This doesn’t happen very often, if at all, but Roger Penske got it all wrong in the current issue of Britain’s Motor Sport magazine when he was asked about Formula One.
". . . They need to do something about the spectacle," Penske said. "The race starts, it all happens into the first corner, and after that . . ."
I wonder if The Captain watched Sunday’s Grand Prix of Hungary because, if he did, I betcha he’s singing a different tune today.
It was a slugfest from start to finish, with Red Bull’s Mark Webber winning his fourth race of the 2010 season (and taking the lead in the world championship in the process) and his teammate, Sebastien Vettel, getting thrown under the bus by his own team, eventually finishing third.
The Ferrari drivers, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, were second and fourth.
It was a wonderful result for Massa, who nearly lost his life at this race a year ago when a spring off the car of Rubens Barrichello hit him in the head and just about killed him.
That he was able to recover and resume his career is a miracle in itself. That he is as competitive as the old Massa ever was is even more astounding and, although a victory would have been nicer, a fourth-place finish is still a cause for celebration.
Lewis Hamilton, who led the world championship going into Hungary, fell out of the Grand Prix with a gearbox problem and is now in second place, four points behind Webber.
Hamilton’s teammate, reigning world champion Jenson Button, appeared to have a most uninspired weekend. He qualified 14th and finish eighth but his forward progress was more because of people falling out of the race than anything else.
Meantime, there was near-pandemonium in the pits at one point when cars were just missing each other either entering or exiting pit boxes (two of them driven by Robert Kubica and Adrian Sutil zigged when they should have zagged and wound up colliding) and a wheel came off Nico Rosberg’s car and bounced up and down along pit road without hitting, or hurting, anybody.
And Michael Schumacher was so determined to keep Rubens Barrichello behind him late in the race that he just about ran him into a wall on the main straight.
As arrogant and unrepentant as always afterward, even though the stewards penalized him 10 grid positions at the next Grand Prix , Schumacher said he hadn’t done a good enough job because the Brazilian had gotten past him.
In the end, it was a very enjoyable Grand Prix with lots of hard driving, hard charging and – as always in F1 – controversy.
Vettel was the class of the field all weekend. Right from the get-go, everybody else was racing for second place. He won the pole and when the race started Sunday, he was pulling away from Alonso, who was in second place, by about a second a lap.
On Lap 16, the safety car was summoned when parts from a car – a wing and other debris – had to be removed from the circuit. Red Bull called Vettel into the pits and everybody else followed except Webber, who stayed out.
As Webber trailed along behind the safety car, Vettel led the charge out of the pits and fell in behind his teammate followed by Alonso , Massa and the rest (although it was during this pit stop that Kubica and Sutil crashed together and Rosberg lost his wheel; only Kubica was able to continue although his race was soon done).
This is where it gets really interesting.
Commentator Martin Brundle sees what’s happening and says this (paraphrase): "If I’m Mark Webber, I’m telling the team that Vettel should fall back and hold everybody else up so I can get way out ahead. If Webber can build up a 20-second or so lead before he has to pit, then he could make his stop and get back out while still in the lead. He could very well win this race."
So guess what happens? The safety car builds up speed to leave the racing surface in advance of the restart, Webber’s right on its tail preparing to lead the restart and Vettel’s dawdling along in second place, more than 100 yards behind Webber, holding everybody else up and creating a scenario that is exactly as Brundle had envisioned it.
The field was stacked up behind Vettel and Webber was getting away.
Webber had turned up the wick and was riding off into the sunset. Vettel was up to speed by now but still holding up the rest of the racers when – shocker! – the stewards announced they were investigating Vettel’s behaviour on the restart.
Moments later, Vettel was handed a drive-through penalty for falling more than 10 car lengths behind the safety car (or other cars following the safety car). When he went into the pits, you could see he was seething with anger because he was waving his hands in indignation at someone – the TV commentators suggesting it was at the race officials and me figuring it was at his own team.
Vettel said during the post-race press conference that he had lost radio contact with his team and didn’t know when the safety car would be leaving the track. But nobody asked him why he’d fallen so far behind in the first place.
At the conclusion of the race, during the cool-down lap, this was the transmission from the team to Vettel (paraphrase, again): "We understand that you are upset and we on the team are very upset but you are asked not to say anything about this. Not a word. It will just make it worse."
When Vettel went to the weigh-in and then to the holding room before the podium ceremony, he was met by a Red Bull executive who talked earnestly to him.
True to form, Vettel – although clearly upset on the podium (he accepted his trophy and immediately put it down; he did not spray champagn at, or with, the other two drivers) – played the good soldier and said it was just one of those things.
But you can bet he let loose after the cameras and microphones were put away and he was alone with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and Helmut Marko, the ex-F1 driver who’s the director of driver development for Red Bull and a man who wields enormous influence within that team.
It’s my guess that Red Bull did exactly what Brundle had suggested: they told Vettel to hold up the others and when it backfired, they had one very angry young driver and a huge damage control problem.
I suggest we have not heard the end of this.
– I was amazed in 1986 when the world’s press didn’t make a bigger deal about the first Grand Prix of Hungary.
The Iron Curtain was still very much closed at the time – barely 30 years had passed since Soviet tanks had rolled into Budapest to put down the uprising of 1956 – and yet here was the most capitalistic of sports taking place inside that country. There were only two advertising signs around the circuit – one for Foster’s beer and the other for Marlboro cigarettes -- but they were there and that, in itself, was amazing .
I told anybody who would listen (not many) that Soviet-style communism was on the way out, that the people wouldn’t stand for it anymore.
More than 200,000 attended that first race; between three and four years later, Poland and Hungary were free and open societies and the Berlin Wall was down. By 1991, the Soviet Union had collapsed. The F1 Grand Prix of Hungary was the first crack and hardly anybody at the time had noticed the implications . . .
– Jenson Button tells the most recent issue of Harper’s Bazaar that, when he was a little boy, his three sisters used to dress him up like a girl and put makeup on him. "But I probably shouldn’t tell anybody that, should I," he said. Right, Jenson. That’s something you should have kept to yourself.
– Rocky Marciano was the greatest heavyweight champion of the world because he retired from the ring undefeated and he stayed retired and stayed unbeaten. People talk about Ali and Tyson and Holyfield but they were all bums because they didn’t know enough to stay quit when they were ahead.
I though Michael Schumacher knew what he was doing. I though Ross Brawn knew what he was doing, allowing Schumacher to come back. Because I thought they knew what they were doing, I was all for it – as were many others.
I was wrong and they’re wrong and Schumacher’s performance is getting worse and worse. He could have killed Rubens Barrichello with that stunt on Sunday and wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to be remembered?
Memo to Jaques Villeneuve. Don’t do it. NASCAR, IndyCar – anything but Formula One. If Michael Schumacher isn’t good enough to come back, nobody is. . .
– Sebastien Vettel said he lost radio contact with the team at the time of the safety car incident. Maybe he was making that up; maybe not. But isn’t it curious how often that happens? Those cars are capable of going to the moon but it’s amazing how many times the radio stops working . . .
– F1 will now be on vacation of three weeks. (Rather civilized, don’t you think?) The Grand Prix of Belgium from the Spa-Francochamps Circuit is up next on Aug. 27-29. The Italian Grand Prix is scheduled for Sept. 10-12 and that will be the end of the Europeon season. Where has the time gone? . . .
OTHER RACING THIS WEEKEND
The best race of the weekend (well, except for the Grand Prix) was the World of Outlaws feature Friday night at Ohsweken Speedway near Brantford.
(Memo to Charlie Johnstone of the Honda Indy: I wish you’d been out there with me – the first thing I saw was a big sign that said: NO OUTSIDE FOOD OR DRINK ALLOWED. I know you would have liked that . . .)
The Outlaws, as I’ve said many times, are the F1 and IndyCar stars of the sprint car world and those guys do not take any prisoners. They are on the gas from the second they hit the speedway till the second they leave.
A very neat thing about the Outlaws is that they go up to sit in the pit grandstands when they aren’t racing (during the heats, for instance) and watch the action along with everybody else. Steve Kinser and Craig Dollansky were two of the guys who showed up in my section.
(Can you imagine Dario Franchitti or Danica Patrick doing that during time trials at Indianapolis? That’s why I like the Outlaws.)
And I like the way the families are part of the Outlaws scene. Danny Lasoski's souvenier trailer was staffed by his wife and two kids. Nice.
Anyway, when the race started Friday night, Jason Sides – who wins just about every time the Outlaws run Ohsweken – took off and 30 laps later he was in Victory Lane. The racing was just ferocious; it was so fast that the drivers of the two cars that started 23rd and 24th in the 24-car field were being lapped within two laps of the start of the feature on the 3/8-mile dirt speedway. In fact, non-Outlaws Travis Cunningham and Mikey Kruchka conceded defeat early; they were heading for the infield just to get the hell out of the way, the pace was so fast.
Last night, Donny Schatz won from green flag to checkers, leading all 30 laps. Sides was seventh, for a change.
Scott Steckly of Milverton won the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series feature Saturday night at Motoplex Speedway in Vernon, B.C. Jason Hathaway of Appin, Ont., was second and D.J. Kennington of St. Thomas was third.
Points leader J.R. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge, who finished seventh in this race, has a seven point lead over Kennington and 55 over Steckly.
Now, only 18 cars took the green flag for this race and I’m surprised. Are there not late-model drivers in B.C. or Alberta that could have taken a crack at this lineup?
I guarantee that when this series gets to the Grand Prix of Trois-Rivieres in a few weeks that a whole bunch of Quebec cars are going to show up for that race. Ditto the NASCAR weekend at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve at the end of August?
What’s going on in Canadian racing that there isn’t more participation across-the-board?
It’s not just the Canadian Tire series, either. The Formula Ford series seems to have the same problem – there’s a Quebec contingent that won’t have anything to do with Ontario. I know Ontario FF owners who won’t race in this province.
Only the Castrol Canadian Touring Car Championship seems to attract entrants from just about everywhere. What are they doing – rightly, presumably – that the others aren’t?
David Ostella of Maple finished fourth in this weekend’s Star Mazda Championship race at the Autobahn Country Club circuit just outside Joliet, Ill. . . . Robert Wickens of Guelph finished second and fourth in two races in the GP3 Series in support of the Hungarian Grand Prix. Daniel Morad of Markham didn’t have as good a weekend but is capable of winning, as he showed at Silverstone a few weeks ago. . .
The last time I saw an engine get ripped out of a racing car was at Oswego Speedway years ago when Skip MacKenzie of Kingston hit the wall on the backstretch and he and the car went one way and the engine went the other.
Skip was okay. So was Elliott Sadler after he rode his NASCAR Sprint Cup car straight into the backstretch wall Sunday afternoon at Pocono International Raceway in the middle of the Pennsylvania 500, which was eventually won by Greg Biffle, with Tony Stewart second and Carl Edwards third.
The wreck that collected Sadler was triggered by Jimmie Johnson, who tapped Kurt Busch just enough to send him spinning out of control going toward turn 3 of the Pocono tri-oval, which Busch was kind enough to enunciate for all of us imbeciles who obviously didn’t realize that he’d been in a car accident and that’s why he’d been taken to the hospital.
Of course, TV announcers don’t help much with guys like Busch when they ask inane questions like, "What happened?"
"Got wrecked," said Busch. (No kidding.)
TV announcer: "Where?"
Busch: "Back straightaway." (Oh, please. Get off your high horse.)
TV announcer: "How?"
Busch: "Jimmie Johnson drove right over us." (Thank you for stating the obvious.)
TV announcer: Thanks.
Now, I saw this. Abut 20 times, in fact. Replay after replay showed Johnson hitting Busch and starting the crackup of the week. I know this.
And Kurt Busch knows what the TV announcer is asking, too. But Busch’s innate snotty-ness always, always, comes to the surface (why Miller beer and Roger Penske think the world of this guy escapes me completely).
So when the TV announcer asks, "What happened," he’s asking Kurt Busch ever-so-nicely to tell him as well as the millions of folks at home in the United States and Canada what he thinks really happened out there and the TV guy is looking for something out of Busch other than, "Got wrecked."
So thanks for everything, Kurt. From now on, I’m turning the sound down whenever I see a microphone in front of your face. If enough people do that, your sponsor's message won't get heard and maybe then Miller and The Captain might have second thoughts. Which they should anyway.