Let me start by saying that I like Formula One and IndyCar racing just about equally. There is no doubt that IndyCar racing is more exciting – usually – but F1 is more technologically advanced and sophisticated. Kind of like the CFL and the NFL: three-down football is more exciting but the NFL has better players.
There are two things, though, that I like better about IndyCar: qualifying on oval speedways is one-at-a-time on the track and, thus, more democratic. And push-to-pass is more equitable than DRS. More than one car on the track at a time runs the risk of a fiasco like F1 saw on Saturday and, with rare exceptions, there is no way to fight a car under full steam with DRS. The driver being passed is a sitting duck.
F1 has always, it seems, had trouble with qualifying – something, you would think, that should be a no-brainer. But the drivers were screwing around so much that by the time 2003 rolled around, the FIA declared that qualifying would be one flying lap with only one car at a time on the track. That worked well but the drivers didn’t like it and the fans didn’t like it so they went back to everybody out there at once and then, since 2007, the field has been determined by the current knockout-style format.
The reason I liked the single-car format is that the fastest car would be determined by the driver. A couple of warmup laps and then balls-to-the-wall. There would not be any hanky-panky, where teammates would subtly get in the way of opponents to compromise a lap or, as was the case at Monza Saturday, one driver hangs around to get a tow from his partner and before you know it they all are.
F1 can read the riot act all it wants to the drivers but under the current format they will always be looking for an edge. Single-lap, single-car qualifying eliminates that. It’s worth considering again.
And, as mentioned, the DRS “victim” can do nothing. Blocking can result in a crash or a penalty. Push-to-pass can be used by the car being passed to defend, evening things out. It’s up to the driver to decide where and when to use the extra horsepower. Use too much too soon and you’re a dead duck, just like the F1 driver.
Thus endeth today’s sermon.
As I am writing this in the departure lounge at Pearson, en route to the Frankfurt Auto Show for Toronto Star Wheels, I don’t have time (or the information) to pontificate at length on any of the weekend’s races except F1, which I watched Sunday morning. So this column will consist of Notebook Jottings. And not everything is included. I'll try to catch up as the week goes on.
Charles Leclerc reminds me of Nigel Mansell. It took him awhile to get his first win, but once that was out of the way he looks unbeatable. Mansell started more than 60 F1 Grands Prix before winning his first and then he went on to become one of the greats in Grand Prix racing. Leclerc broke his maiden (a horse racing term) last week in the Belgium GP at Spa and then led from start to finish in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Italy, a most popular victory. Monza was packed and everybody – except for Verstappen’s Army – was a Ferrari fan. As mentioned last week, Ferrari is now Leclerc’s team. Teammate Sebastian Vettel has clearly lost interest and the lack of motivation is apparent as his spin early in the race illustrated. This was compounded by his driving back onto the surface in a dangerous manner, hitting our Lance Stroll in the process. This earned him a 10-second stop-and-go penalty and then three penalty points were added to his superlicence. Three more and he will face a one-race ban. I think now it’s not a question of whether Vettel will retire at season’s end but whether Ferrari will want to keep him on for 2020.
Remember when Lewis Hamilton used to run Nico Rosberg off the track and nothing would happen? No penalty? Maybe a warning? Now Leclerc is being allowed to get away with the same things. He ran Hamilton off the track Sunday and should have been penalized. Instead, they showed him a flag telling him he was a naughty boy and not to do it again. The problem with that is, like Hamilton and Schumacher and (on occasion) Vettel before him, Leclerc will become entitled and consider the circuit his own. That’s how people get hurt. He, like the others, is too good to behave badly and the stewards should put a stop to it.
(An aside: speaking of the stewards, they are an unpredictable lot. Vettel definitely deserved to have the book thrown at him at Monza Sunday. But he should not have received anything remotely close to that for what they said was an unsafe re-entry in Montreal. That’s what happens when you have different people serving as stewards at different races; there’s no continuity. Vettel got robbed in Canada but got exactly what he deserved in Italy.)
Hey, remember at the start of the season how palsy-walsy Hamilton was being with Leclerc? That was when Lewis was trying stick it to Vettel and one of the ways he did it was to constantly praise the German’s young Monegasque teammate. “That Charles sure drove a good race; way to go, Charles!” Butter wouldn’t melt in Hamilton’s mouth when it came to talking about Leclerc. Contrast that with the atmosphere in the driver’s cooldown room after Sunday’s Grand Prix. Hamilton ignored Leclerc. It was almost embarrassing, considering what happened just a few weeks ago. Of course, Vettel is finished and Leclerc is now the enemy, so maybe that explains Lewis’s change of behavior.
That walk-through Sunday by Martin Brundle was his worst yet. Absolutely atrocious. Rude (he waded into another’s interview) and too Inside Baseball (interviewing an out-of-work F1 engineer and who cares about that). Brutal. Does Sky TV not have any clout? Knock it off with that total waste of time.
TSN does its best not to interrupt the flow of the race when it inserts its commercials but it screwed up Sunday. Shortly after it started to show the first set of advertisements, Vettel spun, drove back onto the track and hit Lance Stroll, who also spun out and then drove back onto the track, nearly hitting yet another car. You win some, you lose some and, unfortunately, TSN lost Sunday.
There was speculation late in the race that perhaps Mercedes would ask Hamilton to step aside and let Valtteri Bottas have a crack at catching Leclerc. One of the TV announcers wondered aloud whether Hamilton would allow it. Suddenly, Hamilton appeared to lock up and had to take the escape road at Corner One, thus allowing Bottas into second place from where he tried to catch Leclerc. I saw that and I wondered whether Hamilton had done that on purpose. He knew the score, would hate to pull over and let his teammate pass him but, if he screwed up . . . . .
Click here for a full report on the Italian Grand Prix.
Jason Hathaway watched his son being born on Friday morning, promised to bring the little guy home a trophy and Sunday won the NASCAR Pinty’s Series race at Ste-Eustache, Que., the last season of racing at the speedway which will now go for development. Kevin Lacroix finished second and Andrew Ranger was third. Four-time NASCAR Canada champion Scott Steckly, who runs Alex Tagliani and hasn't raced himself for four years, finished 11th after substituting for Tag who was ordered to bed by his doctor. Tag picked up a virus that had a negative effect on his heart so opted to sit out the race on doctor’s orders. Just two races remain in the 2019 Pinty’s season. For a full story on the Pinty’s race, please click here.
As a friend of mine put it, what if they had a race and nobody came? That would describe Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The place was embarrassingly empty. And it was the final race of the regular season, which meant playoff positions were on the line. Remember the good, ol’ Chevy Rock ‘n Roll 400 (or was it 500?) when you couldn’t get a seat in the speedway at Richmond if you didn’t show up a week early? This was a far cry from that. NASCAR made the decision to move the race to September and I couldn’t help wondering why they didn’t run it Saturday, as they did in the beginning? The NFL season opened Sunday and except for Indy 500 time, the city of Indianapolis is a Colts town. The Colts were on the road but they were on TV and you can bet that killed the gate. Of course, the race is often dull, so perhaps there’s some method in this madness. As in, does NASCAR want to get out of Indianapolis? For once, they are second in favour to the Indy cars and that will just not do. In any event, Kevin Harvick won, with Joey Logano second and Bubba Wallace third. Ryan Newman got the final playoff spot. Jimmie Johnson and Daniel Suarez just missed out. I can’t remember the last time Johnson wasn’t in the playoffs. I’m afraid the end of a career is near. For a detailed story, please click here.
Finally, our James Hinchcliffe is featured in the latest issue of ESPN The Magazine. It is the 11th annual BODY issue and features athletes showing off their physiques and talking about their sport. Hinch talks about race drivers as athletes. Click here for the link – but be warned: he’s naked.
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Norris McDonald is the Editor of Toronto Star Wheels. His columns, blogs and feature stories, particularly about motorsport, are industry-leading. He has received awards and citations for his newspaper work and frequently appears on radio and television. In 2014, he became the first journalist to be inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame.