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Possible shakeup in F1?

By Roger Diez

Appeal Motorsports

Formula 1 McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton, who very nearly won the World Championship in his rookie year, is having a bit of a rough patch in his sophomore season. In case you missed it, he experienced severe brain fade in the Canadian Grand Prix, running into the back of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari in the pit lane and putting them both out of the race. As a result, he was penalized 10 spots on the starting grid last weekend in France and started 14th. He finished out of the points, dropping both himself and the McLaren team well down in the season points battle.

Can young Lewis rebound and get back into the hunt for the title? I think it depends entirely on the attitude of McLaren boss Ron Dennis and the support he gets from the team. It could be that we are seeing the beginning of another changing of the guard in F1 . . . the decline of McLaren and the ascendancy of Sauber BMW. If that happens, remember you heard it here. If it doesn’t, never mind.

– There was no joy in my household on Sunday. My wife, who is not what you’d call a big Kyle Bush fan, was not happy with Shrub’s victory at Infineon. It was the Gibbs Racing Toyota pilot’s first Cup win on a road course (although he scored a Nationwide win in Mexico), and he came from 30th on the starting grid to accomplish the feat.

Last year’s Infineon winner, Juan Montoya, brought his Ganassi Dodge home sixth after an altercation with Marcus Ambrose. The road course “ringers”, Ambrose included, didn’t fare too well this year at Infineon, with most of them ending up well down the finishing order. Looking at the statistics, I’m not sure why teams still rely on these guys at the road courses. It’s been ages since one of them won a race, and the Cup regulars have been getting better and better at road racing in recent years.

– This weekend the Sprint Cup is at Loudon, New Hampshire, just about as far away from Infineon as you can get. And this brings up a problem that is affecting all of us in one way or another, and may have a huge effect on NASCAR, IRL, NHRA, ALMS, Grand-Am, and even local Saturday night racers.

Yes, I’m talking about fuel costs. It now costs a NASCAR team over a dollar a mile in fuel costs to run a transporter. The run from Sonoma to Loudon will cost each team $3000 or so in fuel costs alone. I don’t know how many of you were around for the gas crisis of the early 1970s, but we are facing a potentially bigger threat to racing now. Back then public outcry forced the shortening of some races. There are no gas lines now ” no station closures like there were back then “just crippling fuel costs. Apparently the oil companies learned how to create a crisis without shortages in the intervening years.

In any case, we are already seeing the effects of escalating costs. Teams are taking on corporate partners (Roush-Fenway, Gillett-Evernham, etc.), and we are also seeing fewer cars attempting to qualify. Only two or three cars fail to make a race now on a given weekend . . . last year it was six or seven.

One thing NASCAR could do to alleviate some of the cost is to rearrange their schedule to avoid so many cross-country trips. For instance, they could schedule Kansas, Chicago, and Atlanta between Infineon and Loudon. With the more versatile new car design, teams could use the same car for different races, just like they did in the old days! I know that I arrange my trips to maximize fuel efficiency these days. No reason NASCAR (and the other sanctioning bodies) can’t.

– Congratulations to Carson City racer Mackena Bell, who overcame adversity in last Saturday’s Late Model 150 at Roseville’s All American Speedway. Bell was fourth of 22 drivers in practice, but was sidelined by a broken axle halfway through the first 75 lap segment. After the crew made hurried repairs, she rallied to come from 14th to 6th in the second 75-lapper.