Oh dear, the Austin GP didn’t evolve into the race it might have been.
Losing Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen along with a Virtual Safety Car which disadvantaged Daniel Ricciardo really took the energy away. Thankfully the midfield were getting pretty punchy to say the least.
I think they have to change the name of the venue from COTA (Circuit of the Americas) to ZOTA because the F1 drivers treated it more like a zone than a circuit, helping themselves to any bit of hard standing which suited their progress.
At the recent World Sportscar race in Austin the administration were brutal with track limits in qualifying and the race, using cameras to nail down any track limits abuse among the 100 drivers in a six-hour race.
So we ought to be able to control 22 drivers during a 100-minute race. Such technology using pressure pad detection, GPS and automatic cameras are already used in UK national racing. It looked frankly ridiculous as drivers made up time or completed overtakes way off the track.
It’s like allowing footballers to move elasticated white lines, or cricketers to move the boundary or crease as they see fit. Or permitting boxers to throw punches from outside the ring. It’s fundamental to pretty much any sport that you have a clearly defined sporting arena and discipline, which is then refereed to a set of rules. Words fail me on this aspect in F1, it’s authorised cheating.
Lewis Hamilton once again was master of COTA. He turned up with an altogether different demeanour to Japan. After the Hamilton v media shenanigans in Suzuka he was mischievously chosen again for the ‘presser’ in Austin. There was an unusually large group of journos in attendance and I feared an ambush.
Lewis mastered it all with great charm and humour and disarmed everyone. Without ever saying he was wrong or handled it badly in Japan he made it clear he had thought it all through and was doing things differently with his phone and social media. The only curious faux pas was saying that he didn’t control his own twitter account.
He was always going to be on pole position it seemed through the practice sessions, and so it proved to be. I really enjoyed doing a SkyF1 interview with him on Saturday evening.
He said post race that he knew exactly how the start would be and that it worked to perfection. As we have often seen he was in a class of one on Sunday afternoon, serenely taking victory although still publicly poking his team about reliability and power loss. The team claim any issues in the race resulted in losses of milliseconds per lap and let’s face it his car didn’t look exactly sluggish.
Red Bull stepped on their own tails which played into Rosberg’s hands. From what I can tell Max’s racing brain got ahead of itself by deciding that a radio call to push hard for an undercut also included a phantom ‘pit this lap’. Without any of the usual ‘pit confirm’ procedures he was a surprise guest to a relaxed Red Bull garage.
When his gearbox failed a few laps later and, apparently under instruction, he passed some obvious parking points down the back straight with tarmac service roads close to the safety barrier, before then trundling over a large gravel trap to park on a grass service road and where neutral gear proved elusive.
Post the Jules Bianchi tragedy and with legal liability in ever greater focus, understandably these days a Virtual Safety Car is guaranteed if personnel and vehicles are going to be trackside live. Ricciardo had already pitted hoping to undercut Rosberg and maintain track position, and so under the pace controlled VSC Mercedes could make a cheap pit stop with Rosberg and have clarity of tyre choice, being the mediums to the end of the race.
If Hamilton is box office for F1, especially in America, then Ricciardo is not far behind. What you see is what you get, the man is just constantly smiling and happy to be an F1 driver. On the podium he is pure gold, and I hear his name so much when I meet fans around the world. Other drivers take note, it literally pays to be happy.
In fact the only time I’ve known him anything less chirpy was when I interviewed him on the podium in Monaco when a scrappy pit stop had just robbed him of a very deserved victory. He was understandably devastated, but believe it or not Daniel and his dad, totally unnecessarily, separately apologised to me that he was grumpy. That’s class and style and the sign of genuine folk.
The word on the street is that Ron Dennis will be stepping away from the McLaren team at the end of the year. I had a long, frank discussion with The Ron on Sunday morning when he told me quite categorically that he will decide when to step down, and nobody else.
I’ve known Ron since 1983 when I first drove his F1 car at a rookie test with Ayrton Senna and Stefan Bellof. He is the most complicated person I have ever known, a creative, flawed, genius.
He infuriates me, I have so much respect for his achievements but he often makes me angry with his words and actions. On a social level he is great fun and very generous to be around. A total enigma. If he steps away F1 will be eternally poorer without him but he’s only got himself to blame when his departure is not unanimously applauded with a standing ovation.
If the McLaren F1 team are looking for a new team principal I would throw my hat in the ring if I didn’t have an ongoing Sky contract. It would of course be thrown straight back but I have a great affinity to this team even though my season driving there was painful for mechanical reasons. With the exception of Ferrari, manufacturers will always come and go and so teams like McLaren and Williams are the backbone of F1, essential to the DNA of our sport. We desperately need them to be great again and winning championships.
Speaking of those two teams, the most contentious part of the race was Fernando Alonso bullying his way past his old team-mate Phil Massa. It was rather rude although cleverly wheel face to wheel face to avoid damage. But Alonso had been telegraphing such a move for some time and that’s the kind of racing we want to see, even if the pass was completed on some imaginary part of the track as if playing a video game. With all their data and angles the stewards didn’t apply a penalty which is how I would have voted. All the more reason as to why Rosberg’s penalty back in Hockenheim when passing Verstappen should not have been applied.
Another stand out performance was young Carlos Sainz in the Toro Rosso, who coincidentally is another warm character in the paddock. Renault-bound Nico Hulkenberg was sensational all weekend until the first corner when contact with Vettel and Bottas ended a promising race. He blamed everyone else which could be why his results don’t match his speed and talent.
Is it really Mexico again next weekend? It’s only five minutes since we were there for the inaugural race on the new layout.
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