FORMULA 1: Service returns to normal
AFTER Sebastian Vettel’s stunning romp to victory in Singapore a week earlier, the burning question when the grand prix circus put up tents at Suzuka was whether Mercedes had experienced a bad weekend or Ferrari had made a leap forward.
A rainy Friday at Suzuka revealed nothing other than the competence of Red Bull’s chassis in the wet.
But a dry Saturday hinted strongly that Singapore had been an aberration and that normal service had been resumed, with the Mercs on top.
In a qualifying which ended early with Daniil Kvyat’s ferocious crash and flip, Nico Rosberg took pole from Lewis Hamilton. Williams and Ferrari shared each of the second and third rows, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull. Kvyat was consigned to a pitlane start in his rebuilt Red Bull Renault.
Maybe Mercedes’ perky position up front would be shaken by the great unknown of tyre performance. Suzuka is tough on the round black things, and none of the teams possessed generous dry weather tyre data.
Not so. At the start of yesterday’s Japanese Grand Prix, Hamilton aggressively whipped ahead of Rosberg, who slipped to fourth. Simultaneously, Ricciardo’s race was ruined by a belated blocking move from the Williams of Felipe Massa, which punctured a tyre on both cars. Crawling slowly back to the pits for replacements pushed them to 19th and 20th.
In the end, Hamilton scored an impressive victory, his 41st, 18.9 seconds ahead of his dispirited team-mate, Rosberg. TV viewers saw little of the winner. Maybe the director doesn’t like the Three-Pointed Star. Or tatts and bad haircuts.
Not that Lewis cared: “I'm buzzing like you could not believe. As I'm walking through after the race I've got this rush but I'm thinking about all the different experiences I've been through and the people that have helped me along the way: my family, without whom I wouldn't be here today, and everyone else that's helped me - they know who they are.” Sounds like Hamilton thinks he has the title won.
Ferrari pair Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen filled third and fourth but never threatened the silver cars. Valtteri Bottas was fifth, followed by Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg.
Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado shook off the concerns about Lotus’s future to lift team spirits with seventh and eighth. And the entertaining Toro Rosso whiz kids, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr, grabbed the final points positions.
The McLaren Hondas were pretty sad at Honda’s home track, a tough day not helped by Fernando Alonso’s very public shaming of the Japanese power pack, comparing it to a GP2 engine. Amidst conjecture about their commitment to McLaren, Alonso finished 11th and Jenson Button 16th.
And Ricciardo? With a damaged floor, and that killer smile supplanted by a grimace, he battled to 15th, three slots behind Kvyat.
Our boy said afterwards: “At the start, the best line for me was straight down the middle. I saw the gap between Kimi and Felipe and I knew it was close, but I thought they would make a bit of room. I haven’t seen the footage and don’t want to put the blame on anyone so we’ll call it a racing incident for now.”
With five races remaining, three drivers are in the title chase. Realistically, though, Hamilton can rehearse his champion’s acceptance speech.
V8 SUPERCARS: Courtney battles for Bathurst
JAMES Courtney is doing all possible to be fit for the Bathurst 1000.
Injured in a freak incident at Sydney Motorsport Park last month when hit by advertising walls sent flying by the downdraft of a helicopter overhead, Courtney underwent a second medical procedure last week.
Initially Courtney was diagnosed to have received two broken ribs and a punctured lung, but further examinations revealed he had five broken ribs, and cartilage damage.
The follow-up procedure involved the driver getting pulsed radio frequencies (electrical pulses) into his ribs and the nerve endings ‘numbed’ to provide pain relief and assist recovery.
Time is tight but Courtney is optimistic he will be in his HRT Commodore when the track opens next Thursday. Russell Ingall, who was resurrected for the Sandown 500, remains on standby.
Formula 1: VW scandal hits Red Bull hopes
VW GROUP’S disgraceful manipulation of the emissions of diesel engines, calamitous potential corporate fines into the billions of dollars, and resultant upheaval of the upper echelon of executives, will have impacts on the car maker’s current and future motor sporting projects.
The scandal almost certainly spells the end of any possible purchase by VW of the Red Bull Racing F1 team. Speculation has been rampant in recent weeks that VW would buy the team, and also provide a hybrid V6 power unit from 2018, while the power drink brand would stay on as major sponsor.
How far down the track this rumoured takeover had progressed is not known – if in fact there was serious substance to the conjecture.
But in the wake of the current corporate dramas, it would not be a good look for VW to be spending up hugely on a comparatively frivolous activity such as F1.
Asked as much by NBCSN if it was safe to assume any link with Volkswagen was dead in the water, Red Bull’s Christian Horner acknowledged: "That seemed to go up in smoke."
Back in Wolfsburg, in a tension-charged atmosphere of introspection and serious cost-cutting, there will also be questions asked about VW’s involvement in world rallying, and Audi and Porsche’s participation in international sports car racing.
But regardless of any impending budget hits, marketing and branding expenditure must be sustained, particularly as the VW Group has to mount some spectacular recovery operations in order to regain its reputation and consumer trust.
Former McLaren F1 Sporting Director Sam Michael, an Australian now working in the high-tech field of automation and big data, won't say it is impossible to cheat today's elaborate technical checks in F1 but instead offers that it would be "very difficult to change anything" to gain an advantage, and suggests that no sensible team would try.
The introduction to all F1 cars of a standard ECU (made by McLaren) from 2008 means the FIA can easily check the software. If a team tried to change the rev limit or fuel flow limit, the routine FIA checks would detect it immediately.
Noting the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal, Michael observed that teams in F1 and car makers like VW are in a parallel universe. "While objectives are different, both are highly incentivised to secure an advantage - VW to save money and sell cars; F1 teams to improve lap times."
Both operate to strict, though dissimilar controls. F1 does not have a standard for exhaust emissions, just an overarching green philosophy - evidenced by fuel flow limits, energy recovery systems and turbo compounding.
"Of course the specific amount of emissions per F1 car is very high because they are powerful and therefore thirsty – hence the push for efficient technology. But 20 F1 cars emit nothing in the scheme of things – [which is] a world of more than one billion vehicles."
FORMULA 1: Ferrari power catches Mercedes
MERCEDES has acknowledged that Ferrari - its closest rival and a very slim chance to win the drivers’ world championship this season – is probably now matching the horsepower of the championship-leading Silver Arrows.
This is the first time the Mercs have been challenged in the power stakes since F1 moved to turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 power units in 2014.
Mercedes recently elbowed a serious request to supply Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull team with power units for 2016 and beyond. The rationale was that Merc engines in a Red Bull chassis would be a tough combo to beat. Red Bull then approached Ferrari as a potential (only) engine supplier. That request is still under consideration.
Question to Mercedes: if it happens, won’t Ferrari-powered Red Bulls pose a threat to the present Merc dominance?
And if Ferrari is now on power terms with the Silver Arrows, would it not make sense to have a great team like Red Bull using Merc engines to double the possibility of keeping the Italians off the podium and away from the world title?
There is a greater concern – that Red Bull might take its toys and leave F1 (with Toro Rosso). That would be 20 per cent of the grid disappearing in a huff.
So Christian Horner’s immediate challenge is to make sure Red Bull stay in F1, with megabucks owner Dietrich Mateschitz somewhat disillusioned with F1 at the moment.
“We have a big commitment to Formula One, a big workforce, a very talented team and I’m doing my best to try and ensure that we find a competitive engine to power the team next year,” said Horner.
“But of course if that’s not the case there is a risk because Red Bull’s position is different to teams such as McLaren or Williams or Ferrari.
"Formula One has to provide a return. A marketing return globally. And, in order to do that, you need to be able to not be restricted in terms of the tools at your disposal.
“There are really only two engines out there that you can compete for grand prix victories with,” Horner told Sky News. One has already said no. The other apparently isn’t keen for Red Bull to get its 2016 power units.
Yes, there is a real chance that Red Bull walks away.
Unless Bernie gets very persuasive.
FORMULA 1: Haas to announce first driver
THE Haas F1 Team, the first American team to enter grand prix racing since the ill-fated and stillborn US F1 Team from 2010, will reveal one of its drivers for the 2016 season on Tuesday.
Except we already know who it is.
Team founder Gene Haas and team principal Guenther Steiner will make the announcement from the Haas F1 base in North Carolina.
Barring the earth shifting on its axis, Romain Grosjean is likely to be the driver confirmed, with the much-improved Frenchman having decided to leave terminally troubled Lotus in favour of the start-up newbie team.
The second Haas driver will be Esteban Gutierrez, the Mexican anointed by the team's technical partner Ferrari.