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Hamilton on pole in China, F1 practices on TSN

Published April 13, 2013

SATURDAY:

Lewis Hamilton will start from pole in Sunday’s Grand Prix of China, with Kimi Raikkonen beside him on the front row.

The rest of the top ten qualifiers: Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosber, Felipe Massa, Romain Grosjean, Daniel Ricciardo, Jenson Buttson, Sebastien Vettel and Nico Hulkenburg.

Mark Webber will start last. Red Bull says that a computer error resulted in not enough fuel  being loaded into his car.

When he stalled out on the course (he was qualifying around 14th at the time – gee, after the two weeks Red Bull just had, what a coincidence, eh?) he didn’t have the required amount of fuel for post-qualifying testing so was sent to the back. 

Vettel will go off ninth, but he and Button will be at the front pretty quickly because they will start on medium tires and the drivers in front of them will have to go off on the soft tires they used in final qualifying.

Click here for qualifying details and the race lineup.

In NASCAR Nationwide Series racing, Kyle Busch won the race at Texas Motor Speedway Friday night. Brad Keselowski was second and Austin Dillon third. The Sprint Cup race from Texas goes tonight.  

FRIDAY:

  It was July 1968, and I was sitting in the coffee shop of the Bayview Golf & Country Club interviewing Carol Mann, a professional golfer who later that day would win the LPGA Supertest Ladies Open for the second year running.

In the middle of our conversation, she interrupted what she was saying to say hello to a guy who was walking past our table. “Hi, Johnny Esaw!” she said.

I knew who she was talking to, of course. Everybody in the country knew Johnny Esaw, or knew his name. He was the sports director of CFTO and the host of CTV’s Wide World of Sports and the voice of the Canadian Football League.

Carol Mann and Esaw exchanged pleasantries and then he kept going and we resumed our interview. Of course, they were to meet again that afternoon when, after playing the final 18 holes, she was awarded the tournament trophy and he interviewed her for television.

I was thinking about this Friday at Rosedale United Church in Toronto during a funeral service for Esaw, who died last weekend at age 87. I was among several hundred mourners – Maple Leafs play-by-play announcer Joe Bowen and the long-retired Brian Conacher were just two from the sports community there – who gathered to salute a media giant who truly was one of this country’s originals.

I didn’t say anything to him that day way back in 1968 and it was only a year or so ago that we sat down to talk about one of his great successes – I wrote at length about it last Sunday on thestar.com and in the Toronto Star on Monday – which was broadcasting the Indianapolis 500 live across Canada for nearly 10 years before ABC went live-to-air with the race in 1986.

But I knew him, if you get my drift, because of what he did for my sport.

He was not only the first television broadcaster to show a race live at Mosport Park back in the 1960s but his – and CTV’s – support of Formula Atlantic racing in the 1970s helped to put that series on the international auto racing map.

So I was thinking about all that Friday as hymns were sung and tributes paid, the most enlightening and emotional delivered by retired figure skating champion, and former MP, Otto Jelinek.

Jelinek told of how he auditioned to be a colour commentator on CTV telecasts of national and international figure-skating competitions and how he wasn’t really very good.

But rather than reject him, Jelinek said, Esaw spent months with him, two nights a week, coaching him on style and delivery.

“He would drive out to Bronte, west of Oakville,” Jelinek reminisced. “I was living with my parents and we would go down to a dark cellar and he would put on tapes of figure skating and work with me on my analysis. He was my mentor.”

Calling him a visionary, Jelinek said figure skating in Canada wouldn’t be where it is today if it hadn’t been for Esaw. “He took what was essentially a recreational sport and made it a spectacle for the masses.”

He did as much, or more, for football, international hockey, horse racing – you name it. He was a national treasure because much of what we enjoy in television sports in Canada had its genesis in him.

The late Chris Economaki, when he would bid farewell to a friend in print, would use the acronym for rest in peace. In that tradition, I’ll end this simply by saying:

RIP, Johnny.

Notes: Blackberry (formerly RIM of Waterloo), which has entered into a sponsorship agreement with Mercedes F1, will sponsor F1 practice sessions on TSN for the rest of the 2013 season. That means on F1 weekends, TSN will broadcast a Friday practice session live, Saturday qualifying and the race on Sunday. Bravo TSN, bravo Blackberry. . . Qualifying will be over in Shanghai by the time you read this (likely . . .) but the three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel had not been particularly quick in either of the two practice sessions on Friday. Of course, we’ve seen that from him before: he lulls his rivals into a false sense of security and then goes out in qualifying and crushes everybody. . .

EARLIER:

Helmut Marko made headlines for himself again this week by telling everybody who would listen that, a) there would be no more team orders at Red Bull Racing after the “misunderstanding” at Malaysia and, b) he really didn’t mean what he said in Red Bull’s own publication about Mark Webber.

Marko does an awful lot of talking for somebody who doesn’t have all that much power at Red Bull. Yes, he is the director of driver development (his official title is motorsport director) but — translated — that means he’s in charge of drivers in the minor leagues.

It’s true that he can make or break the career of a young racer – as was the case with Marko and Canadian Robert Wickens, who got on well with him but was fired after his season in Formula 2 when he didn’t win the championship.

But it’s also true that Marko is not in charge of the Red Bull Formula One drivers. That is part of the job description of the team principal, Christian Horner, who decides who will drive for the team in consultation with the owner, energy drinks gazillionaire Dietrich Mateschitz.

When it comes to the team’s drivers, Horner, for the most part, keeps his own counsel, as does Mateschitz. Which leaves Marko to pick up the phone and talk to the media about no more team orders and who may or may not drive for the team in future (Kimi Raikkonen’s name keeps popping up) and that gives everybody the impression he’s an influential somebody at Red Bull when, in fact, he’s not.

If Marko had the power he pretends to have, Webber would have been gone at least a year ago. But Mateschitz likes the Australian star, as does Horner, so he’s in the team and Marko’s favourites are not and that should tell everybody something.

How do I know this? I have friends in Formula One and I talk to some, or exchange emails with others, frequently.

No more team orders? Ha! There will be team orders, if the need arises. Trust me — regardless of what Marko says.

Whether Vettel will obey them or not is really the question. He said some pretty outlandish things at a news conference in China Thursday but you have to wonder if he really meant them or if he was just testing how far he could go.

Was he being deliberately provocative in order to start a fight with Horner? Does he want to make Horner, or somebody else, the bad guy so he can pull the plug and drive for Ferrari in 2014?

Or perhaps he’s trying to undermine Horner so the team principal is forced to leave. This would open the door for his mentor Marko to take over and actually become a somebody at Red Bull.

However, his disdain for just about anyone in authority came through loud and clear when reporters asked him Thursday about being disciplined for disobeying those team orders. Said young Mr. Vettel:

“Maybe it is a little bit of a dreamland that you all live in, but what do you expect to happen? Make a suggestion!”

Meantime, Marko told the winter issue of the Red Bull corporate publication Red Bull Magazine that Webber couldn’t handle the pressure of a full F1 season and that’s why he’s never won the world championship. Asked about this in recent days, he told a Spanish newspaper that stories about that story were exaggerated.

I have the magazine. Nobody had to exaggerate anything because he said what he said and he said it simply to insult Mark Webber.

Marko and Vettel: nice guys.

Meantime, Jean Todt says there are too many pay drivers in F1.

No kidding.

nmcdonald@thestar.ca

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