Tradition would say no green-white-checkered should occur for Indy 500

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At times, race fans and observers can be incapable of living in the moment and/or appreciating what they’ve just seen. A case in point: in the immediate aftermath of an outcome like yesterday’s finish at the Indianapolis 500, there were enough tweets and comments on social media and message boards that “the finish sucked because there was no green-white-checkered!”

And as such, the discussion over whether this race should be guaranteed an attempt at a green-flag finish has ensued.

Facts are facts, and yes, the unfortunate fact here is that this was the fourth consecutive Indianapolis 500 that finished under yellow. There is visceral opinion on both sides of the argument about whether this is a good thing, that the race went to its scheduled, unaltered distance of 200 laps, 500 miles, or a bad thing, that it ended under yellow and should have been extended.

Firstly, no rule in the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series rulebook allows for a green-white-checkered. A quick clean done after Graham Rahal’s crash ensured this year’s 500 had a chance to end green with a lap 198 restart.

Secondly, frankly, for the Indianapolis 500 at least, a green-white-checkered adoption would be an unnecessary boondoggle that the race doesn’t need.

IndyCar can choose to do whatever it wants in terms of altering its season-long product to gain public consciousness beyond the “Indiana bubble” to which it largely resides.

But a race as built on tradition, that embraces tradition, and that almost places tradition ahead of the current year’s product, shouldn’t be altering its most sacred aspect – 500 means 500 – for the sake of pleasing a loud and vocal minority. Changing the race distance from anything other than 500 miles would be as big a slap to tradition as has ever occurred in this race’s 97-year history.

Safety risks could enter the equation as well, with a possible GWC outcome meaning a greater chance of more contact caused by drivers going for it even more than normal in a short amount of time, with open-cockpit cars and exposed wheels. There’s no counting how many extra accidents have occurred after the first GWC attempt in NASCAR, since its implementation.

The eventual last restart mattered, race winner Tony Kanaan admitted, because he knew the potential for another accident almost immediately after the race restarted on lap 198. He knew he had to go for it at that point. The sense of urgency was there, and the race fans benefited as a result knowing that a lead change after the restart was imminent.

Perhaps the most popular 500-mile race win before Kanaan’s, the late Dale Earnhardt’s at the 1998 Daytona 500, also ended under yellow. Earnhardt held off Bobby Labonte in a final run to the line before taking the yellow flag and lapping the final circuits under caution. The win wasn’t “devalued” because it came under yellow; nor, in this author’s opinion, were the wins by Dario Franchitti (2010 and 2012) and the late Dan Wheldon (2011) the last three years in Indy.

The higher frequency of races ending under yellow made a green-white-checkered option for other races a discussion point for IndyCar last year, but really, it owed to abnormalities and higher percentages – this was a topic I wrote about in a piece last year, for RACER magazine.

This Monday afternoon, there are opposing viewpoints on the topic from USA Today’s Jeff Gluck (pro-GWC) and ESPN’s Ed Hinton (anti-GWC, at least for this race). The IndyCar drivers themselves, though, said tradition should trump show in terms of a GWC outcome at Indy.

“I think we should consider that, but I’m all about the tradition in this place,” said Kanaan. “That was never done here. And I’m not saying that because I won under yellow, because I lost plenty of them under yellow, as well.”

Kanaan did admit that “you want to see a finish under green” and said he’d need further thinking about the topic, but was still leaning more against it. Defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, meanwhile, was a little more definitive when asked about it on Sunday.

“This is Indy, there’s a certain way things are done,” said Hunter-Reay, who finished third. “If tradition is tradition, we don’t materialize results, we don’t try to produce results out of green-white-checkereds. It can be a bit gimmicky.”

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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