• Formula One Grand Prix of Bahrain

Racing Roundup: Hamilton’s Effusiveness over Leclerc is Weird

Lewis wins another, as does Hamlin; Rowdy cleans up in the minors and all the racing news

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald April 1, 2019
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The first thing I have to say about Sunday’s highly entertaining (except for the Safety Car ending) Formula One Grand Prix of Bahrain is this: what was Lewis Hamilton’s gushing all over Charles Leclerc about?

Hamilton, the reigning world champion who won the Grand Prix, couldn’t say enough about the young Ferrari driver, who looked ready to win the race until his engine went sour, relegating him to third place on the podium and likely right off of it if it hadn’t been for the safety car being dispatched with two laps remaining.

When his Mercedes team congratulated him over the radio on the cooldown lap, Hamilton’s first words were about how sad it was that Leclerc hadn’t won. When he pulled into parc ferme and got out of his car, he went right to Leclerc and put his arms around him before going to his own team to exchangecongratulations. This continued through the on-track interview with Martin Brundle and while the drivers were in the “green room” before going out on the podium.

I mean, really? This is F1, where drivers not only want to finish ahead of the next guy but crush his ego in the process.

Now, either Hamilton has decided he’d better start changing his persona from arrogant to caring as his F1 career winds down, and he’s going to have to find other things to do with his life, like charity work, or else something more nefarious is going on.

I choose the latter.

I suggest his dislike for the one guy who has been a thorn in his side for years, Sebastian Vettel, is behind this whole charade. If he can’t beat Vettel (which he does – most of the time, anyway) he’s delighted when somebody else sticks it to him. And if Vettel’s new teammate can do it, so much the better.

Hamilton knew that Vettel could handle his old teammate, Kimi Raikkonen. Even though Kimi could outqualify Vettel on occasion, or even beat him now and again, at end of day if would be Vettel who would come out on top – much the same as Hamilton knows he can handle his own teammate at Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas, who finished second in Sunday’s race. Teammates like that are the best – they push you to go to your limit but you also know you can beat them in the end.

Leclerc, as he has shown in two GPs now, has the pace to beat Vettel. If, over the season, he does this decisively, it could well push Vettel, who has four world championships, to retire. If that happens, you can bet the first person in line to hold the door open as he takes his exit will be Lewis Hamilton.

At which point, if he’s still ambitious to prove he’s the best, Lewis won’t be being so palsy walsy with Charles Leclerc, either.

Other than that, it was a good race. There was lots of jockeying and dicing in the pack plus the usual amount of great driving mixed with all sorts of numbskull moves and decisions. And can you believe both Renaults conking out on the same lap and in almost the same place, thus bringing out the safety car near the finish? I was hoping for a green-white-checkers, but you can’t have everything (only kidding!).

And love those Middle East races, which come on television in these parts in mid- to late morning. Nothing beats a good F1 race while enjoying brunch to get Sunday off to a great start, eh?

Notebook Jottings:

There was good news and bad news for fans of Canadian racing drivers at Bahrain. Here’s the bad news first. In Formula One, Lance Stroll collided with Haas driver Romain Grosjean at the start, effectively ending both their races. Stroll didn’t have a good weekend, qualifying poorly on Saturday. He went off 18th and finished 14th Sunday, a lap down. Now the good news. Nicholas Latifi of Toronto finished first in the Formula 2 feature race on Saturday and third in the sprint race Sunday. Great stuff, Nicholas! Mick Schumacher, son of you-know-who, was on pole for the sprint race but slipped to sixth by the checkers. He’ll be in F1 before too long, though. You can bet on that. Both F2 races, incidentally, were televised live by TSN – something to keep in mind the rest of the F1 season. Check local listings for times of broadcast. (Too bad IndyCar didn’t approach TSN about carrying their races after their contract with Sportsnet expired. If TSN is carrying the F2 series, chances are IndyCar would have been given a slot. As it is, until NBC starts televising the races on their full network in May, IndyCar is only available on an obscure Sportsnet TV channel and streamed by Sportsnet on a computer channel, both of which cost you extra on top of your cable bill. Last I looked, I don’t have to pay anything extra to enjoy any of TSN’s many motorsports offerings. . . . . .)

Formula One Grand Prix of Bahrain

Two biggest wastes of time – stewards investigating “incidents” at the starts of Grands Prix and television interviews or Internet stories about the lack of overtaking in F1. First, 20 cars are all heading for the first turn at once and I always think it’s a miracle when most of them make it through. If there is a collision, how in the world can anybody be blamed? Second, there was lots of overtaking in Sunday’s Grand Prix. I hope everybody enjoyed it because that is not always the case. It’s Formula One. It is not a spec series.

Most overused, hackneyed, nonsensical phrase in auto racing: “Not the start he wanted,” or “not the result he wanted,” or “not the result we were planning,” or “looking for.” This is not confined to F1. You hear IndyCar drivers use it constantly; NASCAR drivers frequently (now that “awesome” seems to be out of favour, thank God). I mean, think about it. Leclerc starts on pole and winds up third two corners later. Martin Brundle, with great insight, intones, “That certainly wasn’t the start Charles was hoping for.” No kidding! Can we please deep-six that expression?

Google “Bahrain Abuse” and look at what comes up. I know it’s a Grand Prix and Bernie Ecclestone used to say that you don’t mix sport and politics. But that was what they used to say about South Africa, until F1 was shamed into taking away its Grand Prix, and the same should be the case for Bahrain. It is a repressive country and there is no free press. They kill journalists there. A woman who posted criticism of the regime on Facebook and F1’s complicity in continuing to race there was sent to jail for three years. It’s one thing to turn a blind eye to this sort of thing and continue to race but it’s another to promote the place as a paradise, as Sky TV did in a “travelogue” that was included in TSN’s qualifying telecast on Saturday. And Martin Brundle tweeted, “Bahrain is one of my favourite races; put it on your to-do list.” Not me, Martin. And I hope not anybody else, either. Liberty Media, which owns F1, should take the high road and not go back there. And Liberty, please put an end to speculation that Saudi Arabia will soon get a race. If you go there and race, you will – in the words of the late Canadian sporting giant Conn Smythe, be trading cash for class. . . . . .

Sir Patrick Head to the rescue: Williams F1 is in terrible shape. They don’t have much money (by F1 standards) and they seem lost. The team was built to glory by Sir Frank and Patrick Head, also knighted, who could boast nine constructor’s championships on their watch. Sir Patrick stepped back in 2011 but now is returning as a consultant. It might take some time, but if anybody can turn that team around, it’s him.

Q3 soon to become Q4: To add even more drama to what is already a pretty dramatic qualifying, F1 is toying with the idea of adding another qualifying session to the three that currently exist. Four cars would be eliminated in Q1, 2 and 3, leaving eight to go for pole in the fourth and final qualifying session. I say go for it. Why not?

Carlos Sainz doesn’t belong. Some guys are F1 drivers and some aren’t. They can be great in one class and close to a total loss in another. (An example: Garrett Sparks is a great AHL goaltender who isn’t good enough to play in the NHL. But I digress . . .) Sainz, who won two championships climbing the ladder, is entering his sixth season in F1. He has a perfect goose-egg record: no poles, no wins, no fastest laps, no podiums. He was ninth in the driver standings in 2017, his best result. He has been DNF in two races for McLaren so far in 2019. His rookie teammate, Lando Norris (great last name, eh?) finished sixth Sunday at Bahrain, following a 12th-place finish in Oz. Twitter is a-twitter that Fernando Alonso will be back at Ferrari next year. I say he could be back at McLaren this year, after he finishes with Indianapolis. He won’t be replacing Lando Norris. . . . . .

I admit to liking Sebastian Vettel. I know a fellow who used to be an engineer with Red Bull and now is engineering with Team Penske in IndyCar. Three  years ago, when we were discussing the British motorsport media, he told me they’d backed the wrong horse. “Vettel is a nice guy; Hamilton isn’t,” he said. “They thought it would be the other way around. Now they’re stuck.” So that went a long way to colour my judgment when it came to those two. Sunday, Vettel spun – again – while in close quarters with Hamilton. It would have been very easy to blame the wind (it was very gusty during the Grand Prix), or his opponent (who knows what really goes on when two guys are racing each other at a million miles an hour and they are so close together?) but Vettel was right up front about the whole business: “I made a mistake and spun the car,” he said. Which is why he’s my kind of guy.

For a complete story about the Bahrain GP, with results, and so-on, please click here

OTHER RACING – news ‘n views: Denny Hamlin, who won the Daytona 500 at the start of the NASCAR Cup season, won the Monster Energy race Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. Clint Bowyer finished second and Daniel Suarez was third. For a complete race rundown, please click here -Meantime, Kyle Busch won the Xfinity Series race at Texas Saturday. Whoopee! And he won the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at the same track Friday night. Double Whoopie!!!! I’m just so thrilled every time “Rowdy” ups and socks it to those lesser lights, thus adding to his 200-plus NASCAR Series victories total. Kyle winning a trucks race is like Connor McDavid having a free night and playing a game with some Junior A club somewhere, scoring a dozen goals in the process. Not allowed, of course. Shouldn’t be in NASCAR, either. . . . . . Cooper Webb won the Monster Energy AMA Supercross feature Saturday night in Houston. Marvin Musquin finished second while Dean Wilson was third. This was a total points affair, with three races run on Triple Crown Night. . . . . ST Racing (Samantha Tan of Gormley – I wrote about her in Toronto Star Wheels recently) had a win and a third-place finish in two Pirelli GT4 America SprintX West Championship races at the Laguna Seca circuit in California at the weekend. . . . . . IndyCar got excited about racing at Circuit of the Americaslast Sunday but it left a lot to be desired so far as TV viewers were concerned. NBC Sports Network’s presentation of the race scored a 0.23 rating and averaged 341,000 households, down from the 0.32/495,000 that tuned in for the St. Petersburg opener. Numbers for Sportsnet’s computer and obscure TV channel viewership in Canada were unavailable. . . . . . And finally, Ontario racing driver Megan Gilkes is the only Canadian, and one of only three North Americans, to make the final 18 who will contest the first season of the W Racing Series, the all-female racing series that hopes to develop a full-time woman F1 driver. Congratulations!

nmcdonald@thestar.ca

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