Monday, March 20, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: For Nothing But Fun

Wayne Taylor Racing doubled up on its endurance race success with Ricky Taylor, Jordan Taylor and newcomer Alex Lynn winning at Sebring. Antonio García, Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller won in the #3 Corvette and prevented the #66 Ford GT of Joey Hand, Dirk Müller and Sébastien Bourdais from holding all three endurance triple crown at once. The #33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating and Mario Farnbacher got the manufactures first victory in GTD. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca of Pato O'Ward, James French and Kyle Masson doubled up after their Daytona victory and won in Prototype Challenge. With Sebring out of the way, here is a run down of what got me thinking.

For Nothing But Fun
A few weeks ago, new Formula One head honcho Ross Brawn threw out the idea of re-introducing non-championship races to the Formula One schedule and use these events to experiment with new rules, race formats and etc.

Non-championship races were once all the rage in the Formula One world. In the 1950s and 1960s, there were some occasions where there were more non-championship races in a given year than there were championship races. In 1963, Jim Clark's first world championship season, there were 14 non-championship races compared to the ten that comprised of the world championship schedule. Non-Championship stops included Pau, Goodwood, Imola, Enna Pergusa and Kyalami. Clark won five non-championship races on top of his seven championship race victories that year.

As the Formula One calendar grew in the 1970s, non-championship races became less prominent and fewer of the big name drivers participated. By the 1983 Race of Champions, a traditional non-championship race held at Brands Hatch, only 13 cars participated with back markers such as Theodore Racing, Arrows, Ligier, RAM Racing and Spirit Racing outnumbering the likes of Williams, Ferrari, Brabham, Tyrell, Lotus and McLaren. Renault, which fielded Alain Prost and Eddie Cheever, didn't even bother entering a car. There hasn't been a non-championship Formula One race since (although there was the Formula One Indoor Trophy held from 1988-1996 except for 1994 but I guess that is another story).

Thirty-four years later, why does it seem like a good idea to bring back non-championship races to the Formula One schedule when the calendar is already filled with 20 races on five continents? First, it would allow Formula One to try things and tinker before having a full-scale roll out. Remember last year when the new qualifying format was introduced and how poorly received that was? A handful of non-championship races might have either prevented that format from ever getting to the top stage or allowed it to be worked on and perfected before being introduced to the larger fan base.

Another reason non-championship races should be brought back is it would allow Formula One and its drivers to go to places the series currently aren't at. I know you are thinking Formula One hits enough spots with 20 races but the truth is there is still a good amount of the globe that doesn't get to see Formula One machinery and the talented drivers in person. These races would be a good chance for forgotten places to experience Formula One again.

Non-championship races could be an affordable way for people to see Formula One's stars. These exhibition races could happen in conjunction with an already existing motorsports event and give people a reason to go out and support a domestic series. My idea would be year-old cars could be used for the non-championship races and the top five teams in the World Constructors' Championship run two cars with one car reserved for a guest driver and the bottom five teams run one car. The non-championship rounds could be two, 45-minute races with one on Saturday and one on Sunday with teams rotating there full-time drivers and possibly even allowing a reserve driver a chance to race a Formula One car.

I think five or six non-championship rounds would be sufficient. Imagine one round being held in conjunction with the DTM round at Zandvoort, allowing Max Verstappen to race in front of his home fans or another being held with IndyCar at Watkins Glen or Formula One returning to Argentina or a race held in conjunction with the Supercars season opener at Adelaide or heading to Fuji with the World Endurance Championship. Imagine the likes of Scott Dixon getting a shot in a Formula One car and sliding behind the wheel of a Mercedes and trying to best Lewis Hamilton or Robert Wickens in a Williams against fellow Canadian Lance Stroll or André Lotterer in a Ferrari racing side-by-side with Sebastian Vettel.

Non-championship races could not only benefit Formula One by giving more drivers experience with a Formula One car or trying reverse grids or experimenting with a new tire compound but also be a fun way to connect Formula One with the rest of the motorsports landscape. Non-championship races could create memorable events with the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo get to rub elbows with other great drivers from other series, visit tracks that normally don't host Formula One or haven't hosted Formula One in a long time and allow fans to see and possibly interact with the best in the world at a more reasonable price than a normal grand prix weekend.

Non-championship races have a place in an already crowded Formula One calendar and they could be just one of the ways Formula One reconnects with some fans once forgotten.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened at Sebring but did you know...

Ryan Newman won the NASCAR Cup race from Phoenix his first victory since the 2013 Brickyard 400. Justin Allgaier won the Grand National Series race on Saturday, his first victory since Montreal 2012.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race from Indianapolis, his third consecutive victory and sixth of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One season opener from Melbourne, Australia.
MotoGP season opener from Qatar.
NASCAR runs the final race of its western swing at Fontana.
Supercross will be in Detroit.