NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Spreading the Wealth & Rumors Ahead of the Canadian GP

When we last joined the Formula 1 daredevils, they were speeding through the streets of Monaco.  The commonwealth, a veritable playground for the rich and famous, seems to match with the sport like no other environment does.  At the same time, racing the Monaco GP also represents the elements of class that are representative of the sport, and the world at-large.

With Ferrari taking the top two spots, with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, respectively, the results again indicate how the wealthy in the sport have the most advantage and how any hope of parity is currently an issue that brings laughter.  

Consider that the top three teams of Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull all spend over £210 million per year each then there’s a significant drop-off to the next tier.  The Williams team, one celebrating 40 years on the grid, is believed to be spending around £130 million, showing the vast disparity between those at the front and the rest of the field.  It makes sense then that Williams is sitting sixth in the constructor’s championship.

It is this gap between the wealthy top-three and the rest that have many teams looking forward to the discussion regarding how prize money is distributed in the near future.  That Ferrari hold an equity stake that brings them a different advantage in the sport is one thing, and no one should have a problem with the idea of meritocracy being an element of racing.  But the distribution has become a problem that needs to be addressed because if the lesser teams aren’t able to come anywhere near the front, the likelihood of them packing up and leaving more empty spots becomes more real.  

Let’s track the current Renault team as an example.  Prior to Renault returning to be a works team, it was Lotus; before that Lotus-Renault; before that Renault; before that Benetton; and before that Toleman F1.  That the team has changed hands so many times is problematic for the sport – and this a team that won the 2005 and 2006 driver’s and constructor’s championships.  These shifts seem evident of the difficulty of maintaining financial solvency in the sport.

That there was a rumor that Mercedes might leave the sport after 2018 backs this notion.  While Toto Wolff disputed this notion, saying that the team was signed to compete through 2020, such a rumor does bring the question of the worthiness of the investment in the sport.

This issue has festered in F1 for a long time but may be one that will face scrutiny and changes when the Concorde agreement expires next year.  The new owners, Liberty Media, are rather conscious of the issue and may not feel the same kind of loyalty to previous monetary distribution.  This is just another area where new parties may make a difference.   

Odds & Sods

The sport’s favorite soap opera continues this weekend at the Canadian Grand Prix as Fernando Alonso returns to his normal job on the grid.  Alonso appeared at the Thursday press conference where he answered questions about his current situation with McLaren-Honda.  The takeaway was Alonso saying that if the team isn’t in place to win races by September that he’ll be looking to go elsewhere next year.  

This statement, of no big surprise, was followed by McLaren team principal Zak Brown stating that if Honda doesn’t provide something better than they have that they too will be looking to end their relationship.  There is a belief that McLaren have also set an in-season deadline of three months to see dramatic improvement.  

The whole situation is a confluence of the pressure of three disparate parties: Alonso seeking to be on a team that can provide a winning car; McLaren seeking to return to glory; and at this point, Honda seeking to show that they have the resources, expertise, and technology to be a top engine supplier, while also returning to what once was.  There is a distinct possibility that all three may divorced in a short amount of time.  Of course, Alsonso’s frustrations were heightened by his car enduring a hydraulic issue in FP1 that was fixed about halfway through FP2.  

One of the feel-good stories of F1 came to fruition this past week when former Renault driver Robert Kubica got behind the wheel of a car.  Kubica had been a promising driver when in 2011 he wrecked while driving in rally and partially severed his right arm.  As he healed he returned to drive in rally/World Endurance Championship but could merely dream of ever being behind an F1 car again.

As it stands, Kubica trained for a year to be able to drive a Renault again.  The experience is one that defines the concept of bittersweet.  Sure, Kubica enjoyed his 115 laps behind the wheel again and demonstrated that talent that got him to the grid in the first place but also exemplified a lost career and what could have been.  Those aspects being noted, Renault had nothing to gain by putting him behind the wheel and showed class by doing so.  

nico hulkenberg, renault (photo: getty images)
Could Nico Hulkenberg be getting a former champion as teammate? (photo: Getty Images)

In more discussion about Renault, it seems that their driver Jolyon Palmer will be out of his seat at the team during the summer break, making the race at Spa his last for the team.  Palmer has never met the promise that was expected of him and rumors surrounding his departure have orbited the Briton since early in his first year with the team.  

It can be acknowledged that Renault have not been the best on the grid but Palmer has rarely matched his teammate’s pace and has torn up a lot of equipment over his tenure with the team.  As Palmer is likely to move on, it will open a seat with a team that should be on the rise.  Such a situation cannot but raise the question as to whether or not Alonso will once again suit up for the French manufacturer.  Could such a reunion bring the result that the McLaren-Alonso relationship couldn’t?  And if not, who else might take the seat at Renault.  

We can be simple here and just state that Red Bull endured a horrible Friday in Montreal.  For whatever gains they may have made at Monaco, they turned their practice time into a mess as Daniel Ricciardo missed FP2 and Max Verstappen blew his power unit late in the same session.  It looks like they’re making their job of catching Ferrari and Mercedes that much more difficult.  

The Race

The Canadian Grand Prix began in 1961 and has been held at three different tracks.  Since 1978, the series has used the Circuit Ile Notre Dame – Gilles Villenueve course, though there have been some modifications over the years.  The 2.7 mile long track features 13 or 14 turns, depending who you talk to, while also having long straights where drivers pass the 200 MPH mark.  Michael Schumacher, no surprise here, holds the all time wins record with seven, while Lewis Hamilton’s five wins leads active drivers.  Lewis Hamilton won last year’s race and with his early pace this weekend but Ferrari have been battling with the Silver Arrows and look to challenge.  

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