Racing Roundup: F1 result still up in the air

Wolff protest may go to court; Tracy out at NBC, Unser dies and all the rest of the news 

By Norris McDonald Wheels.ca

Dec 13, 2021 11 min. read

Article was updated a year ago

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As what happened in Abu Dhabi Sunday has been dissected every which way but loose, I am just going to make a bunch of statements and ask a bunch of questions. It is useless to write a story or an editorial, because things are still changing. So, here we go:

If Lewis Hamilton is smart, he will tell Toto Wolff to withdraw the appeals, one of which could go all the way to the world court. Regardless of the decision, it will leave a sour taste in everybody’s mouth – if it hasn’t already. Yes, there were all sorts of things that went on in that race that were questionable. But it’s over. In the end, after an incredible season in which the two greatest drivers in the world were tied and it went down to a one-lap shootout, one guy won, and one guy lost. That’s life. It happens.

Have Hamilton, Wolff, the stewards et al. really thought about what will happen if the world court decides that Hamilton won? F1 is on a magical high at the moment. But if Hamilton wins in a courtroom, he will lose in the court of public opinion and that will be far worse. His Hollywood friends will not be impressed, regardless of what he might say to them. And F1’s new fans will say, why bother watching the race because a court will ultimately decide anyway. Liberty Media, which owns the series, has to step in and say: Stop it. And if Wolff refuses to back off, he will show himself to be petulant and a poor sport.

Why in the world do team principals have a direct line to the race director anyway? That would be like Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan being able to dial up the referees in mid-game, suggesting – or arguing against – a penalty. It wouldn’t be acceptable, and it shouldn’t be, either. When our Nicholas Latifi crashed, Mercedes’ Toto Wolff was on the line to race director Michael Masi immediately. “Don’t bring out the pace car, Michael. That would bunch up the field.” To his credit, Masi snapped back later that it was a car race, not a parade.

On the first lap of the Grand Prix Sunday, Lewis grabbed the lead from second place on the grid, but Max went inside and squeezed him off. Lewis cut the corner and when he rejoined, he was well in front. That was Masi’s, and the stewards’, first mistake of the many made. Hamilton should have been made to drop back behind Max – which is what happened a week ago in Saudi Arabia when Verstappen was sent back behind Hamilton not just once but twice for similar infractions.

Masi is an IndyCar fan, I think, because he was determined there would be at least one lap of racing to determine the championship rather than letting the race end under yellow, handing the championship to Hamilton. When they finally took off, Hamilton had the lead, but Max got past him with a half lap remaining. When Lewis saw he was beaten, he quit. He gave up. He finished a corner behind. I couldn’t believe what I was watching. The seven-time world champion, seeing he was going to lose, quit trying.

Lewis should retire. George Russell will be his new teammate next year and will not be a lap dog, as Valtteri Bottas was forced to be on many occasions over the years. If he loses to Russell, it will be over. I think Lewis knows it, too. He’s been a great champion, but it happens to everybody and it’s best to go out on top than to be sent packing with your tail between your legs.

The Star published a story on the sports pages Sunday about how F1 is Canada’s fastest-growing sport. I don’t believe it. Yes, it is more popular than it has been in a long time – the Netflix series Drive to Survive is responsible for much of that – but to say an F1 race that starts at 8 in the morning on a Sunday attracts more viewers than a Leafs game Saturday night is a stretch, particularly since the same race can’t attract a million viewers in the U.S. And if it is true, how come TSN relegates the racing to one of its specialty channels in favour of women’s tennis or British Open golf when there’s a conflict? I would think TSN would go with the sport that attracts the most viewers, wouldn’t you?

One of the greatest F1 seasons in history still hangs in the balance. Please let the result stand for the good of the sport today and in the future.


Although the stories all said that Paul Tracy, a champion IndyCar driver who went on to become a champion IndyCar analyst and colour commentator, was fired, that is not exactly what happened.

His contract with NBC, renewed on a yearly basis, was up for renewal and the U.S. network opted not to extend it any longer.

There are two reasons for this state of affairs. 1) he signed a contract to race in the Ray Evernham-Tony Stewart Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) without asking permission. The SRX is also televised by a rival network – CBS. He was going to be whacked a year ago when this happened, but the IndyCar season had started and when word leaked out that Tracy was toast, the fans rebelled and NBC backed down. This is the off-season and while fanatics are keeping track of what’s happening, the vast majority of fans have tuned out till the 2022 season starts and, by then, his replacement will be in his seat.

2) Although there has not been (and probably won’t be) a formal announcement, James Hinchcliffe appears to be moving on with his life and a career in public relations and broadcasting awaits. The betting has Hinch taking over from Tracy alongside Townsend Bell and Leigh Diffey.

Tracy, a.k.a. the Thrill from West Hill, the Chrome Horn, etc., is listed as being from Scarborough but hasn’t lived there for years. He’s a neighbour of Jeremy Roenick in Phoenix and when I got him on the phone the other day to talk about this, he was pooped. “Give me a second to catch my breath,” he said. “I just carried a table up some stairs.”

Now, I get along pretty well with Paul, so I can get away with being a wise guy every now and again. Plus he’s in Phoenix. If I said this in Toronto, or Indianapolis, he’d probably put me in a headlock. But I couldn’t resist.

“I thought you were one of the best-conditioned athletes on the planet,” I said. “I thought you were out riding your BMX bike every day and could run a marathon, if necessary.” And he said:

“I’m just not in shape to carry a table up a flight of stairs.”

And that’s what those of us who are Tracy fans will miss hearing him say on NBC IndyCar telecasts, which is a shame. He’s not really bummed out, though.

“I filled in for Wally Dallenbach Jr. eight years ago as a favour and until this happened I was still there,” he said. “So, I don’t have a lot to be upset about. I don’t have to worry about money so this will let me do some of the things I want to do but I’ve been putting off.”

He’s of two minds when it comes to Hinchcliffe taking his job.

“I’m a Canadian and he’s a Canadian,” Tracy said, “so it will be kind of like passing the torch. But on the other hand, he should still be racing. He’s good for the sport and he could still drive those cars. In my day, you had 950 horsepower and it was like you had a rocket strapped between your legs. It separated the men from the boys. Nowadays, the engines are all tuned to be the same and that’s why the qualifying times are so close. I think he’s making a mistake to stop driving so soon. He could race till he’s 40.”

And what about Tracy and racing?

He said he’ll do the SMX Series again next summer and he wants to race in the LMP3 class in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. “Not as a professional,” he emphasized. “But I have to talk to IMSA. You need a silver licence to race in that class and mine is gold. I just want to have some fun and that’s a good class to do it in.”

And if for some reason NBC needs somebody to fill in during an IndyCar race next season, as happened eight years ago, they should call Paul Tracy.

“Yeah, I’d consider doing it,” he said. “You never know how something like that will work out.”

Speaking of Hinchcliffe, he and Robert Wickens will be part of a panel that will select two 2022 Team Canada Scholarship winners to represent our country in England next October at the annual Formula Ford Festival and the Walter Hayes Trophy race, the two biggest Formula Ford races in the world. Mark Webber, Jenson Button and Johnny Herbert are just three of many Formula One drivers who launched their careers in Fords. Danica Patrick finished second in the Festival one year, catching the eye of Bobby Rahal. Some of the young Canadians who won the scholarship and have gone on to make motor racing a career include Garett Grist, Parker Thompson and Zach Robichon. At one time, Ron Fellows, Kyle Marcelli and I were on the selection committee. The man who should get all the credit, though, is Brian Graham of Brian Graham Racing, who started the scholarship a number of years ago. Go to TeamCanadaScholarship.com for details, If all the info isn’t there, keep checking back because it soon will be.

Al Unser


Al Unser, brother of Bobby, Louie and Jerry and father of Al Jr., died last week after fighting liver cancer for – wait for it – 17 years.

He was born on May 29. 1939, and when he won his first (of four) Indianapolis 500s on May 30, 1970, the assembled press corps sang Happy Birthday to him when he arrived for the winner’s press conference. I was embarrassed, because where I came from there was no cheering in the press box. You don’t see the parliamentary press gallery starting to cheer when a bill is passed so I never saw any reason for anybody to cheer anything. But they did it again when he won the race in 1971 – both times in the Johnny Lightning Special – and so I figured if you couldn’t beat ‘em you might as well join them, and I sang along for the last two lines.

Al was more successful than his brother Bobby, winning one more 500, but Bobby went on to have a wonderful post-race driving career as an announcer (ABC and CBC) because he could speak well. Al had a little trouble when it came to grammar. Bobby had nothing to worry about there.

In 1965, Al made his first start at Indy in one of A.J. Foyt’s spare cars. He crashed, but he proved himself to be a comer. Said A.J., 86, when told of Unser’s death at 82: "I was really sorry to hear about Al Unser. We were able to catch up in July at the 4-time winners deal [photo shoot] we did at Indy and I'm glad for that. I always thought a lot of Al, even when he first came to Indy. That's why I was happy to give him his first ride there. He was a nice person and well-respected because he was a cool, smart race driver. Always knew what he was doing, knew how to take care of a car. He was very smart and when he was winning you had to be because racing was a lot more dangerous back then. I always had a lot of respect for Al. It's a sad day."

World Racing Group, parent group of the World of Outlaws winged sprint cars, WoO late-models, DIRTcar big-block modifieds and so-on will start two new series in 2022 – wingless sprint cars and midgets. Their point fund for the big blocks is up to $200,000, which is a lot of cabbage. I think WRG is aiming to take over from the U.S. Auto Club (USAC) as the dominant open-wheel racing organization group in the U.S. USAC, of course, is not taking the challenge lying down. Any driver who can win all three of the USAC championships – Silver Crown (championship dirt cars), sprint cars and midgets will win a $300,000 bonus in addition to the basic payoff at each race. Any driver who wins two of the three will win $150,000-plus. I’m seriously thinking of making a comeback. This journalism payoff doesn’t even come close.

NHRA Funny Car champion Ron Capps has started his own team. . . . . Tony Stewart has park4ed his famous No. 14 sprint car for the time being because he’s just too busy with other projects. His World of Outlaws No. 15 entry will be piloted by Donny Schatz. He’s started a two-car NHRA drag-racing team with his wife, Leah Pritchett, and Matt Hagan as drivers, he co-owns Stewart-Haas Racing on the NASCAR Cup circuit, owns the All-Star Circuit of Champions sprint car series and owns Eldora Speedway. Busy boy. Of course, he just can’t give up everything. He’ll be in the Rumble at Fort Wayne indoor race this weekend being held at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. He’s won the feature there 11 times despite the efforts of some of the other racers who always try to get him drunk on the Friday night. He usually knows when to stop while the others are often hung-over, which might explain why Stewart wins as often as he does. . . . . Takuma Sato will drive for Dale Coyne Racing on the IndyCar circuit in ’22. . .

Al Unser Al Unser Al Unser Al Unser

And that’s it for me in 2021. Please pick up the Saturday Star for my/our (I got some help this year from friend John Bassett) Top Ten Motorsport Stories of 2021. You will find it in my column in Toronto Star Wheels on Jan. 1. I will return to wheels.ca in mid-January, a week before the Rolex 24 at Daytona. And here’s a surprise. George Webster’s RaceFans TV Listings will start to appear on wheels.ca every Monday once I resume writing in January. Have a Happy Holiday, everybody, and Merry Christmas.




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