2015 Bahrain Grand Prix Preview

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The first flyaway leg of the 2015 Formula 1 season comes to a close this weekend with the Bahrain Grand Prix, as the teams begin to prepare their first major upgrade packages for introduction at the start of the European season in three weeks’ time.

Last year’s race at the Bahrain International Circuit went down in folklore as Mercedes teammates and championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg enjoyed a spectacular fight for the race win in the final 10 laps.

That day, it was Hamilton who took the spoils, but it set the tone for an intra-team scrap that would eventually boil over in Hungary and Belgium – the repercussions of which are still being felt today.

Following his ninth defeat in the last ten races to Hamilton in China, Rosberg accused his teammate of deliberately compromising both his race and that of the team in pursuit of his own victory. The frosty atmosphere of the post-race press conference shows that the tension between the two sides of the Mercedes garage only lingers in 2015.

We now head to Bahrain with a fascinating battle on the cards. The last time Rosberg was so riled up after a race, he reacted by making contact with Hamilton at Spa-Francorchamps, thus becoming the villain. All eyes will be on the two Mercedes drivers in case of a repeat in Bahrain.

However, with Ferrari proving in China that its Malaysia pace was not a one-off, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen could also be candidates for the race win.

2015 Bahrain Grand Prix – Talking Points

Desert Duel v3?

The championship showdown between Hamilton and Rosberg in Abu Dhabi last year was billed as the “desert duel” – in truth, it was the second one following their clash in Bahrain. So does that make this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix the third instalment? If it has even half of the action that last year’s race in Sakhir did, then we are in for a treat.

Rosberg must bounce back this weekend – nine defeats in the last ten races to Hamilton, plus a 0-3 record in 2015 – or he’ll be facing an even bigger task to get back into this title fight. Most importantly though, he must do his talking on track. Beating Lewis this weekend would be an enormous psychological victory – another defeat could be equally as emphatic, though.

Ferrari’s next big opportunity

Sebastian Vettel’s shock victory in Malaysia proved that Ferrari can cut it with Mercedes at the front, particularly at races where temperatures are high. Bahrain is set to be another sizzler on Sunday, even when being run at night, which could bring Ferrari back into contention. It will be interesting to see just how closely Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen can fight with the Silver Arrows, particularly given the internal issues the German marque is facing.

The chasing pack continues to shape up

Lotus finally came good on its pre-season pace in China (well, Romain Grosjean did) whilst Red Bull continued to struggle and McLaren made some good progress to get both of its cars to the line. So who exactly leads the way in the midfield battle? Williams was in a rather lonely class of its own in China, easing to P5 and P6, and should expect to do the same this weekend. Just behind, the margins between Lotus, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Sauber are small, whilst a power upgrade for McLaren could yet bring it into contention again. If the battle at the front is a let down, the one in the midfield certainly won’t be.

McLaren’s rapid rise

It may be just one of two teams without a single point to its name in 2015, but McLaren has made some rapid progress over the first three races of the season. Honda has promised an engine boost for this weekend’s race in Bahrain before a bigger one at the start of the European season at the Spanish grand Prix, suggesting that everything is moving in the right direction. Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso are both former winners here, and could be outside bets for points should a race of attrition set in.

The rhythm of the night

Night races in Formula 1 are always special. The Singapore Grand Prix was the first, with Abu Dhabi holding a ‘twilight’ race that started at dusk. Bahrain followed suit with its first night race in 2014, which was an unmitigated success both on and off track. For drivers, it gives the event some extra spice and panache, whilst the spectacle is undoubtedly improved by running in the dark under floodlights.

Bahrain Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Bahrain International Circuit
Laps: 57
Corners: 15
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:30.252 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Prime)
2014 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2014 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:33.185
2014 Fastest Lap: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:37.020
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T15 to T1); T10 to T11

Bahrain Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports Live Extra 7a ET 4/17
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 11a ET 4/17
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports Live Extra 8a ET 4/18
Qualifying: CNBC 11a ET 4/18
Race: NBCSN 10:30a ET 4/19

Also, be sure to watch the premiere of Off The Grid: Melbourne following F1 Extra on NBCSN on Sunday as Will Buxton and Jason Swales show you all of the behind the scenes at the Australian Grand Prix. For a sneak preview of the show, click here.

American Flat Track puts emphasis on fans in building 2020 schedule

American Flat Track
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American Flat Track put an emphasis on fans and feedback from other series while also acknowledging everything is tentative while hammering out its schedule for the 2020 season.

The 18-race schedule over nine weekends will begin July 17-18 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida, about 20 miles from AFT’s headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The dirt track motorcycle racing series, which is sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, shares a campus with its sister company, NASCAR, and American Flat Track CEO Michael Lock said the series closely observed how it’s handled races in its return during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and also built AFT’s procedures from NASCAR’s post-pandemic playbook of more than 30 pages.

SEEKING HISTORY: Shayna Texter wants AFT championship

“I speak personally to the committee within NASCAR that has been put together for the restart, regularly talking to the communications people, general counsel and other relevant operations departments,” Lock told NBCSports.com. “So we’ve derived for Flat Track from NASCAR’s protocols, which I think are entirely consistent with all the other pro sports leagues that are attempting to return.

“Obviously with NASCAR the scale of the business is completely different. There were some times more people involved in the paddock and the race operations for NASCAR than the numbers of people at flat track. Our scale is much smaller, and our venues are generally smaller. So we can get our hands around all of the logistics. I think we’re very confident on that.”

While NASCAR has had just under 1,000 on site for each of its races without fans, Lock said American Flat Track will have between 400 to 500 people, including racers, crews, officials and traveling staff.

But another important difference from NASCAR (which will run at least its first eight races without crowds) is that American Flat Track intends to have fans at its events, though it still is working with public health experts and government officials to determine how many will be allowed and the ways in which they will be positioned (e.g., buffer zones in the grandstands).

Lock said capacity could will be limited to 30-50 percent at some venues.

American Flat Track will suspend its fan track walk, rider autograph sessions for the rest of the season, distribute masks at the gates and also ban paper tickets and cash for concessions and merchandise. Some of the best practices were built with input from a “Safe to Race Task Force” that includes members from various motorcycle racing sanctioning bodies (including Supercross and motocross).

There also will be limitations on corporate hospitality and VIP access and movement.

“I think everything the fans will see will be unusual,” Lock said. “Everything at the moment is unusual. We will roll out processes that are entirely consistent with the social distancing guidelines that will be in place at the time of the event. So we’re planning for a worst-case scenario. And if things are easier or better by the time we go to a venue, it’s a bonus.”

Lock said the restrictions are worth it because (unlike other racing series) AFT must have fans (even a limited number) for financial viability.

“We took a decision fairly early on in this process that it was neither desirable nor economically viable to run events without fans,” Lock said. “I can think of some big sports like NFL or like NASCAR where a huge chunk of that revenue is derived from broadcast, which means that your decision making as to how you run an event, where you can run an event has a different view than a sport like ours, or even like baseball, for example, that needs fans. Because the business model is so different.”

Broadcast coverage is important to American Flat Track, which added seven annual races over the past five years and can draw as many as 15,000 to its biggest events.

Lock said AFT ended the 2019 season with more than 50,000 viewers for each live event, making it the No. 1 property on FansChoice.TV. This year, the series has moved to TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold. “We’re expecting a really strong audience from Day 1, particularly with all this pent-up demand,” Lock said.

NBCSN also will broadcast a one-hour wrap-up of each race (covering heat races and main events).

Because the season is starting three months late, the doubleheader weekends will allow AFT to maintain its schedule length despite losing several venues. And there could be more, Lock said, noting that there still are three TBA tracks.

“There may still be some surprises to come from one venue or another of delay or cancellation,” he said. “But we are intending to run as full a season as possible.”

Here is the American Flat Track schedule for 2020:

July 17-18 (Friday-Saturday): Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville, Florida

July 31-Aug. 1 (Friday-Saturday):  Allen County Fairgrounds, Lima, Ohio

Aug. 28-29 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Northeast United States

Sept. 5-6 (Saturday-Sunday): Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, Illinois

Sept. 11-12 (Friday-Saturday): Williams Grove Speedway, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

Sept. 25-26 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Texas

Oct. 2-3 (Friday-Saturday): Dixie Speedway, Woodstock, Georgia

Oct. 9-10 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, North Carolina

Oct. 15-16 (Thursday-Friday): AFT season finale, Daytona Beach, Florida