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Slipstream Saturday: F1 Returns to Russia

Five races remain in the  Formula 1 season as the series races in Russia this weekend. Mercedes can lock up the constructors’ title at the Russian Grand Prix, something that merely feels like a done deal at this point, because if they don’t take care of it at Sochi, surely they will In Austin, Texas in two weeks time. The championship also seems to be without drama as Lewis Hamilton is cruising away, up 48 points on second-place teammate Nico Rosberg.  

The combination of these things makes it seem like the Russian GP might not be worth watching, but if you’re a fan of the series, there’s no real difference between this race or any others this season. The Mercedes dominance has become a point of frustration for many fans but it is no different than other times in the sport’s existence when Red Bull, McLaren, or Ferrari ruled.

Hamilton is, at this point, putting on a clinic and is establishing himself as a driver in the pantheon of the greats. Love him or not, what he’s doing is impressive. As for everyone else, they’re just sucking on his exhaust fumes.  

But behind the Mercedes duo is a continually improving Ferrari team that has the ability to provide a few moments of pressure. With the first two practices at Sochi being comprised – the first by a diesel spill, and the second by rain – no one is quite sure what they’ve got for the race. Kimi Raikkonen called the day “useless,” a notion backed by the fact that just eight drivers took to the track and posted times during that second practice.

The race forecast portends for a dry track, making the third practice key in shaking down the cars and trying to find grip on what is a slick track.  

Odds & Sods

  • Red Bull’s engine problem is now reaching the absurd point. With their relationship with Renault now in ruins, they are seeking someone to power their cars next year, even though they continue to make threats about leaving the sport.  Mercedes and Honda have already balked at the idea. That leaves Ferrari as the main negotiating partner for their power plant for next season. At least, it did until recently. Red Bull has complained that they want engines that are comparable to those of the works team. Ferrari, however, is not looking to do such a thing and has even mentioned that they may not lease out their 2015 engines to Red Bull either as it makes them too much of a direct competitor. Bernie Ecclestone has made overtures that he will step in to help, but how and what the repercussions may be are open to interpretation. One aspect that makes the negotiations more intriguing is that Ferrari is willing to give Toro Rosso, or Red Bull Jr., solid engines, but not the big team. Thus the drama continues: IF Red Bull is on the grid, who will be supplying the engines?
  • Meanwhile, Renault, likely tired of dealing with the Red Bull organization is moving on and looks to be ready to take over the Lotus team which is reeling financially. Renault’s performance may not compare to that of Mercedes and Ferrari, but perhaps a stronger investment in the sport will once again perk up the French giant. There are a couple of things that may foreshadow their surge in the upcoming years. The first thing is a basic one: money. Renault has the ability to commit the resources needed to regain its place at the front of the grid. They already have an engine as a starting point, unlike Honda when they returned to the sport. The second aspect is pride. Having been trashed in the press all year long by Red Bull, Renault will no doubt be looking to make a meaningful statement. Being able to find success, even just by besting the Red Bull teams, would serve as a way to exact some revenge.
  • Sure, they’re hanging out at the back of the grid, but McLaren are all set to stay the course for next year. Rumors had Jenson Button retiring, or going to another team, or starting a pet grooming service (that last one may not be true), but he has signed on for one more year. In a similar fashion, the perceived malcontent, Fernando Alonso, has also let it be known that he will be fulfilling his contract and remain at the struggling team through 2017. With the performance of the Honda-McLaren pairing hovering around dreadful, getting these two drivers to stay was a must in an attempt to improve. Having two world champions in the fold can never be a bad thing.
  • Pirelli was recently purchased by ChemChina for somewhere around $7.7 billion. No word on whether this move may affect the tire manufacturer’s place in the sport. Rumors have circulated that Michelin may be looking to challenge Pirelli as the tyre supplier but thus far nothing has changed.
  • In another business note, Ecclestone has made overtures that F1 may be sold to a group led by Stephen Ross, the owner of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. The numbers floating about have the price sitting around $8.5 billion. Whether or not Ecclestone and the equity firm that owns the series is actually going to sell is another matter. The fear is that such a change might encourage the schedule to be filled with more races that don’t sit with the traditional/historical events.

Russian Grand Prix

The Russian Grand Prix has been held a total of three times. The first two races ran in St. Petersburg in 1913 and 1914. And then nothing. It took 100 years for Russia to set up another grand prix, with it coming to fruition last year as the series ran on a track built in what was the complex for the Olympics. Hence, some of the sights surrounding it are the remaining stadia. The Sochi Autodrom is a flat track that features 19 turns and is over 3.6 miles in length. Hamilton won the inaugural event at the track and is likely favored to do so again. The race can be found on NBCSN on Sunday, October 11, at 7:00 a.m. ET.

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russ

Something about the race in Russia just doesn’t seem to fit into the F1 story line. Perhaps its just the appearance of a wide open expanse of , well empty buildinds and space.

Meanwhile Red Bull does appear to have shot itself in the foot regarding engines. Despite Bernie’s statement that it has all been sorted one wonders how. Supposedly Ferrari is not willing to supply RB with the 2016 spec engines. Thus they join Mercedes and Honda in not meeting the demands of Red Bull. So the question is will Red Bull go hat in hand to Renault? Or, has this just been an elaborate way of laying the groundwork for Red Bull’s exit from the sport?

Meanwhile Manor, the smallest and arguably the most popular team on the grid is making a huge upgrade for next year. Having soldiered thru with outdated Cosworth V8’s, than under powered and then outdated Ferrari engines they finally have a chance. Next year they will have Mercedes engines, Williams transmissions and suspension, and a new factory to work in. Lets hope they can make the step up into a points earning position.

As far as F1 being sold by the equity group, that offers a opportunity for the sport. Combined with the suit in the EU by two of the race teams it may give the smaller teams a more equitable slice of the pie. If it does it should be a boon for the sport. Or, if they try to follow the Nascar model it may be a death knell.

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