Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Rosberg Holding On, the Mexican Grand Prix & More

The drivers championship is getting all of the attention and rightly so – especially as Mercedes has already taken the constructor’s championship.  It has been a while since the title has come down to the last few races.  Last year, Lewis Hamilton wrapped up the championship at the U.S. Grand Prix, leaving the rest of the season to have little in the way of drama for the crown.  The year before, had a similar story. Sebastian Vettel’s 13-win 2013 season made the more recent ones almost seem competitive.

So here things stand, with Nico Rosberg needing to finish second for the remaining races to clinch his first title.  Should Rosberg win and Hamilton finish 10th or worse, the championship ends this Sunday at the Mexican Grand Prix.  Of course, if the reverse happens, then suddenly there’s a two race fight that will echo the driver’s championship of 2008, when Hamilton topped Felipe Massa by one point.  

This track is an interesting one for Rosberg.  It is at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez that Rosberg, in many ways, began his fight for 2016, it just happened to start last year.  He rolled through the rest of 2015 and then opened 2016 with 4 straight wins.  That would seem to indicate that Rosberg would feel positive returning to the track.  

But so far, things haven’t looked good.  Through two practices, he’s been second and third, and hasn’t quite shown the pace that would be expected.  Is it possible that Mercedes is more focused on giving him a bullet-proof car in contrast to going for outright pace and compromising reliability?  Sure could be.  Nothing will really be known until qualifying, but right now, things seems a little askew.

Odds & Sods

Esteban Gutierrez may or may not be retained by Haas-F1, certainly reason for a look of consternation (credit: Getty Images)

– Musical chairs still happening.  There’s question as to whether or not Esteban Gutierrez will keep his seat at Haas-F1, while Jolyon Palmer is in a similar situation at Renault.  Even Felipe Nasr, at Sauber, is under scrutiny with regard to his seat.  Silly season being this silly this late in the year is rather unusual.  It’s not uncommon for a seat still to be in flux, but for this many of them to be in limbo points to the fact that teams themselves are uncomfortable with the current market – which can be tied to driver skill as much as sponsorship.  

– Red Bull recently scored a major sponsorship coup by adding Exxon/Mobil to its organization.  For Red Bull it’s a stout move and showed that Exxon/Mobil had questioned the returns they were getting by being with McLaren.  That being noted, it breaks up one of the longer lasting relationships in F1 as Exxon/Mobil had been with McLaren for the past 21 years.  These relationships carry a fair amount of weight with them as the teams use these products for both fueling and lubricants and the engineers of both companies work closely together to aim for optimal performance.  McLaren will soon introduce Castrol as their replacement, but what will be interesting to watch is whether or not reliability becomes an issue for either team early in 2017.

– Famous team director Ross Brawn is throwing his name out there in a bid to gain a management position of some sort in F1.  Brawn is best known as the architect of the Benetton, Ferrari, Honda and Mercedes teams that won constructor’s and driver’s championships while he served there.  Many had wondered if McLaren weren’t sizing him up to head their team, but Brawn has taken his name out of anything to do with teams and instead wants to be involved in a role where he feels he can make the sport better.  To many, that would be his biggest challenge yet.  

Daniel Ricciardo, of Red Bull, recently stated that he felt that run-off areas are making drivers look bad, and in effect, the sport as well.  What Ricciardo is attacking is that because of the wide run-offs in difficult portions of the tracks, that drivers have more margin for error and that makes the sport less challenging.  Oddly enough, Ricciardo is in congruence with Bernie Ecclestone’s previous comments about the sport being too safe.  These ideas are rather intriguing as safety has been at the forefront of the sport for quite a while, yet there is a sense that danger has been legislated out.  There may be some truth to what both Ricciardo and Ecclestone are saying as perhaps the tracks have become less challenging than they should be – though it’s doubtful anything will change in the near future.

Ron Dennis and McLaren are still heading for a messy divorce.  Dennis, who owns 25% of the McLaren Group, has been told that he won’t be retained for next year by the other shareholders.  A number of names have been circulated as possibilities for replacement yet none of those persons have held any traction toward ascending to the position Dennis has held.  For McLaren, this drama comes at a time when the team is slowly making gains, and any change might be detrimental – however, the obvious hope is that it will catapult them to the top three sooner rather than later.  

The Race

Mexican Grand Prix at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez

Built in 1962 in a park, the circuit is one that has seen a number of changes over the years.  The most prominent is alterations to the nearly 180 degree Peralta turn, where Ricardo Rodriguez died in an accident in the first year.  Its high altitude, 7,323 feet above sea level, makes things difficult both for the mechanical set-ups and the drivers as well.  The track layout features 17 turns and just over 2.6 miles in length.  Jim Clark leads all drivers with three victories, while Nico Rosberg won last year when the series returned to the track.  

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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