Plans to shorten F1 weekend rejected; testing set for changes

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Plans for the Formula 1 race weekend to be reduced from four to three days have been rejected as the teams discuss changes to the sporting regulations for the 2015 season.

According to German publication Auto Motor und Sport, the proposed changes were rejected at a meeting in England yesterday between the main players in Formula 1 (the teams, the suppliers, the organizers, and the governors). However, changes to both pre-season and in-season testing are set to be ratified by the World Motor Sport Council in the coming weeks.

In Canada, reports emerged suggesting that, in order to aid cost cutting, the Thursday programme for teams and the media in Formula 1 would be removed. Instead, media duties and briefings would take place on Friday morning in place of the first practice session. There would be just one practice later on Friday evening, allowing fans to come to the track once they had finished work.

This would have removed a day of travelling out for all involved in the sport, thus cutting costs. However, it would also have put an increased burden on the teams with just a single session, which, given the times that it was due to start, may not have been entirely representative. For the media, it also meant that any news broken in the morning on Friday could have been made redundant by the events in practice later that day. Instead, the weekend schedule is set to remain the way currently is for 2015.

A ban on tire warmers had also been proposed, but this too has been rejected. Pirelli will instead pay teams €200,000 each to put its logo upon the warmers. This sponsorship should ease some of the costs.

Testing has been altered, though. This season, teams had three pre-season tests (one in Spain, two in Bahrain) plus eight days worth of in-season testing, spread across four days following a grand prix. For 2015, all of the tests taking place over the winter will take place in Europe – most probably in Jerez and Barcelona, as has been the trend – and teams will get just four days of in-season testing.

The rejection of the changes made to the race weekend schedule appears to be for the best. It would have placed a greater deal of pressure on the teams and personnel travelling to races, without saving a huge amount of money. In the grand scheme of things, this approach to cutting costs was a very small-scale one.

The changes made to testing are similarly sensible. Less running in-season will aid cost cutting, as will keeping everything in Europe. The reason for holding two tests in Bahrain this year was largely due to the rain-affected tests in 2013; Bahrain rarely is affected by wet weather. Clearly, the teams are happy to accept washouts that may occur in Spain at the beginning of February.

Any possible changes made to either the sporting or technical regulations for next season will need to be ratified by the World Motor Sport Council. For now though, it appears that the routine weekend structure is set to remain in place, and other ideas will need to be put forward to address the cost crisis in the sport.

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.