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

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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 ESPN.com’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.

Newgarden, Chevy top Phoenix practice

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Friday’s two-hour practice for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix started out slowly, with only a handful of drivers turning laps in the opening 30 minutes. However, the second hour, and the final 30 minutes in particular, turned into a frenzy, with drivers making several runs and completing qualifying sims.

Josef Newgarden topped the speed charts with an average speed of 192.108 mph, the only lap above the 192 mark of the session.

JR Hildebrand enjoyed a strong run on his return after suffering a broken hand at Long Beach to run second in practice. Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power completed the top five, making it a Chevrolet sweep of the top five spots.

Heavy winds wreaked havoc on the session, with sand blowing onto the track surface throughout practice. Conditions became severe enough that practice was halted a couple minutes prior to its scheduled conclusion.

Of note: driver Ed Carpenter, in his first race outing of 2017, suffered a shortened practice due to mechanical issues and the crew reportedly was working on swapping out the fuel cell on his No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

Times and qualifying order are below. Qualifying begins at 11:00 p.m. ET (8:00 local time).

 

 

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

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The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

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While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.