Roger Diez: Formula 1 heads to Middle East
The 2020 racing season is all but over, but it will end in a flurry of races. The next three weekends will see the Formula 1 series in the Middle East, with races this weekend and next in Bahrain and the series finale at Abu Dhabi on Dec. 13. The drivers’ and constructors’ championships have already been decided with Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes each taking their seventh title. But there are still battles over season standings farther down the order, and that will provide interest as well as millions of dollars.
This weekend the series will race on the inner circuit, a 15-turn course with three straightaways and a variety of challenging corners. Next weekend the race will be on the outer circuit with 10 turns and expected lap times of under a minute. Only two active drivers have won at Bahrain. Hamilton has three victories in a Mercedes including 2019 while Sebastian Vettel has four wins – two with Ferrari and two with Red Bull. He took the 2017 and 2018 races, but Ferrari has been on the back foot all season and Vettel has scored only one podium this year, third place in Turkey. Qualifying aired Saturday morning at 6 a.m. and the race is at 6:10 a.m. Sunday on ESPN2.
Although Lewis Hamilton has clinched the championship, he has yet to finalize a new contract with Mercedes. Team boss Toto Wolfe says he is confident that they will come to terms, but it’s rumored that one of Hamilton’s demands is to spend more time with family and friends. With a proposed 24-race schedule for 2021 that may be easier said than done. Salary considerations, particularly with the upcoming F1 spending cap, may also be an issue. According to Forbes Hamilton is the 13th highest-paid athlete in the world and the only racing driver in the top 20. His salary is $42 million with an additional $12 million in endorsements.
With their 2020 seasons complete, both NASCAR and IndyCar have released their 2021 schedules. There are 17 races on the IndyCar calendar beginning at St. Petersburg on March 7 and ending at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 19. Four of the races are on ovals including a doubleheader in Texas. Another doubleheader at Belle Isle in Detroit accounts for two of the road and street course circuits. That makes for a possible 13-race rookie season for Jimmie Johnson, who will be wheeling a Chip Ganassi Racing Honda-powered Dallara for road and street events. Johnson’s former venue, the NASCAR Cup series, has scheduled its traditional 36 points races and two non-points events. The first race of 2021 will be the Busch Clash Feb. 9 on the Daytona road course. It is the first of seven road course races on the schedule, six of which are points races. In addition to the traditional Sonoma and Watkins Glen outings and the return of the Charlotte Roval, races are scheduled at the Circuit of the Americas, Road America, and the road course at Indianapolis. The non-points All-Star race will move to Texas Motor Speedway.
Twenty-four drivers have qualified for the season-opening Busch Clash. Criteria for inclusion include 2020 Busch Pole winners, 2020 Cup race and stage winners, playoff drivers as well as former Clash winners, Daytona 500 champions, and Daytona 500 pole winners. The move to the road course will give the race a totally new feel as the best of the best go head to head for a million dollar purse under the lights on a Tuesday night.