• Jim Hallahan

Racing Roundup: Hamilton was Sick, Shouldn’t have Raced 

Nicholas Latifi interview; McLaren in more trouble, Jim Hallahan dies and all the news

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald December 14, 2020
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It makes you wonder where the brains are in Formula One. Actually, now that I’ve looked at that line in print, I have come to the conclusion that there are no brains in F1.

In just about every major league sport in the world, the league has medical staff on duty to determine if athletes are well enough and strong enough to play. As we’re Canadians, we are particularly familiar with the NHL’s rule that if a player appears woozy, they have to spend time in a “quiet room” and then are questioned and tested by doctors before being allowed to return to play. They don’t have to be checked into the boards, either. Guys with the ‘flu have been checked out.

So here we have the case of Lewis Hamilton, who finished third in Sunday’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix behind the winner, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, and second-place finisher Valtteri Bottas, his teammate at Mercedes. In an interview he gave a reporter on Saturday, Lewis talked openly about his bout with COVID-19 and how he’d lost a lot of weight in the two weeks since he tested positive and that he felt very tired.

And yet the very next day, they let him strap into a Formula One car and drive 200 miles an hour (in places) around a tight and twisty circuit for about two hours. Did it not dawn on anyone that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea? What if he became so fatigued or dehydrated that he couldn’t drive the car properly and inadvertently caused a crash? What if he’d hurt himself? I could go on.

Hamilton said he was feeling the respiratory effects of the virus (COVID attacks the lungs) and that he felt drained. “So I’ve been trying to sleep as much as I can but recharging is not as easy as it has been in the past,” he said Saturday. “I lost a good amount of weight so I’m not 100 per cent the same as I was the last time I raced.”

Hamilton, of course, went on to say that he would give it his best shot Sunday anyway. Most drivers will talk through walls of fire to race. But what was the point? He’d already won the world championship and led the team to its usual constructors’ championship so it didn’t matter if he was out there or not. By sitting out, Lewis would have helped his body to recover, George Russell would have gotten another shot in a good car and Jack Aitken could have had another drive filling in for Russell at Williams.

But no. His ego, frankly, wouldn’t let him sit out. He’s Lewis Hamilton and he’s the best and he’s Superman, don’tcha know? By insisting on going out there, Hamilton treated COVID like it was a bad cold. But it’s more than that. People look to him because he’s world champion. They are influenced by what he says and does.

That’s why other sports take those sorts of decisions out of the hands of the athletes.

Toto Wolff, his employer, should have taken the initiative and kept him out of the car. If Hamilton had refused to listen, Wolff should have called in the FIA medical delegates who are always on the scene. They are there, primarily, to treat drivers in case of an emergency but they could have declared his state of health an emergency and ordered him to bed.

Prof. Sid Watkins, the pioneer of motorsport medicine who died a few years ago, would have done that.

Why? Because this is what Hamilton said after the race: “I’m destroyed. I didn’t feel good in the car, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so blown. I’m just thankful it’s over.”

Does that sound like somebody who should have been out there?

Nope.

Talking of no brains, the F1 drivers took their usual two or three minutes before the race Sunday to kneel (some of them) and pay tribute to minorities, stressing that everyone in the world must be treated with respect.  I wonder if they knew the gulag wasn’t far off, where the UAE political prisoners are kept.

The UAE (United Arab Emirates, of which there are seven), the most liberal of the Middle East dictatorships, is still an autocracy. The Royal families make the rules and woe be anyone who speaks out against them. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press is almost non-existent. If you keep your nose clean, you can lead a fairly normal life. But if you do or say anything out of line, you can be thrown in jail where solitary confinement and torture is the norm and you are not allowed legal counsel and your family can be threatened.

Saudi Arabia is the worst, of course, and is where F1 is scheduled to race in 2021. Will the drivers hold their pre-race ceremony there? And if they do, what really will they be saying? Thank goodness the W Series, the all-woman single-seat series launched two years ago with the aim of getting a female driver into F1, took a pass on Saudi Arabia. The W. Series will race in support of eight F1 events next season and were invited to Riyadh but said no. That might be because the woman who petitioned the dictators in Saudi Arabia two years ago to allow women to drive there has been in prison ever since.

Verstappen won the pole Saturday, with Bottas second and Hamilton third. That is how the race started on Sunday and how it ended. Our Lance Stroll of Montreal was 10th while Toronto’s Nicholas Latifi was 17th. More about Latifi in a moment.

Meantime, for a complete story on the race, please click here

NOTEBOOK JOTTINGS 

This will be my final online auto racing column of 2020. I traditionally take a break at this time of year but will be back in late January for the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Daytona 500 before easing off in anticipation of March, when all the series will have their seasons up and running. My Top Ten auto racing stories of 2020 will be published in Toronto Star Wheels on Sat., Dec. 26. Another motorsport reporter is also taking some time off. My old friend Erik Tomas of Raceline Radio fame wound up his live broadcasts for the year this weekend and now has four programs lined up with Year-in-Review-type reports, including some of his best interviews. You can hear them on Dec. 20, Dec. 27, Jan. 3 and Jan. 10. Raceline is heard across Canada, so listen to those special shows on your favourite radio stations at the usual times.

At Abu Dhabi, Charles Leclerc wore a helmet with a sign on it that thanked Sebastian Vettel, who left for Aston Martin (formerly Racing Point) after the GP. Why? . . . . . The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix marked the final race for Chase Carey as CEO of Formula 1. He will remain chairman of the company but hands over his CEO role to Stefano Domenicali. . . . It was the last race in F1 for Kevin Magnussen, who was dropped by Haas and has signed to go sports car racing in the United States. Romain Grosjean is also finished, as are Sergio Perez/Alex Albon (one will drive for Red Bull next year, but which one?) and Daniel Kvyat (again)Oh, and if Bottas hadn’t performed well, after being shown up by Russell last week, he might have been out on his ear too . . . . .  Perez, who won the GP at week ago, lasted about a lap Sunday before a gearbox issue eliminated him. . . . . . Silverstone  in England is naming its front straight after Lewis Hamilton . . . . . Helio Castroneves has been inducted into the Penske Racing Hall of Fame. . . . . McLaren is selling off another part of the team, this time to American investors. McLaren finished third in the constructors’ championship Sunday, which means money but not as much as other years. But that team needs an audit and then an independent accounting firm to handle the cash flow. They’re spending way too much money. . . . . I know that I am a glass half-full kind of guy (which is what 55-plus years in the newspaper business will do to you) but last week Audi dropped out of Formula Electric and this week it’s BMW. The rest will be soon be following and Formula E will be finis. . . . . . The Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals will go ahead in Tulsa, Okla., Jan. 11-16. Eight million midgets and drivers turn up and it takes them four nights and most of Saturday to cut the field down to 24 for the A-Main Saturday night. NASCAR drivers, one or two IndyCar drivers, drag racers – everybody shows up. The Chili Bowl can be seen in Canada on any cable system that carries REV-TV . . . . . The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy motorcycle races set for May 29-June 12, 2021, have been cancelled. Guess why? . . . . . Donald Davidson, historian at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, will retire on Dec. 31. . . . . . Quebec’s Mario Gosselin, who’s been an owner in NASCAR for years, will move back behind the wheel next February at Daytona when he straps in for the Xfinity race there . . . . . .  Colton Herta will drive the Gainbridge-sponsored IndyCar for Andretti Autosport next season. This is the car that our James Hinchcliffe raced in the last three events of the 2020 season . . . . . The Auto Club Speedway round of the  NASCAR Cup season won’t be held in California in 2021. That track is being reconfigured into a short oval so their race will be moved to the Daytona Speedway road course for one year only. . . . . Juan Montoya will drive in the Indianapolis 500 for Arrow McLaren SP. It will be a one-off. . . . . .

The Hoosier Hundred is back on the USAC Silver Crown (Dirt Champ Cars) schedule again. It will be held at the Indiana State Fairgrounds May 27, three days before the 500.  Two years ago, the series got the bum’s rush when the Indiana State Fair Board decided to turn the mile track into a course for horse racing only. Because of this problem and that, the race has been extended twice now. Hopefully, we can get across the border by then. I’d like to take it in one more time. . . . . . Speaking of the border, the NASCAR modified tour will visit New York’s Oswego Speedway twice in 2021, on June 12 and again on Labour Day weekend. It would be nice to take in at least one of those shows. . . . . Tony Stewart’s Superstar Racing Experience, a six-race series that will be seen on the CBS Sports Channel, will race at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis and Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in Ohio next summer and feature Stewart, Tony Kanaan, Paul Tracy, Helio Castroneves, Bobby Labonte, Willy T. Ribbs, Mark Webber and Bill Elliott. Four tracks remain to be named. Stewart is running the series in partnership with Ray Evernham.

A household name in both Ontario and Maritimes racing circles, Jim Hallahan, a member of the Maritime and Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame, has died. He was 90. Hallahan started racing jalopies in the 1960s and was two-time modified champion at Pinecrest Speedway near Toronto in 1958 and ’59. He went late-model racing in a Studebaker but when it wouldn’t run, he chopped off the front end and welded on a Chevrolet’s. He then won the Pinecrest late-model championship in his ”Studelet.” Ivan Forbes, who owned Forbes Chev-Olds in Dartmouth, offered Jim a job selling cars during the week and a stock car to race on the weekends. Forbes would pay the expenses and Hallahan could keep his winnings, so Jim moved the family to Nova Scotia. He raced for years, helped his children launch their careers and was instrumental in the creation of the MASCAR touring series and the Carquest Pro stock tour. He was also a tireless worker for charity. R.I.P., Jim.

Jim Hallahan

Jim Bray of Brantford, named to the Motorsport Hall for induction in 2021 – he was the second Canadian to make the field for the Daytona 500 and continues to field cars for others to race in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series – called to complain about my Toronto Star Wheels column a week ago in which I suggested that everybody 80 and over should have to take a driver’s test every two years. Jim said he had to take a driver’s test five years ago, when he was 83, after he had the “audacity to pass a cop on the 403. He gave me a speeding ticket, which meant I had to take a test. I got in the car with the examiner and I drove two blocks and the guy said, ‘What are you doing here? Turn around and go back. You’re fine to drive.’” Jim was also proud to point out that a year ago, when he was only 87, he passed the in-air test needed to renew his pilot’s licence. Way to go, Jimbo.

Jim Hallahan

LATIFI GIVES HIMSELF AN 8 (OUT OF 10) 

Williams F1 made Latifi available before and after each Grand Prix this year via Zoom. Post-race on Sunday was the last session of the season. The F1 rookie said that he won’t be coming home to Canada but would be heading to the Caribbean with his family for some R & R. Asked about the race, in which he finished 17th, ahead of the Haas duo and Perez, he said:

“It was a very difficult Grand Prix. As a team we didn’t have the pace today and we weren’t as competitive as we have been in other races. I was struggling a lot with the balance in the opening stints, but as the race went on it settled down. The last stint was fun, putting on a fresh set of medium tires on lap 35 and pushing flat out to the end. It is a shame as it’s not how we wanted to end this season but coming into this weekend we knew that this track didn’t suit our car. That is my first full season in Formula One done and it’s been a big learning year; I can’t wait to get started next year.

Asked to rate his season, in which he failed to score a point, Latifi broke it into two – racing, which he thought was worth an eight and qualifying, with would be, in his mind, a five.

He essentially said the car wasn’t very good (he was right about that), that he’d driven well but had some learning to do.

“Over all, it’s been a good year,” he said in an interview Thursday. “It wasn’t what I expected in certain regards, obviously everything going on with COVID and how it affected how the season has been. All of the stuff alongside the actual driving of the racing car, the travelling.  I learned a lot about how careful we’ve had to be – all the extra stuff that you wouldn’t normally have to worry about or deal with.

“From the actual driving side of things, I learned a lot this year but it highlighted some areas that I definitely need to improve, We’ve spoken a lot about the Saturdays (qualifying), about how we have to put everything together in that qualifying session. That has to be the focus next year.

“Some things were good – race pace, the handling of the tires, tire degradation, managing that. It was a big learning year. I’m really excited about gong into 2021 and building on foundations I’ve built this year to make another step forward.”

He said he thought his best race was the first one held at Silverstone in England but that his worst was the first race of the year in Austria.

“It was one of my weaker ones. I was just driving around. I think the best thing I did in that race was staying on the track.”

By Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca

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