COMMENT: 23/24 June 2018 – Paul Ricard & Elkhart Lake

Last weekend I watched just the two races:

  • F1 – French GP, Paul Ricard, Le Castellet.
  • IndyCar – Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

I also caught the 3rd BTCC race at Croft, Dan Lloyd taking a maiden win from the reverse-grid race – and apparently some bones of contention through the day amongst title contenders.


Formula 1: French Grand Prix

Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet, France

The biggest story was the incredibly poor management of the traffic in and out of the track. How could they be this ill prepared? It was like stepping back 15 or 20 years. We used to always see tales of 2 or 3 hour queues to get out of Paul Ricard or Magny-Cours, or Silverstone for F1 or MotoGP, or Donington for MotoGP. I thought tracks had got a lot better at event management these days.

Hamilton on pole from Bottas and Vettel. The actual race was over at turn one when Vettel hit Bottas, gifting Hamilton a lead over the Red Bulls and Raikkonen. It exaggerated what was already an advantage.

With a tangle between Gasly and Ocon as well, both out on the spot, the Safety Car was out immediately. Sainz was actually 3rd for the restart – tremendous opportunism – but he was quickly despatched by Ricciardo, Verstappen and Raikkonen.

Vettel took a new front wing and harder tyres under the SC then set off on a comeback charge, scything through to pass Sainz for 5th by lap 26. But such was Hamilton’s dominant pace that he was a further 30 seconds up the road by then.

Bottas suffered damage with the contact, restarted behind Vettel and although matched him through the lower order, once he reached faster cars he struggled more. He still wound up a creditable 7th, the team criticising the light penalty which still allowed Vettel to beat them. On one hand I agree, if you delay or damage someone you should be penalised – on the other hand the stewards must’ve reduced the penalty since it was unintentional. Perhaps they need the freedom to simply move Vettel to the back at the restart.

Did anything else happen? I didn’t see a lot. There were some passes into the chicane on the Mistral straight, though these only seemed to occur because of DRS. I wonder if it might be better to have the Mistral with no DRS and no chicane, especially if next year’s wings allow passing anyway.

Verstappen and later Raikkonen got ahead of Ricciardo, Dan reportedly suffering front wing damage which took the edge off his speed.

Sainz had a good day, didn’t fight the faster cars too hard and defended from the other best-of-the-rest cars until a power unit problem caused him to drop away at the end. Haas had points-paying pace but once again only Magnussen made the most of it with an excellent 6th, Grosjean’s poor luck giving him damage (and a penalty) before turn 1 lap 1.

Leclerc qualified and finished in the top ten for Sauber! A brilliant weekend for a man who is proving why he is so highly rated.

Williams and McLaren were both an embarrassment to their names. Stroll suffered a puncture (or wheel failure?) at the end, causing a one lap VSC before the field got barely a lap of green before the chequered. A weird half-assed end to what felt like a weird half-assed race.

French GP
1  Hamilton (Mercedes)
2  Verstappen (Red Bull)
3  Raikkonen (Ferrari)
4  Ricciardo (Red Bull)
5  Vettel (Ferrari)
6  Magnussen (Haas)

Points after Paul Ricard
Drivers:
145 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 3 wins
131 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 3 wins
96  Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)  2 wins
92  Valterri Bottas (Mercedes)
83  Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
68  Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

Hamilton jumps back into the lead and ties Vettel on wins. Ricciardo jumps Bottas.

Constructors:
237 Mercedes AMG;
214 Scuderia Ferrari;
164 Red Bull Racing;
62  Renault F1;
40  McLaren Renault;
28  Force India Mercedes;

No changes here, but Haas close to 1 point of Force India.


IndyCar Series:  Elkhart Lake

Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, USA

Isn’t it fantastic to see such a big crowd at this race?

There were periods in this race where the action died down a bit but it didn’t seem to matter. Watching IndyCars at this place is a glorious thing, I can just sit and watch them go around and around, a feeling I don’t get with many other tracks. That’s why it is America’s Spa-Francorchamps. A scenic run through the woodlands yet seriously fast.

Newgarden on pole from Power, Hunter-Reay, Rossi, Wickens. But Power had no power off the start, he dropped to the back and pitted straight away. They never did get it fixed.

There was a lot of racing on lap 1. And not just people trying to get around Power, there was good action. In fact there was good racing in most of the first half of the race. Jordan King up at least 10 places. Pigot passed Pagenaud in a ballsy spot.

It turned into a strategy race by the smallest of margins. A lap longer on fuel, a choice of red or black tyres. The first pitters came in on lap 14, most others one lap later and were clearly ahead out of the pits proving the extra lap running light was a bonus. Dixon ran an extra lap again to pit on lap 16.

Dixon would later get back on the same lap, making up even more ground by short-filling by that lap he saved earlier. Starting 8th he was 3rd by lap 30’s second round of stops.

Newgarden and Hunter-Reay were close all race long. RHR didn’t quite have the pace to pass though, and they made all their stops on the same laps so no variance there. Dixon closed on them later, he was running qualifying laps after his last stop to try to catch out RHR – until the final few laps when Newgarden stood on the gas and finally pulled a gap. A good contest between these few.

Elsewhere, good racing most of the way. Cameras I think missed some of the midfield action.

We saw Rossi with his elbows out a couple of times. The first on lap 1 with Wickens was sketchy but okay, no harm no foul. The other with Sato, same move in the same place, was 0.01% different in that they banged wheels. That’s harder to justify, yet the margins are so tight, especially in these cars with no power steering. Sato wasn’t happy and I don’t blame him. Very, very hard to know where to draw the line on this one. You don’t want to sanction out all the racing. I’ll call this as hard racing and leave it there – but it is on the line. Sato recovered to finish 4th.

A couple of Andretti cars with suspension problems. Veach just unlucky. Rossi similar problem, wonder if the Sato hit didn’t help though.

And while the winner had a Chevy, every chasing car was a Honda. Interesting. Did the non-Penske Chevy’s not have it?

If I had my way every championship in the world would race at Spa and Elkhart Lake. Except F1. Much as I’d love to see the US GP held at this place they’d have to ruin the place before it would happen. The FIA guys would have a heart attack if they saw the wall at the kink!

Elkhart Lake
1  Newgarden (Penske)
2  Hunter-Reay (Andretti)
3  Dixon (Ganassi)
4  Sato (Andretti)
5  Wickens (Schmidt Peterson)
6  Rahal (Rahal)

Points after RA
393  Scott Dixon (Ganassi Honda)  2 wins
348  Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Honda)  1 win
348  Alexander Rossi (Andretti Honda)  1 win
343  Josef Newgarden (Penske Chevy)  3 wins
328  Will Power (Penske Chevy)  2 wins
278  Graham Rahal (RLL Honda)

Dixon extends his lead. Dixon and Power, 2nd and 3rd beforehand, drop away. RHR moves into equal 2nd, tiebreak broken on 2nd places. Newgarden jumps a few spots.

There’s a clear split emerging as 6th and back are clearly out of the championship running unless things change drastically. This includes heavy-hitters Pagenaud and Bourdais. They’re not mathematically out but it would take one hell of a turnaround.


Coming Soon

I’ll be watching the Austrian Grand Prix and more of the World Cup than I’ve managed so far! If there is time I’ll watch the Assen MotoGP and my DVR of Catalunya.

Why is it that Ecclestone always avoided the World Cup, but Liberty put on a record number of races over the same six week period? Very strange. I think it’ll backfire.

IMSA’s 6 Hours of Watkins Glen is usually worth the time, but with the World Cup into the Round of 16 with two games per day, and a glorious spell of summery weather here in the UK, I wouldn’t blame anybody who chooses to go outside instead – I may well do so myself!

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