• George Russell

Racing Roundup: Russell’s run backs Lewis into a corner   

Divine Intervention in Grosjean crash? D.J. re-signs with Castrol and all the news

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald December 7, 2020

Sergio Perez, who’s been given the bum’s rush and told to get lost by his employer. Racing Point F1, won Sunday’s Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain. In last place at the end of the first lap, he fought his way through the field to finish first. Esteban Ocon celebrated on the podium for the first time in his F1 career by finishing second for Renault and our Lance Stroll was third in the second Racing Point car. Our Nicholas Latifi suffered an oil leak in his Williams and was a DNF.

The star of the show, though, was Englishman George Russell, who filled in for the ailing Lewis Hamilton and pretty much set the world on fire. If not for bad luck, he would have won the race.

For a full report, please click here


I have been in the newspaper business forever. As a result, I don’t believe anything anybody tells me, particularly if they’re politicians. Cynical? You bet. I don’t think anybody will ever be able to fix the Indigenous water problem in this country, regardless of what is promised and by whom. And COVID-19? “Do as I say, not as I do,” is a political mantra. And by the way, guess who will get the COVID vaccine first?

The same applies to celebrities. This is what Lewis Hamilton told F1 journalist David Tremayne about COVID-19:

“Lockdown is not good. It’s not been fun for anybody. But I would say, for me, to be in a bubble for this championship has been horrible. I’m so lucky I’ve got Angela [personal trainer Angela Cullen], but I’ve not had anyone else in my bubble for this year. I’ve not really been around anybody and not been out to dinner, not been socializing at all, and it’s been a really big challenge.”

And this is what the team wrote when announcing the news that Lewis had caught the bug. Icicles were hanging from every word.

“The 2020 world champion returned negative tests throughout his time in Bahrain as per Formula 1 protocols, but started suffering mild symptoms on Monday morning. Following information (that) he had been in contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 prior to arriving in Bahrain, Hamilton was tested again on Monday and returned a positive result, ruling him out of the next race.”

“In contact with someone.” Care to elaborate, Lewis? And what’s that you said about how horrible it is being in your bubble? See first paragraph, above.

Toto Wolff says George Russell’s performance in Sunday’s Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain will not have any effect whatsoever on negotiations to re-sign Lewis Hamilton.

Ho, ho, ho.

Toto has always had a quick wit, as well as a quick quip – as he illustrated in a post-race interview Sunday. (Usually, when somebody utters a vulgarism on international television, somebody else has the presence of mind to apologize to those of us with sensitive ears. But not Sunday, when Wolff swore when explaining what went wrong in the Mercedes garage when they managed to mix up the drivers’ tires. Community standards are changing all the time, I guess – although I don’t think (I hope not, anyway) that this particular profanity will become commonplace. But I digress. . .)

Lewis Hamilton is paid nearly 70 million Canadian dollars a year (40 GBP) to drive that Mercedes racing car. This, in itself, is obscene and I could go on and on about that. But our focus here is the negotiation. Because of carelessness, or whatever it was, Hamilton came down with COVID and missed the race this weekend. He was replaced by George Russell, who is a good racing driver in his own right and has a ride with Williams, but which means he’s always at the back. Russell led all practice sessions, came oh-so-close to winning the pole (Bottas just edged him), took the lead at the start and dominated until Mercedes screwed up a pit stop and then he got a flat tire.

In short, a driver with not much F1 experience got into the car of the seven-time world champion and if you didn’t know it wasn’t Lewis, you would have figured he was driving.

Now, Lewis Hamilton is a great racing driver, I think. I have to say that because I don’t know. He’s always been in great cars, first with McLaren and now Mercedes. And he was defeated, head-to-head, by his teammate, Nico Rosberg, who promptly retired. Valterri Bottas is not in Rosberg’s league so Hamilton has not had strong competition in the best car since he was beaten. And then, when he got sick and had to miss a race, his replacement drove his car as well as he did.

Lewis is probably at a point in his life where he doesn’t need the money. He’s been making tens of millions of dollars for years. It’s the principle, though. He’s Lewis Hamilton, seven-time world champion, and his pay packet has to reflect that. But it you’re Toto Wolff, team principal for Mercedes and a man who has to constantly work to convince the automaker’s board of directors to stay in F1 and keep spending the money that’s necessary to continue being No, 1, this is an opportunity to save some.

This will probably be Lewis’s last contract. It will likely be for two years (a cap on drivers’ salaries might kick in after that) and will give him the chance to become the all-time F1 world championship winner and to back away from F1 while holding most, if not all, of the records. And he will be paid well for those final two years. But he won ‘t get 40 million GBP and if he balks and refuses to sign, then George Russell will have shown he’s ready to be promoted.

Toto Wolff is holding all the cards now. That’s why, when he says Russell’s performance won’t have any effect on negotiations with Lewis, the statement should be taken with a huge grain of salt.

F1 television covered Romain Grosjean’s accident like a blanket this weekend. What the TV left out, the websites filled in. It was all very clinical, all very surgical in its analysis. I have a different take: something to think about.

I have a friend who, years ago, paddled a canoe across Canada, from Montreal to Vancouver, following the route of the Voyageurs. It took him three summers. He was not particularly religious or even spiritual when he first started out. When it was over, he sure believed in something. Whether it was God or a Guardian Angel, it doesn’t matter. He’s with us today to tell the tale.

He was ln a river up in northern Saskatchewan, in the middle of nowhere, when he came upon a rapids not on his charts. He had no time to get to shore so had to ride them out. The canoe overturned and was bashed against the rocks. It was badly damaged. He always wore a life jacket. Good thing. But he was in serious, serious trouble. We’re talking wilderness here. There were wild animals about and he had nothing to defend himself. He tried to stay awake but would doze off. He kept waking up, hearing things, which was very frightening.

Two days later, he was walking along the river bank, trying to figure out what to do. He’d found most of his cooking utensils but the canoe was wrecked. As he walked, his eye caught something glinting in the sun. He went closer and soon realized it was a large tackle box. He opened it and found everything inside that he needed to repair the canoe. Everything. He never became a Holy Roller after that, but he told his friends there was no doubt in his mind that Divine Intervention saved his life.

As Divine Intervention saved the life of Romain Grosjean a week ago Sunday. There is no other explanation.

Mick Schumacher, son of you-know-who, won the Formula 2 championship Sunday and will move up to F1 in 2021 with Haas F1. I think Mick has the chops. At least, I hope so. I can think of another son of a GP driver who hasn’t panned out, despite a team being built around him. He has his fans but Max Verstappen has never stepped up to the plate the way many expected. He has a great car but he has never taken it by the neck and shaken victory out of it. He had a golden opportunity this weekend and didn’t/couldn’t do it. The crash in the race notwithstanding, he just doesn’t have his old man’s fire.

Is it just me, or is there just an awful lot of careless driving going on in Formula One this season? Perhaps it’s the track designs, or the drivers are ultra brave because of the halo, or the cars are faster – whatever, there are crashes of one kind or another in just about every race these days. When Fangio, Hawthorne, Clark, Hill, Amon, Stewart – I could go on – were out there, there were not nearly the number of “shunts” there are today. But, as I said, maybe it’s just me.

George Russell


Years ago, the late Craig Hill and I were collaborating on a brief history of auto racing in Canada for the old Formula magazine. We came up for air one evening and I said, “Who, at this very moment, is the hottest young stock car driver in the country? A guy who’s a can’t miss in NASCAR?” And Craig Hill said: “A 16-year-old from St. Thomas. His name is D.J. Kennington.”

Now, Hill, who was one of the finest racing drivers in Canada – he won two national road-racing championships and still strapped into a USAC midget on occasion – had a day job. He was the promotions manager for Wakefield Castrol in Canada. I don’t know if Hill had anything to do with what came next, but I have a feeling there was a connection, something that has continued to this very day. Late last week, D.J. and Wakefield announced a new multi-year agreement that will see Kennington continue to drive the No. 17 Castrol Edge Dodge in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series in 2021 and beyond, continuing the partnership that began more than 25 years ago.

In that time, D.J. is the only NASCAR Canada driver to race in all 166 Pinty’s races – he won the pole for the very first one – chalking up 21 wins, 99 top 10 finishes and the series championship in 2010 and 2012. He also raced
Castrol-branded trucks in the NASCAR Camping World Series and the Xfinity stock-car series. In 2017, he raced his way into the Daytona 500, becoming just the eighth Canadian to make the field for that prestigious race.

The NASCAR Pinty’s Series races are broadcast on TSN. Broadcast details will be available once the season schedule is announced.

Devlin Defrancesco, the smallest baby ever to be born at Sunnybrook Hospital, has gone on to become one hell of a good racing driver. He announced last week that after several years in Europe, he’ll be running in the Indy Lights Series next season. More about Devlin, of Toronto and West Palm Beach, in the new year.

Todd Gibson of Richwood, Ohio (see photo below), a supermodified racer who drove at Oswego Speedway in New York before going on to race Indianapolis cars as well as USAC sprint cars – Bentley Warren, Sammy Sessions and Gordon Johncock were other Oswego drivers who took the same route – died last week at age 83. In the Indy cars, a top five finish in the Molson Diamond Indy at Mosport in 1977 was one of his best finishes. He crashed hard at Indy during practice in 1979 and decided to retire. Todd’s sons Gene Lee, Larry, Terry and grandson Zach all raced supers, with Gene Lee having the most success. Gene Lee had his father’s aggression. One time at the legendary Winchester Speedway in Indiana, he had a little coming together in a USAC sprint car race with another driver, so got out of his car and went over and slugged the guy. Track owner Roger Holdeman wanted to throw him off the property but was overruled by USAC. There’s nothing like a little punch-up to get a sprint car crowd excited and they let Gibson know what they thought of him. Gene Lee didn’t care. He had a top five finish in the feature, which meant good money.

George Russell

Ice racing, a 43-year winter tradition in Minden, will continue in the new year, pending approval by the township. The Minden Kin Club and a group including SportCup Inc., a subsidiary of the Russ Bond Agency, will run the races after the CASC pulled out because of COVID-19. The Kin Club will proceed with the building of the skid pad and the ice track next month when the cold weather settles in.

What’s going on with Formula Electric? Or, Formula E as they like to call themselves. For several years it was the darling of manufacturers who couldn’t afford, or didn’t want, to get involved in Formula One. But now Audi has announced it will leave the series after 2021 to return to top flight sports car racing and it will also take a shot at the Dakar Rally. Audi says it will continue to support customer teams but will withdraw its works team. Other OEMs are also reportedly considering a future without FE.


We are less than three weeks away from Christmas, Yes, it’s that close. Christmas always sneaks up on me but this year it seems to be coming out of nowhere because of the COVID-19 crisis. COVID, with working at home and all, seemed to steal time. I could never remember if it was Tuesday or Thursday. I looked at a calendar the other day and thought, “Holy smoke! It’s here.” Not quite, but you get my drift.

Tom Brokaw, the old NBC Evening News anchor, always did it right. He took a month off in summer to rest up and get some sun and then he took December off to go to all the Washington parties, do some shopping and recharge his batteries. Another one who got it right was the late Zalman Yanovsky. After retiring from the rock band Lovin’ Spoonful, he moved to Kingston to cook, first at the Prince George Hotel and later at Chez Piggy, which he opened with his wife, Rose Richardson. Chez Piggy was so successful that Zal could afford to close for two weeks over Christmas. Other restaurateurs could hardly wait for the holidays to make their money; Zal would lock up, put a sign on the door that said Aloha, and go to the Cataraqui Town Centre to have lunch at the Food Court. Both those guys knew how to live.

So my parting shot to you today is that following Abu Dhabi next weekend, put your feet up, relax and enjoy the Christmas season. If you think you have it rough – not being able to go shopping or getting together with family over Christmas – think of many of your fathers and grandfathers who missed four or five years of their lives when they were off in Europe or elsewhere, fighting in a little something called the Second World War.

Now, that was sacrifice. That was tough. As a guy said the other day, all we have to do is stay home. And visit on Zoom.