Luke Smith

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing in the garage during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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How Max Verstappen became Formula 1’s ‘Boaty McBoatface’


Sunday’s United States Grand Prix in Austin will go down as a memorable race for a handful of reasons.

It may go down as the race that saw Lewis Hamilton begin a late surge that culminated in a fourth Formula 1 world championship. More likely, it will go down as a race that did wonders for the Circuit of The Americas as it broke its attendance record, exceeding all expectations with a little help from Taylor Swift.

While it will not be remembered as a classic grand prix, there were certainly periods of exciting on-track action and a number of impressive drives through the field. Fernando Alonso’s run to fifth for McLaren turned heads, while teammate Jenson Button rose from 19th to ninth. Perhaps the most impressive drive of all came from Carlos Sainz Jr. who, despite racing in a Toro Rosso with a year-old Ferrari engine, and despite the team’s own predictions having the Spaniard finishing 12th at best, wound up sixth.

And yet when we look back on the 2016 United States Grand Prix in years to come, none of those names will be listed as winning the ‘Driver of the Day’ award.

That honor went to Max Verstappen.

Verstappen drove a fair race. Or at least, half a fair race. Starting fourth, he slipped behind Kimi Raikkonen on the first lap to run fifth during the opening stint in Austin. Verstappen battled back past Raikkonen on Lap 13, and then closed up on the back of Nico Rosberg in third. The Dutchman told his team “I’m not here to finish fourth” when given the call to consider his pace, his tire wear causing concern for Red Bull. A radio mix-up meant Verstappen came into the pits on Lap 26 to find the Red Bull crew still hurrying to their positions, costing him masses of time. He did manage to take a place off Felipe Massa while fighting back, only to grind to a halt moments later when a gearbox issue arose while exiting Turn 11.

Max Verstappen passed two cars, fluffed a pit stop and took part in half a race before retiring. Any reasonable observer of Sunday’s race would know he was not the Driver of the Day.

Alas, when the votes were totted up from the public vote conducted on the official Formula 1 website, Verstappen came out on top for the third race in a row and the seventh time this season.

The new scheme launched at the beginning of the year has its merits. Formula One Management’s digital strategy has been massively impressive throughout 2016, with its Twitter account (@F1) in particular being livelier than ever and hugely engaging. The FOM archive is being put to good use with videos of classic moments in F1 history being shared on Twitter and Facebook regularly. The idea of a Driver of the Day vote was a step that looked to also give the fans something to engage with; a way to be heard.

At the start of the season, the Driver of the Day scheme was launched with a bump. Romain Grosjean won the voting for Australia, but it was Manor’s Rio Haryanto – a driver with enormous support in his native Indonesia – who had garnered the most votes. The result was given with the sidenote saying that multiple votes from the same source had been discounted.

Voting traditionally opened in the closing stages of a race, with the result being announced the next day, but this changed for Singapore. Voting now opened earlier and shut when the race finished, meaning a result could be given not long after the flag dropped. While being more immediate and encouraging fans to interact on Twitter mid-race, it also meant that the final result at the checkered flag could not be considered before voting.

So, that’s a backstory of how one of F1’s rising stars has matched a memorable internet meme this year.

That is how Max Verstappen became F1’s ‘Boaty McBoatface.’

Boaty McBoatface rose to internet popularity earlier this year when the British Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) invited the general public to come up with a name for its new $244 million polar research ship. A regional BBC radio presenter suggested ‘Boaty McBoatface,’ which duly went on to get over 120,000 votes; four times that of any other submission.

In the end, the fine print of the competition rules meant the NERC could pick the winning entry. The vessel was therefore called the RRS Sir David Attenborough, named after one of the UK’s most beloved and influential naturalists and broadcasters. One of the accompanying remote controlled submarines on the ship did, however, get called ‘Boaty McBoatface,’ while Attenborough himself was subject to a petition with over 2,000 signatures calling for him to change his name to Sir Boaty McBoatface “in the interest of democracy and humor”.

The whole affair was very amusing, but it suggested that the public cannot really be trusted in some instances, particularly online. In the age of internet memes and trolling, it is all too frequent to see well-meaning contests such as this descend into banter.

The F1 Driver of the Day vote has gone the same way.

The fact is that votes such as these are designed for human beings who are perfect. They are rational, understanding, conscious and able to see things from multiple angles. That way, you get a set of results, with the ones that are most popular coming forward as the ‘most correct’ (in the case of Driver of the Day, at least).

But we’re not perfect human beings. Fans won’t vote for the driver who they thought performed best. They’ll most likely vote for their favorite. And as Spa showed in August, Verstappen is the favorite for a huge and growing number of fans. It’s the same reason Haryanto gained the most votes for the opening award in Australia.

It is a shame, because the Driver of the Day vote is a great move by F1 to increase fan interaction. It’s something fans have been clamoring for years to get. At all of the previous races, the results may have been a little dubious, but there was always a half-decent argument for the winner. In Austin, it was frankly farcical that Verstappen won the vote.

It also sparks the bigger question about fan involvement in deciding the future of F1. We’re approaching a crossroads on the direction that it will take following Liberty Media’s acquisition of the series, and many fans want a greater say in things. Interests such as lower ticket prices and more accessible viewing on TV are certainly key in helping F1 grow, but when it comes to bigger things such as regulatory change, can fans really expect to have a say?

It is imperative that the Driver of the Day vote continue and be made an important part of the race weekend. Much like there is for pole positions or fastest laps, a small award at the end of the year for the driver with the most Driver of the Day nods would be fitting. It would give fans the chance to get their voice heard.

A good way to make things more serious would be to create a shortlist of drivers that can then be voted for via the F1 website once the race has been completed. This does cause problems of its own, as only so many drivers can be included. Earlier this year, we conducted a few ‘Driver of the Day’ polls on Twitter via the @F1onNBCSports account, where you can only have a maximum of four options. Naturally, we got tweets back saying: “Why isn’t this driver on the list?” – simply, we’d picked the four best-fitting.

So while it would not be without issue, a shortlist system would work well. A good idea here could be taken from soccer coverage in the UK, where the man of the match award in some cup competitions is actually selected by one of the commentators. There are a number of pundits (and even ex-drivers) in the paddock who would be well-placed to pick four or five drivers who they thought impressed in the race. This list then gets put on the F1 website, where fans go and vote. The winner gets picked from there.

While it may not be a truly democratic process, the Driver of the Day would at least have some kind of credence and argument in his favor. It would give the vote more legitimacy, and we would avoid a situation like Verstappen winning the vote in Austin.

Or, indeed, a Boaty McBoatface.

Antonio Felix da Costa joins grid for Macau Grand Prix

FIA Formula E Hong Kong e-Prix.
Qualifying Session.
Antonio Felix da Costa (PRT), Amlin Andretti, Spark-Andretti, ATEC-02.
Hong Kong Harbour, Hong Kong, Asia.
Sunday 9 October 2016.
Photo: Adam Warner / FE / LAT
ref: Digital Image _14P5958
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Antonio Felix da Costa has become the latest driver to sign up for the prestigious Macau Grand Prix, linking back up with Carlin for next month’s Formula 3 event.

Da Costa has contested the Macau race three times before, winning on his most recent appearance in 2012 with the Carlin team against a field that included current Formula 1 drivers Carlos Sainz Jr., Pascal Wehrlein and Felipe Nasr.

Since winning at Macau, da Costa has raced in Formula Renault 3.5, DTM and Formula E, the latter becoming his priority for the 2017 season with Andretti.

Da Costa will return to his roots on the November 20 weekend, joining Carlin’s line-up for the race that comes one week after the next Formula E round in Marrakech, Morocco.

“Yes it’s Macau and it’s happening. I will be back to Macau F3 GP with Carlin!” da Costa wrote on his Facebook page.

“Macau is a special place, it’s just pure driving. There is no special aim as such as going back for me, I’m doing it for the love of the sport, so when I got the call from Trevor [Carlin] I couldn’t say no.

“There will also be a few Macau winners going back as well as a lot of talented young guys so it will be a fun weekend. Thanks to BMW Motorsport for supporting my Macau comeback.”

Da Costa will be joined in the field by fellow Formula E racer Felix Rosenqvist, who is chasing an unprecedented third straight Macau victory.

Malaysia considers dropping F1 race: ‘The product is no longer exciting’

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - OCTOBER 02:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer, Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo and the rest of the field at the start during the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on October 2, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The future of the Malaysian Grand Prix has been thrown into doubt following comments from government officials and the CEO of the Sepang International Circuit, saying F1 “is no longer exciting”.

Malaysia joined the F1 calendar back in 1999 and traditionally held the second round of the season from 2001.

The race shifted to a fall date for 2016 so that the track could complete an extensive redevelopment program, meaning it was held two weeks after the grand prix in neighboring Singapore.

Sepang signed a new three-year deal to host F1 in March 2015, but doubts have been raised about hosting the race beyond 2018.

Circuit CEO Datuk Ahmad Razlan Ahmad Razali told the New Straits Times that amid declining ticket sales and a falling global TV audience, Malaysia was considering dropping the race.

“Maybe it will do Malaysia good to take a break,” he said.

“I think the product is no longer exciting. It’s being dominated by one team.”

Malaysian government official Khairy Jamaluddin, the minister of youth and sports, sent out a series of tweets supporting Razlan’s comments.

Jamaluddin also revealed that officials considered making the grand prix at Sepang a night race, but found the costs to be too high.

The 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix is scheduled for September 17.

With Hamilton non-score, Rosberg could win maiden F1 title this weekend in Mexico

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Nico Rosberg will venture to Mexico for this weekend’s grand prix knowing that he could be crowned Formula 1 world champion for the first time on Sunday.

Rosberg has long insisted that he is taking his bid for the drivers’ championship ‘one race at a time’, and after finishing second to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the United States Grand Prix, he is one step closer to a maiden crown.

Rosberg arrived in Austin, Texas with a 33-point lead in the drivers’ championship, meaning he could afford to finish second (and even third once) in the remaining four races and still win the title.

Rosberg battled back from a poor start to finish second at the Circuit of The Americas, meaning his lead now stands at 26 points with three races to go.

Mathematically, it means that Rosberg can in fact win the championship in Mexico this weekend, but only if he wins and Hamilton retires or finishes outside of the points.

Should Hamilton not score and Rosberg win, his lead would rise to 51 points with 50 remaining from the races following Mexico in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

Rosberg has only been in a position to clinch the championship once before in his F1 career: the 2014 season finale in Abu Dhabi, where he lost out to Hamilton.

Naturally, Rosberg’s main aim in Mexico will simply be beating Hamilton on-track, having been left frustrated after failing to do so in Austin.

“I just feel that it’s a pity that it didn’t work out with a win this weekend,” Rosberg said.

“I was going for that. It would have been awesome here in America but it didn’t work out.

“Lewis did a great job this weekend, all the way through, qualifying and race so it just wasn’t to be.

“I’ll live with second place now and next race is another great opportunity.”

Sainz stars with charge to P6 at COTA, enjoys late battle with childhood hero Alonso

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR11 Ferrari 060/5 turbo leads Felipe Massa of Brazil driving the (19) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW38 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track  during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Carlos Sainz Jr. produced one of the stand-out displays in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas to finish sixth, matching his best result of the 2016 Formula 1 season so far.

Sainz qualified 10th for Toro Rosso on Saturday at the Circuit of The Americas, but rose up to P8 in the early stages after Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas dropped back due to contact.

Sainz managed to jump Felipe Massa at the second round of pit stops to run seventh before Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen retired, handing the Spaniard fifth.

After seeing off pressure from Massa, Sainz went wheel-to-wheel with his childhood racing hero, Fernando Alonso, in the final two laps, but was unable to keep the McLaren driver back.

Nevertheless, Sainz was delighted to finish sixth, particularly when Toro Rosso predicted he would finish outside of the points.

“I think we put on everything we could do. Our predictions were P12 or P13 because [we were] starting on super-softs,” Sainz told NBCSN.

“But we made it last, close to Williiams, on softs, created a good gap to Fernando. We got a bit lucky with the safety car. Suddenly we were ahead of Williams and McLaren. With softs it would be difficult.

“We committed to go to the end. I did all I could until the end. I just had to hold on to it!”

Sainz’s result was made all the more impressive by the fact he was racing with a year-old Ferrari power unit that had been significantly outdeveloped by the rest of the grid.

“You cannot mind. The team and I are evident with how Fernando passed me – it was evidence was the second worst engine overtook us like they were the best one!” Sainz said.

“To hold onto P6 here, after this weekend, with the long straights was just amazing.”

The result matches Sainz’s sixth-place finish at the Spanish Grand Prix in May as his best of the 2016 season.