The battle for the 2021 Formula 1 championship narrowed last Sunday in Brazil. Lewis Hamilton overcame a disqualification after setting fast time in qualifying, and another penalty for an engine change to emerge victorious.
Hamilton’s Saturday charge from 20th to fifth in the sprint race was amazing, but his drive from 10th to the win on Sunday was the stuff of legend. Yes, his Mercedes was fast, but he drove brilliantly and at 10/10ths for nearly the whole race. Whether he or Red Bull rival Max Verstappen end up as champion this season, his Brazilian Grand Prix drive will be remembered as a benchmark in modern Formula 1. McLaren’s Lando Norris jokingly proposed that Hamilton should have to race on three wheels to level the playing field.
For his part, Verstappen was fined 50,000 Euros ($56,695 US) for touching Hamilton’s rear wing in parc ferme’ (impound area) after qualifying. Mercedes’ “right of review” protest after new video surfaced of Max’s move that ran both drivers off the track was determined inclusive by the stewards.
The entire F1 enclave is now at the Lusail International Circuit in Qatar for the first F1 race there. Aside from a few one-off races for lower-echelon formula cars, the track is primarily known as a long-time MotoGP venue. So no one has an advantage as far as car setup, gearing, engine mapping, braking points, and racing lines. Qualifying airs Saturday at on ESPN2 with the race Sunday on the same channel, both at 6 a.m.
NASCAR held a two-day test of the Next Gen car last week. Wednesday’s activities included an unscheduled crash test as Austin Dillon put his No. 3 Chevy head-on into the turn 2 wall. Dillon was unhurt and the crew took the car back to their shop for repairs, returning to the track with an hour remaining in the 11-hour session. NASCAR senior VP of racing innovation John Probst said the car performed as designed in the crash.
For the Thursday test, NASCAR reduced the rear spoiler on the cars from eight inches to seven to increase speeds. Aric Almirola topped the charts unofficially on day two with a lap at 175.718 mph, with most drivers in the 170-173 mph range. For comparison, Kurt Busch’s pole time for the 2020 Coke 600 was 181.269 mph with the Gen 6 car, but I suspect last week’s test was conducted with reduced horsepower settings.
If you want to see some live racing with some big stars, head over the hill for Saturday’s Hangtown 100 at Placerville Speedway. There are still some general admission tickets left, and you’ll get to see NASCAR Cup champions Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott wheeling midgets on dirt. Spectator gates open at 3 p.m. with hot laps starting at 5:15.
And finally, we say goodbye to one of the giants in motorsports. Bob Bondurant passed away last week at the age of 88.
In the 1960s Bondurant raced for, and with, the likes of Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby. He drove Corvette, Cobra, Eagle, Ferrari, Lotus, BRM, McLaren, Ford GT40, and Lola race cars, racing in Formula 1, endurance races, the Can-Am series, and NASCAR. But his major fame came from his teaching activities, parlaying his coaching of movie stars like James Garner, Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Nicolas Cage, and Robert Wagner into a high performance driving school.
My personal connection to him stemmed from a lunchtime ride-around at Sears Point, Bob four-wheel drifting his Mercedes 300 around the course with one hand while pointing out apexes and braking zones with the other. That little ride helped me pick up 2 seconds a lap in my next race. He will be missed. Godspeed, Mr. Bondurant.