NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: The Chinese Grand Prix & More

One of the more peculiar stories about practice occurred at the Chinese Grand Prix, and it’s one of those that show both the positives and the negatives of the sport. The opening practice began in foggy, drizzly conditions that made things challenging for the drivers. Sure, the state of the track may not have been great for accumulating data, but some track time is usually encouraged.

What manifested itself was a different problem. The safety helicopter, for transporting drivers needing medical help, faced troubling weather conditions that prevented it from being able to land at the hospital. This situation meant that practice was halted with a scant number of drivers laying down any time.

Chinese-Grand-Prix-practice-session-Shanghai-International-Circuit-China-07-Apr-2017 - Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton getting ready to keep the fans happy at the Chinese GP (photo: Getty Images)

The situation did not improve for the second practice. In essence, the second practice was cancelled, with no one ever making a lap. The conditions at the track were sufficient enough for laying down laps but because the overriding safety measures could not be met, the session became one of futility. To give any indication, Lewis Hamilton walked along the frontstretch fence handing out signed hats and offering signatures to those who neared him. Good PR out of a bad situation.

The problem with both practices failing to really take shape emerges in a couple ways. First, the teams suffer as they’re unable to collect data and the drivers are unable to get acclimated. As this race is the second of the season and the cars boast a number of new features, any track time is critical.

Who really suffers, are the fans. Tickets to F1 events aren’t cheap and the series doesn’t race in the same locales during the year, so for many, this is their one chance to see everything up close and to enjoy the show. The concern from many in the sport is the question of why there wasn’t a contingency plan – how come they were so reliant on the helicopter and had no other means for ensuring driver safety.

It’s a difficult matter and one with no easy answers. That at one point there was consideration for moving the race to Saturday (local time) to race in a better weather weekend, shows how difficult and fickle dealing with the conditions can be. While this may be an issue going forward, it is one that will surely warrant some kind of re-examination.

Odds & Sods

– When the cars finally did get some practice time, in the shorter free practice 3, the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen led the way. Sure, Hamilton may have botched his fast lap attempt by running wide, but for fans who are looking for a team to challenge Mercedes, these kinds of results are encouraging.

The past few years have been dominated by Mercedes with Red Bull, Ferrari, and Williams failing to provide much in the way of resistance. The odd win here or there wasn’t enough to prevent them from taking the past three championships. Red Bull looked like they might be coming close last season but close is a relative term. Ferrari, however, has taken the proverbial shot across the bow to start the season by winning in Australia. By claiming the top two spots in practice at the Shanghai circuit, a track in line with many for the rest of the year, they are demonstrating that the Silver Arrows may finally have cause to fret.

– Backing up their threat to take themselves from the F1 calendar, the Malaysian Grand Prix is off the schedule after 2017. Apparently the return on the investment wasn’t cutting it for the Malaysian government, who basically financed the race. As stated last year, they had wondered if the costs associated with hosting the race met the outcomes, and seeing the continued success of their Moto GP in comparison, felt no need to continue the affiliation with F1.

For their part, the sport remarked that they’re happy all the same. No surprise in that remark. However, the governing body does have cause to feel confident even as they lose a race destination because the French and German GPs return in 2018. That those races are part of the sport’s historical cornerstone should also make many fans pleased.

– Ousted from his position of ruling the sport as Liberty Media finished its purchase of F1, Bernie Ecclestone isn’t just sitting around playing bridge and drinking gin rummies. The octogenarian is now possibly in discussions to purchase Interlagos, also known as Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, the home of the Brazilian GP.

Brazil is navigating an economic mess regarding its economy and sporting events may be of importance to the citizenry but have become increasingly difficult to fund – especially in the aftermath of hosting the World Cup and Olympics and the drain that both had on their economy. Ecclestone is sensing an opportunity, as he’s always done.

For one thing, he’d be throwing a lifeline to a staple of the F1 schedule, one that may be struggling to continue. Then there’s the other aspect involved, and that is a sense of antagonizing the new owners of the sport by forcing them to deal with him. Sure, it might not be overt, but it may be his attempt to be a bit of factor in remaining a part of the sport. It seems that Ecclestone may be practicing Dylan Thomas’ poetic assertion: Do not go gentle into that good night.

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russ

Ferrari does seem to be a legitimate threat to Mercedes this year. But was surprised to see them, if not sweep the front row, take the pole after having lead qualifying up until then.

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