NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Melbourne in the Rear View; News

The debut of the Formula 1 season in Melbourne may have been a bit of a dud in terms of overall competition but it did give a snapshot as to where everyone is at the moment and a forecast for what to expect the rest of the season. The obvious realization is that Mercedes has positioned themselves as the team to beat, with star driver Lewis Hamilton as the driver to beat. The offseason may have given the defending champion a little more time to settle in at the silver arrow and may be positioned to rip off wins, much like he did last year when he totaled 11. That means that even his teammate Nico Rosberg must have a bit of a frustrated outlook on how the season may progress. Then again, he’s not alone.

Recapping the Week

With Mercedes running away with the Australian Grand Prix, as even second-place finisher Rosberg drove to the checkers a full 30 seconds ahead of third-place Sebastian Vettel, already teams are griping about the advantage that team has. Leading the whining is Red Bull, who is so frustrated by Mercedes dominance that they issued a threat becoming all too common in F1: if something doesn’t change, they will quit. Ferrari pulled this same maneuver last year.

The current rules do make for frustrating circumstances as teams aren’t allowed to tinker with the engines as they would like – or, basically, once the season starts, what they’ve got is what they’re stuck with. Now, there does seem to be a problem with such constrictions but the rule was developed with an interest toward keeping costs down. It’s a goal nearly all the teams have mentioned in the past few years, though the rich ones do not seem to have any problem spending as they see fit.

Perhaps the paradox here is that Red Bull is facing another year when they will be somewhat of an afterthought. Sure, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat may be rising stars, but the Renault-powered car just is not able to keep pace with Mercedes, Williams, and the potentially surprising Ferrari. In fact, Red Bull might be so frustrated because they’re doing battle with their sister organization Toro Rosso and Lotus for much of the year. What makes the situation paradoxical is that the other teams didn’t send salvos of leaving the sport one race into a season when Red Bull was winning four straight championships. One point of racing, and sports for that matter, is competition and it seems that Red Bull may have forgotten that.

In other news, Geido van der Garde and Sauber resolved their relationship this past week. There are a few things to be gleaned from the split. The foremost aspect is that the pay-driver in F1 is a problematic circumstance; that being any driver who is paying for the seat brings with him, or her, a different set of complications as compared to a hired driver. The organization who signs drivers who are paying for the seat seem to complicate how the organization does business, and from a broader perspective, how the sport operates. That Sauber’s other two drivers, Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson, are both pay drivers made the situation even more messy. Were those two were bringing more money than van der Garde?

The end result is that van der Garde walked away with $16 million, which gives a glimpse as to how much a ride costs. Whether or not he is able to keep most of the money or has to repay it to his backers doesn’t matter much as his career in F1 is now finé. Some fans and pundits have argued that the FIA should regulate against pay-drivers and they may have a point; the whole ordeal seems to bring another level of matters to an already intricate business.

Speaking of business, for many people that means it’s time to once again rail on Bernie Ecclestone. Word out of Germany is that there’ll be no German Grand Prix this year. Neither Hockenheim nor Nurburgring will be hosting the race, as the fees have gotten to a point where they’re unable to keep pace. That Germany, home of the the defending champion manufacturer, will not be hosting a race seems wrong. Then again, the fact that France is no longer part of the schedule also seems to be an issue, itself a proud home to racing tradition but something that seems to no longer garner much discussion.

Exploiting new markets is nothing new in sports but at some point, that kind of mindset brings backlash and antagonism. Is the balance between TV and trackside revenues that disparate that it doesn’t pay to race in historical markets?

Fernando Alonso, recovering from a concussion that forced him out of the Australian Grand Prix, resumed racing work this week by spending time in McLaren’s driving simulator.  No word on if the simulator gave up after 10 laps. Kidding aside, the sport is better when Alonso is involved, though after the lackluster showing by his teammate Jenson Button in the new Honda-powered car in Melbourne there may be a good chance that Alonso is not seen all that frequently – save for being passed. Perhaps the Spaniard can bring something impressive in Malaysia.

Williams driver Valtteri Bottas is also making progress toward returning to his car for Malaysia. Bottas suffered a back injury during practice in Melbourne and failed to make the grid for the Grand Prix. With Williams looking like a bit of a lively competitor, missing the race must have driven Bottas nuts as he sat there in the paddock watching.

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