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Ferrari chairman: ‘Driver error’ played role in F1 title defeats

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Ferrari’s defeat to Mercedes in both Formula 1 championships this year was down to a combination of “technical issues and driver error”, according to CEO and chairman Sergio Marchionne.

Ferrari entered 2017 hopeful of ending its eight-year championship drought, and made a strong start to the year after adapting well to the overhauled technical regulations for the new season.

Three victories in the opening six races saw Ferrari lead both championships after Monaco, with Sebastian Vettel retaining his advantage in the drivers’ standings through to the Italian Grand Prix in September.

Vettel’s hopes of winning a fifth world title faded across the course of the three Asian flyaways, with a first-lap crash in Singapore and a spark plug issue in Japan forcing two retirements. An engine problem also left Vettel last on the grid for Malaysia, costing him a chance of a victory.

Lewis Hamilton was crowned world champion for a fourth time in Mexico last weekend, wrapping up the title with two races to spare for Mercedes.

Ferrari chief Marchionne refused to put the title defeat down to misfortune, instead picking reliability and driver error as being the two costly weaknesses for the team, appearing to reference the clash between Vettel, Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in Singapore.

“I don’t believe in bad luck. Ultimately it’s a reflection of the way in which we manage these businesses,” Marchionne said during a conference call with investors on Thursday.

“It was a combination of especially in the second half of the season between technical issues and driver error, or driver misjudgment.

“As we get close to the end of the season, we’ve now got two races left to complete. As you well know it’s impossible and it was almost an impossible task at the last race on Sunday to think that we could recover at least the drivers’ title.

“I think we’ve learned a lot. I think it’s a painful way of learning it. I think the second half revealed some structural weaknesses in the manner which we are managing this business, which are going to get rectified and hopefully 2018 will be a much better season.”

While Marchionne was disappointed to have seen Ferrari’s run without an F1 title extend into another year, he is encouraged by the team’s performance through 2017 ahead of a renewed championship bid next season.

“I remind everybody who asks me this question – and I’m probably the most critical of the way in which we manage our F1 activities – that if I’d asked anybody at this time last year as to how well we would have done in 2017, I couldn’t have gotten a buyer for the idea that we would be that far advanced in the first half of the season,” Marchionne said.

“So we have done well given our starting point. We were unable to finish the task. It’s a 2018 objective now.

“We regret not having done better, but the car is there. It is in my view probably the best car on the track today.”

Are you a racer looking for the fountain of youth? Try NHRA drag racing

Photos courtesy NHRA
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It used to be that many of the big-name race car drivers routinely raced into their 50s, most notably in NASCAR.

Richard Petty raced until he was 55. The late David Pearson was 54 when he last raced in NASCAR.

But these days, we’re seeing the majority of professional racers calling it quits in their early-to-mid 40s – like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and most recently, Jamie McMurray.

But that’s not the case for competitors in the National Hot Rod Association. Like fine wine, it seems that the kings of the drag strip only seem to get better and more successful with age.

To them, the “r word” is not “retire,” it’s “reaction time.”

Consider many of today’s stars in the NHRA and their respective ages:

* Funny Car legend John Force will turn 70 in May. And while he hasn’t won a championship since 2013, Force remains one of the biggest forces – no pun intended – in the sport.

Fellow Funny Car drivers still seemingly in their prime include Ron Capps (53 years old), Jack Beckman (52), Tim Wilkerson (turns 58 on Dec. 29), Cruz Pedregon (55) and Gary Densham (62).

* In Top Fuel, the winningest driver and record eight-time champ Tony Schumacher will turn 49 on Dec. 25. Those already on the other side of the 50-year-old line include Clay Millican (52), Doug Kalitta (54), Terry McMillen (64), Billy Torrence (60) and Cory McClenathan (turns 56 on Jan. 30).

Chris Karamesines

And let’s not forget the oldest active drag racer on the NHRA professional circuit (albeit part-time rather than full-time), Chicago native Chris Karamesines, who is still racing a Top Fuel dragster at 300-plus mph at the spry young age of 87 years old!

Yes, you read that right, Karamesines is 87 – but could easily pass for 67 – and he has no intention of retiring anytime soon.

* Ironically, the slower Pro Stock class is not as well-represented in the 50-and-over group as is Top Fuel and Funny Car, with only two regulars who have passed the half-century mark: four-time champ Greg Anderson (57) and Kenny Delco (65).

But that 50-and-above fraternity will add at least one other member next year when former champ Jason Line turns 50 on July 24. And five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. will turn 50 in 2020.

Jerry Savoie

* Even the easy riders of Pro Stock Motorcycle have several 50-and-over competitors: Scotty Pollacheck (turns 50 on Feb. 8), 2016 champ Jerry Savoie (turns 60 on Feb. 23), Karen Stofer (54), Steve Johnson (turns 58 on Jan. 19) and Hector Arana (60).

Granted, drag racers don’t have the same grueling time spent behind the wheel. Their average run lasts from just over 3.5 seconds to maybe eight or nine seconds.

And unlike driving 400 or 500 laps or miles as in NASCAR, a full four-round race during Sunday eliminations for NHRA racers adds up to one whole mile – or less.

Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers only go a distance of 1,000 feet per run, while Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle go a full quarter-mile (1,320 feet) in their respective runs.

In a sense, hitting the 5-0 mark or higher has become somewhat of a fountain of youth for several racers.

For example, Capps won his first career Funny Car crown in 2016 at the age of 51.

The same year, Savoie won his first career PSM title at the age of 57.

And Force won his most recent Funny Car title in 2013 at the age of 64.

Force has already gone on record to say that he wants to become the first major pro champion to win a title at 70 years old – which would also become the 17th championship of his illustrious career as the winningest driver in all NHRA history.

He gets a chance toward doing just that when the 2019 NHRA season kicks off at Pomona, California, on Feb. 7-10.

Follow @JerryBonkowski