• Nicholas Latifi Wins

Racing Roundup: Toronto’s Latifi stars in F2 and did Hamilton throw Sunday’s Grand Prix?

Dakar Rally organizers lose their heads, or soon will . . . plus all the weekend’s racing news

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald April 29, 2019
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Normally, I would start this weekly roundup with a discussion of one of the two feature races of the weekend, either the Grand Prix of Azerbaijan (won by Valtteri Bottas, with Lewis Hamilton second and Sebastian Vettel third) or the Talladega 500, won by Chase Elliott, with Alex Bowman and Ryan Preece (who?) right behind.

But I’m not going there yet because the big news of the weekend for Canadians was the performance in the FIA Formula 2 race at Azerbaijan Sunday of Toronto’s Nicholas Latifi, who won the F2 Sprint Race after finishing fourth in the Feature Race Saturday. The points gained from his race win and near-podium put him in the lead of the driver’s championship.

Prediction: Latifi, who has taken his time and improved year-after-year (he started racing in Europe in 2012 and has never scored better than a fifth in a major championship; this is his third year in Formula 2 and he’s currently in front of the field), will be in Formula One next year, likely with Williams (he’s their test driver this season) or McLaren, 10 per cent of which is owned by his father, Michael Latifi.

Latifi had a storming start from seventh on the grid at the start of the Feature Race to be fourth by the end of the first lap, where he finished. The points, however, were enough to allow him to regain the lead in the drivers’ championship, which he now leads by 19 points.  In the Sprint Race, he started fourth but was quickly up to third and then took second on a Safety Car restart. It was only a matter of time, then, before he passed the leader and went on to win.

Said Latifi afterward: “I’m obviously pleased with the outcome of the weekend in terms of the points haul. Practice and qualifying were a bit of a struggle, we didn’t have the pace we wanted and even in race one I was disappointed with the pace. We did a lot of analysis overnight and the guys did a good job of working out what I did wrong and where we could improve the car. In race two, I got the confidence back and we were clearly the quickest. I’m really happy to get the win and extend the championship lead. We’re keen to keep the momentum going into the next round.” 

Which will be at Barcelona on the F1 program in two weeks.

Remember, TSN is broadcasting the F2 race during the lead-up to the F1 race on Sunday mornings. A friend of mine who watches all kinds of racing and who gets up early for F2 (I am going to have to remember to record those races going forward, seeing as a 23-year-old Canadian kid from Toronto is doing so well) had this to say about Sunday’s Sprint Race:

“I’m glad someone at TSN made the choice to add F2 to the lineup. It’s been the best racing of the year. I am very impressed with Mr. Latifi.”

As are we all, and good luck to Nicholas.

Nicholas Latifi Wins

Meantime, when the F1 race started later, Bottas was on pole with Hamilton second and Vettel third. When the race ended, that’s exactly the order they were in. This is happening frequently in F1, it seems, and Mercedes has recorded four one-twos so far.

Having said that, I’m curious about something.

In the closing laps, Hamilton had the advantage. True, he was running second to his Mercedes teammate but he’d closed right up and he had DRS (or was close to having it) and everybody else in that position over the course of the race had absolutely no difficulty passing the car in front of him. Hamilton didn’t.

It was curious to hear this from the TV announcers (paraphrase): “Hamilton ran wide at that corner, falling a bit behind and giving Bottas some breathing space. It’s interesting that Lewis ran wide at the same spot the lap before.”

Lewis Hamilton is a five-time world driving champion. He does not “run wide” at a corner. And if he does, he sure doesn’t do it twice in a row. So what was going on in the streets of Azerbaijan on Sunday?

Another thing: when Lewis wins, Toto Wolff always looks happy. Mercedes had a one-two finish Sunday and he was applauding but there was no glee present, which suggests to me that something wasn’t kosher.

Despite denials, is Mercedes employing team orders when a victory is at stake? As in, if someone is leading/winning – let’s say, for the sake of argument, at the start of the last lap – the second-place guy shall not try to overtake? This seems reasonable. I am not a fan of team orders at all but if a team is one-two on the last lap, why risk somebody doing something stupid and taking both cars out of the race?

So was Hamilton told to stay behind Bottas? Knowing Lewis, this would not sit well, particularly if he knew he could pass. So does he miss a braking point and go a little further down the road and “go wide” at a corner? “Hey, that worked pretty well; I think I’ll try that again.” That way, he obeys the team order but doesn’t frustrate himself too much, or his fans, who undoubtedly were saying all over the world on Sunday, as I was: “Why doesn’t he just take that guy?”

Or maybe there were no team orders and Lewis just let Bottas win, still making it look good so he didn’t have to do too much ‘splainin’. Lewis is trying with all his might these days to cultivate a “nice guy” image, so what’s the big deal about finishing second? Hamilton knows that when push comes to shove, he can beat Bottas, just like he knows that when the chips are down, he can always beat Vettel. So maybe he just let Valtteri win.

And I think that explains the look on Wolff’s face at the end of the race: he knew.

Nicholas Latifi Wins

NOTEBOOK JOTTINGS

Formula One is desperate for a new hero. Lewis Hamilton is arguably the best driver of his generation but we’re tired of him always winning, or nearly winning. Bottas is talented but about as colourful as a trout. Vettel is like Hamilton: he’s been around too long.

Enter Charles Leclerc.

Charles is the greatest, everybody says. Yes, I agree he’s not bad but he’s in a Ferrari. He’d better perform, is all I can say.

But he’s starting to remind me of Max Verstappen. Remember when Max moved to Red Bull from Toro Rosso? People would say, “Now that Max has a good car, watch out! He’s a cinch to be a winner.”

Well, five wins in 85 starts is not exactly setting the world on fire, in my books. And he’s never won a pole. I think the glare of the spotlight has not been good for Max. He’s often tried too hard and it’s backfired.

I suggest the same thing could happen – in fact, be happening – to Charles. He knows every Ferrari fan in the world is cheering him on, and the media are solidly behind him. Has he got the mental toughness to park the adulation and expectation off to the side and just drive the racing car? Or will he try too hard, and wind up like Max, a guy with so much promise who hasn’t been able to deliver.

Time will tell, but he didn’t have a good weekend, again. He crashed Saturday during qualifying – he blamed himself, as he should have – and with it went a possible pole (although with Mercedes being part of the action, you never know. Just ask Vettel about what happened on Saturday when, with three minutes to go in Q3, the Mercedes drivers started doing practice starts at the end of pit row . . . )

Charles started eighth in the race, fell to tenth, and eventually finished fifth. For some reason, the fans voted him Driver of the Race. He wasn’t. He picked up three places. Big deal. My Driver of the Race (or “Hard Charger,” as they call such a driver on the short tracks) was Lance Stroll, not because he’s a Canuck but because he started 14th and finished ninth. That’s a six-place improvement against some tough company. And one of these days, we will have to talk about Stroll’s incredible starts, which remind me of Paul Tracy’s back in the good ol’ CART days. He’s always on the move at the start, as Paul was. Wonderful to watch.

However, I do have to ask: what is with Lance? He’s got loads of talent and a good car but when it comes to qualifying, he’s not performing. Yes, teammate Sergio Perez has more experience but Lance is in his third year of Formula One now and Perez qualified fifth for Sunday’s race while Stroll was 16th (he went off 14thbecause penalties to others sent them to the back of the grid). In short, Lance was not close to Perez’s time. Which is not good enough. If he qualifies better, and races like he can, he could be in contention for top-five finishes instead of having to scramble to get into the top ten. But he has to get going earlier in the weekend.

– The opening ceremonies in Azerbaijan are always impressive. The national anthem is sung by opera singers, accompanied by four people playing traditional string instruments. But try as they may, nobody can do that stuff like the Americans. At Talladega, they had a prayer and then a military band played the Star Spangled Banner. As the anthem ended, four Air National Guard fighter jets flew over. Sonic Boom Time. Great stuff!

DAKAR RALLY MOVES AGAIN

Anybody who reads me knows that I think Formula One continuing to race in Bahrain is deplorable and that they should stop going there because of the human rights abuses that routinely take place in that Middle East country.

Well, things are about to get worse. The Dakar Rally organizers announced just the other day that the 2020 Dakar will not be held in South America any longer but will be moved to – ta da! – Saudi Arabia.

Yes, that Saudi Arabia, where they executed 37 people this past week for “terrorism.” They killed them all in one day. At least one man was crucified and a significant number of others were beheaded. More than 30 belonged to the Sunni Muslim kingdom’s Shiite minority (which suggests their trials were not exactly fair). Most of their lawyers quit after complaining the authorities hadn’t allowed them to see their clients. Fourteen had been arrested in 2012 for protesting against the government. They withdrew their confessions in court after saying they were tortured. And, oh yes, Saudi Arabia is the country that murdered and then – in an effort to cover up the crime – dismembered the body of one of their own, journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote some things in the Washington Post that the Saudi Royal Family didn’t like.

Nice place to have a rally, eh? Those organizers should have their heads read – before the Saudis chop them off.

Oh, before anyone writes and says that Canada gets most of its imported oil from Saudi Arabia, I think that’s appalling too. We have our own oil and should be finding a way to use it while we go about finding an alternative that will actually work.

OTHER WEEKEND RACING

Chase Elliott won his fourth career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway Sunday (it was his first victory this season), with Alex Bowman second and Ryan Preece third. (If anyone doesn’t believe there’s been a changing of the guard in NASCAR Cup circles, just who are those second-and-third-place drivers?) In any event, there were a lot of wrecks and, thank goodness, no injuries. Kyle Larson, a dirt sprint car racer who has flipped many times in his career, took the ride of his life down the backstretch. The car didn’t seem to want to stop flipping and Kyle said later that it was the worst of his career. The checkers and the yellow flag were displayed at the same time as there was yet another mishap on the final lap. For a complete story, please click here.

Chase Elliott wins Cup race at Talladega as chaos erupts on the final lap. How the GEICO 500, the 10th race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, played out Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Tyler Reddick overcame a pit road speeding penalty and damage to the right side of his No. 2 Chevrolet to win Saturday’s MoneyLion 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Talladega Superspeedway over Gray Gaulding and Christopher Bell. Please click here for details.

Robin Frijns persevered through tricky weather conditions to hang on and win a frantic Formula Electric race through the streets of Paris on Saturday. Andre Lotterer again had to settle for second place. Daniel Abt was third. Oliver Rowland, who I interviewed at the New York Auto Show and who drives for the Nissan e-dams team, crashed out of the lead and was never able to recover. FElectric (they call it Formula E) will next race in Monaco May 11. Want to know more. Please click here.

www.FIAFormulaE.com

Reigning Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence won his first of the season, Shawn Langdon his first in the Funny Car class and Andrew Hines his 50th in Pro Stock Motorcycle to highlight a wild day of final eliminations Sunday at the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at the drag strip in Charlotte, N.C. (And who said all anybody cared about in that town was NASCAR?).

I know this news is a week old but, for the record, Scott Maxwell of Toronto and Multimatic Motorsports of Markham co-driver Seb Priaulx won a GT4 race at Oulton Park in England last weekend. Well done. And Canadians Kyle Marcelli, Scott Hargrove, Kuno Wittmer, and R. Ferri Motorsports all had success of one kind or another in the Pirelli World Challenge races at Virginia International Raceway at the weekend. I have to be honest and say that it is increasingly difficult to accurately report what goes on in that series. There are too many classes and, to be frank, it’s confusing.

HALL OF FAME NOMINATIONS DELAYED

One of the members of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame is Jeff Pappone, who formerly wrote for the Globe and Mail and who can now be found writing for Greg MacPherson’s Inside Track Motorsport News and the IndyCar.com website. He writes the board’s media releases and I am printing, in its entirety, his latest – because it contains news.

“Due to a new partnership with the Canadian International AutoShow (CIAS), the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame’s (CMHF) annual induction gala will not be held in 2019. The ceremony has been rescheduled for February 2020.

After a special dinner was held to honour 10 media members during the 2019 auto show, which was held in February at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the CMHF and the CIAS entered into an agreement to hold the next annual induction gala during next year’s auto show.

“After a hugely successful media event in February (when Mario Andretti flew in from Nazareth, Pa., to be interviewed by race driver and NBC announcer Townsend Bell), there’s no doubt that this partnership is a win-win,” said Dr. Hugh Scully, chairman of the CHMF board of directors.

“There’s no better place for the CMHF to honour its inductees than at a show dedicated to the people, companies and brands involved in all forms of motorsport in Canada and around the globe. I’m already looking forward to another exciting evening at the CIAS in February 2020.”

In recent years, the CMHF’s induction gala has been held in October.

Nominations for candidates for consideration by the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame’s selection committee will be accepted beginning in the fall. Nominations are accepted in five categories: competitors, builders, team members, significant contributors, and media. Nomination forms will be available on cmhf.ca once nominations open. New inductees will enter the Hall next February, along with the 10 media members.

The Canadian International AutoShow runs from Feb. 14-23, 2020.

Thank you, Jeff.

Now, this is important to know: In order to be considered for induction, a candidate must be nominated. The Hall of Fame is not in the business of beating the bushes, looking for people. If anyone thinks a driver, track worker, sponsor, car owner, motorcycle racer – the list goes on – is worthy, it is up to them to nominate that individual and make the case. The Hall’s selection committee will then pass judgment. Remember – this is a Hall of Fame. Being “out there,” or a “good guy,” doesn’t cut it.

One other thing: the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame is a national Hall of Fame. While it is true that many of the 150-plus members are from Ontario and Quebec, that is where most of the racing has taken place and where most of the major races – the Grand Prix of Canada, the Honda Indy, the IMSA and NASCAR weekends at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, etc. – have been held. But in the end, this is the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame and selections must reflect that.

By Norris McDonald  /  Special to wheels.ca

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