This weekend Formula 1 visits one of its old stomping grounds when the series hits Hockenheimring for the German Grand Prix. If you recall, there was no German GP last year. In one of those moves that angered fans and confused those within the sport, F1 supremo leveraged the race against more money and ultimately dropped it from the schedule when the demands were not met.
Ecclestone seems to be made of kevlar. For every move he pulls like that one, or every stupid thing that slips from his mouth, he seems impervious to criticism and just keeps moving along. If he were in a James Bond film, he’d be one of those characters that Bond could never kill.
Ecclestone’s presence raises a weird issue. Many people within the sport would like to see him gone and for someone with a little more panache and understanding of the PR global game to take on the role. That idea makes all kinds of sense as Ecclestone often draws negative attention. The flipside is that no one has been better for growing the sport and shepherding it than he has.
So for all the ludicrous behaviour he brings, and fans of the sport know that he has brought a fair amount – especially these past years as social media scrutiny has followed him more – for all of that, he still brings a sharp business mind and one that benefits the teams and the series.
Ecclestone, is no youngster and some sort of succession plan has to be creeping into his mind. But who gets the job?
As NASCAR has shown, things don’t always transition smoothly. Brian Z. France has become the target of much of the fans’ vitriol in the sport, much as Roger Goodell has endured in the National Football League. Their predecessors may have benefitted from more privacy but they’ve both made enough errors and handled them poorly enough, that any leeway the fans may have given has evaporated.
The belief that a consortium may take over Ecclestone’s role has grown in speculation, but the reality is that such a move won’t work. Sure, they’d likely to make sound decisions and continue to manage the sport but it likely wouldn’t be enough. Even if it were to be three level-headed persons running the the committee, at some point a leader must emerge.
So when the lights go out this weekend at a track the series should have visited last year it will be a strange homage to Ecclestone and his dictatorial ways. For the fans, it’s a return to a place that is a bedrock in F1.
Odds & Sods
– Formula 1 announced this past week that the Halo cockpit protection system will not be used in 2017 as previously indicated. While many drivers and teams within the sport had given their support to Halo, except perhaps Lewis Hamilton whose attitude was one of malaise, the governing body has withdrawn the use for now. The belief is that rather than settle for an idea that may have been rushed through, the goal is to take more time and to develop better a cockpit protection for the car. To state it better, that is to say that the series would prefer not to settle for what’s been created thus far and to look into the matter further. But should the series have implemented the Halo for 2017 with an eye toward revealing a better one for 2018? Oddly enough, it was Hamilton who raised that very question after the drivers had a meeting with series officials. Should something happen, fingers crossed that it doesn’t, F1 would look rather negligent.
– Officiating director Charlie Whiting pushed for better scrutiny of drivers abusing the track limits at Hungaroring last week. Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso both pushed to the edge of facing reprimands by going off track three times each during the Hungarian Grand Prix but did not push the matter to a fourth time.
The scrutiny will continue for the German GP with a focus on turn one. While at the onset of the weekend the series announced that track limits would not be imposed, Whiting came out and countered that by essentially saying, hogwash. The reason for Whiting’s response was that the F1 strategy group, which had announced a relaxation of the rules had done so in agreement but had not gone through the formal channels to change the rules. That means that the three-strikes rule will be in place for turn one, though maybe with a wink and a nod.
– Last week this column trumpeted that Fernando Alonso was going through one of his usual seasonal rants. Perhaps, however, the Spanish two-time champion really is getting fed up with the sport. This time he’s expressed his frustration with both the radio rules and the tracks limits and wondered just how the sport is being adjudicated. The fact that the silly radio rules will now be relaxed (or might not exist at all) illustrates how rules in the sport is a moving target.
– The teams of Red Bull and Ferrari both thought they might be somewhat close in catching Mercedes after the first two practices. It looks like Mercedes were just managing the gap as their drivers Nico Rosberg took the pole, even with a slight flub, and Hamilton seeded himself second, while locking up during one of the turns on his flying laps. A perfect day for the German company. While drivers are unlikely to concede the season to other drivers, this season is another where the champion will come from Mercedes and the battle Hamilton and Rosberg. The Red Bulls slated in the third and fourth spots with the Ferrari duo taking the third row.
– Quick note: Romain Grosjean, who raced to a strong start of the season with the American, Haas-F1 organization, has suffered lately, as fans of the sports expected. Though he’s still a respectable 11th in the standings (respectable, of course, owing to being on a team in its incipience), he has only earned points in one out of the last seven races and has incurred two DNFs. To make things more difficult for the French driver, he incurred a five-spot grid penalty for a gearbox change and will start 20th.
One of the oldest races on the schedule, the German GP began in 1926 at a track in Berlin. Since that time, has been held on basically two tracks: Nurburgring and Hochenheimring. The reason for the using the word basically is that the Nurburgring has used three different parts of its course over time. Hockenheim, the other track used predominantly, has alternated with Nurburgring since 2008 but boasts its own rich history, having come into existence in 1932. The twisting track, with little in the way of elevation change, features 17 turns and is 2.84 miles in length. Of the current drivers, Alonso leads with three wins, while Hamilton has two. When the GP was last held at Hockenheim in 2014, Nico Rosberg took the win.