NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Slipsteam Saturday – Red Bull’s Rise and the Russian Grand Prix

Though Nico Rosberg headlined the last grand prix in Shanghai, his story is not altogether surprising.  The Mercedes car has been the class of the field, now going on three seasons, and with Lewis Hamilton starting in the back, Rosberg was the odds-on favorite to win the Chinese Grand Prix.

While none of that may have been a shocker, the performance of Red Bull is the one that really worth noticing.  Let’s remember that Red Bull and their engine supplier, Renault, endured a contentious relationship last year as the team underperformed race after race.  The two entities seemed to do nothing but snipe at each other in the press for much of the season.

During the offseason, Red Bull looked to find a new power plant but did not agree with the stipulations that Ferrari put on an agreement; could not reach an understanding with Mercedes; and was rebuffed by Honda.  Right, even Honda, whose performance has been unremarkable, didn’t want to deal with Red Bull.

Back to Renault.   To scrap some of the acrimony from last year, Red Bull has branded their Renault engine, the Tag Heuer powerplant – because the watch company is known for making engines.  That strange relationship aside, the surprising result is that the Red Bulls have shown promise this year.  Daniil Kvyat’s podium result in China showed that while they may not have closed the gap to Mercedes, that Red Bull can race with Ferrari and maybe steal some more podiums, and perhaps a win should things fall right.

This story makes one question the rush to ditch partners in the sport.  Engine development does not come quick and surely the past couple years of flailing drove Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and his drivers nuts, but these things happen in waves – just like the prospect that Mercedes will not be on top forever (though no one has mentioned when that might end).

Odds & Sods

– Making auto racing safe is somewhat of a paradoxical aspect of the sport.  On one hand, a driver is supposed to test the limits of both the car and his/her abilities.  On the other hand, it’s a good idea that said driver returns to the paddock intact (though nothing should be mentioned about his/her wits).  One of the challenges that F1 is facing with regard to safety is creating a cockpit that protects a driver but does not hinder sightlines.

Red-Bull-protezione-abitacolo-1
Red Bull’s attempt to make the cockpit safer looks sleek but no one knows what design may be the one used should F1 choose to change the car’s design (Credit: Red Bull)

Ferrari unveiled their concept earlier this year at the Barcelona tests.  At Sochi, Red Bull offered their iteration, which looked more like a partial windscreen.  From an aesthetic standpoint, the Red Bull concept looks better than Ferrari’s halo idea.  Letting the teams test out the ideas for all to see allows for open comments and critical discourse.  That being noted, at some point the FIA and F1 are going to have to get together and determine just how they will go forward with any kind of cockpit safety measures as right now it seems like it’s a crapshoot.

Sebastian Vettel will endure a five-spot grid penalty when the lights go out to start the Russian Grand Prix for a gearbox change.  That must be a bit deflating as Ferrari used three engine tokens to make upgrades to both Vettel and Raikkonen’s rides.  Through Free Practice No. 2, the Ferraris looked improved, but then reliability concerns struck as Vettel’s car lost power.  For every step forward made at Maranello, the team then seems to be beset by the issue of whether or not the car will make it to the end of the race.  Considering that Vettel already failed to make the grid because of mechanical issues in Bahrain, maybe the team is pushing its limits just a tad much for the moment.

– Force India Racing is fast becoming a team to worry about.  While never a top marker in the series, they have held their own and finished a respectable fifth in the manufacturer’s standings last year.  In conjunction, they’ve got sponsorship and two decent drivers.

The overarching financial aspects cloud the picture.  Vijay Mallya, one of the team owners, is currently hiding from the Indian government in England, attempting to dodge a $1 billion bill, though it should be noted that he offered to pay $600 million of it.  Then there’s Subrata Roy, who heads the Sahara part of Sahara Force India, their major stakeholder and sponsor.  Roy currently sits in an Indian jail for corrupt business practices and has yet to resolve his legal issues.

The more this situation continues the more it looks similar to the likes of Manor and Sauber and a host of others who have come before them.  For a team with a solid presence on the grid this situation can do nothing but drag it down.  So far, that hasn’t been the case, but the question of how long that trend can remain must rest with much of the team.  There’s no speedy resolution in sight, but even just some glimmers of hope would be helpful.

Russian Grand Prix

The Russian Grand Prix has been held a total of four times.  The first two races ran in St. Petersburg in 1913 and 1914.  And then nothing.  It took one hundred 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 a schoche over 3.6 miles in length.  Lewis Hamilton won the inaugural event at the track and did so again in 2015.  The race had been the fifth to last event last year but in the 2016 race calendar shakeup it moved into Spring.  The race can be found on NBCSN on Sunday, May 1, at 7:00 a.m. EDT.

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Russ

Its refreshing not to have to listen to Red Bull endlessly whining about Renault this year. After a while it just got to be, well, annoying. And do we really care whether its called a Renault or a Tag Heaur in the back?

And reliability issues in a way make the sport more interesting. While no fan wants to see his favorites car sitting beside the track with smoke pouring from it, at least it adds an element of drama. One could argue that the total reliability of the cars is one of Nascars problems. Where, barring a wreck everybody finishes.

Lastly it seems that Haas which had such an amazing opening pair of races may be starting to experience a bit of the reality of F1.

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