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Ingram: Countdown To USGP in Austin

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 26 2011

The folks at Wild Bubba's near Austin are about a year from hosting a Formula 1 event. (RacinToday photo by Jonathan Ingram)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

From the Monday Morning Crew Chief™:

With less than a year to go for the return of the USGP at the Circuit of the Americas, a Top Ten view of Formula 1 after the German Grand Prix:

1. Can Fernando Alonso catch Sebastian Vettel to avenge his loss in last year’s world championship? Alonso’s Ferrari Italia clearly had legs on the Red Bulls at the Nurburgring on Sunday after early season problems with rear downforce on the F150. The Spaniard might have won in Germany if not for the Italia’s difficulty exiting the pits on fresh tires – plus the brilliance of winner Lewis Hamilton, who laid waste to the Ferrari at Turns 2 on 3 after the final stop by Alonso, never looking back.

Interestingly, Alonso says he needs for McLaren Mercedes and Hamilton as well as Jenson Button to take points from Vettel and Red Bull if he is to win the title. The next race falls in Hungary this weekend, which will determine if Red Bull is indeed in the mire or just had two consecutive bad races in Britain, where Alonso was the winner in a much improved Italia, and Germany, where Hamilton was the class of the field.

It says here that Red Bull has gotten so hung up on qualifying, it has begun to lose the handle on actually racing.

2. For those wondering why it took NASCAR so long to introduce fuel injection – which will become standard in 2012 using a system manufactured by McLaren – the main reason was concern about enforcement problems. (McLaren, one presumes, has promised a tamper-proof system.)

In F1, part of the constant technical challenge concerns rules enforcement. The effort by the FIA to control the blown diffusers – or the use of engine exhaust to create more downforce under downshifting and braking – demonstrated that the sanctioning body

Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton. (Photo courtesy of Chevorlet)

occasionally can’t keep up. In a farcical weekend of backing and filling at the British Grand Prix on how the FIA would control the use of blown diffusers, the rules were changed several times within three days, and allowances were given for individual teams.

By the end of the weekend, Charlie Whiting, the technical director, threw up his hands and declared the rules would revert back to what was in effect before the British Grand Prix. But by then, Alonso and Ferrari had begun to dismantle Red Bull’s dominance with a victory. That momentum is still in place for the scarlet brigade. …Until the Hungarian Grand Prix, at least.

3. According to hotel operators in Austin and San Antonio, rooms will be entirely booked by fans on the June weekend when the USGP returns at the Circuit of the Americas. Given the progress on the construction of the track by Tilke, the German engineering and architecture company, it seems there’s little problem now convincing fans the event will take place. Creating enough access to the track will be the big challenges for promoter Tavo Hellmund come race day for a circuit that can accomodate 120,000. Hellmund has hired two world class companies to sort out the problem presented by a solitary two-lane highway between the nearby interstate toll road and the gates to the track. One of those companies helped Silverstone resolve its age-old access issues on F1 weekends.

4. One thing sure to drive ticket sales at COA would be the continued solid mid-field performance of rookie Sergio Perez, who finished 11th in Germay with the Sauber team, where billionaire Carlos Slim is making things happen for his fellow Mexican. Ferrari says it will definitely re-sign Felipe Massa, which no doubt would help swell the arrivals from Brazil.

5. News has broken that Bernie Ecclestone has been formally named by German prosecutors in a bribery case totaling $66.5 million associated with the sale of F1 marketing rights to current holder CVC Capital Partners. That’s sure to help sustain the usual anti-everything weird ones in Austin, those who have been complaining about the $25 million being paid to Ecclestone’s Formula One Managment by the state of Texas from its Major Events Trust Fund to bring F1 to Austin in 2012. (In theory, the event brings in enough tax revenue that the Trust Fund is replenished each of the remaining nine years on the contract.)

Bringing the world’s attention to the research facilities of the University of Texas and the fact Austin is one of the few technology capitols in the U.S outside of Silicon Valley may well be worth the money, relatively speaking. The race is more likely to bring more investment to Texas than the Longhorn football team, and likely will outpace the beloved squad’s annual revenue production for home games. Last time we looked, the University of Texas team is also heavily subsidized by the state – as were two Super Bowls held in Dallas using Trust Fund money.

6. Ecclestone is open to criticism for getting government entities to subsidize F1 races for massive amounts of money – which help pay off the deals that have made him a multi-billionaire via the sale of F1’s marketing rights. But without such deals, to take one example, England’s Silverstone would still be the substandard sodden “facility,” seemingly propped up by toothpicks, instead of the current gleaming modern racing plant. To take another example, the extraordinary Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi wouldn’t exist. Or the new Circuit of the Americas, only the second purpose-built F1 circuit in the U.S., wouldn’t be under construction.

7. The Nurburgring had some empty grandstands on Sunday, despite the presence of six Germans in the race, including defending F1 champ Vettel and seven-time champ Michael Schumacher. Evidently, a bad economy, new viewing habits and overbuilt facilities are not problems confined to NASCAR. (Or antagonism towards those in charge; see Ecclestone and bribery question.)

8. Rivalries are a given in F1 due to the intensity of the battles at the front of the field. But after Sunday’s race, the sport may be reduced to a solitary feud – all drivers versus Vitaly Petrov, who seemingly was in everybody’s way while trying to carry his Renault.

Personally I like the Russian driver’s skills and agression. He may be more Senna-esque than any driver out there. His commitment is perhaps more than Renault can carry. The French team continues to flounder on its blown diffuser strategy, for example, even while Red Bull has used Renault engines to great effect along these lines. It was not that long ago, remember, that Petrov’s battle with Alonso in the season finale of 2010 gave Vettel the championship.

9. Former world champion Jacques Villeneuve says he turned down a shot at the $5 million bonus being offered in the season closer at Las Vegas by IndyCar to any guest driver who wins, because he didn’t want to race at such high speeds against drivers of Formula 3 caliber.

Sunday’s BumperCar race at Vancouver did little to alter the accuracy of this assessment. I fear for Mid-Ohio, a real technical challenge and next on the Will Power vs. Dario Franchitti schedule.

10. @willbuxton Tweety bird. Give it up, son. Your personal life is incredibly b-o-r-i-n-g.

Quote of the Week: “Today, we were clearly superior to the Red Bulls in terms of performance and this is important, given where we were at the start of the championship. That does not mean it will be the same in the coming races, but the situation is getting back to normal. The classification? I’m not looking, but if there’s a chance, it depends on always finishing on the podium and hoping that Vettel does not do the same.” — Fernando Alonso after finishing second in the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, commenting on his chances of catching Sebastian Vettel for the championship.

Tweet of the Week: PeterDWindsor: Until now, VET had led every race this season. In 1969, Sir Jackie Stewart led every #f1 championship race.

Facebook Page of the Week: John Paul Jr.

See ya! …At the races.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 26 2011