2018 US GP Review & Mexican GP Preview – By Bob Constanduros
Firstly, an apology for not publishing a preview for last weekend’s US Grand Prix at Austin. I actually wrote the preview but for some reason forgot to send it. I have to say that it was pretty much what you would expect, except for the popular winner and the fact that Lewis Hamilton didn’t clinch the World Championship.
As Fernando says, Formula One is a little predictable at the moment although try telling that to Messrs Magnussen and Ocon who were disqualified after the US Grand Prix. When it comes to the leading pack, it doesn’t change too much. Having said that again, we did have a washed-out Friday. I’m always fearful of days like that, because there is a strong possibility that drivers just won’t go out at all and spectators will be seriously disappointed. But then I was reminded that we were in the USA and that they’re used to cars not running on ovals in the rain, so the possibility of drivers doing laps in those conditions is a bonus – even if it is only a possibility.
There were questions along those lines on Friday night when my son and I visited some clients of an events company. We had been asked to go along to explain F1 to guests of a company who had hired the events company. The events company initially said there would be fifty people, then suggested it would be ten. In the event, just five people came to the room where there was a fully stocked bar and ‘snacks’ (basically a full meal) pre-dinner. The level of questions was staggering; these people knew nothing and hadn’t even watched a previous race, in spite of their invitation. These are the perils of the corporate world. You invite loads of people to something entirely new, offer to put them up in a smart hotel, tickets to the race, someone to explain what’s going on – and then no one turns up. Head – brick wall interface!
The opposite end of the spectrum is Liberty’s new converts, the people who are attracted to the sport by Formula One’s new open door policy, whereby information is available to everyone via social media. In my opinion, this is having a genuinely positive effect. Crowd figures were up in Russia and the USA and this race, Mexico, is a sell-out. Elsewhere you will read that Formula One has lost loads of money in the last few days even, but this crap is written by a former lackey of Mr Ecclestone’s who will twist figures in whichever way he believes fit. He recently wrote the most fantastic (as in fantasy) story about Silverstone making millions of money – actually saving themselves some money – by not completing seven years of their Formula One contract.
For me, Formula One is heading in the right direction by making itself more open and genuinely making an effort to pull in more punters, something that never really happened under the old regime. I’m not saying I agree with everything but it’s heading in the right direction. Therefore, it was important that we had a good race in Austin and I think we did. Admittedly Formula One needs tweaks to allow the drivers to race closer and although we had a smidgeon of that in Austin in the closing moments, it’s still not enough. But that’s something that is in hand and something we can look forward to.
There’s a lot of people on this case nowadays. Everyone wants to pull together and make improvements and yet we all know that in the past Formula One teams couldn’t agree what day it was, let alone the future direction of the sport. It’s the way that the commercial rights holder wanted it. But that is beginning to change, teams are realising that there is a future and actually they are facing not only a budget cap but also reduced prize money if the stories have an iota of truth. So the prospect of improved sponsorship possibilities is just one bonus and merely represents a change of direction, hopefully not a change of fortune.
After the US Grand Prix, we are here in Mexico, at 2200 meters, over 6000ft above sea level on a circuit characterised by a 1.3kms straight and the twisty infield section in what is normally a baseball stadium. It houses what is probably the second best podium (after Monza) and will host the Race of Champions later this winter. This is a race which has a very special character, falling as it does around the Day of the Dead which is an extraordinary festival. Watch out too for loads of masks before the race on Sunday.
As I sit here, the track temperature has gone up to 51 degrees, a temperature we should have seen in Texas but never did. Furthermore, the ambient is 24 degrees which is pretty pleasant, so we’re getting the temperatures we might have seen a week ago. For the third time, we have Pirelli’s softest compounds available, used previously at Monaco and Canada.
The thin air at this height means that aero performance is slightly less and mechanical grip is more at a premium. It doesn’t affect engine performance because the turbocharger works harder to make up for it. But expect to see the same cars battling for the top six places, with Red Bull slightly behind in qualifying – says last year’s winner Max Verstappen – but more competitive in the race.
There’s not much Sebastian Vettel can do about Lewis Hamilton, who will surely clinch the title here, just as he did last year. During this morning’s press conference, the man from The Sun asked the five drivers why they thought that Sebastian Vettel had been making so many mistakes, probably hoping that they would roundly condemn him for throwing away the championship. They might have been showing rare diplomacy, but our man didn’t get the answers he might have been hoping for.
Pierre Gasly was interesting, suggesting that Sebastian might have over-performed at the beginning of the season when he won the first two races and that he has been increasingly desperate to replicate that form ever since. Two other drivers were keen not to make any judgement, saying that they didn’t know what was happening inside the team and the full details. Lewis Hamilton has been asking people to show Sebastian respect. As many have pointed out, he is a four-time World Champion and knows how to play the game, so he hasn’t been making these mistakes out of naivety.
But unless Lewis Hamilton ends up in hospital – heaven forbid – Sebastian’s not going to win the championship. Lewis might not win here – he was ninth last year when he clinched it and even in Austin not only was he but also the team showing caution. But in front of many enthusiastic Mexicans, we should, once again, see a champion crowned. John Surtees, Denny Hulme and Graham Hill as well as Lewis last year have all clinched titles here. Lewis follows in their footsteps to equal Juan Manuel Fangio’s five World Championship titles in what I believe is a much more competitive environment. But let’s discuss that after it happens.