The United States Grand Prix just wrapped up in Austin and proved to be one of the more entertaining races of late with Lewis Hamilton taking his 10th win of the season.
The F1 media tend to view everything with rose tinted glasses and the story that really isn’t being discussed is just what a bad position the sport is actually in. Neither Caterham nor Marussia where able to participate in today’s Grand Prix due to financial issues and their absence brings to light the overwhelming problem of cost control in the sport. Bernie Ecclestone, who at this point appears to be destroying F1 on purpose, has been insistent that not everyone deserves the privilege of racing in the pinnacle of professional motor sport. However, an 18 car grid with ticket prices being as astronomical as they are is a very bad thing. By the start of next season, that number could dwindle to just 16 cars. The idea of 3 car teams has been tossed around, but the debate has been 50/50 and the consensus that it isn’t really much of a solution at all. Ultimately F1’s issues come down to proper governance and the imposition of a cost cap for all teams. The front runners like Mercedes and Ferrari oppose a cost cap, naturally, but it’s what would keep the playing feel more even and allow smaller teams to still compete, which in theory would create better racing. Unfortunately the teams are currently governing themselves, a flawed system where everyone votes for their own best interests. FIA President Jean Todt, who’s arguably nothing more than a figurehead, should be the one to impose stricter standards on the cost of F1. He clearly isn’t the man for the job and what we now have is the most lame duck FIA in the history of the sport.
The media aren’t really discussing this and would have the fans believe otherwise. Ultimately this could be F1’s undoing if major changes aren’t put in place. With costs running through the roof and the show on track causing many longtime fans to bow out, something must be done.
Today’s race was an exercise in wheel to wheel racing and just how good the sport can still be when car, tires and track are all working properly in unison. The Mercedes Silver Arrows have been dominant all season, were quick at the start of the weekend and stayed that way through the race’s conclusion. Nico Rosberg who secured pole on Saturday was eager to get a much needed victory in his World Championship quest. After a solid start, a safety car bunched up the grid and Hamilton was eventually able to get the edge after struggling with his first set of tires. Rosberg blamed the overtake by his teammate on an inability to get in a rhythm. It’s hard not to sympathize just a little with Rosberg and it’s clear the scolding from his team following Spa and the subsequent backlash from fans and the British media have done a number on his self confidence. Unless Mercedes produce one hell of a dominant car again next season, this may be Rosberg’s only chance to win an elusive WDC.
The way things stand now, Hamilton has the momentum and can just about taste his second WDC. With Hamilton being the fan favorite he is, it would be disastrous for F1 if Rosberg managed a double points win at Abu Dhabi to steal away the Championship. Imagine the backlash that would create, especially given how poorly the rule change was received in the first place.
Elsewhere on the grid, a house divided at Red Bull. Daniel Ricciardo continues to be one of the breakout stars in the sport while Sebastian Vettel’s woes continued. Last year’s USGP victor started today’s race from pit lane and spent a majority of the race floundering at the back of the pack. Ricciardo’s WDC hopes are officially over this season, but a 3rd place finish secured some much needed points for the team. While Ferrari still have yet to officially announce Vettel as their driver in 2015, it’s clear that the German and Red Bull are ready to part ways.
Speaking of Ferrari, Fernando Alonso who also has yet to announce his plans for next season had some excellent battles with Ricciardo and Jenson Button today. The F14 T wasn’t really on the pace but Alonso managed 6th. His teammate Kimi Raikkonen continued to be absent from the points in 13th. The super team that everyone had hoped Ferrari would be in 2014 clearly hasn’t happened. Alonso addressed the media earlier this week and made it known he’s excited about his future plans but didn’t hint at what they may be. There have been all kinds of rumors, the most popular being that he’s heading to McLaren. Photos of Alonso speaking with Audi brass hinted at the German manufacturer possibly being interested in F1. Time will tell.
Williams finished strong with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas finishing 4th and 5th respectively. Massa will surely be challenging hard for a podium next weekend at his home race in Brazil.
McLaren were excited to unveil some yellow paint had been added to the SAP logo adorning their cars leading up the the USGP. The team will likely see the entire season through without a title sponsor. The MP4-29 just hasn’t lived up to expectations this season. Many are pegging the new partnership with Honda in 2015 the start of better things to come, however McLaren are currently running the best engine in sport and the car is still a midfield contender at best. Rumors have been floating around that Ron Dennis is set to be sacked at the end of the season and last week it was made public Sam Michael, the team’s Sporting Director would be stepping down in November. Things really aren’t looking great for McLaren as it still remains unknown who will be driving for the team next season.
When all was said and done, just 15 cars managed to finish today’s race. A silly move from Sergio Perez took himself and Sauber’s Adrian Sutil out of the running in lap 1. Later on, another blow to Force India after Nico Hulkenberg was forced to retire.
This being the 3rd USGP at Circuit of The Americas, we can conclude a few things by now: the popularity of F1 continues to grow in America, Mario Andretti needs to retire from conducting podium interviews and NBCSN continues to underestimate the intelligence of their audience. It was excellent to see just how many loyal fans turned up at COTA throughout the weekend – the sport’s fan base is alive and well in the United States. American F1 fans are not NASCAR fans which is something broadcasters need to understand. Comparing the two sports is the equivalent of comparing basketball to cricket – completely different. NBCSN needs to stop treating the sport like a novelty. The way the network has embraced English Premier League football is proof they’re capable of properly handling a globally watched sport. In its 2 years on NBCSN, F1 has been relegated to a smaller studio set with none of the upgrades to their broadcast fans had hoped for. While Will Buxton continues to be the broadcast team’s standout, Leigh Diffey has long worn out his welcome as ringleader. Surely their’s a more highly qualified motor racing commentator, with previous F1 experience who’s up for the job? Part of why F1 continues to miss the mark of its full potential with an American audience is because of how it continues to be represented on TV. Every year at the USGP, we’re treated to F1 For Dummies on one of the major networks. Stop underestimating your audience NBCSN!
All in all a solid win for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton as the teams head to Brazil for the penultimate round of the 2014 season.
Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.