Besides Dixon’s, cautions, penalties pepper Sonoma race

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As the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma unfolded Sunday, I felt for head of IndyCar PR Amy Konrath, who was seemingly announcing penalties in the media center as frequently as a lottery host reveals the night’s winning POWER Ball numbers.

Five drivers were issued drive-through penalties for avoidable contact – E.J. Viso, Sebastien Bourdais, Tony Kanaan, Sebastian Saavedra and Ryan Briscoe – and Viso and of course, Scott Dixon, were issued drive-throughs for pit safety infractions.

Coupled with seven caution flags, which ties the season high in IndyCar (seven at Brazil), it made for a busy day in Race Control. The race itself lasted more than 2 hours and 20 minutes, a full 40-plus minutes longer than the most recent race at Mid-Ohio three weeks ago, which ran its 90 caution-free laps in just an hour and 40 minutes.

Reactions were strong and largely against IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield’s call to penalize Dixon when he hit the right rear tire, and subsequently Will Power’s pit crewmembers on his last scheduled stop.

I’m not going to take sides here, but I will offer this bit of insight having sat in on a Barfield-directed race control environment before (the American Le Mans Series race in September 2011, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca). It is far easier to make a rash judgment on social media than it is to make a call based on available video evidence, from multiple angles, in a split-second decision. And Barfield is not alone within IndyCar Race Control; the room has several stewards and IndyCar President of Competition and Operations, Derrick Walker, is also there.

Where the violation occurred in this instance was in accordance with Rule 7.10.1.6 (Contact with personnel; under the pit procedures heading) and from that standpoint, Dixon did violate the rule as it is written in the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series Rulebook.

Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull were understandably frustrated in the aftermath, but the two are classy enough individuals to where you wouldn’t think either one would accuse another crew of intentionally getting in the way to try to force a penalty.

It seems a daft idea that a crewmember would willingly throw him or herself in the way and risk their own injury. You need to have acute situational awareness when you are over the pit wall in pit lane. If such a situation could be proven, then a penalty should follow, in this writer’s opinion.

F1 Mexican Grand Prix on NBC, NBCSN, App this week

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Lewis Hamilton is poised to wrap his fourth Formula 1 World Championship early at this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix, as NBC Sports covers the 18th of 20 rounds this season from the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

Expanded TV coverage comes this weekend on NBC, NBCSN and the NBC Sports App.

All sessions will air live. Both Friday practice sessions are live on NBCSN at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET. Saturday third practice airs live via the NBC Sports App at 11 a.m. ET with a practice replay show at 12:30 p.m. before live qualifying at 2 p.m. ET, those two on NBCSN.

On Sunday, race day, F1 Countdown starts at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC leading to lights out and the race at 3 p.m. ET. Post-race coverage continues on NBC for one hour, from 5 to 6 p.m. ET.

Mercedes AMG Petronas has won both Mexican Grands Prix since the race was reinstated in 2015 after a 23-year hiatus. Nico Rosberg won in 2015 a race after Hamilton had clinched that year’s title, while Hamilton won last year in a 1-2 with Rosberg continuing to close on his first title.

Controversy reined about third place in Mexico last year with all of Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and ultimately Daniel Ricciardo ending in third, Ricciardo getting the podium after post-race penalties were assessed to the other two. Valtteri Bottas is the other active podium finisher in Mexico, having come third in 2015 with Williams.

Vettel enters Mexico 66 points behind Hamilton and can only keep the title alive to Brazil if he gets the gap under 50 points; any top-five finish for Hamilton will ensure the Englishman equals Vettel on four titles. So if Vettel doesn’t finish first or second, he can’t score enough points (either 25 or 18) to get that gap under 50 markers.

Last year’s race featured a bit of a “Noah’s Ark” finishing order with just the top five teams in the championship scoring points at this race, almost in descending order of just two-by-two. It was two Mercedes, then two Red Bulls, then two Ferraris, then Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India before the two Williams, and finally hometown hero Sergio Perez in the second Force India.

Perez is the lone home favorite this race with Esteban Gutierrez not on the grid this season.

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

  • Practice 1: Friday, Oct. 27, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 2: Friday, Oct. 27, 3 p.m.-4:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, Oct. 28, 11 a.m.-12 p.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Practice 3 (Replay): Saturday, Oct. 28, 12:30 p.m.-2 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, Oct. 28, 2 p.m.-3:45 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Pre-Race: Sunday, Oct. 29, 2:30 p.m.-3 p.m. ET (NBC)
  • Race: Sunday, Oct. 29, 3 p.m.-5 p.m. ET (NBC)
  • Post-Race: Sunday, Oct. 29, 5 p.m.-6 p.m. ET (NBC)
  • Race (Replay): Sunday, Oct. 29, 8:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

The next race is the Brazilian Grand Prix, on November 12.