Standing starts set for backlash, but Alonso remains neutral

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Yesterday, the FIA confirmed that the proposed changes to the F1 regulations for 2015 had been approved by the World Motor Sport Council, thus prompting plenty of snark in the sport’s community.

Said snark was for one reason and one reason only: standing starts after a safety car.

Traditionally in Formula 1, in order to tend to an incident that requires the cars to slow their speed drastically, the safety car is deployed to bunch the field and allow the crash scene to be cleared without bringing out the red flag. It was also used in wet conditions when racing was too dangerous.

Once conditions had improved, the cars were then released and allowed to race once again from the ‘safety car line’ that comes just before the start/finish. If the safety car had peeled in before this point, the lead car dictated the pace of the cars behind.

From 2015 though, the cars will now line up on the grid and have another standing start. This will happen after each and every safety car, barring incidents in the first two or last five laps of the race.

It would make more sense to red flag the race for any incident like this. That way, we don’t lose any laps under the safety car, and you get more racing.

Given that it has now been ratified by the World Motor Sport Council, everything looks set to go ahead, but it will be interesting to see how the F1 paddock responds to the ruling at Silverstone. Fernando Alonso was asked for his thoughts on it ahead of the WMSC’s meeting in Austria, and sat on the fence.

“My opinion is really quite neutral on that,” he said. “I don’t have any strong preference on the restarts. When I arrived in single seaters the restarts were like this [rolling]. In go karts, whenever there was a red flag, we had a normal start again with the lights. I don’t have any preference.”

Will it make the racing more exciting? “Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If it’s a race like this, the first two corners will be really exciting. If it’s a restart at Monza or Indianapolis in the past, when we start from rolling, it was more exciting because there is a lot of people. In both cases, they have some advantage and some disadvantage.”

He has a very fair point there. However, just as double points will be exciting on race day in Abu Dhabi, it remains a gimmick for the other 364 days of the year.

However, let’s look at the positives in the new regulations:

  • No more weird noses – before everyone was moaning about the sound of the cars, everyone was moaning about the look of the 2014 F1 cars. The noses have been compared to a number of things, but the FIA will change the regulations to make them more “aesthetically pleasing” in 2015. Very good news.
  • European testing – it’s a simple one, but testing in Europe is so much more sensible than doing so in Asia. This year, two of the three tests were held in Bahrain after the 2013 tests in Spain were hit with rain. Although conditions in Bahrain were better for testing, at a time when new parts were needed regularly, not being able to call HQ and get one sent down in a few hours was harmful. Testing in Europe will also reduce costs, as will the reduction to just two pre-season tests in 2016 and the reduction to two in-season tests.
  • No ban on tire blankets – it was always a long shot, but it is good that the FIA has not gone ahead with its plans to ban tire blankets. It would have given the teams even more problems to deal with, and may have been a safety concern.
  • Two-stage wheel fastener – on safety grounds, this is good news, as it should hopefully reduce the number of wheels going AWOL.

It isn’t all doom and gloom, but, just as we are seeing with double points, standing starts can be added to the list of controversial gimmicks intended to improve the show in Formula 1.

Sauber’s Wehrlein rules himself out, Giovinazzi to sub at Australian GP

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After Friday’s practice sessions and after having been originally cleared to race for the Australian Grand Prix, it has been determined that Sauber F1 Team’s Pascal Wehrlein will not be able to continue in the rest of the weekend. He opted to rule himself out due to his fitness level.

“My fitness level is not as it should be for a full race distance because of my training deficit. I explained the situation to the team yesterday evening. Therefore, the Sauber F1 Team has decided not to take any risks. It is a pity, but the best decision for the team,” Wehrlein said in a release.

Wehrlein missed the opening test at Barcelona before resuming for the second test. He’d had a back injury sustained in an accident at the Race of Champions event in Miami in January.

As for that opening test, Antonio Giovinazzi, the Italian Ferrari reserve driver, will fill in for the German. This was meant to be Wehrlein’s first race with Sauber; instead, it will be Giovinazzi’s Grand Prix debut.

“We have great respect of Pascal’s openness and professionalism. This decision was definitely not an easy one for him, it underlines his qualities as a team player. The focus is now on his fitness level, and in such a situation we do not take any unnecessary risks. Pascal will be in China as planned,” team principal Monisha Kaltenborn added.

This isn’t the first injury fill-in to race in F1 in recent years; twice, Fernando Alonso has missed a race each of the last two years.

After a testing crash at Barcelona in 2015, Kevin Magnussen filled in in Alonso’s McLaren Honda, although was unable to start the race with a mechanical before the lights even went out. Meanwhile Alonso missed last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix after his accident at Melbourne, which opened the door for Stoffel Vandoorne to make his debut, and the Belgian promptly scored a point.

Giovinazzi has no prior experience at the Albert Park circuit and so will have to learn the track during FP3, which runs at 11 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports App. Qualifying takes place at 2 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

Here’s pics and notes from NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton, who is on the ground in Melbourne:

More races, more friction in the future for F1

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The new owners of Formula One are planning to have more races and a greater presence in North America, and wouldn’t mind revving up the ratings with some extra friction among drivers.

Sean Bratches, the managing director of commercial operations for the Formula One Group – formerly Liberty Media – which took over the running of the sport in January, is already fielding offers from promotors wanting to buy in.

Lewis Hamilton has suggested Miami and Daniel Ricciardo picked Las Vegas as places they’d like to see new races, and Bratches told a news conference Friday that “there’s no dearth of interest in bringing Formula One to circuits, both track and street, around the world.”

Bratches said he’d had a “number of inquiries from cities, states, municipalities and countries around the world that are interested.”

There are 20 races on the 2017 calendar, starting with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, and concluding with Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. The debate over the number and location of races has been frequent over the last decade.

F1 racing returned in 2012 to the United States, where it is held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, in October. While the bulk of the races remain in Europe and Asia, there are also GPs in Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

“Our interest is in expanding the number of circuits in that marketplace, leveraging Austin – our incumbent and the benchmark in terms of what we’re doing in the States,” said Bratches, adding there was clear demand for it in North America. “We’re excited about all markets around the world, but the United States is going to be a focus.”

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Ricciardo, an Australian who finished third on the season standings last year, are among the drivers who’d like to see more than 20 races in the F1 series. Veteran Fernando Alonso also doesn’t mind the idea of expansion, although maybe not for a few years.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, who has won four world drivers’ titles, thinks 16 to 20 would be enough. All agreed that expansion was pointless unless it increases the level of competition. Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the last three seasons, and Red Bull was dominant for the four seasons before that.

There’s always been driver tension in F1, usually between teams but also involving teammates vying for championships. Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who edged Hamilton for the title last year and then retired, had an openly strained rivalry at Mercedes since 2013.

That’s something former ESPN executive Bratches doesn’t mind.

Responding to a question about the drivers being overly-managed by public relations people, Bratches said: “There’s a number of sports where there’s big personalities that allow sports to punch above their respective pay grades.”

He said the drivers were a big part of the fan engagement.

“Candidly, I would love it if more of the drivers had big personalities, there was more controversy among the drivers – and you kind of unleash them a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s good for all of us.”

Jolyon Palmer on the back foot in Australia after F1 practice crash

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Renault’s Jolyon Palmer has admitted that he is “on the back foot” heading into the remainder of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix after completing just 10 laps in Friday’s Formula 1 practice sessions.

F1 sophomore Palmer arrived in Australia looking to impress after enjoying a bold drive on debut at Albert Park 12 months ago, narrowly missing out on a points finish.

The Briton was the first driver to fall victim of F1’s more challenging cars in an official 2017 race weekend session, losing control through the final corner and slamming into the wall to bring his FP2 running to an early end.

This followed a problem earlier in the day that had limited his FP1 mileage, leaving Palmer with just 10 laps to his name from three hours of Friday running.

“Sadly it was a pretty short day for me in terms of time in the car. We had a minor technical issue in the first session then I had an off in FP2, which unlike FP1 required more than one part replacing,” Palmer explained.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened and we’ll be having a close look at the data. I feel for my crew as they have a decent amount of work to do.

“I’m hopeful of more track time tomorrow, but we’ll be on the back foot heading into qualifying after only 10 laps today.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Indy 500 champ Rossi takes his shot with the Blackhawks (PHOTOS)

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There are many cool things you get to do after winning the Indianapolis 500. Visiting the grounds of one of the NHL’s most successful, Stanley Cup-winning teams is one of them.

Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi visited Chicago this week to meet up with the Chicago Blackhawks, trading in his usual No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for a No. 98 jersey.

Usually it’s the ‘Hawks that are one of the top teams in the NHL and a usual Stanley Cup trophy winner – they’ve won in 2013 and 2015, recently – but it’s the Cubs that right now host a championship trophy having won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

Anyway, here’s a few photos and videos from Rossi’s trip to Chitown, which also included his own chance to shoot a puck.

Rossi took a photo with iconic Blackhawks singer Jim Cornelison:

Here’s Rossi with Marian Hossa:

Here’s a quick photo before practicing, then video of Rossi practicing:

Rossi paid a visit to WGN Radio:

And all told, Rossi was a fan: