Most Mondays when wheels.ca posts this column – I write it and email it in Sunday night – and there’s been a Formula One race, I usually find something to complain about.
The race was dull; the stewards are stupid; Mercedes is killing interest by winning all the time. And so-on. If all else fails, there is always scandal. As my friend Gerald Donaldson says, F1 is “the world’s fastest soap opera.”
But not this Monday. There was a Grand Prix this weekend that was just about perfect. The U.S. Grand Prix was held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Tex., and it had everything.
By that, I mean it was a great race featuring excitement and drama. There was an enormous crowd. There was plenty of good ol’ American pizzazz, featuring the University of Texas Longhorns marching band and the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. There was breakout recording artist Joshua Ray Walker doing the U.S. national anthem. All that was missing was Michael Buffer letting loose with his “Are you ready to RUUUMMMBBBBLE” trademark combat introduction.
I am not a fan of Martin Brundle, but the snobs who ignored him during his walkthrough should all be made to apologize to him. Somebody tell Serena Williams she’s a has-been. And that rapper, who actually was charming, had a bodyguard who should be arrested for threatening. You know, the one with the green hair. That guy.
The race itself was far from a parade. Max miscalculated his start, figuring he would have a pretty clear run from pole into the first corner, and had to run in second place for much of the race. Toronto driver Nicholas Latifi, starting 13th in his Willams, encountered a backup at that first corner and went high around the outside, only to find fellow Canadian Lance Stroll from Montreal bogged down in his Aston Martin. WHAM! Both were able to continue, although Latifi had to stop for a new nose. But both finished well back in the results.
Max made his second pit stop – it was blisteringly hot, underneath the Texas sun, making it hard on the rubber – three laps in advance of Lewis Hamilton, the seven-time world champion. This gave the Sky announcing crew the rest of the race to debate whether Max had stopped too early and then to count down the tenths as Hamilton ran down the leader.
It’s funny how, in life and sport, things frequently don’t happen the way they’re supposed to. According to Sky, Hamilton would catch Verstappen with two laps to go, pull within a second on the last lap, which would give him DRS, and he would then fly by to win the race at the checkers.
But hold on: here’s Mitch Schumacher (and where did he come from)? He took his time getting out of the way and, when he finally did, he’d mucked things up for at least half a lap. And then, (yes, I am repeating “and then”) when he let Max past, that gave Max DRS, which was the little bit of an advantage he needed to keep Lewis at Bay.
F1 Notes (a few, anyway): It was Red Bull Racing’s 200th podium in the big league. Max’s teammate, Sergio (Checo) Perez finished third.
Was everyone in F1 on their best behaviour? F1 is making big strides in the United States and its almost as if F1 organizers read the riot act in advance that if anyone stepped out of line they’d be in big trouble. I mean, can you hear the hoots of derision from one coast to the other and north to the Canadian border if the stewards somehow got involved? F1 has probably taken over, or is taking over, from IndyCar so far as popularity is concerned and their growth will come from NASCAR so the stewards will just have to keep their noses out of things whenever F1 is in Austin or, as of 2022, Miami.
The race day crowd was estimated at 140,000. If F1 goes to Indy, they will attract 200,000. Something to think about.
Danica Patrick did a good job pontificating – better than she’s done at either Indianapolis or Daytona since she retired . . . .
This is how you can tell Formula One is catching on in the States. Not since the days of Watkins Glen has anybody seen as big a crowd as was at Austin. The first time I was there, in 2017, the grandstands opposite the Paddock Club, where I was forced to spend the weekend, were just about empty during qualifying. Not this year; they were jammed. And you couldn’t move in the place on Sunday this year. In fact, the roomiest place at Circuit of the Americas was the paddock itself . . . .
The league now will go to Mexico for the next race and Max now holds a 12-point cushion. After Mexico, there will be four races remaining but if Brazil is cancelled because of COVID, that will leave three. One will be the new race in Saudi Arabia. Will any of the drivers have the guts to refuse to race there? How can they hold their “We Race as One” ceremony in Saudi Arabia, where they don’t just throw political prisoners in jail, they skin them alive?
Et tu, Lewis?
Kyle Larson won the NASCAR Cup race at Kansas Sunday, with Chase Elliott second. Click here for a full report
Ty Gibbs pulled a Mario Andretti Saturday. He won the Xfinity Series race at Kansas Saturday afternoon (Austin Cindric finished second and A.J. Allmendinger was third) and then he won the 2021 ARCA Menards Series championship by taking the green flag for that evening’s Reese’s 150. Mario, of course, is famous for winning three races in a day: he won a feature early in the afternoon that had been interrupted by rain previously, then he won that afternoon’s feature and then towed to another track where he won the feature that night. He was racing midgets at the time . . . .
In an interview Thursday with Canadian reporters, Latifi said he and George Russell continued to be supportive teammates despite George being promoted to the Mercedes A-team, where he will partner Hamilton. I’m not so sure. Supportive teammates help each other. Russell, because he changed his engine, would start at the back of the pack no matter where he qualified. Latifi was hard-pressed, as the clock wound down, to move on to Q2. A supportive teammate would say, “I’m not going anywhere, so why don’t I give Nick a hand? Why don’t we go out for one last run and I’ll give him a tow?” But he didn’t and Nik didn’t get past Q1 . . . .
They held a 250-lap, 100-car enduro Saturday at Flamboro Speedway (see photo, above). Many of the cars were not properly equipped (in my view), which made things insanely dangerous. I hate to centre-out Flamboro, because just about all Ontario speedways are guilty of doing this at one time or another. Motor racing is dangerous, but it shouldn’t be more dangerous than it already is. Dylan Sharpe won the Enduro, followed by Nic Ramsay and Jo Lawrence. Blair Meiklejohn won the Demolition Derby. . . . .
They held the Indy Autonomous Car Challenge at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Saturday and TUM Autonomous Motorsport (a consortium of European universities) won $1 million. Several University of Waterloo students who teamed up with some U.S. universities could only watch as their computerized car turned left early and destroyed itself against the inside retaining wall. This reminds me of my friend Gary Morton and the first time he drove a super-modified at Oswego Speedway. He drove out of Turn 4 into a glaring sun and couldn’t see a thing. Thinking he must be at the first turn and that he should turn left before he went into the first-turn wall, he cranked ‘er left about 25 yards early and ka-boom! The car was destroyed; Gary lived to crash again . . . .
The Rallye de Charlevoix, a round of the 2021 Canadian Rally Championship, was held at the weekend and won by Marc-Andre Brisebois and Marie-France Desmerais-Trepanier in a Subaru WRX STI. This was the fourth event counting toward the national championship. The next will be held in Ontario Nov. 19 and 20 at the Rally of the Tall Pines. The championship will conclude early in December in British Columbia . . . .
The Eastern Canadian Rally Championship, which ran at the weekend as part of the Rallye de Charlevoix, was won by Jerome Mailloux and Philippe Poirier. They also will run with the nationally registered cars at the Tall Pines rally Nov. 20.