NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Rosberg Rolling, The U.S. Grand Prix & More

Four races remain in the 2016 Formula 1 season, and Nico Rosberg holds a 33 point lead over his teammate Lewis Hamilton.  Last year, Hamilton was in the process of wrapping up his third championship when the series visited the U.S. Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas.  His victory, however, looks to have been somewhat of a turning point for both drivers.

Rosberg responded to losing the race and the championship by then winning the last three races of the 2015 season, then followed by winning the first four this year.  Though he built a substantial points lead, a series of on-track errors caused him to let it slip away and when the summer break came, he trailed Hamilton by 19 points.

In past years, that deficit would have been all Hamilton needed to put away his teammate and roll to his fourth title.  Not the case this year, as Rosberg rallied to win four of the last five races and sits in solid position to claim his first championship.  In fact, it’s rather simple for Rosberg, finish second in the remaining races and the title is his, regardless of where Hamilton finishes.

One of the perceived knocks on Rosberg is that he lacks mental fortitude and that even with a comfortable situation in front of him, driving for the best team on the grid, that he is likely to muck things up.  There does seem to be something different about how he has driven this season, and a driver doesn’t get to nine wins through happenstance alone, even if a couple wins have been gifts.  

The title race is not over, because anything can happen in racing, which means Rosberg needs to keep up the same attitude that has gotten him this far – which all began at this track a year ago, after losing.  

Odds & Sods

Nico Hulkenberg is the big newsmaker of late, making a switch from Force India to Renault for next year.  From a statistical standpoint, the move looks to be a step backward.  Force India over the past couple years has held the position of being the fourth or fifth best team, while Renault, just taking over the Lotus operation this year, has rarely made its presence known.  

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 10: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Force India looks on in the garage during final practice ahead of the Spanish F1 Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 10, 2014 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Nico Hulkenberg will be in Renault livery next year (credit: Getty Images)

The move however, comes from two key points.  First, Hulkenberg has always felt a desire to drive for a factory works team.  There is a certain comfort that comes from being associated with one of these organizations, from an engineering and performance perspective to the overall sense of financing.  That second aspect is also key, as apparently Force India missed a couple payments to Hulkenberg, something that confounded his relationship with the team.  The question that now remains is where will Kevin Magnussen go?

– The teams agreed to switch preseason testing from its usual spot in Barcelona, Spain, to Bahrain this upcoming offseason.  Ferrari had wanted Pirelli to pay for monies associated with the change, and no doubt they are assisting, but they will not be taking the brunt of the financial obligation.  The main reason for the switch is that the teams felt that Barcelona would be too chilly to properly test out the new, wider, tyres that will be used next year.  Part of the testing also involves the new aerodynamic package that will also be difficult to understand at a track where the temperatures do not get hot enough to make the data gathered useful.  With these things being noted, the testing sessions ought to be rather interesting for a change.  

– Ross Brawn’s book, Total Competition, is due to be released soon but already there are snip-its that have found their way to the press and public.  One of the more telling is the reason that Brawn lists as his reason for leaving Mercedes, a team that he built into its current glory.  

Apparently when the German outfit brought on Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff, the climate at the headquarters changed, one that led to what Brawn called a “lack of trust.”  With their roles undefined but still in leadership positions, things got muddied at the top and Brawn never felt secure in what was being said or done.  What is amazing is that of all the people in the building, Brawn would be the one to keep most happy as his results over the years have been nothing but stellar.  Whether or not Brawn’s exit will lead to problems in the future for Mercedes, especially with the changes coming, have yet to be seen.  

– In a similar situation, longstanding McLaren honcho Ron Dennis may be seeing himself pushed out of any position of power.  Dennis, who owns 25% of McLaren, does not have final say and it’s likely that the big money holders are looking for better results.  Of course, McLaren has is in just its second year of trying to revitalize itself in its relationship with Honda, but it seems the results have not been coming as quickly as everyone had hoped.

The funny thing about the situation is that the person who is rumored to be in line to take Dennis’ position is none other than, Ross Brawn.  Brawn has indicated that he’s retired, but the allure of turning around a storied team like McLaren may be that final challenge that he would accept before leaving the sport for good.  

The Race

This year will be the fifth year US Grand Prix held at the Circuit of the Americas.  Lewis Hamilton has won three times at the track and is also the defending race winner.  Sebastian Vettel has the lone other victory.  Situated on the hills outside of Austin, Texas, the track is just over 3.4 miles in length and features 20 turns.   The race can be found on NBCSN at 2:00 EST on Sunday.

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