April 7, 2014
Just one week after Formula 1 was in Malaysia, the world’s most-watched motorsport circus was in Bahrain and under lights for the first time at the circuit.
V8 Supercars too, had crossed an ocean – well, kind of. They moved from Tasmania – a little island off Australia’s southern tip – to the mainland.
NASCAR had water issues of its own – again. The Duck Commander 500 was hilariously rained out on Sunday and delayed until Monday; hilarious because “water” and “ducks” – get it?
Update: Then NASCAR race is now run and done, and it was a chaotic affair early but ended with another credibility-destroying green-white-checkered finish. This time the caution flag flew with Joey Logano less than a corner away from the white flag after Kurt Busch mildly scraped the wall. Busch toured two-thirds of a lap on the apron before his tire exploded, showering the apron with foam and rubber chunks – some of which NASCAR say lay on the racetrack proper.
So a controversial caution was flown metres before the white flag, and a green-white-checkered (GWC) finish was triggered. Logano and all the frontrunners pitted for tires, but it was Jeff Gordon who won the race off pit road and led at the restart. Fortunately for Logano (and for NASCAR officials about to receive a phone call from an irate Roger Penske), the Penske Racing driver slipped by Gordon and claimed the win – three laps later than he should have.
Formula 1 was a scintillating affair with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton fighting each other tooth and nail for the lead most of the race. Afterwards Hamilton said to Rosberg, “I was thinking of the first time we raced together [in karts in Italy], and I was behind, behind, behind then I got past you on the last lap. And I was thinking ‘Oh no! He’s going to do that to me!’”.
Hamilton needn’t have worried though; despite a late-race restart for a crash between Pastor Maldonado and Esteban Gutierrez, and despite Hamilton’s tires being the slower, medium-compound, the Briton was able to hold off the German for a vital victory. And while the Mercedes duo had the race to themselves at the front there was no shortage of wheel-to-wheel action for every position from third to 15th. Sergio Perez found himself on the podium for Force India – the team’s second-ever podium result and one that validates their decision to take on the McLaren refugee.
V8 Supercars had a historic weekend at Winton with Volvo claiming their first championship-race pole position since 1986 and a Mercedes-Benz branded car taking the first race win for the marque in the category’s history. Young-gun Scott McLaughlin claimed the pole for Volvo just one day after battery failure saw McLaughlin yanked out of the lead of the second race of the weekend. The Kiwi was on track for his first championship-race win (having already won at the non-championship Albert Park event) and reacted with an “Are you serious?” when told he’d need to pit the race-leading Volvo. McLaughlin and teammate Robert Dahlgren were also among the five cars penalized for pit lane speeding during the third and final race, crippling his chances at a podium.
Race one of the weekend was won by Fabian Coulthard, race two by Mercedes-Benz driver Lee Holdsworth and race three by Mark Winterbottom – reigniting the Ford factory driver’s championship bout after a horror weekend for Red Bull Racing. Both points leader Craig Lowndes and reigning champion Jamie Whincup failed to fire.
Green Flag: How good is Formula 1 this season? Genuine fights for the race lead. Genuine fights among four or more cars for the final spot on the podium, and genuine pace from Williams and Force India. This third round lit up some stunning racing, and the close-quarters battles in difficult-to-drive cars produced lots of excitement. A couple of silly moves hurt Sauber’s race, and both Jules Bianchi and Pastor Maldonado were penalized for taking out Sauber drivers Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil in two separate incidents. Bravo to Mercedes-Benz, Force India and Williams too for letting their drivers race each other bitterly on track.
Yellow Flag: It’s too easy to criticize officials from the sidelines, but it’s fair to say that we were robbed of an excellent Sunday race in V8 Supercars thanks to their intervention. Five drivers were penalized for speeding in pit lane, Rick Kelly, Scott McLaughlin, Russell Ingall, Robert Dahlgren and Fabian Coulthard. The drive-throughs took Coulthard and McLaughlin out of contention for the race and left Mark Winterbottom unchallenged at the front. So why do officials get the “yellow flag” from me if the drivers sped? Three reasons:
1: Drivers are adamant they didn’t speed, and that they had actually slowed down before the control line, then accelerated up to 40 km/h after they pressed the pit-lane speed limiter. Their claim is that the category-issued ECU allows them to speed briefly in that situation, and say their telemetry supports their claim.
2: Officials issued only a team points penalty and $3,000 fine for a far worse breach of safety, a loose wheel bouncing down pit lane. That car, driven by Tim Slade, went on to finish third in that race. This is not a performance-altering issue, it’s a safety issue. Both should have been dealt with in the same way. As Roland Dane said, “I’d gladly pay $3,000 for a race win”. Or in this case a podium.
3: The pit lane speed in V8 Supercars is not only woefully slow, but it is policed with zero margin for error. 1-2 km/h is not enough to trigger a penalty. I believe 3-5 km/h over should be an automatic fine and team points, while anything over 5 km/h over should be a drive-through.
Black Flag: Update: Forget the paragraphs below, which are about Pastor Maldonado’s latest Formula 1 shunt. This week’s Black Flag should clearly be awarded to the WWE-style officiating that caused the Duck Commander 500 to finish under GWC. It’s like a ref calling a fake penalty to make every hockey game finish with a penalty shot, and it’s laughable. The final caution flag was unnecessary.
Pastor Maldonado’s reputation for being wild and reckless wasn’t helped any when he speared into Esteban Gutierrez on Sunday in Bahrain. The crash was ugly, with Gutierrez flipping violently after Maldonado’s front left tire caught the Sauber driver’s right rear on the way into turn one. Gutierrez was on the radio moments later with a bewildered, “Woah! What was that?!” He had been unaware Maldonado was even there as the Lotus had only just rejoined from the pit lane and drove straight into the side of him at the next corner. In addition to the drive-through penalty given during the race, Maldonado copped a five-place grid penalty at the next round and three points off his license for his brain fade. Luckily nobody was injured.