‘Helmetgate’ is just the latest storm in a teacup for F1

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Earlier this week, the F1 Commission met in Geneva to discuss the future of the sport. Up for discussion were louder and bigger engines, new aerodynamic designs and a far more radical path for the future.

Ultimately though, none of that was actually agreed on, ratified or confirmed, with the decision being to have another meeting in one year’s time and re-evaluate the situation.

Instead, what was actually agreed on was a blanket ban on helmet design changes across the course of the season. Sebastian Vettel’s tendency to bring a new one to each race did irk a few people in 2014, and has prompted a widespread change in F1 to prevent a repeat occurrence.

There was an immediate outcry from the F1 community, with a number of ex-drivers and pundits having their two cents and making their bemusement clear. The ‘issue’ of changing helmets was more of a minor annoyance or tick than a serious problem that really needed to be dealt with.

It’s just the latest storm in a teacup to come out of Formula 1. The winter has been a particularly turbulent one, with two teams fighting tooth and nail to survive, one collapsing completely, and the big questions about the cost crisis that engulfs the sport still being asked with very little in the way of a firm answer.

The benefits of forcing the drivers to stick with the same helmet design are quite obvious. Much like a number, it makes them instantly recognizable for fans watching on TV or in the grandstands. Throughout the history of the sport, many drivers have sported an iconic design throughout their careers that has become a part of their legacy: think of Ayrton Senna, Gilles Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher, to name but three.

It is certainly something that has been lost in recent years. Lewis Hamilton traditionally ran with a bright yellow helmet during his karting and junior racing days, but dropped it upon his move to Mercedes in 2013. Vettel’s constant chopping and changing of designs mean that you cannot possibly explain what his helmet looks like – there are too many to choose from.

A very pertinent comment came from ex-F1 and now-WEC driver Alexander Wurz on the subject: “It shall remain our free right of expression”. It is one of the few things that a driver can control. Fernando Alonso traditionally has yellow and blue on his helmet, the colors of Oviedo, his hometown. Others all have certain symbols and messages that are important to them and them alone.

But for some races, they will want to make a change. Home grands prix and special events such as Monaco are particularly popular for drivers who want to make alterations to their design. Kimi Raikkonen famously ran with a James Hunt design on his helmet in Monaco a few years ago, whilst Romain Grosjean less famously paid tribute to actor Matt Le Blanc with his helmet in Austin last year. Again though, it is their freedom of expression.

It is strange that issues such as these sit on the agenda list. In reality, it is such a menial and minor thing that it shouldn’t even come into the F1 Commission’s remit or sphere. The task is to improve the show and to make F1 a generally better sport. It certainly needs improving, but fans will be more deterred from going to a race by extortionate ticket prices than the fact that their favorite driver might have a different helmet.

Yet again, F1 appears to have missed the point. Double points was another example of a storm in a teacup: a measure that was introduced as a knee-jerk response to a problem that was not fully explained or explored.

The fact that drivers are changing helmet design every other race is neither here nor there if we are to look at the big picture: it just is what it is. It doesn’t deter fans’ enjoyment of the sport; it’s merely something the cynics will moan about because they need something to slate.

After all, there’s no need to make mountains out of molehills. F1 should focus on the actual problems at hand and try to make real progress in improving the sport, instead of picking on the minor annoyances that we can quite easily live and race with.

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.