Tyres screeched and engines roared as Sebastian Vettel performed a few doughnuts on Austin’s North Congress Avenue yesterday (Wednesday), but the four-time champion will be forced to sit on the sidelines when Formula One’s depleted field turns a wheel in anger for the first time at the Texan city’s bespoke circuit this weekend.
The new engine rules this year, which have contributed to the demise of two teams ahead of the United States Grand Prix, have been blamed by the German driver for his expected no-show in qualifying on Saturday.
With the Renault engine in his Red Bull repeatedly letting go earlier in the year, Vettel will have to take his sixth power unit of the season in Texas, which will force him to start from the pit lane even if he qualifies on pole. Sporting logic, therefore, dictates that he will sit it out.
“Qualifying is the time when you go quickest over the whole weekend, so it would be a shame to miss out on that,” Vettel said last night. “But points are scored on Sunday, and if it’s what we have to do, then it’s what we have to live with.
“It’s part of the regulations, I didn’t make them, but equally everyone has to respect them. The situation is what it is. I’d love to change it, to qualify in the normal way and use every practice session to the maximum.”
It was an overcast day as Vettel and his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo hared around downtown Austin, but there is an even bigger cloud hanging over Formula One as it heads into the final three rounds of the 2014 season.
Caterham and Marussia are absent, in administration, caused partly by the huge cost of the complex engines this year, with little sign of the two teams returning soon.
Both the Red Bull drivers’ early careers were helped by racing for teams towards the back. Ricciardo, who spent six months with HRT in 2011 — they collapsed at the end of 2012 — said that a smaller grid was bad for young drivers and spectators.
“It was definitely a good stepping stone,” the Australian said. “It allows you to learn under the radar. So for that it would be a real shame, and for numbers in general. There’s nothing like seeing a full grid — it’s a great spectacle. From that side and from the driver development side, we need more cars and teams. It would be a shame if this is a permanent loss.”
A battered Tony Fernandes, the founder of Caterham, blamed the big beasts of the grid — Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes — for his Oxfordshire-based team’s demise. The Queens Park Rangers owner said that football was a sport in which minnows could hope to compete, and F1 was not. “People can blame whoever, but the big teams are as much at fault as anyone,” the Malaysian businessman said.
All this malaise around F1 does not seem to have put off the sport’s next most likely entrant, however. The American Gene Haas spoke bullishly of his outfit’s chances before his home event.
“They wound up making a lot of mistakes,” Haas said. The 61-year-old, a major player in American motor racing, has hired Adam Jacobs, the man of managed Budweiser sponsorship in Nascar to be his chief marketing officer. Clearly, Haas thinks he can make a commercial success of a sport in financial crisis.
–The Daily Telegraph