This weekend’s auto racing headlines:
1. Malaysian Grand Prix start a heart-stopper.
2. NASCAR to enter 21st Century
Let’s look at F1 first.
When Rubens Barrichello’s Williams-Cosworth stalled temporarily at the start of Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix (won by Sebastien Vettel, with his Red Bull teammate Mark Webber second and Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg third), I held my breath till everybody made it safely past because visions of 1982 popped suddenly into my head.
That was when pole-sitter Didier Pironi stalled his Ferrari at the start of the Canadian Grand Prix and a young Italian driver named Riccardo Paletti, who was making his first Formula One start in an Osella, drove straight into the back of him going well over 100 miles an hour.
Pironi wasn’t hurt and went on to lead the first lap of the race in his backup Ferrari. Paletti was flown off to hospital in an air ambulance and declared dead on arrival.
Standing starts are very exciting but also extremely dangerous. Several cars that missed Barrichello in Malaysia on Sunday were just plain lucky – they had jinked left or right in an attempt to improve their positions on the run down to Corner One and simply blasted right past his stationary car (which eventually got going once the clutch cooled down).
In Paletti’s case, he’d started 23rd that day in June in Montreal – 11 rows directly behind Pironi. He had a full head of steam on by the time he got to where Pironi was just sitting there and he didn’t stand a chance. Although there was a flash fire before they got him out of the car, the collision was what did him in and every time since, whether it’s been in an F1 or Champ Car race, I’ve cringed at the sight of a stalled car because of what happened to poor Riccardo.
So thank goodness everyone made it through on Sunday and we were able to watch a pretty enjoyable race although not much happened at the front of the pack after the first corner when Vettel, who started third, managed to get past both his teammate, the pole-sitting Webber, and Rosberg, who’d also started on the front row.
Back in the pack, however, things were pretty interesting. Because it had rained during qualifying, Ferrari and McLaren had been caught out and Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were pretty much all the way at the back.
So the fun, after the first corner scramble, was watching Lewis Hamilton, in particular, carve his way through the field. Massa, Button and Alonso also got up into the top ten eventually but Hamilton’s drive was worth the price of admission on this day.
Massa, once again, won the battle of the Ferrari drivers. Although Alonso’s engine expired two laps before the end, he’d been unable to get past his teammate all race – much like the case in Australia last weekend.
Because of his seventh-place finish, Massa now leads the driver’s championship with 39 points. Alonso and Vettel are tied for second with 37 points, Button and Rosberg are next with 35 apiece and then comes Hamilton with 31.
Malaysian GP jottings:
– When ITV had the F1 contract, their woman pit reporter was Louise Goodman, who was – to be charitable – awful. Her classic retirement interview of Kimi Raikkonen two years ago bears repeating:
GOODMAN: What happened?
RAIKKONEN: Car stopped.
GOODMAN: Oh, hard luck then.
The BBC woman in the pits these days is Lee McKenzie and I was impressed Sunday when she actually asked some interesting follow-up questions of Michael Schumacher, who was forced out of the race when the left-rear wheel nut came off his Mercedes. (How often does that happen in F1?)
Finding knowledgeable women reporters in any sport is a tough assignment, but particularly in motorsport. Krista Voda, who works for Fox Sports and Speed Channel, is the best of the lot. Others, like ex-Speed News anchor Nicole Manske and the hapless Goodman, were just in way over their heads.
Let’s hope that McKenzie keeps asking those tough questions.
– What’s that expression? If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck.
Which brings me to the nonsense that, first, Martin Brundle, and second, the stewards in charge of the Malaysian Grand Prix, spewed forth concerning Lewis Hamilton’s blocking of Russian rookie (and obviously very talented) Vitaly Petrov.
Hamilton was driving left, right and all over the centre of the road to prevent Petrov from passing him. The rules say you can defend your position once, but no more.
Brundle said Hamilton was just "trying to break the (Petrov’s) tow."
The stewards just gave Hamilton a warning, apparently going along with the "trying to break the tow" reasoning.
So the next time somebody blocks somebody, all they have to say is that they were "trying to break the tow" of their opponent and who can argue, or rule, otherwise?
Yet another can of worms opened in F1.
No more carburetors in NASCAR
There hasn’t been an automobile manufactured anywhere in the world in the last 15 years that has had a carburetor. (Russia doesn’t count.)
Every manufacturer in the Far East, Europe and North America has manufactured cars and trucks with fuel injection.
Every major league racing series in the world – except one – has featured cars with fuel injection.
Only NASCAR has continued to pretend it’s still 1958 and mandated that all cars and trucks carry carburetors.
The big news today is that, as of 2011, NASCAR will go with fuel injection instead of carburetors. What next? Belts instead of suspenders?
The very unpublicized reason for this change, of course, is because the major manufacturers ganged up on NASCAR over the winter and basically said, no fuel injection means no participation by us past 2010. We are not manufacturing and selling Model T Fords any more and we will not continue to pretend otherwise.
NASCAR has found itself backed into a lot of corners in recent months. Pressure from fans resulted in the "have at it, boys," philosophy and the relaxing of bump-drafting rules at superspeedways.
Now the manufacturers have forced it to make a major move in fuel management (and it might have been the manufacturers that convinced NASCAR to ease up on the restrictor plates, too).
– Kyle Busch won the Camping World Truck Series race at Nashville on Friday night and didn’t destroy the Sam Bass-designed Gibson guitar he was presented.
You’ll recall that last year, Busch pretended he was a rock star and smashed the one-of-a-kind guitar to smithereens. I think even he was taken aback by the negative reaction his impulsive act generated.
There’s a rumour around, however, that Bass let it be known that if Busch destroyed another guitar, he was going to climb into Kyle’s truck and drive it into a brick wall.
So maybe that’s why "Rowdy" kept his emotions in check and the guitar in one piece – this time.
– Over the years, I've heard many people and groups massacre the U.S. and Canadian national anthems prior to sporting events. Saturday, I heard two of the worst. Steel Magnolia started singing the Star Spangled Banner off-key prior to the Nationwide series race in Nashville and sang it off-key all the way through. Then I had to listen to Big Sugar do O Canada before the Leafs game later. Why not just play a nice record?
– Will somebody please tell Jimmy Johnson to shave. . .
– Payback is something that’s supposed to be subtle. Saturday in that Nationwide Series race (won by Kevin Harvick, by the way), James Buescher got a little out of control and put Jason Leffler into the wall. After repairs, Leffler just plain drove his car into Buescher’s, which briefly caught fire.
NASCAR parked Leffler for the rest of the race.
So much for "have at it, boys."
Maybe Jason was just a little too obvious about his intentions.
- In keeping with its family-oriented philosophy, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series does not race on Easter Sunday or Mother's Day, hence its absence this weekend. The Cup cars and stars will be back in action next weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. The Indy cars will be in Alabama and F1 will take the weekend off, before heading for China in two weeks.