As we approach the final race of the 2011 season, the F1 circus is now focused on what holds in store for 2012, and the rumor mill is aplenty with talking points.
- Texas F1 Massacre
It was just weeks ago that Bernie proudly announced the addition of a second grand prix to be raced here in the States, with the US Grand Prix set to debut next season in Austin, followed by the Grand Prix of America to be raced in the streets of New York and New Jersey beginning in 2013. For US based F1 fans the prospect of two races held here in the States sounded too good to be true, considering the shameful plight of the previous iteration of the US Grand Prix at the legendary Indy Motor Speedway. Turns out our guarded skepticism was justified, and unless Bernie and the USGP heads work out a deal before this week’s Brazilian GP, the USGP will be axed without a foot tarmac being laid down.
To be quite honest, if I was forced to choose between the Austin and New Jersey races, I’d go with the latter. While the Austin venue would likely provide a better show from a pure racing perspective, the prospect of F1 cars racing through the streets of West New York and Jersey could be our equivalent to the street circuit races of Monaco and Singapore. And I have a hunch that the teams’ principals and sponsors will have no quarrels with sacrificing the USGP for a potentially more lucrative New York based race. Let’s just hope the Occupy Protesters and Greenpeace don’t band together in a joint faction to rob us of the next great F1 spectacle.
- Petrov slams Lotus Renault
It seems the Russian has had enough of the consistently poor decisions made by his team this season, and it spoiled over in a heated tirade during an interview with Russian media. Considering the amount of criticism team principal Eric Boullier lobbed at his drivers this season, it was just a matter of time before they hit back, and quite frankly Petrov hit the nail on the head. The R31’s radical forward facing blown exhaust diffuser system proved to be a engineering blunder, and despite their early season pace, the car pretty much failed to keep up with the rest of the pack for the rest of the season. The lack of any in-season development of the R31 coupled with numerous pit stop and race strategy bungles, and one could only wonder if management intentionally threw this season away, and consequently threw their drivers under the bus.
Of all the team driver lineups, Lotus’ for next season is the most up in the air, with former number one driver Robert Kubica looking to make his comeback from a near fatal rally car race accident, mid-season replacement driver Bruno Senna having impressed for the majority of his shortened season, reserve driver and GP2 champion Romain Grosjean itching to secure a race seat, and the now under fire Petrov. Boullier recently proclaimed he wants “big name” drivers, but quite honestly his team needs to get their act together and first develop a car that can compete with the top teams before they can sign a driver the likes of Vettel, Hamilton, or Alonso. For a team that as recently as 2006 was the dominant force on the grid, Lotus have tailspinned into a mid-tier team, and it doesn’t look like things are going to change anytime soon.
- Mercedes, Lewis out at McLaren?
Two of the more sensational rumors both involve McLaren unsurprisingly, with one having real legs and other being pure hogwash. The former is that the Woking team will switch from Mercedes engines which they have used since 1995 and return to Honda power, which was used from 1988 to 1992 in one of the most storied and successful periods in the team’s history. Anytime an automotive giant like Honda decides to re-enter F1, it’s a good thing, and the reunion of the two partners would be a nostalgic throwback to the golden age of F1. The timing of this headliner is somewhat uncanny given the parallels of makeup of McLaren’s team today and that of twenty years ago; Lewis Hamilton most mirrors the driving style and persona of the late great Ayrton Senna, who won three championships with McLaren-Honda, and Jenson Button being one of the most consistent and cerebral drivers on the grid is much like the Professor and four time world champion Alain Prost. Honda departed F1 after the 2008 season after three disappointing seasons as a factory race team. But as an engine provider, they have historically been a tour de force, and with a switch to turbo V6 engines beginning in 2014, they have plenty of time to develop their powerplants and hopefully make a big splash in their return.
The other rumor is one of the most ludicrous in recent memory, it being according to the British tabloid Daily Star that Hamilton is unhappy at McLaren and ready to jump ship to arch rivals Ferrari, replacing Felipe Massa. Despite this season being the most tumultuous in his young career, Hamilton has the chance to finish the season on a high note with back to back wins, and there’s no reason to think he’s unhappy with his team, except for his own performance. This eye-roller probably has more to do with Ferrari’s discontent with Felipe Massa’s career drop off, and all signs point to next season being his last as a Ferrari driver. With two of the most entangled racing histories among all the current drivers, one can only wonder how Hamilton’s and Massa’s careers arcs would have changed if the Brazilian won the 2008 Drivers championship instead of the Brit.
- Jean-Eric Vergne, the next Sebastian Vettel?
After posting lap times in a Young Drivers test at Abu Dhabi that were just four tenths off of double reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel’s pole position lap, the young Frenchmen could be in line for a race seat at sister B-team Toro Rosso. If he does displace either Jaime Alguersuari or Sebastian Buemi and impresses management, he would be perfectly situated to follow Vettel’s career progression, with a potential seat at Red Bull as early as 2013. Vergne himself stated he could “no worse” than Webber if given a chance at Red Bull. Oof, that’s quite a zinger, maybe that sound bite alone will reignite Webber’s fire for next season.