In the two races since the European portion of the season ended, Sebastian Vettel has dominated proceedings. So it wasn’t much of a surprise that Vettel took his third-straight race victory. His win and Alonso’s third place finish has given the twice-defending champion the lead in the World Drivers’ Championship. Meanwhile, some interesting news broke in the paddock about Force India owner Vijay Mallya and Formula One got a new TV partner in America.
While Vettel may have won the race, it was his teammate Mark Webber who scored the pole for the race. However, a poor start meant that Webber lost the lead to Vettel on the approach to Turn One. Behind, Fernando Alonso moved up from fourth to third by ducking inside of Lewis Hamilton into the first turn. He almost took second from Webber on the run to Turn Three but was unable to make the move stick. From there, the three frontrunners gapped each other and the field and the race was over.
It was a bad day for some of the other drivers who expected to be up front in the race. Jenson Button was out on Lap One after a collision with Kamui Kobayashi heading into Turn Three. Kobayashi got not one but two top drivers in that collision as Nico Rosberg received damage that forced his retirement on the second lap. Lewis Hamilton wasn’t able to salvage much for McLaren after an anti-roll bar failure and catching a piece of the artificial grass on his sidepod late in the running which left him in 10th.
Vettel’s win was his fourth of the season and third in a row. Webber’s 2nd was his first podium finish since winning the British Grand Prix back in July. Fernando Alonso rounded out the podium in third. Felipe Massa’s fourth place likely has earned him another chance to drive for Ferrari in 2013. Kimi Raikkonen completed the top five with his 13th straight points finish which is the longest active streak in F1. Also in the points were Nico Hulkenberg, Romain Grosjean, Jean-Eric Vergne (with his third 8th place finish of the season), Daniel Ricciardo (who scored his third straight points finish and fourth points finish in five races) and Lewis Hamilton.
As I mentioned off the top, we have a new leader in the World Drivers’ Championship. Sebastian Vettel now leads the championship by six points over Alonso. His lead over third place Kimi Raikkonen is up to 48 points. Lewis Hamilton sits fourth in the standings but is over two races behind at 62 points back. Mark Webber could scoop fourth given his recent form as he’s only one point behind Hamilton and 63 behind Vettel.
Formula One team principals don’t often find themselves with criminal legal issues. That’s why Friday’s news of Force India owner and team principal Vijay Mallya’s arrest warrant in India swept through the paddock. Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines was brought into court by an airport after cheques for $2 million in fees had bounced. A summons to appear was issued to Mallya and a number of other Kingfisher officers but none came to court. The result was the court issuing arrest warrants for failure to appear in the court.
While the charges aren’t particularly serious, past prescedent in F1 might concern Mallya and his team. The last time a team principal was brought up on criminal charges while in F1 was in 1992. The team principal of Andrea Moda, Andrea Sassetti, was brought up on charges related to the forging of invoices. The team was banned from the sport by the FIA as Sassetti’s actions were said to have brought the sport into disrepute. One has to wonder if Mallya or the team could face FIA sanctions for a similar reason.
In a different but still interesting legal issues, McLaren won a court case that allowed them to claim the $100 million fine for the 2007 corporate espionage controversy involving Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlin as a business expense for tax purposes. The court agreed with McLaren’s argument that the fine was a result of the contractual obligations it was under to continue its main business operation of racing in Formula One.
The most interesting part of the case was information on McLaren’s finances that was made public. After the 2007 fine, McLaren reported a net loss of £35 million and total revenue of £127 million. In the two following calendar years, reported net profits of £5 million and £50 million. At the very least, that proves that Formula One is a profitable for the top teams.
Normally, I only cover the state of Formula One television coverage in Canada but an interesting story has broken about the future of Formula One on TV in America.
Over the last number of months, Fox Broadcasting Company had been believed to be working on setting up a dedicated national all-sports cable channel to rival ESPN, NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network. This new channel, called Fox Sports 1, would be a rebranding of one of Fox’s existing cable sports channels. The most likely candidate for rebranding was Speed Channel as they were available in more households than Fox Soccer Channel and Fuel TV, Fox’s other cable sports channels.
While the rebranding of Speed to Fox Sports 1 hasn’t been confirmed, new news and rumours indicate that it’s likely to happen. Fox’s new TV deal with Major League Baseball includes a number of games to be broadcast on a national cable channel which is the strongest proof that Fox Sports 1 will soon exist. Prior to the Japanese Grand Prix, a rumour was circulating that Speed channel would cease production of its own F1 coverage and instead use Sky Sports F1’s coverage. The deemphasizing of Speed’s long-time anchor racing series, which has been on the channel since 1996 when it launched as Speedvision, hinted that Speed is putting less emphasis on some of its race coverage.
Now, Fox Sports Media Group says that Speed will not renew its broadcasting contract with Formula One. The Associated Press reports that Formula One will air on NBC in America next season. Presumably, most of the races would go on NBC Sports Network (possibly with the four American continent races [Montreal, New Jersey, Austin and Brazil] being shown live on the main NBC broadcast network) which would give it a major international sport as a network anchor.
What concerns me the most is what does the likely change to NBC Sports Network mean for the quality of F1 coverage in America? Speed’s coverage is likely only behind the two British broadcasters. Speed does its own commentary with a full pre- and post-race show, practice and qualifying coverage and a full-race breakdown program. The broadcast crew of Bob Varsha, David Hobbs, Steve Matchett and Will Buxton are also the best racing commentary crew in America. What happens to them is unknown right now. However, Varsha and Hobbs followed F1 over to Speedvision from ESPN so they may just follow F1 to NBC. Buxton is the GP2 and GP3 world feed commentator so he’s likely to find continued employment somewhere. Matchett is actually my favourite member of the broadcast crew as he has best technical knowledge of any F1 broadcaster in the world but does have his book residuals to fall back on. Hopefully they all land on their feet and preferably covering F1.
The next round of the 2012 Formula One World Championship is the Indian Grand Prix in two weeks time. It’s the second running of the Indian Grand Prix, the second of four consecutive races held at Hermann Tilke designed tracks and the fourth-last race of the season. The track has the Tilke trademarks of a long sequence of medium speed corners and a long straight bookended by slow corners. It also has the new Tilke favourite of the long, fast, multi-apex corner, similar to the signature Turn 8 of Instanbul Park which is also being used at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
After the last three races, it’s safe to say that momentum is firmly on the side of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing. The fact that they typically run well on Tilke track doesn’t hurt matters either. The saving grace for Alonso has to be the expected heat in India. The Renault alternator in the Red Bull is prone to failure due to high heat. If the Ferrari F2012 maintains its usual mechanical reliability and the Red Bull suffers another failure, Alonso could take back top spot in the World Drivers’ Championship.