United States GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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As the boom for Formula 1 in the United States continues, this weekend’s grand prix in Austin, Texas is set to be a fantastic event that is loved by both the fans and the F1 paddock as a whole.

The Circuit of the Americas is a superb facility, already establishing itself as a firm favorite for the drivers thanks to its exhilarating yet challenging sections, punishing any errors and rewarding the brilliant and the brave in the field.

Practice today saw Lewis Hamilton dominate proceedings, finishing quickest in both of the sessions on Friday at COTA. However, his margin of victory in FP2 was quite literally a matter of inches: 0.003 seconds across a 5.5km lap equates to just 6.7 inches between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at the top of the timesheets.

Besides the on-track action, the debate about the F1 cost crisis continued in the team principals’ press conference, and once again it went around in circles. The recent demise of Caterham and Marussia appears to have done little to change the perspective or opinion of the major manufacturers in Formula 1, much to the sport’s detriment.

Here’s the complete paddock notebook from Friday at the Circuit of The Americas.

SESSION REPORTS

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

It’s been a very interesting day at the Circuit of The Americas. Although the on-track action did not exactly stir much in the way of shock and awe, a good number of fans still turned out to see both practice sessions on a warm day in Austin.

Yet again, it was Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes who led the way, with Nico Rosberg clinging desperately to his coattails in this championship chase. The German driver did run him very closely in the second session on Friday though, finishing just 0.003 seconds behind the world championship leader. Whichever way you look at it, the fight at the front is going to be a close one.

However, the Mercedes cars once again proved that they are not infallible. Both Hamilton and Rosberg were reporting gearbox problems on their W05 Hybrids, with a fuel leak then forcing the Briton to box and bring his session to an early end. As a result, his times are difficult to understand in terms of a sustained long-run pace.

Rosberg needs to win this weekend’s race in Austin. If he doesn’t, not only will the mathematical difference leave him with a mountain to climb, but his psychological demons that continue to dog his bid for a maiden world title will only grow stronger.

Further back, Ferrari, Red Bull and Williams appear to be locked in a close battle for third place this weekend behind the two Silver Arrows. Although both Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo hit trouble during practice today, both showed some good, sustained long-run pace during FP2. Williams was less hot, but it always seems to struggle on a Friday before coming alive later in the weekend. Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen should also be in the mix for Ferrari at COTA.

Since getting the drive with Red Bull for 2015, Daniil Kvyat has been in a fine vein of form, qualifying an excellent fifth for his home race in Russia last time out. In practice today, he was brilliant once again, finishing fourth in FP1 and seventh in FP2, not letting 17-year-old Max Verstappen upstage him. That said, Verstappen did hold his own once again, and is quickly proving his critics wrong ahead of his F1 debut next March.

Lotus’ day was a bit of a disaster in terms of pace, but with the trial of the 2015-style nose, it was never really about setting the timesheets ablaze. Interestingly, it was Romain Grosjean and not Pastor Maldonado who suffered a few spins today, appearing to lack front-end grip.

In the team principals’ press conference, the big questions about costs were asked once again, and once again they appeared to fall on deaf ears. Toto Wolff and Eric Boullier sat on the front row, saying how a cost cap was unviable, whilst the three representatives from the teams facing financial challenges all pleaded the exact opposite. One journalist perfectly pointed out that the very fact that they couldn’t even agree on one simple topic in the media conference proved the instability harming F1 at the moment.

With the collapse of two teams in the past week, the sport is facing a crisis. The saddest part is that it is not great enough to really prompt change from the powers that be in F1.

Qualifying tomorrow should be an interesting affair, with the FIA sensibly deciding to knock out four cars in both Q1 and Q2 to make up for the absence of Caterham and Marussia. Sebastian Vettel will start from the pit lane, but Red Bull has confirmed that he will still take part in Q1 to ensure that he meets the 107% rule and does not risk being forced out of the race by the FIA stewards.

We’re in for another almighty scrap between the Silver Arrows, but for the time being, Lewis seems to have the advantage – even if it is only by a matter of inches.

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

Eli Tomac’s near-perfect season ended perfectly

ProMotocross.com
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From the start, Eli Tomac wanted to go into the season-ending race at Ironman Raceway with the 2020 red plate already in his possession. That final race has been know to devolve into muddy conditions and it is best not to leave things to chance.

For a rider with an almost perfect record of overall podium finishes, one would not have thought there would be much drama at the end of Round 11 at Budds Creek, but it took until the last lap of the final moto for Tomac to achieve his goal.

One reason was that Tomac’s near-perfect season was not so perfect. From the very beginning at Hangtown, Tomac struggled with poor starts to his events. Getting a bad jump out of the gate and finishing fourth in Moto 1 that weekend was not the auspicious beginning he wanted in search of his third consecutive 450 outdoor championship.

The hallmark of Tomac’s season has been overcoming bad starts. He rode through the field at Hangtown and nearly stood on the podium. Then he won Moto 2 and finished second overall. It was his first of nine consecutive overall podiums. Tomac came back the following week for a perfect sweep at Pala.

In Round 3, Tomac once again got off to a bad start. He finished fifth in Moto 1 at Thunder Valley – and then won Moto 2 in a duplication of his opening round.

In Round 5, Tomac had his worst performance until that time. He finished seventh in Moto 1. Nearly halfway through the season, a pattern was firmly established with his Moto 2 win.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

One should recall that the hallmark of Tomac’s season was strong finishes. Four the next four weeks Tomac failed to podium only one time in a moto. On that occasion, he would stumble in Moto 2 at Spring Creek in Round 8 before scoring his second perfect race at Washougal.

And that is where it got interesting. Tomac left Washougal with a 50-point advantage over Marvin Musquin. It was just the scenario Tomac had seesawed his way through the season to achieve. But it was too good to be true.

In most of his previous bad performances, there was an extenuating circumstance for Tomac’s bad start: a fall or an off course excursion. This time, he simply rode an uninspired race and finished seventh again to match his worst single moto performance. He could not fully rebound in Moto 2 and finished third.

For the first time in 2019, Tomac failed to stand on the overall podium in fourth. Worse still, he lost 10 points to Musquin and no longer had his one-race cushion.

But this is a season of recovery for Tomac. At Budds Creek last week it was reported that Tomac’s lackluster performance in Washington was due to his overdoing his chores on his Colorado ranch. Rested and restored, Tomac scored his third perfect race with Moto 1 & 2 wins. And this time, he looked sharper than he had in any previous race.

Tomac did all the could do by winning both motos, but in the closing laps at Budds Creek he needed a little help to clinch the title. As it turned out, Tomac needed the perfect performance to clinch his third consecutive championship.

In Moto 1, he narrowly edged Ken Roczen and Musquin, to give the three championship contenders a sweep of the top three spots; that was not enough to regain his cushion.

Roczen was close enough to force Tomac into The Ironman needing to score points to permanently affix the red plate on his Kawasaki in 2020, but just as Tomac’s season has been marked by second half improvements, Roczen’s has been marred by a lack of performance in the second motos.

Musquin passed Roczen late in Moto 2 last week and could have extended the drama one more week if he could have caught second-place Jason Anderson. Musquin could not erase an 11-second deficit to the runner-up and now Tomac’s almost perfect season has a distinctly perfect feel to it.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

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