On tap this week:
- Formula E is tire nerd's dream
- Chevy's impressive IndyCar numbers
- Una tempesta in a teapot?
- NASCAR's complicated Chase format
- Quote of the Week: Rosberg gets it wrong — twice
- Canadian buying Sauber?
Lawrence Stroll is a self-confessed racing fanatic. That the Montreal billionaire attended the Italian Grand Prix at Monza was not unusual. The difference this week was, rumours surfaced of his interest in buying into, or acquiring the struggling Sauber Formula One team.
There's no doubt Swiss-based Sauber needs investment after the team's rescue deal with Russian backers fell through last year at a time when it was struggling to stay above water. The word inside the paddock is that Stroll's role in the Sauber team would be more than just pouring some cash into the outfit.
Buying into an F1 outfit would undoubtedly offer a clear path to Stroll's 14-year-old son, Lance, who is racing in Italian F4 and leading the championship. The younger Stroll entered Ferrari's driver development program five years ago, becoming the youngest prospect ever brought into the fold.
Although owning Sauber would help his son break into Grand Prix racing, there's likely much more to it than simple nepotism. With only two teams on the grid using Ferrari customer engines, Maranello cannot afford to have both languishing at the back of the grid. Sauber has not performed well on track this year, posting a best finish of 11th so far and scoring no world championship points. It is only ahead of the Caterham Team in the constructors standings. Caterham is also thought to be in severe financial trouble.
Stroll's money and his influence may be the thing Sauber needs to inject some long-needed capital into the team and get it back to mid-field form and return to being an asset to Ferrari.
In years gone by, a more competitive Sauber helped Maranello with development and data, something the backmarker version cannot provide. Right now, Ferrari is looking for a place further up the grid to put its prospect Jules Bianchi, who now drives for perennial backmarker, Marussia. There's no doubt that having a stronger Sauber on the grid that can help continue his development would certainly please the Scuderia's bosses.
Formula E is tire nerd's dream
The new Formula E Series may be billed as the world's flagship championship with electric technology, but one area where it promises to deliver interesting results is tire technology.
The 18-inch rims used on the cars was one of the biggest draws for Formula E's sole tire supplier Michelin because it helps the company ensure relevance to its markets and get better data to develop street rubber.
"The passenger car and light truck industry has long since passed the notion of mainstream vehicles being on 13-inch, 14-inch and 15-inch tires," said Chris Baker, Michelin North America director of motorsports who describes himself as a "serious tire nerd."
"Those are simply not representative street diameters for the modern fleet and for us to be able to study things in motorsport for relevance in terms of eventual types of products we are going to develop for regular consumers like for you and me is really important."
When it comes to the world's top racing series, Formula One uses 13-inch rims, while both IndyCar and NASCAR have 15-inch tires. The Formula E tires from Michelin will serve as both the wet and dry rubber for the series. Interestingly, the tire turns the race track-to-the-street model on its head a bit since the final Formula E rubber looks much like the company's Pilot Super Sport offering.
The first round of the championship goes Sunday in Beijing, China, with the 10-race season wrapping up next June in London.
"We are here to show where technology is today and where it will be going tomorrow and that's why manufacturers are going to be involved and technology companies," said Dragon Racing driver Oriol Servià.
"They have a niche that no other series in the world has and I think the performance of the car is going to be really interesting."
The rims and tires aren't the only difference fans might also notice about the new series.
The battery life is such that the racers can only make it to half distance in events, so each team will have two cars and drivers in all events with a tag team-style switches when the power runs out. That alone may have fans – and others – taking time to warm up to the format.
"Changing a car halfway through a race is quite strange," said McLaren driver and 2009 Formula One world champion Jenson Button.
"But it might work. It's all in city centres and it might attract people to the sport that aren't interested in motorsport normally – people don't want the noise in the city and, if they aren't true racing fans, it's quite fun to watch some cars go around that are electric."
For Michelin, providing tires to a series that is trying to stretch electrical power range means it is critical that the rubber deliver good levels of grip while being more efficient than a normal high end racing tire in terms of rolling resistance.
"The tires should give folks a preview into the next generation of ultra high-performance tires for the street," Baker said.
"For a given vertical load, the mechanical drag or the resistance to roll for these tires is appreciably lower than a similarly sized front and rear tire that you might use on a Porsche GT3 Cup car. Yet, it develops pretty much the same level of dry grip even though it's a treaded tire and if you are a tire nerd like me, you get pretty jacked up about that sort of thing."
By the Numbers: In 2014, Chevrolet clinched its third consecutive Verizon IndyCar Series Manufacturer Championship with the V6 2.2-litre, twin-turbocharged, direct injected engine. The result came on the strength of some incredible numbers put up by the motor that powered the top-four finishers in IndyCar's final point standings.
In all, Chevy had only three engine failures in almost 160,000 kilometres of racing in 2014 – that's the equivalent of about four times around the earth – with an additional five getting essential repairs and 14 being changed prior to the 4,000 km limit as a precaution.
Not including the second race in Toronto where the cars lined up according to points, Chevy drivers started on pole in 13 of 17 races and won 11 of them. They also led 1,645 race laps in 2014, or almost 77 per cent of all laps completed.
Random Thoughts: When there's tension between two parties, it's amazing how the smallest things get blown out of proportion. A case in point was the conversation in Italian between Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg, Felipe Massa of the Williams team, and Mercedes trackside electronics leader Evan Short in the green room at Monza prior to the podium ceremony at Sunday's Italian Grand Prix.
As the three chatted away, it was suggested by the television commentators that it seemed like an attempt to exclude race winner Lewis Hamilton also of Mercedes, who doesn't speak the language. The relationship between Mercedes teammates Hamilton and Rosberg has deteriorated over the course of the season as the pair continues their two-man fight for the 2014 title.
While it looked like a nasty snub, the truth is just a tad less diabolical.
Short, who hails from Ottawa, worked with Massa for several years at Ferrari in Maranello and the pair would have quickly switched to Italian out of habit. Rosberg, who is fluent in five languages, often speaks Italian with Short and would have simply joined the conversation in the language that was already being used.
The Ottawa native was catching up with Massa in the green room as he waited to head onto the podium to accept the constructors' trophy for Hamilton's win.
"It was great day for the nerds – after a challenging weekend for the electronics crew, I was thrilled to represent the team on the podium," Short said after the ceremony.
"Monza holds a special place in my heart and being in front of the tifosi with our drivers and Felipe was unforgettable."
Hamilton ran into trouble during the first and second practice sessions at Monza with an electrical issue that prevented his car from firing up. He also lost three places at the start of the Italian Grand Prix due to a system problem that would not allow him to get off the line properly.
Technically Speaking: The field for this year's 10-race Chase for the Cup is set as 16 drivers prepare to battle for NASCAR's top-tier title. Now that's decided, it's time to get out your slide rule to figure out exactly how the 2014 Sprint Cup champion will be decided.
Probably the easiest part of the new Chase format is that the 16 drivers who qualified will have their points reset to 2,000 points with three bonus points added for each win. From there, the Chase consists of a trio of three-race knockout rounds where all but four drivers will be eliminated before a winner-take-all finale at Miami-Homestead in mid-November.
First up is the Challenger Round, which begins this weekend at Chicagoland. At the end of the first three-race round, four drivers will drop out of the running. The cut off is based on points in the three races, although any Chase driver winning one of the three starts in any of the three elimination rounds will move ahead no matter where he finishes point-wise.
Once the first four are booted, the points will be reset again, so all drivers starting the new round are on equal footing. The Contender round follows where the same system will be used to cut another four cars from the title contention. It begins Oct. 5 with the race in Kansas.
After another four are gone and the points are reset yet again, the Eliminator Round gets going Oct. 26 at Martinsville, Va., and will determine the final four drivers who will fight for the title Nov. 16 in Miami.
When all is said and done, the Sprint Cup Championship will go to the highest placed driver of the four finalists in the Ford EcoBoost 400 season finale.
Quote of the Week: "Monza, yeah, it's one of the most difficult tracks for braking because of low downforce and the highest speed of the year. That isn't any excuse or anything, that's just the way it is. It is one of the challenges, you know, of this weekend here. Unfortunately, I got it wrong two times in the race."
– Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg explaining his difficulties braking for the first corner in Sunday's Italian Grand Prix. The second mistake allowed his teammate Lewis Hamilton to pass for the lead and go on to win the race.
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Correction: Sauber hasn't scored a point yet this year. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story.