NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

The second round of the Formula 1 season gets written this weekend as the series visits the Sepang track for the Malaysian Grand Prix. There’s been a spate of news in the interim since Australia, with perhaps the most notable being that there will be no German Grand Prix on the calendar this year. That makes for two races that have been canceled since the schedule was announced – previously the Korean Grand Prix had made the schedule but was later removed, something that was expected as the main reason that Korea had been announced was to exploit a loophole in the regulations with regards to the car’s engines.

Having the German race canceled, however, is more difficult to embrace. The sport continues to move the bulk of the races outside of Europe even while the teams are still headquartered there. That the German Grand Prix has a lengthy history ostensibly means nothing in comparison to the money that a track like Russia or Abu Dhabi brings in for the governing body.

The race in Germany had already been facing issues as it switched between tracks on a yearly basis, using Nurburgring and Hockenheim in an effort to defray costs. These tracks can do so no longer which brings about some unwelcome questions like, a) are European fans tired of the sport? b) has television coverage made going to the track less of an experience? c) have the changes to the cars in the past few years driven away some of the core audience? and d) is the anger toward Bernie Ecclestone becoming that great?

Whatever the reasons, it is disappointing that another stalwart of the schedule will be crossed off for this year. Auf wiedersehen, hope to see you back in 2016.

What’s News

  • Leading the headlines is Fernando Alonso’s return after his testing accident in Barcelona that kept him out of the car in Australia. That he’s back in the car is one thing but speculation continues to surround the incident and what actually happened. Alonso has mentioned something going wrong with the steering but the team has never corroborated such an issue. That matter is then followed by the fact he has stated that he was knocked out at some point between the track and the hospital, which does not really fit with protocol. Alonso then spent two nights in the hospital for evaluation. If all he did was suffer a concussion the two nights seems like a bit much. The F1 press continues to wonder about what really happened or if there was something more substantial in Alonso’s injuries. Whatever the case, the team and the driver are playing coy and it is not of so much importance now that he has been cleared to race.
  • The Manor cars finally came to life at Malaysia. The team was present in Australia, not that you would notice as it never turned a lap as it was, for the most part, spending its time building its cars in the garage after the team found life with new financing. The team’s hard drives had been wiped, which meant that everything that was being done was being done anew. For Manor, just getting the engines fired and seeing the cars on track is a bit of a win. Leave it to the FIA to get sour on the team as it announced that the underfunded team would be penalized – likely by having to pay its freight from Australia to Malaysia. That might not seem like much but it comes across as another example of the governing body trampling on the little teams.
  • Red Bull has shown some pace but is struggling to keep both cars on track. In Australia, Daniil Kvyat failed to make the race, and this time it is Daniel Ricciardo finding problems during practice two. Sure, Ricciardo made it back out on the track but these early season issues add to Red Bull’s already frustrated place in the sport. For all of its success, Red Bull is now complaining that Mercedes is running so far ahead of the team. This griping is coupled with the team calling out its engine provider Renault and stating that there is little hope that it will win in 2015 with the power plant. There is some speculation that Red Bull may leave the sport with NBCSN’s broadcast crew, Leigh Diffey, Steve Matchett and David Hobbs, discussing the possibility of the team selling to Audi, with another prospect being that it would sell to Renault. Red Bull is clearly frustrated and some of these rumors may just be to rattle Bernie Ecclestone and company and hope for changes in the sporting regulations. The fact that teams and fans have been trying to get Ecclestone to change his ways for years and nothing has happened should be evidence enough of any likelihood to see something done. Bob Fernley, deputy team principal at Sahara Force India, is having none of Red Bull feeling sorry for itself, noting that his team has struggled to keep up as well but that’s part of competition. “I’ve no sympathy for where he is because how long have we been saying there are issues?” Fernley said. “It is one that has been progressively growing worse and we identified 18 months ago. The four big teams, including Red Bull, were adamant nothing needed to be done, and now Red Bull are getting squeezed a bit, and probably coming under pressure from their owners.” The financial aspects of F1, or more succinctly how the big teams of Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren, have dominated on-track and financially continues to be one of the overarching issues with the sport.
  • Hamilton’s Mercedes sputtered to a stall in the first practice after turning just four laps, an issue that harkens back to last year’s reliability struggles.  It did not matter, however, as Hamilton made an appearance late in practice two and managed to take the top spot.

The Malaysian Grand Prix

The track in Sepang is 3.4 miles long with 15 turns. It opened in 1999 and has hosted a race every year since and features the second-longest straightaway on the circuit. The past two races have brought drama between teammates with Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel leaving in a tiff in 2013, followed by Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg doing the same last year.

Rain is often a factor at the track, with downpours a regular occurrence. Of active drivers, Vettel and Alonso lead the way with three victories apiece. Michael Schumacher holds the high mark with four wins.

Race On

Race coverage, for those in the United States, is brought to you by NBCSN with its broadcast starting at 2:30 a.m. ET. The network will re-broadcast the grand prix at 3:30.

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