Lewis Hamilton drove his Mercedes to the 95th Grand Prix victory of his illustrious career Sunday in Bahrain (it was his fourth win in that country and his 11th of the 2020 season) while Canadians Nicholas Latifi (Williams) and Lance Stroll (Racing Point) finished 14th and 19th. Stroll, in fact, was a DNF after crashing out of the competition that initially saw Romain Grosjean survive one of the most spectacular and death-defying crashes in the history of the sport.
There is so much to write about Formula One, it is difficult to know where to start. I will go, however, with what I consider to be the most important.
I have been sermonizing in recent weeks about Formula One scheduling a race in Saudi Arabia in 2021, pointing out the issues surrounding human rights in the kingdom, such as the jailing of those speaking out against such abuses and allegations of torture against many other critics of the regime.
I was not alone in my criticism although, disappointingly, these critiques appeared on social media or on the sports or automotive pages of newspapers rather than the editorial pages. Only when there is total international condemnation will sport – any sport – realize the error of its ways and withdraw, as happened with F1 and other sports when it came to competing in South Africa when apartheid was in effect. That is not happening now; the condemnation of Saudi Arabia is only coming from small fry like me.
Last week, the Saudis reacted to this pushback against F1 racing there by increasing the charges against a woman named Loujain al-Hathloul (see photo), who has been in prison since 2018 after campaigning for, among other things, women’s right to drive. The New York Times reported that “appearing weak and shaking uncontrollably,” she appeared in front of a judge who told her that her case was being transferred to a court dealing with national security crimes.
For campaigning for women to drive a car? And why was she shaking? Because she knows what’s going to happen to her.
There is one man, and one man only, who can put a stop to F1 going there to race. It is Lewis Hamilton. And in so doing, Lewis could challenge the world to demand that Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world stop doing what they’re doing to their own people.
There were signs at the weekend that he was starting to see the light. Hamilton, according to reports, is about to be made a Knight of the Realm and it is the duty of Knights to protect the weak and defenceless. In this vein, the greatest driver of his generation told the London Daily Express that he wants to make a difference in some of the controversial locations F1 visits.
“When I arrived here around midday on Thursday,” said the man who brought the Black Lives Matter/We Race As One movement to F1, “I received some letters and I have not had a lot of time to digest them and that’s something I need to take some time to do. The human rights issue in so many of the places that we go to is a massive problem.
“It is very important, not only for us as a sport but all the sports around the world, to utilize the platforms they have and to push for change. We are the only ones that go to so many different countries and I do think that as a sport, we need to do more. We have taken a step in that direction but we can do more. There are some steps in place for the places we are going to, but it is important to make sure they are implemented in the right way and it is not just saying we are going to do something.
“We need to see some action being taken.”
Well said, Lewis. Now, do more. Please.
GROSJEAN’S MIRACULOUS ESCAPE
F1’s Ross Brawn told the TV interviewers Sunday that the sport will do a total and complete examination of the circumstances surrounding the unbelievable accident that could have taken the life of driver Romain Grosjean just after the start of the Bahrain GP Sunday. As anybody reading this has undoubtedly seen it again and again on social media and all the major TV networks, it’s useless for me to take up time or space explaining it.
But here are some things they should look at.
F1 was using the Bahrain GP to thank all of the people who make Grand Prix racing possible. This is a multi-billion-dollar sport that depends on amateurs to signal the drivers and rescue them, if necessary, in an accident. These volunteers do this for the love of the sport, of course, but while the drivers are being paid millions of dollars to race the cars, the marshals, corner workers, et al, are doing what they do for lunch and a donation to whatever national motorsport organization they belong to.
The first marshal to approach the wreck Sunday was wearing a firesuit but did not appear to have on a full balaclava (he was wearing an anti-COVID mask) and he wasn’t wearing a helmet. In short, he was not adequately protected to fight a fire. On top of that, he had trouble starting the fire extinguisher and needed help from Ian Roberts, the medical car doctor, to get it going. That is not good enough. IndyCar has a full-time, paid, professional safety team that goes to all the races and stations itself at critical points around the circuit. They work with the marshals before the race weekend starts.
Any volunteer close to the track at an F1 race should be equipped with a four- or five-layer firesuit, fire-resistant shoes and gloves, a balaclava and a helmet and to undergo a rigorous training program before the race weekend (which would include not running across a hot track, which happened later in the race). Anything less will not do because their lives are as important as the drivers’.
Having said all that, the first marshal showed great courage in running across the track – the field had passed – and trying to start fighting the fire. Once the extinguisher got going, there’s no doubt the marshal helped Dr. Roberts assist Grosjean to escape by beating back some of the flames.
But proper equipment and training for anyone near the racing surface is essential for F1 going forward.
Now, Formula One is the pinnacle of international motorsport. Unless the people who really run the sport haven’t been paying attention – which is entirely possible; arrogance is a terrible thing – they would have noticed a change that was made in recent years in NASCAR and IndyCar: the SAFER barrier.
If there is an exposed wall anywhere on a permanent racing circuit – cement, ARMCO, whatever – the competitors should be protected by the SAFER. Temporary courses, like Monaco, are different but permanent tracks should have it everywhere. I believe the SAFER would have saved Grosjean’s Haas F1 car from somehow wedging itself between the rows of ARMCO and exploding its way through, ripping the engine and gearbox from the monocoque and separating a fuel line from the tank and the pump, resulting in the fire.
ARMCO used to be everywhere in road-course racing but has been replaced whenever possible because of its awful ability to decapitate open-wheel drivers. Francois Cevert and Helmuth Koinigg both died this way at Watkins Glen; Jochen Rindt was killed when a strap he hadn’t clipped shut rode up and cut his throat when the front of his Lotus jammed itself under the ARMCO at Monza in 1970. So F1 should look at all its circuits and anywhere there’s a fence, it should be covered by the SAFER.
Rindt refused to do up what’s called a crotch strap to prevent submarining and it did him in. The harness was designed by manufacturers with the driver’s safety in mind. That’s usually why those folks, or sanctioning bodies, do things: to make racing safer for the pilots. Grosjean was one of the drivers who complained about the imposition of the Halo device to better protect drivers in the event of a roll-over or crash in which the cockpit could be penetrated and the driver injured. I bet he’s not complaining now. If not for the Halo, chances are he’d be dead. (See photo where FIA head Jean Todt visited Grosjeans in hospital later Sunday.)
Last point about auto racing: if you think it can’t happen, it will.
BARRY FLYNN (OMAR THE TENT MAKER) PASSES
I was thinking the other day about guys dying. It was 60 years ago, on the 23rd of November, when one of Toronto’s most famous athletes of the day, Ted Hogan, was killed in a private plane crash in Lake Ontario just off Port Union Rd. in Scarborough. Champion stock car and modified racer Hogan had the plane for sale and was looking for company to fly out to Oshawa with him where he’d show it to a prospective buyer. Several people took a pass, but former race driver Bruce Tanner was free and hopped aboard out at the Island Airport.
There was a strong odour of oil in and around the plane while it was on the ground at Oshawa Executive Airport and it was suggested that Hogan get it checked out before returning to Toronto. But “Terrible Ted,” or “Mighty Mite,” as he was known at the speedways, brushed off the warnings and took off. He and Tanner never had a chance when the plane caught fire and spiraled into the water.
The story was front page headline news the following day. There were only three sports in Toronto back then: the NHL, the CFL and car racing that was held at Exhibition Place and Pinecrest Speedway. Racers like Hogan, Jimmy Howard, Norm Mackereth, Gordie Dukes, Warren Coniam, Howie Scannell, Andy Brown (who was also the last goaltender to play in the NHL without a mask), John Clapham and many others, were household names because the papers treated car racing as a major beat.
Others who weren’t household names were just as famous in the racing subculture. Two were Doug Duncan, who passed 24 years ago, and Barry Flynn (a.k.a. Omar the Tent Maker, named after a 1922 movie because of the Canadian Canopy Co. he owned with his brother, Paul) who died just the other day, on Nov. 15.
Unlike these days, where oval-track fans tend to sniff with disdain when the subject of “sporty car” racing comes up (and vice-versa, by the way), guys like Duncan and Flynn were interchangeable among the disciplines. Duncan was a genius, a master mechanic and designer of supermodified racing cars who made Ted Hogan’s cars go fast. And Duncan built his creations in Barry Flynn’s garage (see photo; Barry, left, and Duncan) because he didn’t have enough room in his own.
Interestingly, Duncan was employed as a mechanic with the famous Paul Cooke-managed Comstock Racing Team of the 1960s (Eppie Wietzes, Ludwig Heimrath, Bob McLean, Peter Ryan, Danny Shaw and Grant Clark were the drivers) and it’s said that whenever Stirling Moss came to race in Canada, he wanted Duncan to prepare his cars and, if that wasn’t possible, to be in the general vicinity, just in case.
And Barry Flynn was a respected race mechanic with, among others, Ted Hogan as well as a car builder with sports car racer George Makins, whose Makins Special sports racer, powered by a Chevrolet V8 with three carburetors, was built in Barry’s shop side-by-side with a radical rear-engine super that Duncan was concocting.
Barry would periodically email me about things I had written about in my Wheels columns and was a huge supporter of suggestions I’d made about a supermodified-style roll cage for Indy cars before the sanctioning body came up with the Aeroscreen, which was modeled on F1’s Halo.
Barry loved to fill me in on the story behind the story. Here is an email he sent on April 24, 2017, when we were talking about Mosport’s first year of racing. It is probably my favourite Barry Flynn story.
“It all kind of starts with a guy named George Makins, a free thinker. Norm Mackereth showed up at Harewood in 1960 with his super and proceeded to run down the three Porsches who started at the front and he was the last one off the grid. Caught them in three laps, then blew a rad hose.
“George at the time was driving an MG Special for some guy and thought, ‘I can build a car to beat on those Porsches if Norm can do what he did.’ Over the winter we built the car (see photo). It beat Ludwig (Heimrath) the first race at Mosport in 1961. He came over to our pits after the race complaining that Milt Wright should have moved over and let him past. George answered him by asking where he learned to race. Ludwig then proceeded to try and answer, beating on his chest. George then told him, ‘You had better leave before I hit you.’ Needless to say, Ludwig was some pissed off.
“Their next meeting was the (first Canadian) Grand Prix. We had been having trouble with the car and couldn’t get any consistent lap times. I noticed that there was an oil leak on the timing chain cover. The chain had stretched and wore a hole in the cover. We had already qualified fifth, so had to start with the sick motor. Stirling Moss qualified on pole. Ludwig was second, Peter Ryan was third, Nat Adams was fourth. We were fifth. The starting grid: 3-2-1, 5-4 in the second row. While sitting there, George noticed Ludwig and Ryan signalling to each other to close the space between their cars as they knew George would pull them off the line on the green.
“George was just going to do the best he could with his sick car but this bit of strategy kind of got his dander up. (Starter) Wally Branston was ready to go green. George revved the car up to about three grand and slipped his foot of the clutch when Wally dropped the green. Ryan and Ludwig tried to shut the door except George was already there, red paint rings on the sides of their two cars from our red wheels. Moss, Ludwig, George, Adams and Ryan ran through Turn One in that order.
“Entry into Turn Four is a left downhill. George was a little loose going in. Adams said Ryan went into the turn at least 20 mph too fast and nailed George on the left rear wheel and got past him. The rear end was a floater and the end of the housing got broken off. Going into Turn Four the next lap, the wheel, drum and axle came out. George slid into the bank on the outside of Moss Corner (Turn Five). He wasn’t too worried about himself. There was a woman with a couple of kids sitting by the fence at the top of bank. The wheel, tire and axle sailed over their heads. Could have killed them if it was five feet lower.
“There was a big stink after the race about Ryan’s deliberate action in ramming George’s car. Nat Adams confirmed the scene and Ryan was hanged, drawn and quartered on CBC-TV that night.”
Barry Flynn was in his 90th year when he died and he took 90 years of those stories with him. R.I.P.
OTHER RACING NEWS
NTT Data has signed a contract to sponsor all of Chip Ganassi’s IndyCar entries in 2021. Scott Dixon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Kanaan and Alex Palou will all carry the company’s colours. When IndyCar races in Toronto next July 11, NTT Data will be primary sponsor of Johnson’s mount. NTT Data’s parent company, NTT, returns as official title sponsor of the series.
Because of the pandemic, K1 Speed Toronto, an indoor karting facility, will close until the latest lockdown is lifted. They will do their best to reschedule any Christmas karting parties already booked.
The World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series has added $90,000 to its points fund for 2021 and will pay a minimum of $10,000 for any race win. Absent from the schedule for the second consecutive year: races in Canada. For several years, the Outlaws – the F1 drivers of the sprint car set – would race at Drummondville, Que., Cornwall and wind up at Ohsweken Speedway on the Six Nations Reserve. You could not get a seat at any of those speedways. Hopefully, they’ll be back in 2022.
Alexander Berg, 14-year-old Calgary son of 1980s Canadian F1 pilot Allen Berg, won the annual Mazda Motorsports’ driver search competition held at Road Atlanta. He will receive financial and mentoring support from Mazda as he ascends to the next level of his racing career.
John Hunter Nemechek, who spent a year in the NASCAR Cup Series this season with no success, has opted to drop back to the Camping World trucks series and join Kyle Busch Motorsports. This put our Raphael Lessard out of a ride but the Quebec driver announced late last week that he will drive a partial schedule for GMS Racing and is seeking sponsorship to take him to more races. Radio-Canada has sponsored him in the past and might step/ up with additional funding.
Retired NASCAR star Morgan Shepherd has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. . . . . Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor will drive for Wayne Taylor Racing in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season. Alexander Rossi will pitch in for the 12 Hours of Sebring, the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta and the Six Hours of the Glen. Helio Castroneves will join the team for the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January. . . . . . After two IMSA seasons together, AIM Autosport of Woodbridge and Vasser Sullivan Racing have decided to part ways. AIM is looking for other partnerships in IMSA. . . . . . The Dakar Rally will be held in early January in Saudi Arabia. Better watch their backs. . . . . . Kyle Larson won his 44th sprint car race of the season at the weekend. He’s the Lewis Hamilton of the sprint car set. . . . . .
By Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca