There were many big racing stories in 2013, but the ones with the largest impact on the sport are the epic fails by two of the world’s most high-profile series.
Both Formula One and NASCAR played fast and loose with the rules, putting the credibility of their championships in jeopardy for the sake of public relations.
In F1, Red Bull racing’s Sebastian Vettel romped to his fourth consecutive world title after getting some unexpected help from the sport’s governing Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile. Citing safety concerns, the FIA allowed Pirelli, the sport’s tire supplier, to change its tire construction after several monstrous failures – even though the rubber maker claimed all was fine.
The decision to move back to the 2012 construction was clearly a public relations move as Pirelli was getting skewered in the press and criticized by fans after several failures took drivers out of races. Although there were several delaminations early that caused some concern, the FIA okayed the change after several Pirellis exploded spectacularly during July’s British Grand Prix, a situation brought on by improper use by the teams.
Pirelli issued a release following the British race which strongly insisted that the rubber failures were due to tires being mounted the wrong way, low pressures and extreme cambers in combination with the high kerbs at the Silverstone track. In addition, Pirelli was adamant that the tires were safe if used as directed, and that it had solved the delamination issues that caused the earlier problems.
Moving back to the 2012 construction immediately gave Red Bull a huge boost. A hybrid of 2012 construction rear tires was used at the next race in Germany with the same fronts as before, while a whole new range was introduced in Hungary.
In the 11 grands prix after the swap, the Red Bulls were virtually untouchable, winning 10 times and taking eight poles, while many of the teams who were quick on the old tires struggled to find speed. Vettel stood on the top step of the podium for the final nine consecutive races of the year and almost embarrassed the rest of the field in the second half.
Red Bull design genius Adrian Newey said last week that the teams who were quick on the 2013 rubber and lost handfuls of pace after the switch – most notably Ferrari – were merely lucky to have gotten things right at the start of the year.
Funny, many thought that was the essence of F1, where engineers get paid handsomely to come up with a car that has an advantage over the rest. On the other hand, changing a huge element in the middle of a season is not sporting and cheapened F1 and the world championship.
Speaking of going down the wrong road, NASCAR also had its own integrity challenge this year after some fixing allegations in the final stop in Richmond before the 10-race Chase for the Cup playoff. When evidence emerged that the Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) team’s drivers worked to manipulate the finishing order to ensure one of its drivers made the Chase, NASCAR acted like it was the first time teammates had ever helped each other on track. It reacted by banishing MWR driver Martin Truex Jr. from the Chase and adding Ryan Newman, who was pushed out due to the manoeuvring.
Let’s remember that this is a series where you can wreck another driver intentionally without sanction, but having an MWR purposely spin to cause a caution, and then have another pit simply to allow a teammate to gain a couple of extra points, is a mortal sin.
To make matters worse, NASCAR then added a 13th driver, Jeff Gordon, to the 12-car field because it felt he was unfairly affected by the MWR actions. More incredibly, NASCAR claimed to be ignoring its own rules and the history of the sport to protect the integrity of the series.
In other notable stories of 2013, the dangers of racing were also made tragically clear this year, with several well-known drivers losing their lives in accidents.
Former NASCAR driver Jason Leffler was killed in a Sprint Car on a dirt track in New Jersey in early June. The 37-year-old made 73 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts over nine seasons. Less than two weeks after Leffler’s accident, Danish driver Allen Simonsen lost his life in a crash four laps into the 24 Hours of Le Mans when his Aston Martin crashed into a barrier at Tertre Rouge corner. He was 34.
In October, Porsche Supercup racer Sean Edwards, 26, was in the passenger seat of a Porsche 966 when he died in a high-speed accident at Australia’s Queensland Raceway. The 26-year-old, who was leading the Supercup championship when he died, was working as a driver coach that day. World Supersport motorcycle racer Andrea Antonelli, 25, died of injuries sustained in a crash in July at Moscow Raceway.
Closer to home, track worker Mark Robinson was killed moments after the end of June’s Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal when he was pulled under the wheels of a crane as he escorted the vehicle back to the pitlane.
When it came to Canadians racing, James Hinchcliffe from Oakville, Ont. scored his first career IndyCar Series win in the season opener, and then snapped two more before the year was up. Robert Wickens of Guelph, Ont., took his maiden win in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters Series, while Bruno Spengler of St-Hippolyte, Que. scored his 14th career DTM victory this year but could not repeat as series champion.
When it comes to up-and-coming news makers, leading the pack of young Canadians in open wheel cars is Surrey, B.C.’s Scott Hargrove, 18, who won the U.S.-based Cooper Tires F2000 title this year, while Calgary’s Cameron Hayley remains this country’s top stock car prospect after the 17-year-old finished second overall in the 2013 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West championship.
On tracks around the country, Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve packed the stands as usual for the country’s annual F1 race, while the Honda Indy Toronto hosted one of three IndyCar doubleheader weekends, attracting a bigger crowd at the city’s Exhibition Place than in the past few years.
Canadian Tire Motorsport Park’s multi-million dollar facelift transformed the aging Bowmanville. Ont., track into a first class facility which hosted a hugely successful NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Labour Day Weekend. In addition to the track improvements, CTMP also embarked on a refit of its Driver Development Centre, which should play a key role in training this country’s next generation of racers. Late in the year, the Canadian Motor Speedway began preliminary construction on the Fort Erie, Ont., complex which is supposed to open in 2016.
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