fässler, Benoit Tréluyer and André Lotterer took the honours for Audi in the #7 R18 e-tron quattro, but not without a late scare.
A 72-second lead for Fässler over fellow Swiss driver Neel Jani in the #18 Porsche 919 was reduced to just 11 with 15 minutes left on the clock when the #7 car was given a Stop-Go penalty for abusing track limits. This set up a great battle for the final few laps, but Fässler was able to take the win by just 4.6 seconds.
The Audi-Porsche duel was one of contrasts, with the R18 closing up on the twisty parts of Silverstone but then on the long straights the 919s would overtake or pull away.
Fässler and Jani were in scraps a few times during the six-hour race. “I must say this [the battle with Neel Jani] was one of the best fights I have had in my whole career and I really enjoyed this whole race today,” said the Audi ace. “I have to say it was pretty fair from Neel who gave space and I think we raced well together. It was a bit annoying him passing me on the straights like that!”
Jani, part of the second-placed driving combo wasn’t too unhappy “I definitely enjoyed the race with Marcel today, especially as I know we can trust each other driving side-by-side without actually touching. Obviously I couldn’t avoid smiling on the straights each time I went by him!”
Reigning WEC team Toyota took third and fourth.
The WEC is a global challenge played out in eight different countries, including the centrepiece 24 Hours of Le Mans and a further seven six-hour races in Europe, North America, South America, Asia and the Middle East.
Competing already are manufacturers Aston Martin, Audi, Ferrari, Porsche and Toyota and there is strong talk of a race in Australia in the future.
NURBURGRING: Ban on GT3 cars lifted, but speed restrictions imposed
NEXT month’s 24 Hours of Nurburgring will now go ahead with the usual brace of outright contending GT3 cars on the grid following the removal of a ban on these cars racing on the legendary Nordschleife.
The prohibition on GT3 machines was introduced following a fatal crash last month when Jann Mardenborough’s Nissan GT-R GT3 became airborne at the Flugplatz, flipped backwards, and landed in a spectator area during the opening VLN race of the year.
Germany’s motorsport governing body, the Deutsche Motor Sport Bund (DMSB), immediately mounted an investigation into the crash, calling for input with drivers, representatives of the various manufacturers and race organisers, as well as safety and technical experts.
To allow the GT3 cars back – similar machines to those we see racing in the local championship and in the Bathurst 12 Hour – changes will include performance restrictions and speed limits at certain parts of the circuit where there has been a tendency for faster cars to get “air”.
Cars from the top GT classes will be hit with a five per cent reduction in engine performance. Also, to prevent cars getting airborne, a 200km/h speed limit will be imposed in the run up to the fast Flugplatz, Schwedenkreuz and Antoniusbuche sections of the Nordschleife along with a 250km/h limit on the long, flat-to-the-floor Döttinger Höhe straight.
The speed boundaries will be enforced via GPS, with heavy fines for those that break the strict rules.
DMSB chairman and racing legend Hans-Joachim Stuck subsequently proclaimed the changes will allow the Nürburgring 24-Hour race to proceed with the same outright sports cars participating.
However he warned of the likelihood of more technical changes aimed at a long-term fix. “DMSB will closely watch the racing activities and, with a commission of experts, search for appropriate measures to ensure safe and fair motorsport action on the Nordschleife in years to come,” Stuck explained.
He didn’t rule out possible construction work on the iconic racetrack.
MOTOGP: Marquez back where he belongs
After his stumble in the opening MotoGP race of the year in Qatar, reigning world champion Marc Marquez was untouchable as he won the Grand Prix of the Americas from pole position, maintaining his perfect Austin record in the process.
The 2015 victory was his third in a row.
Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso beat the Honda star off the line to opening a slight gap until Marquez got down to business, inexorably hauling him in before powering to the front.
Qatar winner Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) then also found a way past Dovizioso three laps later, but Marquez was 1.8 seconds clear.
He took the lead out to 4.1s, before easing off to win by 2.3s.
The frantic squabble for second was ultimately resolved in favour of Dovizioso but Rossi’s third place means he still holds the barest one-point margin in the title standings.
Andrea Iannone also bought into the fight for second, but he faded as the laps ran down, eventually relinquishing fourth to Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo.
The factory Ducatis of Iannone and Dovizioso ran out of fuel on the cool down lap, after what was the first grand prix since the regulators reduced their fuel allowance by two litres to 22.
Aussie Jack Miller benefitted from a few crashes ahead of him to finish 56 seconds behind the winner in 14th place, collecting his first championship points.
INDYCAR: Power seventh in Louisiana
A great strategy call during a wild and unpredictable Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana on a road course outside New Orleans handed Canadian James Hinchcliffe a victory that looked set to go elsewhere.
Hinchcliffe, driving a Schmidt Peterson Honda, won as the race ended under a full-course caution, with Helio Castroneves, in a Team Penske Chevrolet, in second place.
Hinchcliffe’s team-mate, James Jakes, was third ahead of Simona de Silvestro, in her Andretti Autosport Honda.
First round winner Pablo Montoya in a Team Penske Chevrolet took fourth to retain the lead in the series, 10 points ahead of Castroneves.
Australia’s defending champion, Will Power, finished seventh in another Team Penske Chevy and sits third in points (70) while Hinchcliffe is fourth (65).
Run in fluctuating track conditions after heavy morning rain, was flagged due to the mandated time limit.
Most of the front-runners came to the pits on Lap 33 during a full-course caution, Hinchcliffe’s race strategist ordered the 28-year-old to stay out, where he inherited the lead.
There were just three more green-flag laps until it was called off, allowing Hinchcliffe to fend off Castroneves and the rest of his frustrated pursuers.
SPORTS CARS: Aussie Talbot off to a flyer at Monza
Queenslander Liam Talbot has fired away to a stunning start to his inaugural Blancpain Endurance Series campaign at Monza, first setting the fastest qualifying time in class, then backing it up with a class win in the opening round.
In his first race at the historic circuit, Talbot partnered with experienced Ferrari campaigners Steve Earle and Marco Zanuttini, setting the pace in the early stages before overcoming a challenge late in the race to secure victory.
Talbot will be campaigning the full Blancpain Endurance season with Swiss team Kessel Racing in the Ferrari 458 GT3.
“Surreal is the only way to describe this victory,” Talbot said after as he celebrated. “To be at the legendary Monza Autodrome racing in a Ferrari and coming away with the class win is truly unbelievable. Being my first time at this track and with only two years of racing experience, this result hopefully sets the tone for our 2015 season!”
The team will be looking to build on this early success as it heads to the second round of the series at the Silverstone on the May 23-24.
V8 SUPERCARS: Pye stays in DJR Team Penske Falcon for Perth
DESPITE speculation to the contrary, Scott Pye will stay in the # 17 Ford Falcon FGX for the V8 Supercars Championship round in Perth.
There has been chat that Marcos Ambrose might elect to move back into the driver’s seat again after sitting out the recent Symmons Plains round to give Pye a chance to validate some of perceived failings in the Falcon.
The other development at DJR Team Penske is the announcement of its first major partnership with a Penske-affiliated company.
In Perth, the Falcon will run the colours of MTU, a leading manufacturer of diesel engines and propulsion systems distributed by Penske Power Systems.
V8 SUPERCARS: Got money and the inclination?
V8 Supercars has launched a market tender process for a surrendered Racing Entitlement Contract (REC) ahead of the 2016 season.
An REC is effectively a legal entry into the V8 Supercars series, entitling the buyer to race one car in each Championship event next year and beyond. But it is also a highly enforceable contract to perform, a commitment to put a car on the grid at every race.
If sold, the REC – believed to be the one handed back late last year by James Rosenberg after pulling out of his relationship with Walkinshaw Racing to run a Commodore – will take the grid back to 26 cars.
V8 Supercars says it has already had interest from parties to purchase this REC. Triple Eight may be one bidder as it is yet to reveal how it will expedite running its third car in 2016.
Kiwi team Super Black Racing could also go after its own REC to replace the one it has leased for this season from DJR Team Penske.
And motor sport often has an innate ability to conjure up a rich dad who believes his kiddie can become the next Craig Lowndes, and is prepared to back this dream to the tune of a few million…
Mid last year, V8 Supercars opened tenders for of three surrendered RECs ahead of the 2015 championship season. V8 Supercars reported clear interest but no formal bids.
Two of those three RECs handed in at the end of 2013 – once used by Tony D’Alberto Racing and Triple F Racing – are on the shelf indefinitely. The third, initially surrendered by Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport, was later returned after a court challenge.
The value of RECs has ebbed and flowed according the factors such as the economy and market forces.
In the early 2000s, some were traded for circa $2 million, at a time when the TV deal was strong and teams could make a dividend on investment.
But when Archer Capital bought control of V8 Supercars in mid-2011, the annual dividend to teams quickly fell from over $900,000 per REC to nothing. The market value of RECs plummeted and they became virtually worthless.
With many teams in crisis, Archer recently agreed to change the profit sharing landscape, and owners are now looking at a possible windfall at the end of this year of around $300,000 per car. But for how long?
Still, RECs are certainly starting to increase in value again and there is some hope the present tender will produce a sale, and a reasonable purchase price.
But with the end of the local car industry around the corner and the full impact of the shift from free-to-air TV yet to be felt, none of the smarties are prepared to pay mad money.
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