Schedule gaps a necessary evil in F1, IndyCar seasons

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It’s a Wednesday afternoon, and we’re smack dab in the middle of two several-week long breaks in the Formula One and IndyCar calendars.

It feels like there’s been longer periods of inactivity this year because, well, there have been. F1 is in the midst of its annual August summer break, four weeks from Hungary on July 28 to Belgium on August 25. But there have been three-week gaps four times already: from Malaysia (March 24) to China (April 14), Bahrain (April 21) to Spain (May 12), Canada (June 9) to Britain (June 30) and Germany (July 7) to Hungary (July 28). But for the remaining nine Grands Prix of 2013, there are no gaps of that length, and the last six F1 races of the year are three sets of back-to-back weekends, which will push the crews to the max.

IndyCar’s schedule was first-half heavy, with 13 of the 19 races between March 24 and July 14, and only six the rest of the way through October 19. The insane stretch of weekends from before Indianapolis in May through Toronto in July featured exactly one off weekend, June 28-30, which was ludicrous. But now IndyCar is into a heavy stretch of breaks, too: three weeks from Toronto (July 14) to Mid-Ohio (August 4), another three weeks until Sonoma (August 25), and a full month between Baltimore (Sept. 1) and Houston (Oct. 5-6).

News is at a minimum particularly in the dog days of July and August which means speculation runs rampant, and the “silly season” rumor mill heats up. Honestly, it’s just a way to fill space and print, and when you prefer official announcements to guesswork (as I do), it tends to grate. It’s kind of that in-between “we’re not at the awesome, exciting starting portion” and the “thrilling, championship chase climax” points of the year. We’re just kind of along for the ride.

The difference for F1 and IndyCar, unlike the summer baseball months for instance, is that on-track activity ceases to exist save for a few tests here or there, because of cost cutbacks. There’s not a daily grind of games, but there is a thrash at race team shops, as crews work tirelessly to find that extra aerodynamic or damper improvement that could provide that necessary extra tenth or two to put them over the top. You don’t see it, unfortunately, because teams aren’t going to be giving away their secrets.

Breaks are good, but this year’s been tough in the way the schedules have shaken out to provide a consistent dose of open-wheel racing either every weekend or at least every other weekend. It’s something I hope the schedule-makers can rectify in part for 2014.

F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on NBCSN, NBC Sports App this week

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After five years and 98 Grands Prix broadcast since 2013, NBC Sports Group’s coverage of Formula 1 concludes with the 2017 season finale from Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina Circuit this week.

The lights come on for the day-into-night Grand Prix of the year as the sun sets on five years of broadcasts, original content and additional digital specific features such as Paddock Pass.

For Abu Dhabi this week, all of the race, qualifying and second free practice will be live on NBCSN with first and third free practice live on the NBC Sports App. The race returns is back in the usual morning a.m. time slots after three mid-day races in Austin, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, and a pair of overnight affairs in Kuala Lumpur and Suzuka. Formula 2 coverage of its season finale from Abu Dhabi also airs both on NBCSN and online.

With this the final race of the season before F1’s winter break, there’s still a handful of things to get sorted even though Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have wrapped their respective championships.

Sebastian Vettel (Brazil) and Max Verstappen (Mexico) have won the last two races, with Hamilton’s most recent win coming at Circuit of the Americas. Will it be any of these three that wrap the year on a high or could any of their teammates – Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo or Valtteri Bottas – upend the script?

Mercedes has won the last three races in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton winning in 2014 and 2016 with Nico Rosberg taking the 2015 crown.

Vettel and Hamilton have three wins apiece in Abu Dhabi, Vettel having taken all of his with Red Bull in 2009, 2010 and 2013, and Hamilton adding a 2011 McLaren triumph to his last two with Mercedes. Raikkonen (2012, Lotus) and Rosberg are the other Abu Dhabi winners, and while both Vettel and Raikkonen have won in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari never has in the first eight races here.

The last place up for grabs in the constructor’s battle is for sixth, with Toro Rosso (53 points), Renault (49) and Haas (47) separated by only six total points. Toro Rosso and Renault got into a nasty war of words in Brazil, and will part ways after the weekend.

Felipe Massa signs off his career in F1 for the second and expected final time at Williams, and with Toro Rosso having confirmed Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley last week, his seat is one of only three left to fill for 2018, and the most attractive.

McLaren and Honda also bring to an end their partnership after three troubled seasons, but on the bright side will look to score points for a third straight race together, which hasn’t happened since the Hungarian, German and Belgian Grands Prix of 2016.

As ever, and perhaps for the final time as a collective unit, Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call with Will Buxton reporting from the pits and paddock.

Here’s the F1 schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:

  • Practice 1: Friday, Nov. 24, 4 a.m.-5:30 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Practice 2: Friday, Nov. 24, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, Nov. 25, 5 a.m.-6 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, Nov. 25, 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Pre-Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 7 a.m.-8 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 8 a.m.-10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Post-Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 10 a.m.-10:55 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race (Replay): Sunday, Nov. 26, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • F2 Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 6 a.m.-7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • F2 Race (Replay): Sunday, Nov. 26, 9 p.m.-10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)