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Slipstream Saturday: F1 Heading to the Mountains

The last race, the Canadian Grand Prix, showcased what in many ways is the current status of Formula 1. Such a statement is no shock. Lewis Hamilton earning another win, his 37th, was in no way a surprise, nor was having his teammate, Nico Rosberg, finish second. The Mercedes duo is the class of the field and when they don’t take the top two spots on the podium, something seems amiss.

Valterri Bottas, the Williams driver, snuck ahead of the Ferraris and attempted to reclaim the team’s position as second-best on the grid. But that isn’t quite the reality as a consistent hierarchy has been developing this season for the teams. Note the standings prior to the Austrian Grand Prix:

Positions 1 & 2: Mercedes
Positions 3 & 4: Ferrari
Positions 4 & 5: Williams
Positions 6 & 7: Red Bull

Not until reaching the eighth spot does any kind of shake up occur, when there is a split between Lotus and Sauber, but normalcy returns for ninth and 10th, with Force India holding down those positions.

These standings imply is that the constructor is the most important aspect of F1 racing, making the driver less and less of a factor. This concept is not necessarily a new one, as there have always been dominant teams due to an organization figuring out the rules better than anyone else, but the driver was an important component of the successes or failures. The currently hierarchy indicates that technology trumps skill.

This notion is furthered by the fact that drivers, both present and former, have come out and railed against how the sport is progressing. When Fernando Alonso likens driving an F1 car to piloting an airplane (an idea that has not been far fetched for a while) and insinuates that it is joyless, then there is a problem. When David Coulthard declares that when drivers are forced to worry about fuel consumption that they’re not actually racing, then there is a problem. When Nico Hulkenberg uses his win at the 24 Hours of LeMans as a vindication of his driving ability compared to his efforts in F1, then there is a problem.

The groups involved in developing the sport keep discussing ways to fix it, but have yet to reach any real conclusions. Wider cars, wider tires, and other changes have been debated but when the ‘powerplant’ of a car consists of eight different components (engine, energy recovery system, etc. etc.) it becomes tough to make moves that counteract the technological advancements in the sport. What we do know is that refueling will not be part of the program in the near future. So there’s that.

Odds & Sods

  • One of the other concerns in the sport is the calendar and the selection of tracks that comprise the schedule. With France no longer holding a race and even the German Grand Prix facing problems, some of the attention has shifted to Italy. The current stop in the country is at Monza, but the contract there runs out next year and the talks have not been going well with Bernie Ecclestone, aka F1 Supremo, doing his best to make things difficult. Read that as: extraction of as much money as possible. With those talks going as they are, Imola has entered the discussion. The track last held a race in 2006. The pressure to hold a race in Italy is immense, owing to Ferrari, but it seems peculiar that the tracks are now in competition with one another in a country with a problematic economy.
  • With the McLaren-Honda partnership showing little in the way of dividends so far, they continue to be one of the more intriguing stories in the sport. It is difficult to compare them to teams like Sauber or Williams because the money behind this pairing is solid. For the Austrian Grand Prix, Honda is boosting the power in their cars, even if reliability has been much of the issue. The fun part is that both Alonso and Jenson Button will receive 20-spot grid penalties for the change. And because there are only twenty cars on the grid, they also get stop and go penalties. At some point, the rules governing the sport and encouraging competitiveness need to be examine.

The Race

The Austrian Grand Prix has been one of those off and on again event, it actually returns for its second straight year, though it should be mentioned that there was a gap after 2003. The track, now known as the Red Bull Ring is difficult because of its sweeping turns and elevation changes. The relatively short track, just under two miles in length, features nine turns but continued high speeds. Rosberg leads all active drivers with one win, but that will be under assault as Hamilton has earned the pole for the race and will look to increase his lead, which stands at 17 points.

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About Ava Ladner

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As an editor, Ava works through some of the site’s biggest columns while writing one of her own on F1 each week. “Stranded” on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, the aspiring college professor also helps anchor other coverage while coordinating Pace Laps, our multi-series news update.

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