Sunday 17 December 2017

New regulations may prevent Vettel's repetitive win injuries

Lotus did their best to upset the big four this year and let's hope that trend continues, says David Kennedy

Nico Rosberg of Mercedes GP leads out in the opening lap of the Brazilian Grand Prix but Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel had the final say
Nico Rosberg of Mercedes GP leads out in the opening lap of the Brazilian Grand Prix but Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel had the final say
Sebastian Vettel

David Kennedy

The F1 season closed with the Brazilian Grand Prix. It wasn't so much the sun setting on a year of Red Bull domination, more a case of storm clouds casting a lugubrious shadow over the grand finale.

Unfortunately, officiousness robbed us of a fitting farewell for Felipe Massa's last race in a Ferrari at his home Grand Prix (he has signed with Williams). This lost him a possible podium position.

Whoever took the decision to give the Brazilian a drive-through penalty for an infringement that wasn't worthy of the paper it was written on should have looked at the half-empty grandstands and asked themselves, is this in the interest of the sport. A bit like the FIA's stance on Vettel's 'donuts' which is just laughable; maybe they should rename it the 'donot' rule.

There were no farewell bequests from winner Sebastian Vettel but Mark Webber wouldn't have it any other way. Finishing second was proof enough that he was bowing out at the top of his game, unlike a few others who cling to the notion they're still in the zone.

Webber came late to F1 by today's standards, at 25 years of age, but he forged a solid career taking nine wins in his seven years with Red Bull. He came tantalisingly close to taking the title in 2010. He joins Porsche to race in the World Endurance Sportscar championship next season, so we haven't seen the end of the genial Aussie.

Despite feeble attempts at cost control, F1 has evolved into a two-tier system where four elite teams can afford F1 and the rest struggle with debt. Lotus, who have been supreme in this David and Goliath battle, have proved to be a prickly thorn in the side of mega-giants Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren – even finishing ahead of the British outfit in the constructors' title. Neither McLaren drivers got to stand on any step of the podium even once this season.

What Lotus achieved, in spite of not being able to pay its bills, was nothing short of sensational. Once he'd secured the Ferrari seat, Kimi Raikkonen called in sick for the last couple of races because he needed a back operation. Ferrari may yet rue the day they didn't choose Nico Hulkenberg, who also lost out on a drive at Lotus. He ended up at Force India. Still, Lotus won't have to worry about not paying Pastor Maldonado's wages because his Venezuelan oil sponsor will be paying Lotus. Pastor is no slouch and he's had some inspiring drives at Williams, not least his 2012 Spanish GP win.

The closest Vettel got to a medical problem was 'repetitive win injury' but you've got to hand it to him, his prodigious talent is something to behold. However in the age of instant everything – Twitter, the internet, social media and whatever else was invented last week when I wasn't paying attention – you wonder how F1 will retain a younger generation who don't always have the necessary endurance skills to follow F1 from lights out to chequered flag, especially when the same driver wins nine consecutive Grands Prix.

There's reason for optimism. The new reg changes are profound. The current 2.4 litre V8 engine (750bhp) will be replaced by 1.6 litre turbocharged V6 (600bhp) with additional power coming from Energy Recovery Systems (ERS). That has everyone back to the drawing board to start from scratch.

Next year's 19-race calendar has two changes. Out is South Korea and India, in are Austria and Russia. Red Bull now get to showcase at 'home', while Russia can look forward to a sporty 2014 what with the Winter Olympics in February and the Grand Prix in October.

Car manufacturers are returning to F1 because of its global span. Motor racing sells automobiles and China has an insatiable appetite for western cars. The German giants Audi, BMW and Mercedes lead the way in premium sales in China with Audi set to increase their half a million car sales to a conservatively doubling of that figure by 2020.

We had our own taste of what it means to win on Chinese soil a couple of weekends ago, when Status GP owner Teddy Yip brought his late father's iconic 'Theodore Racing' name back to the streets of Macau.

In the feature Formula Three race, 20-year-old Englishman Alex Lynn won the auspicious 30th anniversary of the introduction of F3 to Macau by Teddy senior; a race Ayrton Senna claimed in 1983. Lynn comprehensively beat second-placed ex-Status GP-winning driver Felix de Costa, who has just been named reserve driver for Red Bull F1 team; consolation for having missed out on the Toro Rosso seat.

To add to the nostalgia, the Theodore Racing car was sponsored by the mega casino and hotel group, SJM Holdings; a business partner of Teddy Senior in the days when he operated casinos in Macau, when he and Dubliner Sidney Taylor were partners in his Theodore Formula One team.

Macau is about the size of Manhattan and is often dubbed the Monte Carlo of the Orient. As gambling is banned on China's mainland, Macau, which is a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China, is the only place it's permitted. Located across the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong, like its near neighbour, it too operates under a one-country two-policies system, with careful supervision from Beijing.

The financials are mind-blowing. SJM has a turnover of €7.5bn and employs 21,000 people. They're the largest of the six licensed operators in Macau and the only indigenous player. Total casino revenue in Macau exceeds €28bn, six times that of Las Vegas and equal to the entire gambling revenue of the USA. That's around a fifth of Ireland's GDP.

That €28bn accounts for just 50 per cent of Macau's turnover. A million and a half people visit the peninsula every month, mostly from China's mainland. The aim is to attract even more, but with less emphasis and reliance on gambling.

This is one of the reasons the Macau race is an important fixture on the calendar and has grown organically since its inception 60 years ago. Not only is winning the Macau F3 race highly prestigious – often paving a smooth route to a career in F1, but the race fulfils the need for diversification.

To win a major Chinese sporting event with a Chinese sponsor on board was one extraordinary experience. The victory garnered endless newspaper and magazine articles in Mandarin, Cantonese, English and Portuguese.

Bernie Ecclestone may not rule F1 much beyond 2014 but love him or loath him, he is a visionary and a one-man global chamber of commerce. He recognised the Chinese potential early on. The saying goes 'if you can see the bandwagon it's too late'. Follow Bernie and you follow the money. The only problem is, the 83-year-old is sometimes way ahead of the bandwagon.

We'll have to wait for the New Year to see which teams have a headstart with the new engines, who overcomes the challenge of cooling the turbo, who best utilises ERS, who gets the aerodynamics right, how the tyres will shape up and which of the drivers will best adapt. There's no doubt there will be surprises, with some already suggesting, or is that hoping, that Mercedes and Ferrari will benefit the most. But you can see Adrian Newey's eyes narrow at that suggestion, as he sharpens his pencil for a challenge he will relish, however bulging the trophy cabinet is at the Red Bull factory in Milton Keynes.

Sunday Independent

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