As most motorsports fans are aware, Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher is in a medically induced coma after suffering a head injury in a skiing accident last week. The most recent news is that Schumacher is in critical but stable condition. That is a good sign according to doctors, but it could be weeks or even months before he emerges from the coma. Press conferences on his condition have been suspended for the time being.
Another bit of sad news is the passing of Andy Granatelli, the STP magnate who came to be known as “Mister 500” because of his long association with the fabled Memorial Day race at Indianapolis. Granatelli was behind the revolutionary turbine cars that came close to winning the classic race in 1967 and 1968, but driver Mario Andretti won the 1969 500 for him, driving an out of date backup car. One of the classic photos burned in my memory is of Granatelli giving an oil-streaked but grinning Andretti a big kiss in victory circle. He won a second 500 as a car owner in 1973, when Gordon Johncock scored the victory for STP. Granatelli went on to sponsor Richard Petty in NASCAR, resulting in cars painted a combination of Petty blue and STP red. Granatelli died of congestive heart failure last week in Santa Barbara at the age of 90.
Formula 1 will experience a multitude of changes in 2014. The most significant will be the change to a new engine formula – a 1.6 liter turbocharged V6. New energy recovery systems and fuel limits will also add variables to the game. Teams are committing huge amounts of resources in time, money, and talent to come up with the best design for the new regs. Perhaps we will see the end of the dominance of Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Red Bull’s chief designer, Adrian Newey, is sure to come up with a very competitive design.
Other changes are afoot in driver assignments. Kimi Raikkonen joins Fernando Alonso at Ferrari, and both former world champions will be vying to be number one driver at the Scuderia. Felipe Massa moves from Ferrari to Williams, replacing Pastor Maldonado, who moves to Lotus. Force India will field former McLaren pilot Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg, while Toro Rosso driver Daniel Ricciardo moves up to Red Bull to replace the retiring Mark Webber. And there will be two rookies in the field when the series kicks off in Australia — Kevin Magnusson, son of sports car ace Jan Magnusson, joins McLaren partnered with Jensen Button, and Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso seat will go to rookie Russian driver Daniil Kvyat.
In addition to the new driver lineups, there will be two new venues for the series in 2014, but unfortunately the New Jersey race will not be among them, being postponed for yet another year. Austria is back on the schedule for the first time since 2003, with a June date, and F1 will race in Russia for the first time in October. The track will be in close proximity to the 2014 winter Olympic grounds in Sochi.
And finally, one of the oddest moves I’ve ever seen in my 40-plus years in motorsports. The final race of the season at Abu Dhabi will award drivers and teams double points. If there’s a reasonably close race for the championship, this could be a game-changer.