A whimsical look at the world of grand prix racing.
Monday Morning Pit Stop is back after a week off for a family vacation.
The big news in Bahrain wasn’t Valtteri Bottas’s first career pole position or Fernando Alonso’s Indy 500 announcement or Bottas getting pushed aside by team orders (twice) in favour of Lewis Hamilton. No, it was the return of chairman emeritus and Vladimir Putin pal Bernie Ecclestone to the paddock.
Now, Bernie himself has admitted he no longer has any power in the sport since its sale to Liberty Media, but that doesn’t mean he can’t stir things up a bit. In just a few days, he provided a month’s worth of headlines, saying he would have tried to block Fernando Alonso’s Indy 500 foray, he thinks Liberty should lower the promoters’ race fees that he raised to astronomical levels and hinting that he might buy Interlagos.
Busy weekend for an 86-year-old.
Even Bernie wants to know why the Mercedes is so fast!
Live Blog: https://t.co/FqMrMyKclJ
— Sky Sports F1 🏎 (@SkySportsF1) April 16, 2017
On the racing front, we’re getting closer to the wheel-to-wheel Hamilton-Vettel battle everyone wants to see. A back and forth championship fight between two of the best drivers of this generation is something the sport needs. And maybe people in Germany will even turn up for what could be their last home race for a while in 2018 if Vettel is back on top.
Bottas also tried to elbow his way into the conversation with a brilliant pole lap on Saturday in Bahrain, but Vettel and Hamilton stole the headlines on Sunday and have already opened up a significant lead in the title chase. Vettel has 68 points, seven ahead of Hamilton, while Bottas sits third with 38 points.
Meanwhile, Ferrari’s turnaround has been truly remarkable. They scored just two podium finishes (both for third place) in the final 12 races last season. In three races this year, Vettel has already eclipsed that with his two victories and a second-place finish in China. If only they could get that pesky Kimi Raikkonen firing on all cylinders.
In other news, last year’s 14th-place finisher in Bahrain Felipe Nasr had one of those moments where you Tweet something embarrassing or inappropriate and then quickly delete it and say your account was hacked, but not quickly enough because a bunch of people took screenshots.
In this case, Nasr (or maybe Anonymous) bluntly questioned why his old GP2 rival Jolyon Palmer was driving for Renault, suggesting that the Brazilian could do a better job. That may be true, but he didn’t have to be so rude about it.
Nonetheless, Nasr’s Tweet wasn’t the most awkward moment of the weekend. That belongs to Sebastian Vettel, when David Coulthard asked him on the podium whether Bahrain was one of his favourite races. Come on, DC, they don’t even serve champagne to the podium finishers!
But Vettel saved the day by noting (for at least the second time) how beautiful the winner’s trophy was. Smooth.
“The trophy here, it’s really nice!” 🏆
— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) April 17, 2017
Vintage YouTube Video of the Week
This is the post-race press conference from the 1992 Portuguese Grand Prix. Let’s break it down.
Nigel Mansell, the moustache man himself, goes first. He has just won the race by 37 seconds over Gerhard Berger and Ayrton Senna, in third, was a lap down (oh, the close racing of the good old days!). Who cares what he is saying, though—check out that hat!
It looks like something you would buy for $1.99 at a gas station, or possibly a promo item that came free in the box with your new Canon printer. The flat brim is quite avant garde, though…perhaps we can even credit Nige with starting the trend.
Berger then discusses a horrific-looking accident with Riccardo Patrese, which luckily left both men unscathed. It is entirely possible the Austrian soiled himself when he saw Patrese’s Williams somersaulting over his head.
But here comes the highlight of the interview. After a sabbatical year, Alain Prost had just signed with Williams for 1993, blocking Senna from moving to the world champions. Ayrton, how does that make you feel?
“He is behaving like a coward.”
Shots fired (not for the first time in this rivalry, of course)! Take notes, Felipe Nasr—that is how you call someone out.
Senna reams Prost out for a while longer, invoking an analogy about running a 100-metre race with lead shoes—presumably the 1992 equivalent of driving a 65-lap race with a Honda power unit (just kidding…a Honda power unit would never finish a 65-lap race).
In the end, Prost got what he wanted: Senna stayed at McLaren, Mansell moved to IndyCar and the Frenchman won another title.
Following Senna’s mini-rant, Berger tries (unsuccessfully) to hide his smile, while Mansell pats Senna on the back, pleased that someone else has called Prost out publicly and now he doesn’t have to.
For some reason, the video ends with one person in the background—presumably a reporter—clapping. “No cheering in the press box” is a maxim that doesn’t really hold water in F1.
Martin Brundle Grid Walk Review
Martin Brundle is a fine analyst and colour commentator, but grid walks are not his specialty. At least he’s a good sport about it.
First up, Brundle chases down Bernie Ecclestone, who appears to be wandering around the grid like a lost 86-year-old man. James Allen gives the ex-boss a pat on the back before Brundle jumps in to tell Bernie that he is still employed, “believe it or not.” Instead of asking what Ecclestone thinks of the changes Liberty is making to the way the sport is run or Fernando Alonso’s decision to skip Monaco for the Indy 500 or the championship battle between Mercedes and Ferrari, Brundle opts for a couple awkward jokes and some small talk.
After dodging a Red Bull being pushed to its grid slot, Brundle treats the viewers to a soliloquy on the relative aesthetic merits of matte finishes on F1 cars. Brundle apparently doesn’t appreciate them, complaining that they don’t “glisten” or “glow” three times in 10 seconds before…
Ooooo…there’s someone who glistens and glows. It’s Naomi Campbell! Brundle isn’t quite as excited as my kids were on Easter morning, when they leapt on top of me at 7 a.m. screaming, but he’s pretty close. The supermodel executes her version of the Verstappen Chop, though, shutting the door on poor Martin before he can even get started.
The big question is who fills in for Monaco? Who qualifies for a super license? JB? De Vries? Rosberg? Mika? D.C.? Brundle? pic.twitter.com/8QII8gtow6
— Will Buxton (@thebuxtonblog) April 12, 2017
I’m up for it. Gridwalk easy enough if I’m on it, can commentate from the car, and I’m guaranteed to be on the podium (asking questions) ☑️ https://t.co/C2hwzqQQtg
— Martin Brundle (@MBrundleF1) April 12, 2017
Next up is Brundle’s weekly chat with a race steward—in this case, former Tyrrell driver, Danny Sullivan. As impartial judges working for the FIA, I assume the stewards are contractually obligated not to say anything remotely interesting, but Brundle always checks to make sure. You can never be too careful.
Then he nabs Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, who says he is excited for Alonso to race at Indy. For some reason, Brundle tells him that Ecclestone will not be happy with Alonso’s decision.
…he spots four-time world champion (as the TV graphics keep reminding us) and Senna punching bag Alain Prost, who may or may not be in the middle of a live interview. Brundle jumps right in though, then has a largely off-mic conversation with Prost. Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz walks right past him.
Moving on, we come to a playful (isn’t he always?) Nico Hulkenberg, who is busy chatting with his engineer. For a moment, he contemplates pulling a Naomi Campbell and brushing Brundle off, but then nods and smiles. Brundle seems overly concerned about the wind. Maybe he’s worried about the cars getting blown off the track thanks to their ugly airbox sails.
Now Prost is ready to talk, so we get a couple questions with him before Brundle catches Pascal Wehrlein, returning from his back injury, on the way to the front of the grid for the national anthem. Despite an excellent qualifying performance, the German doesn’t seem to interested in talking and only manages four or five words total in response to three questions.
After failing to find the king of Bahrain, Brundle settles for a quick chat with musician Steve Aoki, a big Lewis Hamilton fan, apparently.
McLaren owner Mansour Ojjeh gets a hug from Naomi Campbell just as Brundle arrives to speak with him, leaving Martin at a loss for words. Luckily, the national anthem cuts them off anyway.
Grid walk interview totals
Current drivers: 1.5
Lance Stroll Stalker
A weekend that started off so well for the Canadian teenager ended in disappointment—yet again.
Stroll finished with the sixth-fastest time in the first free practice session, before getting his feet barbecued in FP2. It didn’t get any better from there.
In qualifying, it looked as though he might sneak into Q3 for the second weekend in a row, but he was edged out at the chequered flag. That left Stroll 12th on the starting grid, while his Williams teammate Felipe Massa qualified eighth (his Q2 time was half-a-second quicker).
Still, Williams chief technical officer Paddy Lowe sounded positive after qualifying, saying, “I think Lance should be very happy with his qualifying because it’s a difficult circuit with varying conditions between sessions and it’s quite tricky on tyres, so I think he’s done a really good job in only his third Formula One qualifying session.”
At the start of the race, Stroll tried to sneak down the inside of Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, but was forced to back out at the last second and cut across the track. Esteban Ocon squeezed past and Stroll was caught in the middle of a three-wide sandwich through Turn 1, ultimately losing another place to Sainz, the man who would soon end his race.
After an early pit stop, Stroll was flying on fresh tyres. Then, on Lap 13, Sainz came flying out of the pits like a Spanish fighting bull entering the ring and impaled Stroll’s FW40 as the Canadian turned in to the first corner.
Carlos Sainz gets a 3-place grid penalty for Russia – stewards decided he was “predominantly to blame” for this clash with Lance Stroll pic.twitter.com/3Sr6j0KJyx
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 16, 2017
It was a clumsy move by the Spaniard on new rubber and, after the race, the stewards handed him a three-place grid penalty for the upcoming Russian Grand Prix. Nonetheless, Stroll now has three DNFs in his first three F1 races. Whether they are his fault or not, that is a less than auspicious start to his career.
Zero points is zero points, no matter how you achieve it. And especially with Massa already 16 points down the road, Stroll needs to get on the board sooner rather than later. Growing pains are inevitable, especially with Stroll making such a big jump in competition level at a young age, but he has to start translating (to borrow Brundle’s phrasing) positive practice times (Bahrain), qualifying performances (China) and race starts (Australia) into points.
“I am just disappointed and hope my luck turns round sometime soon,” Stroll said after the race. “I can be frustrated, but it won’t get me anywhere. On the bright side there are many races to go.”
Here are the best F1 stories I read this week:
Will Buxton wrote an interesting piece on his new favourite driver, Carlos Sainz, and his rivalry with Max Verstappen for Racer.
A bidding war between Bernie Ecclestone and Liberty for the Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo? Reuters
James Allen’s Race Strategy Report is always a must-read. Here, among other insights, he shows how Sainz’s seventh-place finish in China was in spite of his decision to start the race on slicks, not because of it.
Joe Saward had a good, concise analysis of the political issues surrounding the potential return of the Turkish Grand Prix.
Bernie Ecclestone told Motorsport.com’s Adam Cooper that F1 needs to lower the race fees charged to promoters. But wait, who jacked them up so high in the first place? Hmmm.
Tweet of the Week
— WTF1 (@wtf1official) April 16, 2017
The Russian Grand Prix on April 30.
(Featured image via Scuderia Ferrari on Twitter)