F1 Italian Grand Prix: Silly Season 2017

There was a race this weekend but everyone’s focus was off the track. Sure, Lewis Hamilton lacked the mental fortitude to hold off teammate Nico Rosberg which allowed the German to close the World Drivers’ Championship to two points. However, the focus this weekend was on the silly season happenings that will affect Formula One going forward.

The race started with Lewis Hamilton on pole but he didn’t even make it to Turn 1 in the lead. He got a horrendous start that he put down to wheelspin but Martin Brundle on Sky commentary didn’t hear any on the start replay. Lewis made some catastrophic mistake that dropped him from first to six while Nico inherited the lead.

And from there, Nico absolutely ran away with the race and dominated. He wasn’t challenged for the rest of the Grand Prix. Lewis made a couple of passes on-track but relied on his one-stop strategy as opposed to the more common two-stop strategy in order in order to make his way back up to 2nd.

The win was Rosberg’s 7th of the season which pulls him ahead of Hamilton in terms of wins but not points. Hamilton salvaged another good points day by crossing the line in 2nd. Sebastian Vettel sent the home crowd happy by being the Scuderia’s representative on the podium.

Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth to complete a Ferrari 3-4. Daniel Ricciardo showed that there might be some life in the Renault engine by rounding out the top five. Valtteri Bottas did as well as can be expected in that Williams in 6th. Max Verstappen brought the other RBR in 7th. Sergio Perez looked like he could challenge for a top five spot but could only manage 8th. Felipe Massa finished 9th and scored points in his last Italian Grand Prix. Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the points in 10th.

The silly season picture cleared up some more during the seven days between Grands Prix.

Reports indicate that Valtteri Bottas re-signed with Williams for another two years. That means he’s with the Grove-based team through the 2018 season. Felipe Massa also confirmed his retirement after this season. He was rumoured to be coveted by Renault and then was said to be looking at Formula E before the announcement.

Meanwhile, in the third time that I’ve re-written this section, Jenson Button also announced his retirement this season and Stoffel Vandoorne will replace him in the race team. It had been a certainty for months that Button would be leaving McLaren to allow Vandoorne a promotion to the race team. It was just a matter of what Button will do. In this case, Button will retire rather than make the much rumoured jump to Williams.

That makes things interesting in Grove. The Oracle of Formula One, Eddie Jordan, who “predicted” Button’s retirement only hours before it was officially announced which the rest of the press didn’t do, says that Force India will retain the services of Sergio Perez. That leaves a number of young drivers who are tipped to get that seat. Logically, Williams development driver Alex Lynn would have a good chance. Some believe that Pascal Wehrlein could get the seat via Mercedes in order to move him up the ladder from Manor. Jordan’s favourite is Felipe Nasr who is a former Williams development driver and comes with sponsorship backing from Banco de Brasil. There is also Lance Stroll who has backing from his fashion billionaire father.

If Perez doesn’t leave Force India (and that’s looking very likely), Renault has to be panicking slightly. Now they have to pull a rabbit out of their hat to sign Perez or backpedal to keep Magnussen as a lead driver. It’s believed that Ocon will be one of the drivers, likely replacing Jo Palmer.

Haas is supposed to be finalizing its 2017 driver lineup at the moment with an announcement coming very soon. Barring a last minute move back to Renault, Romain Grosjean will be back for the American outfit next season. It seems more and more unlikely that Esteban Gutierrez will return in 2016 so Haas’ contribution to Ferrari development will be signing Ferrari development driver Charles Leclare who leads the GP3 championship.

There’s one other piece of silly season news not involving the grid. FIA race director Charlie Whiting is reported to be on his way out but how is the interesting story.

One set of reports indicate that Whiting is looking for another job in Formula One with one of the teams on the grid. Presumably, this would be a management role with a team since his days as an engineer and mechanic were back in the 70s and 80s. The other stories are suggesting that FIA president Jean Todt won’t renew Whiting’s contract after this season which will force Charlie out of his job.

A draft version of the 2017 Formula One calendar has been circulated this weekend. While the press is a little short on details from the calendar they saw, there are a few interesting matters to note.

Germany is going to be back on the calendar but will remain at Hockenheim. Since this season was a Hockenheim year, 2017 should have gone to the Nurburgring but financial troubles make that unlikely. It’s believed that Bernie will act as the race promoter by renting Hockenheim and collecting the revenues. Given ongoing issues getting local promoters to pay the exorbitant sanctioning fees to host a race and collect only tickets and concessions as revenue, this might be a common F1 model for the future.

This weekend, Monza signed a deal to retain the Grand Prix for another three years. Bernie had previously inked a deal with Imola for a higher sanctioning fee than the current Monza fee. Monza was believed to currently have the best deal in F1 with sanctioning fees just about $10 million while the likes of Abu Dhabi and Singapore are reported to be paying about $50 million. Each of those numbers are before the escalator clause in their contracts which is reported to be up to 10% each year. Now, Monza will be paying about $25 million for through 2019.

The 21 venues in the calendar are the same as this season but Bernie already has new venues inquiring about hosting a Grand Prix should a calendar space open. Imola is ready to host a Grand Prix was going to until this weekend. A street circuit at Las Vegas has been talked about as a replacement for COTA. And Paul Ricard could fill in any European opening as a new French Grand Prix.

However, one of those venues might be drafted into action next year. Bernie is continuing his crusade against the Canadian Grand Prix as the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve hasn’t built new pit facilities. The big problem for the CGV is the money that would be required to build an expanded paddock that would likely require build to the edge of or onto the Olympic Rowing Basin. The City and Province are currently pouring money into 2017’s 375th Anniversary of Montreal festivities so it’s unlikely that a new pit and paddock will be built until 2018 at the earliest.

It’s important to note that the teams’ agreement with Bernie specifies that 50% of races must be in Europe and the US. Counting Azerbaijan as a European race, 11 of 21 races qualify as EU/US races. Eliminating Canada will help the schedule balance (even though it’s a popular race that gets a spot on US network TV and primetime TV in Europe), there’s still the matter of struggles in Austin and Germany over money. It’s not a coincidence that Bernie’s three favoured replacement venues are in the US or Europe.

Changes may also be coming in 2018. AMuS reports that Russia could give up on F1 in 2018. With the World Cup coming in 2018, Russia will have a landmark international sporting event so F1 could be put on the backburner for at least one year. While it’s unlikely that a new venue will be willing to be a one-year substitute for Russia, it could provide a starting point for a 22nd race on the calendar.

Also, teams are reportedly up in arms over the plans to open the season with a back-to-back of Australia and China. The first Grand Prix of the season won’t be until the last weekend of March to give teams more time to prepare for the season but they’re still concerned that the turn around might be too quick.

The next round of the 2016 Formula One World Championship will be in two weeks’ time at the same time of day where you are but not for the teams. It’s off to Singapore for the second of three night races on this year’s F1 calendar as they run the Singapore Grand Prix.

When it comes to tight and twisty circuits (Monaco and Hungary), this season has favoured Lewis Hamilton. Similarly, Singapore is a track where Nico has never won. But this is Red Bull’s last best chance to score a win before the season is out. Ricciardo and Verstappen will be in with a chance should either Mercedes stumble and they have done so in Singapore in the past. Last season didn’t go well for them and 2014 saw Nico DNS so anything can happen under the lights.

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