Roger Diez: F1 in Bahrain the only action this weekend
Last weekend was the busiest so far this season, with NASCAR, Formula 1, the Verizon IndyCar series, and the Weathertec Sportscar Championship all in action. This weekend only Formula 1 is active with the third race of the season at Bahrain.
With seven races now complete in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series, teams are taking Easter weekend off. After a lackluster start to the season, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson vaulted himself into playoff contention with a win at the newly-paved Texas Motor Speedway last Sunday. It was Johnson’s seventh win at the fast 1.5-mile oval. Kyle Larson finished second for the fourth time this year, and sits atop the point standings, 17 points ahead of young Chase Elliott. So far the manufacturers’ win stats are Ford 3, Chevy 3, and Toyota 1. The lone Toyota victory came at the hands of Martin Truex Jr. driving for Furniture Row as an affiliate of the Joe Gibbs Racing team. None of the Gibbs cars that were so dominant last season have visited victory lane yet this year.
The streets of Long Beach reverberated with the sound of racing engines last weekend as the Verizon IndyCar series held its second race of 2017. James Hinchcliffe broke a 22-race winless streak by taking the victory, his first at Long Beach, while St. Petersburg winner Sebastien Bourdais came home second. In what I considered questionable officiating, the pole qualifying time of 2016 champion Simon Pagenaud was disallowed, and he had to start dead last. Pagenaud did admirably in the race however, bringing his Penske Racing machine through the field to finish fifth.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton took the pole and the win in the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix, his fifth victory at the track. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel finished second, a reversal of the two drivers’ finishes in Australia. The third step of the podium went to young Red Bull driver Max Verstappen. Although those three teams occupied the top six finishing positions, it appears Mercedes and Ferrari have reached near equality, with Red Bull a bit behind. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility we could see a Red Bull or possibly even a Williams taking the top spot at some point in the season. This weekend the F1 circus visits Bahrain, and many experts think the hot temperatures expected will be advantageous to Ferrari. This supposition was borne out when Vettel was at the top of the time charts in Friday’s practice. Qualifying is today and the race Sunday, both on NBC Sports.
There was a bombshell announcement last week by Honda and Andretti Autosport, that two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso will run the Indy 500 the last week in May. Honda has been struggling with the McLaren F1 program, and a good finish at Indy for Alonso will give it much needed good press and bolster Alonso’s flagging spirits. The Monaco Grand Prix is the same weekend as the 500, but there are no plans to have Alonso “do the double.” Even with the time zone differences, he’d have to hitch a ride on a military fighter jet to have any hope of running both races. Rumor has it former McLaren pilot Jensen Button may return to drive the car at Monaco. The last time a Formula One champion ran at Indy was 1993, when reigning F1 champ Nigel Mansell made the switch and ran the entire season for Newman-Haas racing. Interestingly enough, Mansell replaced current team owner Michael Andretti on the Newman Haas team while Andretti spent the year in a largely unsuccessful season in Formula One with McLaren. Jim Clark in 1965 was the first F1 driver to skip Monaco to run at Indy, and he won that race in a Lotus.