This offseason, F1 and NASCAR are doing what’s needed to stay in the news


Formula One and NASCAR didn’t get to be where they are today by standing still. Key moves, acquisitions and decisions have helped move each major motorsports organization to the top of the respective motorsport heaps over several decades.

Even now, as both stand on the precipice of controversial potential new changes, they have already succeeded in one area: getting people talking about them.

F1 is set for a radically different 2014. The raft of sweeping new regulations, with V6 power units, adjusted car designs and permanent driver numbers are set to transition the sport from its last era that ended in the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix. Even now, the upcoming Bernie Ecclestone bribery trial may have ramifications from a leadership standpoint for the sport down the road.

But one idea that has already been outlined and elicited a visceral, negative reaction from fans, observers and media members is that of double points for the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. In brief, it seems an answer to a question no-one asked and doesn’t solve some of the major issues facing the sport, namely high, unsustainable costs that are affecting most of the grid. It also creates the slippery slope of making a single Grand Prix more valuable, points-wise, than any other.

NASCAR seems to be heading down a similar, treacherous road with possible eliminations in the Chase, which itself was already a creation for the prior system that existed until 2003. No formal announcement has been made, but a change could be announced later this month after the Charlotte Observer broke the news last night.

These points changes could be overreactions to dominant forces, test balloons to gauge fan interest/disinterest, or simply the steps of sanctioning bodies working to keep themselves in the news during a slow period in the racing calendar.

There isn’t much to talk about with neither series having raced yet – NASCAR has only had a few days of testing at Daytona and F1’s first test isn’t until January 28 at Jerez, Spain – so these are ways for the series to stay in the news without referring to the competition aspect of their sports.

Meanwhile, IndyCar could potentially take a page from this. It’s had great competition on track each of the first two years since the Dallara DW12 package was introduced with engine competition back from Honda and Chevrolet. This past year had 10 race winners, 20 different podium finishers and the championship was decided at the last race on its pure, season-long points system between two or more drivers for the eighth consecutive season (dating to 2006).

But, I’ll use a quote from a piece I read earlier this week from’s John Oreovicz, regarding IndyCar’s biggest news story at the moment:

“The fact that the biggest story the series has to trumpet is Tony Kanaan receiving his trophy for a race he won seven months ago speaks volumes about the predicament Indy car racing finds itself in,” Oreovicz wrote of TK receiving his Baby Borg, with one also awarded as a surprise to son Leo.

Getting people talking – for positive or negative reasons – is key to success in a crowded sports and entertainment landscape. Particularly so during your series’ respective offseason. It’s why we’ve had so much from the merged TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and new FIA Formula E to recap this offseason as well.

Stagnation and complacency, on the other hand, fails to keep the news cycle moving.

F1 and NASCAR may not be right with their potential points alterations, but they are getting necessary ink and web space utilized regarding the ideas. The intrigue of what comes next with the decisions only serves to move the story along further.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.