Brought to you by TJ13 contributor Rich Walker
The 2015 Russian Grand Prix is in the books!
The on track results at Sochi have determined some mathematical certainties for most 2015 Formula 1 fortunes. With just four races remaining Lewis Hamilton holds a 66 point lead over Sebestain Vettel while his teammate Nico Rosberg lags in third place by another seven points.
Lewis Hamilton’s win puts him level with Vettel’s 42 total career wins; passing the 41 career wins of Ayrton Senna. The next race on the Formula 1 calendar represents a new era for the sport as Hamilton and Vettel pursue the next win milestone of 51, held by Alain Prost. Both drivers believe that they will match Prost. But neither driver believes they can win 49 more races and match Michael Schumacher’s 91. But the historical significance of their standing is not lost, Senna was a benchmark of excellence. As if in lock step, and past Senna’s mark, their epic rivalry begins a new!
Rosberg’s day in Sochi ended in disappointment. A Gremlin’s nasty hand of fate reached into Rosberg’s Silver Arrows to hold his throttle full open. The same Gremlin broke a clamp on Hamilton’s machine in Singapore. Nico must have been devastated to learn that his championship hopes were dashed due to a “throttle return actuator”. For such an arbitrary component, beyond his control to failure, while leading the race, leaves you powerless. I just hope that Gremlin didn’t also rip out Rosberg’s heart! His fly-by-wire Mercedes was saved from a full throttle catastrophe by an interrupt system which activates from the brakes. Rosberg’s main focus now turns to recoup second place in the 2015 F1 Championship.
For Sahara Force India it was a bitter-sweet day. Mexican driver Sergio Perez delivered a much-needed third place finish for the team. It is the teams second podium in only six years with the last coming with Perez’s third place finish at Bahrain in 2014. Perez’s podium at Sochi will surely help raise the hopes of native fans when the Mexican returns for his home Grand Prix on November 1st. The points in the constructor’s championship are critical for him to maintain a lead over Grosjean.
Nico Hulkenburg will find this past Sunday hard to forget. Hulkenburg entered turn 2 on lap 1 with more speed than his cold tires could handle. His tail spun around, ending both his and Marcus Ericsons day. Toro-Rosso driver Maxx Verstappen also suffered a punctured rear tire as a result of the incident yet still finished in the points in 10th place. Perez leads Hulkenburg in the championship by 16 points and Grosjean by 10. Hulkenburgs cold tyre spin could be the difference for 10th place in the drivers championship.
I hope someone at Ferrari is questioning the decision to extend Kimi Raikkonen’s contract for 2016. The 30 second penalty he received for causing a crash with Voltari Bottas was the margin required for AMG Mercedes to lock up the 2015 F1 Constructors Championship. His dive into the side of Bottas’s Williams was a desperate and reprehensible move and an indication of his frustration with his own performance this year . There was no way Raikkonen could have made that turn, even if Bottas was not there. The loss for Williams will probably not cost them a position in the final constructors championship standings. But the move clearly removes points from Bottas’s Drivers standings. Had Bottas finished in third place, and ahead of Raikkonen, he would have been within 5 points of his fellow Finn in the drivers championship. But the four points Kimi earned at Sochi for his 8th place race finish puts him in 4th place overall and now 12 points ahead of Bottas. Kimi’s explanation that he was “a good opportunity” is idiotic.
Additionally, Sebastian Vettel has driven an identical car to 11 podiums while Raikkonen has seen only two. At Monaco Raikkonen qualified behind the two Red Bulls of Kvyat and Riccardo while his teammate Vettel qualified ahead of the two opponents for third starting position. And again, Raikkonen struck a sour note with the Tifosi at Monza and failed to execute his starting procedure at the Italian Grand Prix. If those same Red Bull drivers become available should Kimi get paid to not drive for 2016? I think Ferrari made a mistake signing Kimi Raikkonen for 2016 and it’s time for him to retire gracefully before he gets squeezed into a corner with no exit strategy!
And speaking of Redbull… As the “Master Bridge Burners” of Formula 1, Red Bull has become their own worse enemy. And as Red Bull so goes Toro-Rosso. With the exception of the few decision makers , no one knows what is going to happen. The Formula 1 world has become deaf to the childish rants pouring out of the Red Bull garage. They seem to have withered any goodwill that existed with the other teams.
It is reported that current contracts dictate a cost of $500 million for Red Bull to pull out of Formula 1. Clearly Red Bull would fight any payment to quit F1 and a legal fight could drag it out for years. But Formula 1 needs the marketing juggernaut that Red Bull brings, and clearly Red Bull wants to participate and win.
But if Red Bull disbands there is an upside for the competition . Their drivers would become available; Daniel Riccardo, Daniel Kvyat from Infinity Red Bull and Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz from Scuderia Toro Rosso. The failure of Red Bull would also mean that Adrian Newey and hundreds of seasoned Formula 1 professionals would become available. Their failure would enhance the talent pool across the other teams.
The information surrounding Red Bull’s status is not clear, but the information out of their camp never is. Their public tantrum regarding Renault’s engine performance seems to have spoiled the waters for Red Bull. Renault’s letter of intent to purchase the Lotus F1 Team holds little if no credibility and makes no guarantees. Can Red Bull negotiate a deal with Renault for an engine? If not Red Bull may be left with Honda as their only power option for 2016. A second Honda powered team would provide more engine data for Honda’s development efforts. And for Red Bull, Honda represents an entirely new bridge to build, only to be burnt later! Stay tuned, this story will only get better!
Meanwhile, the Lotus F1 Team is demonstrating “grace under fire”. Each week continues to bring rumors of lock outs, unmet payrolls and now the loss of their number one driver to an American start-up team. Yet, their competitive persistence remains untarnished. Clearly Gorsjean does not want to leave Lotus. Within the first week of being signed by Haas , Romain Grosjean was publicly lamenting his departure from Lotus. But he realizes that the Haas F1 Team provides a golden parachute whose upside potential is open-ended! The sincerity in his comments are a testament to the team culture he is leaving. I think that Romain believes he will return to Lotus some day. But all will be fine if the Haas team meets early success and out competes Lotus for championship points. Imagine the angst Fernando Alonso must feel when he looks at Ferrari’s continued pace of improvement. Grosjean could feel the same way if he finds himself at the back of the grid; on the outside looking in at a successful 2016 Lotus Team. But Renaults lack of commitment to the Lotus deal is enough to assure me that Grosjean made the right decision and Lotus must move backwards just survive!
So sadly, most of the outstanding questions in Formula 1 will not be answered on the track. The racing results for the 2015 F1 season are taking shape. It will take roughly 3 DNF’s for Lewis Hamilton to lose the Drivers championship. Vettel leads Rosberg in the fight for second place by 7 points, and is the only remaining battle of any interest. Aside from that, the season is over! The teams are all safely air gapped in their current position and will finish the year in their current place……
- Mercedes 531
- Ferrari 359
- Williams 220
- Red Bull 149
- Force India 92
- Lotus 66
- Toro Rosso 45
- Sauber 34
- McLaren 19
- Marussia 0
As the Formula 1 circus packs up the Big Top and moves on, Ringmaster Bernie Eccelstone leads the F1 trope to Austin Texas for the United States Grand Prix!
The Americans are doing their part to add to the off-track drama. Austin will be anxious to see Alexander Rossi amid the spectacle of Formula 1. And as interest around The Haas F1 grows, Romain Grosjean will be launched into celebratory status; there will not be enough of Romain to go around! His good looks and French accent will satisfy our “Ricky Bobby” Formula 1 stereo types and he will be embraced warmly! And there are F1 rumors involving Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. Ross is said to be in pursuit of CVC Capital Partners 35.5% controlling interest in Formula 1. What impact would Ross have on Formula 1?
American Formula 1 evangelicals an approaching light of redemption. Our F1 drought ends on March 1st, 2016 when “The Eagle” lands at the Circuit de Catalunya. Until then, we have plenty of racing yet to enjoy and even more to talk about!
With one eye on the present I’ll keep the other on the future. For me the 2016 F1 season starts now!
From America Land – Rich Walker