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Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain is sprayed with champagne by his team after his win in the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix. (THAIER AL-SUDANI/REUTERS)
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain is sprayed with champagne by his team after his win in the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix. (THAIER AL-SUDANI/REUTERS)

Motorsports

Mercedes teammates battling for Formula One lead; Danica Patrick in F1? Add to ...

On tap for this week:

  • Rosberg needs to bounce back
  • Will Danica get a shot at F1?
  • Red Bull hopes to end fuel flow woes
  • Quote of the week: Hinchcliffe sounds off after crash
  • Maldonado penalty doesn’t fit the crime

The 2014 Formula One season may be just three races old, but Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg needs to strike hard and fast in China.

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The German leads the Formula One driver’s title standings by 11 points over his Mercedes stable mate Lewis Hamilton, but Rosberg can ill afford to let the 2008 world champion bolster his already brimming confidence with a third consecutive win in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.

Many in the paddock saw Hamilton’s win a week ago in Bahrain as a potential backbreaker for Rosberg, who battled his teammate hard in the final stages for the victory but had to settle for second place.

The good news for Rosberg is that the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix was the scene of his first career pole and his maiden F1 win. The bad news? Hamilton has started at the front there three times and won twice.

On top of that, Hamilton will have had a chance to pore over Rosberg’s data from Bahrain and should arrive in China even stronger than he was in Bahrain. The Mercedes drivers share all the data from their cars, which makes it hard for either driver to find and keep an advantage for more than a race.

That’s exactly what happened in Bahrain when Rosberg found pace after his crew studied his teammate’s performance in the previous race in Malaysia and made changes. While Hamilton built a 17-second gap on Rosberg by the end of the Malaysian Grand Prix, the margin between the pair was whittled to just one second in Bahrain.

“A lot of the advantages that I had in the last race Nico found them as we came here [Bahrain] and applied them and did even better,” Hamilton said.

“So, I’ve got to go now and find out what he did better than me and see if I can improve for the next race.”

Random Thoughts

With NASCAR owner Gene Haas’ entry announced as a new F1 outfit for 2015 last week, the birth of a U.S.-based team has many speculating about possible drivers.

The list of U.S. drivers who have the Superlicence needed to compete in F1 is pretty short – actually, Caterham test driver Alexander Rossi is only American driver with the credential – but there’s one candidate who has marketing clout that simply can’t be ignored: Danica Patrick.

Although 32-year-old Patrick continues to have trouble finding success on track, she is by far the most popular racer in the U.S. Her limited success in IndyCar would indicate that she may not have the right stuff for F1, but Patrick certainly would be a huge draw for sponsors.

Patrick races for Haas in NASCAR, so getting her team owner to agree to her being a test or reserve driver seems reasonable. The real issue is finding time for Patrick to get into the car, since NASCAR’s season starts in February and ends in mid-November, with only a couple of free weekends in between. While her schedule would not rule out winter track sessions and mid-week tests with the new outfit, it would be difficult to pull off.

Then again, having Patrick miss a couple of NASCAR starts to drum up sponsors for Haas’ new F1 team would be a big enough publicity coup to make it worthwhile. Haas must find upwards of one hundred million dollars to get his team up and running.

Getting the massively popular Patrick into an F1 car would also make F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone happy after he mused last year that she would be “good to have.”

For her part, Patrick responded to Ecclestone’s suggestion by saying she was flattered but had no interest in joining F1. But with her owner now a part of Ecclestone’s circus, maybe she’ll change her mind.

Technically Speaking

Red Bull hopes to gain ground off the track on Monday by convincing the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile’s (FIA) International Court of Appeal to overturn the disqualification of its driver Daniel Ricciardo from the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Ricciardo was excluded from the results in his native Australia after finishing second because his Red Bull’s Renault engine was found to have exceeded fuel flow limits during the race. The 18 points he would gain by a re-instatement would put Ricciardo third overall in the driver’s championship with 30 points, 31 less than leader Rosberg. The return of the points would also vault Red Bull into second place in the constructors’ standings.

Red Bull plans to argue that the fuel flow sensors provided by the FIA are faulty and the system as a whole is unreliable. If Red Bull is successful, Monday’s ruling could have wide-ranging implications.

Should the court agree with Red Bull, it could mean that the fuel flow rate maximum of 100 kilograms per hour would have to be lifted and the drivers would be allowed to turn up the wick as high as they want during grands prix.

While the 100 kg (135 litres) fuel limit per grand prix would remain, drivers would be allowed to decide when to save and when to burn more gas during the race. This would give them the option to crank up the flow to make a pass or put in an ultra fast lap at a critical time.

In grands prix where there’s a safety car period and fuel no longer becomes a worry, drivers would be able to race as hard as they want to the end, which would ratchet the excitement to nail-biting levels.

Quote of the Week

“I guess at the end of the day, patience is a virtue and someone wasn’t very virtuous today and it cost both of us – and this team – a lot. I feel bad for everyone involved. It just sucks to throw away such a strong race. But we’ll bounce back.”

– James Hinchcliffe, trying to be diplomatic after his Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter Reay caused an accident late in Sunday’s IndyCar Grand Prix of Long Beach that took out the Oakville, Ont., native and five other drivers. Hinchcliffe was running third at the time and was in contention to win.

The Last Word

Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado will serve a five-place grid penalty in China after F1 ruled he caused an avoidable collision in the Bahrain Grand Prix.

It happened on lap 41 when Maldonado exited the pitlane and stuck his nose under the Sauber of Esteban Gutiérrez at the first corner. Maldonado’s left front tire hooked Gutiérrez right rear and sent the Sauber airborne. Gutiérrez flipped twice before coming to rest in runoff area outside Turn 1. As he sat unhurt in his stricken car, Gutiérrez reacted by saying: “Whoa, what was that?”

Maldonado was given a 10-second stop-and-go penalty during the race and will serve the grid penalty in China. He also had three demerit points added to his superlicence. Any driver who earns 12 demerit points will have his licence suspended for one race.

The grid penalty for Maldonado in China is five places fewer than Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo served for an unsafe release during the Malaysian Grand Prix. Ricciardo was slapped with a 10-place grid penalty in Bahrain because he left his pit in Malaysia after one of his crew failed to secure a wheel nut properly.

The wobbly wheel saw him stop the car soon after leaving the pitbox and get pushed back for further service. Ricciardo rejoined the race after an extended delay and then was given a 10-second stop-and-go for a dangerous release. He ended up 16th in the race.

It’s clear that Ricciardo’s infraction was well beyond his control, while Maldonado drove into Gutiérrez and caused an accident. Nevertheless, Ricciardo ended up with the harsher punishment.

Add the fact that Maldonado is a serial offender when it comes to his brain cramps causing accidents and Ricciardo’s punishment seem all the more out of line.

The sport needs to look at these penalties and consider docking constructors points for pitlane infractions rather than punishing the driver for something that is clearly not his fault.

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