Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: A (Red) Banner Day Down Under

There were three red flags in last weekend’s (April 2) Australian Grand Prix. Left out of the narrative was the question – were they all necessary?

It’s complicated. As the police at a Mexican airport said of Kyle Busch’s luggage, “There’s a lot to unpack here.”

Two of the red flags – those thrown after Alex Albon’s crash on lap 7 and Kevin Magnussen’s lap 53 incident – were probably not necessary. Most drivers seemed to echo this opinion. Yes, there was plenty of debris as a result of the accidents, but both situations seemed to merit a safety car rather than a red flag. It was oddly reminiscent of the common “debris caution” in NASCAR, which often seems to be conveniently issued by the officials to bunch the cars up for another restart, and tighter racing until the field inevitably spreads out.

Restarts in NASCAR are fun (the rolling variety), but restarts in F1 (the standing variety) are arguably the most exciting part of an F1 race. Australia had three, and together they provided most of the action in a race that otherwise had about as much action as the 2005 United States Grand Prix (the one in which only six cars competed).

The final red flag (after lap 57’s restart carnage) led to the last lap of the race being completed behind the safety car. This appeared unnecessary and anticlimactic, but I’m sure it’s proper procedure in some part of the nebulous Formula 1 regulations encyclopedia; needing to reach official race distance and all.

Ultimately, the decisions were in the hands of new race director Niels Wittich. 

I’m not sure why he chose to make the decisions he did, but you can be sure a review of the circumstances would assert that he did it in “good faith.” They may have been wrong, but when things in F1 are done in “good faith,” everything is okay. 

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Open Wheel Wednesday: My 1st Experience in Covering IndyCar

Red flags are not the only question coming from the trip to Australia as one that comes to mind is whether Mercedes is happy with Lewis Hamilton’s second-place finish?

The easy answer is, absolutely, but not as happy as Hamilton was as he crossed the finish line behind Max Verstappen. Hamilton was downright overjoyed with the result, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, if you’re that pleased with a second, it tells me you’ve given up any hope of catching Red Bull. 

Hamilton said “We can definitely fight the Ferraris and Aston Martins,” but made no mention of Red Bull. Not that this is newsworthy; Mercedes has been saying all along that they won’t be able to challenge the Red Bulls. But to hear a seven-times world champion, the driver of a Mercedes say this is somewhat disappointing, especially to fans longing for a close title fight. 

Is Mercedes back?

The Silver Arrows found some speed and certainly turned a corner – qualifying second and third, with Hamilton finishing second – but if they plan on catching Red Bull, they’ll have to turn three more corners and hope that Red Bull remains stationary. 

But let’s look on the bright side: Was the podium in Australia the greatest collection of talent on a podium at one time?

With Verstappen, Hamilton, and Fernando Alonso finishing 1-2-3, there were a total of 11 world championships on the podium. So, not only was it the greatest podium of all time, but it was also the sturdiest. It had to be to safely support all the ego standing on it.

After a DNF for Charles Leclerc and a pointless result (albeit due to a controversial penalty) for Carlos Sainz, can this season get any worse for Ferrari?

This is a question that is asked of Ferrari much too often, and that basically gives you the answer. It can always get worse for Ferrari. Heck, “Ferrari” may be Italian for “Murphy,” as in “Murphy’s Law.”

But it was an unlucky day for Ferrari. Leclerc was knocked out of the race in the first corner on the start, and Sainz’s penalty, enacted under the safety car, dropped him from fourth to 12th at the race’s end. Had Leclerc not crashed and Sainz not been penalized, both Ferraris would have likely posted top-five finishes. 

That being said, Ferrari, more often than not, seem to put themselves in positions to fail as opposed to positions to succeed. For example, Leclerc’s disappointing qualifying effort was partly the result of typical questionable Ferrari decision-making in Q3, when the team sent him out behind Sainz (who Leclerc felt was in his way) and told him to rush his second attempt in Q3. Better decisions would have likely resulted in a better qualifying position, and Leclerc would have likely avoided trouble in Turn 1.

Sainz, on the lap 57 restart, misjudged his entry into Turn 1 and tagged Alonso. The ensuing penalty seemed unfair, as Sainz didn’t do anything that hasn’t previously been done in any F1 restart hundreds of times. But Sainz could have just as easily played it safe and been satisfied with fourth, instead of pushing his luck for a podium result. 

See also
The Pit Straight: 3 Red Flags, What's Up With That?

How did Pierre Gasly avoid penalty points for his role in his crash with Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon?

Given Sainz’s two-point penalty for hitting Alonso, it’s hard to believe Gasly went unpunished for his incident. Maybe F1 officials took into account that the accident cost both of the Alpine cars points-paying finishes and applied a “sympathy” discount, something that might actually be in the lexicon of F1’s penalty handbook. If officials did indeed “show mercy,” then their reasoning was in opposition to their application of Sainz’s penalty. Sainz lost fourth place, and his actions didn’t even cost Alonso third, as the order of cars was restored to its classification for the previous restart. 

Replays show Gasly running wide and in his haste to rejoin, drifting into Ocon, the contact from which sent both into the wall and out of the race. It was clearly Gasly’s fault, as he had room on his left and had no reason to move to his left. 

Gasly apologized to Ocon for the accident, with Ocon replying “no hard feelings.” Stewards, after meeting with both drivers, deemed the accident a “racing incident,” and issued no penalty. The lack of a penalty saved Gasly from a one-race ban, as he currently has 10 penalty points on his license (two more penalty points would have automatically triggered the ban).  

So, in short, Gasly came “this close” to getting a penalty, and F1 surely won’t be this lenient next time. Or they will. I don’t think they themselves know. 

McLaren CEO Zak Brown challenged Mercedes’ team principal and CEO Toto Wolff to a boxing match in Las Vegas. Why?

Who knows? But one thing’s for sure: Wolff would have to move up 2-3 weight classes to make this a fair fight.

I say go for it. And F1 should play this up for all it’s worth. That means decorating the edges of the ring to look like an F1 chicane, getting famed announcer Michael Buffer to announce the introductions, and calling the fight “The Rumble On The Strip With Rumble Strips.” 

Bring in Don King to build interest with his one-of-a-kind blend of promotion, corruption, and cartoonish buffoonery, and there might be people interested in seeing this spectacle. Give me a Zak Brown vs. Toto Wolff clash over a battle between YouTube personalities any day.

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