NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: F1 Changes & the Singapore GP

This weekend marks what is loosely the Asian swing of the Formula 1 schedule as the series races at night in Singapore.  With seven races remaining this season, this race sits as an interesting one for the all the teams.  It’s a situation of having one foot in the room and one foot out the door.  

For Mercedes, things are simple: bring home the championships, drivers and constructors.  And really, at this point, it is hard to argue that they will struggle on either account.  For the other teams, especially those on the lower end of the funding scale, the remainder of the season is one of determining just how much of the resources available should be allocated to a car that will be a dinosaur at season’s end.  Teams like Red Bull and Ferrari have the ability to push this season, especially as they vie for second and third place spots in the constructors standings, and the payout that accompanies it.  For a team like Williams, well, perhaps it’s best to ride out the year with what it’s got and focus on the new car.  That’s not to say that Williams won’t putting in an honest effort and the engineers won’t be looking to improve, but that it may have a distracted eye toward next year.

The team that may benefit from such a situation, and this seems peculiar to state, is McLaren – yes, woeful McLaren.  It may have reliability issues and sometimes look like a mess, but it also has Honda backing, which means it’ll continue to push forward with this year’s car and still have the ability to invest in next year.  It wasn’t so long ago that it was a top team, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see it return to form in the very near future.  McLaren currently sits sixth in standings, 60 points behind Force India, which looks like a substantial gap but in reality is rather manageable should McLaren finally string together some solid finishes.  And Williams is just three points ahead of Force India.  Is it possible that McLaren could manage to move to fourth by season’s end?  Completely.  

Odds & Sods

chase-carrey-750
The new F1 chairman, Chase Carey (PR photo)

– So the big story surrounding F1 has been its takeover by the American company Liberty Media.  If you’re unfamiliar with Liberty Media, it’s a company that owns plenty of other media companies, which is to say it owns things like, oh, DirecTV.  Of course, it’s difficult to pony up $8 billion to buy F1 if you’re not a major player on the world stage.  So now that the first payment has been made, it looks like F1 will actually be changing hands over the course of the next year.  

On Sept. 8, the new owners announced that Chase Carey would be ascending to the role of chairman of F1.  Carey comes from the FOX world (which also has strategic ties to Liberty Media) and is the person who pushed FOX to spend $1.3 billion to acquire the rights to broadcast the NFL when FOX was in its infancy.  That decision proved prescient as it catapulted FOX into the realm of being a major network.  

The question that arises with the Liberty Media takeover is that Bernie Ecclestone is still on board and figures to still be a player for a little while.  The read on Carey is that he is one that works much like Ecclestone: on his own and forging ahead.  To watch how things may play out between Carey and Ecclestone will be interesting, but much of that may be predicated on the fact that the sale of F1 will not be complete until spring 2017.

– One of the aspects that accompanies Liberty Media’s takeover of F1 is that the company is willing to sell shares of the sport to the teams involved.  For Ferrari, this discussion is worth nothing as it already has a stake in F1 and makes money regardless.  The other teams, however, may find this kind of thinking as a way to mitigate the payouts that accompany the constructor’s championship and allow for lower teams to recoup their expenses.  This concept would show a big change in thinking in the sport.  

Max Verstappen enjoyed the early privilege of receiving a Renault engine upgrade.  While the engine is not reconfigured to show drastic changes (that is to say that the spark plugs and fuel intake have been the modest modifications), any upgrades tend to be welcomed.  Heading into the race, Renault announced that all four of the cars it powers will also be fitted with the newer power plants, which means the Renault factory team and Red Bull will be the beneficiaries.

Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso both tried out the Halo cockpit protection system during practice this weekend.  Once again, the move forward to make the car safer for drivers is a good thing, yet there still seems to be a reluctance or tinkering with the current idea.  While Hamilton stated that the device seemed not to be a distraction, Alonso questioned the extraction aspects with the device.

The Race

The Singapore Grand Prix came to fruition in 1961 as the Orient Grand Prix.  Subsequent iterations were called the Malayasian Grand Prix, until 1965, when Singapore earned its independence.  A 35-year gap divided the running of the race beginning in 1973.  Negotiations to hold the race again began in 2006, with Formula 1 going lights-out in 2008 in what was the sport’s first night race.  The street circuit is the slowest track on the F1 calendar, features 23 turns and is 3.14 miles in length.  The humid conditions mean the temperatures in the cockpit can often reach 140 degrees, while running at night also provides a different challenge – aspects that have contributed, along with the tight confines, to the safety car making an appearance in every race thus far.  Sebastian Vettel won the race last year and leads all drivers with four victories at the track.  

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