This will be a slightly different Monday Morning Racing Roundup, in that rather than splitting the report up into sections – Formula One, NASCAR, IndyCar and so-on – I’m just going to throw everything out there and see where it lands.
For instance, although Fernando Alonso won Sunday’s Grand Prix of China in convincing fashion (click here for full results), attention will turn very quickly to the next stop on the tour, Bahrain, where protests against the Grand Prix there have already started (see photo).
This is an annual black eye against F1 – one it so easily could avoid, simply by not going there – that will dominate the headlines heading into next weekend and steal the spotlight from the raison d’etre: the Grand Prix.
Although there is an undercurrent of unrest in Bahrain at the best of times, the protesters know they can garner international attention by raising the ante when Formula One arrives in the country.
As a result of what’s happening in the Middle East, I fear there will be a repeat of last year’s unpleasantness in Montreal, when what started as a student protest against university tuition fees escalated into mindless violence directed at just about everything and everybody at the time of the Grand Prix there.
I love Montreal – I lived and worked there in the middle-to-late 1960s and have enjoy going back for visits ever since. But I can tell you that the sight of riot police lingering in the side streets, waiting for the nightly protest parades to start, as happened last year, was disconcerting to say the least.
And the economy of Montreal suffered seriously because of the unrest, with large numbers of Europeans opting not to attend the race, leaving any number of downtown hotel rooms unoccupied on Grand Prix weekend, an unprecedented occurrence.
They already are marching in Montreal (largely unreported in Canadian media, by the way), as they have been recently in Bahrain. Cross fingers that the political leaders in the city of Montreal and province of Quebec can talk some sense into people before the situation gets out of hand again.
By the way, talking about Montreal and racing, there is a gap on the two-race calendar at Circuit-Gilles Villeneuve now that the NASCAR Nationwide Series weekend has been cancelled. Only the Grand Prix is planned in early June. With the stock cars gone, another event could be held in August.
All sorts of rumours have been floated about German touring cars and Indy cars and what-have-you-cars being lined up for a race there but I have it on very good authority that a Moto GP motorcycle race could be slotted in there, perhaps as early as 2014.
As they say, you read it here first.
I also understand that improvements to the Circuit-Gilles Villeneuve track and its infrastructure are in the works and that is very good news indeed, as it would seem that F1 will continue to come to Canada despite fears it would stop after the current contract runs out in 2015.
Where organizers (not necessarily the current ones, by the way) expect to get the money necessary to keep F1's owners happy is the $64,000 question and one to be revisited on another day.
When the Grand Prix of China finished yesterday, with Alonso on top followed by Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton, my wife – a casual racing fan – said, and I quote: "That was the most exciting Formula One race I’ve ever seen."
She went further: "That’s the first time in 10 years that F1 got my heart beating."
She was talking, of course, about the last six laps in which three-time world champion Sebastien Vettel emerged from the pits with fresh, soft, Pirellei rubber on his Red Bull-Renault racing car and set off to run down third-place Hamilton who, at that moment, was more than 12 seconds in front of him.
It was an incredible charge and he just missed, finishing two-tenths of a second behind the last man on the podium. In fact, both Hamilton and Vettel had to pass Caterham's Giedo van der Garde two corners from the checkers, causing Vettel to slightly miss his braking point and go wide. That miscue might have cost him his shot at Hamilton. In fact, I will go so far as to suggest that if van der Garde hadn’t been there, Vettel would have finished third.
Colour commentator David Coulthard said something that got my better half going even before Vettel’s pursuit brought her out of her seat. When McLaren’s Jenson Button didn’t fight Hamilton when the Mercedes driver went to pass him late in the race, Coulthard opined that it was "sensible racing."
"Is that another ‘new rule?’ " my wife asked, making reference to the Masters decision to let Tiger Woods keep playing after he made an illegal drop on Saturday.
"Whatever," she continued, "I’d expect something like that from David Coulthard, who was always getting out of the way for faster drivers. I want Michael Schumacher back. If he was 20th and the 21st guy was trying to pass him, he’d fight him as hard as if he was protecting the lead."
You can see why we get along. I like racing, too."
Talking about racers, NASCAR’s Brad Keselowski is a cut above. He’s probably the most self-assured racing driver I’ve ever met – and that’s saying something because the No. 1 quality of most successful racing drivers is self-confidence.
In the last week, he and his Penske Racing No. 2 team have been jobbed by NASCAR (penalized by being made to move their car for being outside the pit box at Martinsville when it obviously was inside the lines) and then made to replace the rear-end gear housing on the race car in the waning minutes before Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (full results here).
Keselowski let loose at the conclusion of Saturday’s race – won the Kyle Busch, by the way – and told reporters his team was being targeted. Not only that, he let it be known that "we’re not gonna take it," and "we’re not gonna be treated this way."
The strong rumour is that he’ll be fined by NASCAR for his comments and that his crew chief will be penalized, perhaps even suspended.
His owner is Roger Penske and you wonder what he’s going to say – and to whom?
Kyle Busch, by the way, won Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race after winning Friday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race. It is the second time this season and the seventh time in his career that he has won the two major NASCAR stock car races on the same weekend. Incredible.
Kyle Larson is a young guy on the way up. He has amazing talent. He wins in sprint cars, midgets, stock cars – you name it. He will be in the Sprint Cup next year, let there be no doubt – if he survives.
Larson was the driver of the car that went halfway through the fence at Daytona in February (more than two dozen people in the stands were injured) and yet walked away without a scratch from his wrecked car after it landed back on the racing surface.
Friday night during the Nationwide Series race at Texas, he was driving along the backstretch and a tire went down on his car and he came so close to piling into the back of a safety truck that was trundling along down on the apron.
It was very reminiscent of the scene in which Juan Pablo Montoya was trying to catch the field during a yellow at last year’s Daytona 500 and a blown tire sent his car crashing into a jet-dryer, which started a God-almighty fire.
Larson was luckier and there wasn’t a crash – this time. Good thing, too. He went on to win Sunday’s Camping World Series truck race at the North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham.
Speaking of Montoya, the big rumour in NASCAR circles is that his team owner, Chip Ganassi, is looking to unload his stock car team. If true, Montoya would likely be out of a ride in NASCAR because he certainly hasn’t lived up to his advance billing and reputation since leaving Formula One.
Ganassi, of course, is an open-wheel guy at heart, driving (and surviving) Indy cars before becoming an open-wheel team owner. He also is big in sports car racing as well as fielding his NASCAR team.
The other interesting thing about this rumour is, if true, is it a signal that Target might be getting out of auto racing sponsorship? Target is the only serious sponsor Ganassi has ever had. For ever and ever, in fact.
If the team is sold to Menard, his chain of midwestern hardware-type stores would be – in part – in competition with Target, so it would not be a match made in heaven.
Or Target might just be cutting back its involvement, which means the Chipster – if he has a choice – would undoubtedly prefer to keep the Indy car team going than the stock car team.
Back to F1. I was watching the Three Stooges Sunday morning and some of their slapstick got me thinking about Red Bull. Please follow along.
Shemp is using a mop to clean the top of a table. Every time he moves the mop back and forth, the end pokes Mo in the eye. When Mo confronts him about this – and twists his nose around for good measure – Shemp says: "The mop did it, Mo! Not me, the mop!"
And why did this get me thinking about Red Bull? Because when Mark Webber ran out of fuel during qualifying on Saturday, Red Bull said it was a computer error. We all know that computers only do what people tell them to do. So it wasn’t a computer error, it was a human error, just like it was Shemp who was poking Mo in the eye and not the mop.
It was just one of about a thousand things Red Bull did wrong on the weekend, which saw Webber have to start the race last from pit lane, run into the back of Jean-Eric Vergne, pit for a new nose and tires, and then have a wheel fall off.
Vettel, despite giving it the old college try, finished fourth and off the podium, which is a pretty poor performance for a team that went one-two at the last GP in Malaysia.
But it’s a young season. They’ll bounce back.
By the way, until a team clinches the constructors championship, which translates into millions and millions of dollars, nobody will do anything stupid to penalize one of their drivers or to give one in a team a leg up over the other.
After the clinch, maybe. But at the third race of the season? Not a chance.
I am a champion conspiracy theorist and I see all sorts of shadowy things happening. But not this time. Keselowski in NASCAR? Maybe. But not Webber and Red Bull in F1.
Short takes: Audi drivers Allan McNish and Benoit Treluyer finished first and second in the FIA World Endurance Series race in England over the weekend. Audi, by the way, is reportedly considering entering the Daytona Prototype class of the new United SportsCar Series that will start racing in 2014 and could start to produce engines for the IndyCar series. . . . Sebastien Ogier of France won the World Rally Championship stop in Portugal at the wheels of a Volkswagen . . . Ryan Villopoto finally lost a Monster Energy Supercross race. His incredible run of victories, including one in Toronto a few weeks ago, came to an end in Minneapolis Saturday night when he lost to another Ryan, Ryan Dungey. . . .