O Opinions & Commentary

George’s News and Notes – February 10, 2019

George’s News and Notes – February 10, 2019

With the 2019 Formula 1 season getting underway with official testing beginning on February 18, the teams are now rolling out their new cars in a series of press announcements. The first such reveal came this week when the HAAS F1 team published images of their 2019 car in their new ‘Rich Energy’ livery which features a black-and-gold colour scheme reminiscent of the now-classic John Player Special Lotuses from the 1970s. At the ‘unveiling’ in London, they actually used a 2018 show car with the new colours. They did release digital images of the 2019 ‘VF-19' car but the dark car against a dark background made it difficult to discern the detail of the changes from last year. But for that matter, given that I’m neither an F1 race car driver or an aerodynamicist, any changes to the cars’ configurations don’t mean much to me. Other commentators tell us that the intent is to make passing more possible – we’ll see when the cars are in an actual race.

Of course, this new HAAS car, like all the others, should be on view at the first pre-season test at Barcelona on February 18. Rich Energy is yet another energy drink like Red Bull but it has a whiff of controversy attached to it. Previously this product was slated to become the sponsor for Force India but that deal fell through when the team went bust and the ownership changed with the team renamed as Racing Point. William Storey, the CEO of Rich Energy, had tried to buy Force India last year. He now says that he hopes to challenge Red Bull in the marketplace. However, the existence of Rich Energy as a viable product is in question given the seeming unavailability of the product on store shelves anywhere up to now. "Anyone who says that Rich Energy does not exist is like saying that a person never walked on the moon or that Elvis is still alive," Storey said. The business stability of Storey’s company may not be all that serious a problem for Gene Haas, who has been running the team so far with only his own company’s sponsorship – the prospect of this questionable sponsorship may be better than nothing.

With the first F1 open testing session a week away, the other teams will be unveiling their 2019 cars over the next few days. On Wednesday, February 13, two teams will be revealing their new cars to the media: Racing Point and Red Bull. While the new Racing Point car (the successor to Force India) will be unveiled at ceremony in Toronto on Wednesday morning prior to the Toronto-based International Autoshow, Red Bull will be showing off their new car at Silverstone in England. Mercedes-Benz is also scheduled to be shaking down their new W10 car in a closed session at Silverstone on the same day with no plans to reveal it to the media at that time.

By the way, despite the expectation that we would be hearing a new name announced for the ex-Force India team in Toronto, it now appears that they have settled on ‘Racing Point F1" as the team name for 2019. It is thought that they had been hoping to acquire the use of a traditional F1 team name - such as Lola or perhaps Brabham – but the deal fell through. I expect that everyone will call this team – partly owned by Canadian billionaire businessman Lawrence Stroll and including his son Lance as one of the drivers – simply ‘Racing Point’.

If the car which wins a race is found to not be in compliance with the rules, should they be allowed to keep the win? The logical answer seems to be no. I have sat on appeal boards where this premise was the whole reason for our existence. For example, in the wake of the Daytona 24-hour race, IMSA penalized two GTD teams for failure to comply with the minimum driver time requirements; both were dropped to the bottom of the results page.

But, in NASCAR, there has been a long-standing concept that the race fans should know when they leave the race track who was the winner of the race. In practice this has meant that if a winning car is found to be illegal post-race, whatever penalty is given, the race win stands in the record book. In recent years this has been somewhat tightened up with the concept of an ‘encumbered’ win – the win goes into the record book but the driver and team receive other penalties – reduced points, fines, and no automatic entry into the playoffs (ask Joey Logano about this).

This week NASCAR announced a new protocol. If a winning car is found to be illegal post-race, they will be denied the win and any other benefits of the win – and scored as the last-place finisher in the results. The last time this idea had been invoked by NASCAR was back in 1960 – so this is a big change for the organization. "I think for us, we're really looking at a total culture change," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President. It has often seemed like NASCAR makes rules more to not upset their fans than to make for a logical race procedure (e.g. green-white-checker finishes) so it will be interesting to see how their fan base likes this.

Recently it was announced that General Tire will be providing the spec tires for the NASCAR Euro series replacing Michelin as the tire supplier. ARCA, which is now a NASCAR property, has been using General Tire racing tires for a few years now. In the case of ARCA, this was a switch from the more-traditional Hoosier race tire brand. Given that Continental, General and Hoosier and now all the same company, the switch from Hoosier to General was a branding exercise given that the General tires come from the same factory as the Hoosiers (as do many, if not all, of the Continental race tires). Now NASCAR has announced that the NASCAR regional series (K&N Pro, Pinty’s and PEAK Mexico series) will all be using General tires in place of the Goodyears that were used previously. It might be noted that IMSA has switched from Continental to Michelin this year, freeing up production capacity in the ‘Hoosier’ factory.

The Goodyear tire used previously in the Pinty’s Series in Canada was a non-radial bias-ply tire while the Generals to be used in Europe this year will be radial-ply tires. I’m not sure yet whether these other NASCAR regional series will be using bias-ply or radial-ply tires. My guess is that they will be standardizing on radial-ply tires. If so, the Pinty’s Series teams will have some work to do to adjust to the new tires.

Last week, the 2019 group of five of inductees entered the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte. The five are Jeff Gordon, Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, Roger Penske, and Jack Roush. In addition, long-time ISC executive Jim Hunter was honoured as the fifth recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR – recognizing his over 50 years as a a stalwart of NASCAR organization. If you have not yet visited the NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte, you should put this on your bucket list; it’s a very well-presented attraction highlighting the history of NASCAR racing since its beginnings.

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