Austin F-1 Triple Champion
Austin F-1 2015 Observations and Analysis
The Auto Channel
Formula 1 Racing Desk
Austin TX October 26 2015; Of all the races, our new world champion
Lewis Hamilton will remember no.43 more than most, if not the most. Taking
the title, his third, in gloriously scrappy style by winning the fourth
United States Formula 1 Grand Prix, he becomes the first British Champion
to successfully defend his title in 65 years of F1.
Lewis was relaxed and confident all weekend, his manner very
different from team mate and arch rival Rosberg who has now been totally
outclassed by the superior, faster and more consistent Brit. The AMG cars
may be technically identical but mentally car no.44 has totally psyched out
no.6. Team Boss Niki Lauda, himself a 3-time world champion joked that
Lewis is now “as good as me” but expects him to “get even
better “ predicting the best is yet to come, with his star driver
winning more and more races. If I was Rosberg, I’d leave for another
team. Wouldn’t it be great to see Vettel and Lewis in the same
Austin welcomed the F1 community back with warm smiles, big hats and
lots of BBQ food. Texans are a friendly well-natured bunch on the whole and
still a little bemused by F1 and “us Europeans”. COTA and NBC
sports (whose rating are rising every year) have done their best to keep F1
building but it still suffers from lack of consistent local and national
media support and from a simple lack of legacy, something from which other
races in Europe, elsewhere, benefit.
COTA doesn’t release exact track numbers but reports of
101,000 at the turnstiles for Sunday (down from 150,000 in 2012)
isn’t bad, with 171,000 over three days. However with Mexico a week
away, and providing at least 1/3 if not more of the fans and, most
importantly for circuit revenues, the suite seats, they were obviously down
on pre-ticket sales and that was before Hurricane Patricia came calling
It's only because COTA is new that we could get the cars out at all
on Sunday, as I suspect none of the other tracks could have handled that
sheer quantity of rain, which left anyone exposed totally drenched within
minutes. Hats off to the track workers and the hard working local police
and traffic management teams who refined the flow, and stood out in
appalling conditions, so we could all go racing.
As we sat wondering what type of qualifying was in store for us
Saturday afternoon - and it took more than 3 hours for the officials to
decide to call it off - it did give us a chance to hang out with the teams
and drivers and chat in a more relaxed manner. It was super to see old
friend Alex Rossi starting in a U.S. Grand Prix. He has talent and is very
determined. I did notice he had lost weight and trimmed down by at least 10
pounds, looking almost gaunt. With Haas going in another direction with
what they define as “more experienced drivers” Rossi looks set
to be driving for Manor again next year.
Nico Hulkenberg was in fine form and very happy with his Force
India in the wet where he excelled in P3 on Saturday morning. Full wet set
up suited the car and his considerable skills – one of the best in F1
in my opinion and in need of a top team to show his talents - but alas it
wasn’t to be as it dried out too much on Sunday for him to repeat it
when it mattered. His race, like practically everyone's, was filled with
drama and whilst making a storming performance up the field with his
teammate Checo, going for the gap inside Riccardo, he got hit, breaking the
suspension and ending his run. Back in the motor home he was understandably
extremely upset, having failed to finish in the last few races with some
bad luck and, some say, poor judgment. For sure he’s an aggressive
driver, but then again so is Hamilton.
It's better to be lucky than good and certainly Lewis has had more
than his fair share of luck this season. My only disappointment in his
personal behavior was Monaco when he behaved like a scolded school boy; it
wasn't good sporting behavior and unbecoming of a true champion, but the
pressure and competitiveness is not something any of us can truly
understand even with friends and this was demonstrated with
“CAP-GATE” in the greenroom before the podium when he casually
tossed Nico his Pirelli cap, which landed on his lap. Nico, who was clearly
extremely pissed off with himself, his team and the world in general threw
it straight back at a bemused Lewis. Personally, I’m surprised they
are so mild mannered and controlled given the adrenalin, the emotions and
the stakes: Remember James Hunt? Piquet? They got properly wound up and
took swipes at the nearest person – usually a poor marshal!
Red Bull and Toro Rosso enjoyed some strong performances, with both
teams clearly tuned in for wet conditions that levels out the power
advantage of Mercedes and Ferrari.
It was rather wonderful and frustrating
to watch their top drivers dicing away, sliding, correcting, apexing so
beautifully and at speed, setting fast laps only to see the Mercs just
blast past on the straights, rather like passing a caravan up a mountain
when you’re in a twin-turbo AMG! Verstappen, who will likely be a
World Champion before the decade is out, drove the best and most complete
race of his short career and finished an excellent fourth. Mystery still
surrounds Red Bulls engine supplier for 2016, they certainly have shopped
around and the latest is that Honda are talking to them. That would make a
lot of sense for everyone except Ron Dennis, who’s likely to veto it.
Honda needs more than one team developing the engine and supplying valuable
data and McLaren would benefit from this. How they decide who is ‘top
team’ is another matter. Discussions with VW / Audi appeared to be
progressing well until the diesel bust, so that’s unlikely to happen,
although they probably need the good publicity and distraction more than
There is also a chance that one of the most iconic and successful
names in F1 racing might return to supply customer engines, namely COSWORTH
engineering. Bernie has had talks with owner / racing magnet Kevin
Kalkhoven, but for a small private engine builder to front the investment
needed to fund a program on which Mercedes is said to have spent more than
$1bn over the past 3 years is a tall order unless guarantees are made.
The parties in Austin were in fine form and well supported even in
wet conditions. The hottest party and coolest crowd Saturday night was once
again the My Yacht Club / Blu celebration at Brazos hall, with a fashion
show and dancing till 4am, a good time was had by all. The drivers stayed
in till Sunday but I ran into Alonso in a ‘relaxed mood’ in a
pop-up sweet store / night club. I also ran into Jolyon Palmer who has been
signed as a fulltime driver at Lotus. He was in great spirits, as
you’d expect from a young man with a great year ahead of him. Lewis
dropped in around 3am and we chatted – he was clearly emotionally
exhausted – so we shook hands and he left for the door and his
Challenger 605 back to LA for some much needed R&R.
Ferrari also showed its latest 488 GTB at a private reception with a
surprise VIP guest – Kimi! Fellow TACH contributor Annabelle Frankl
was bemused at the fuss around the car, which hadn’t previously been
seen in Austin, as she had already driven it in August at Pebble Beach and
the excellent Ferrari Casa!
This weekend we shall return to Mexico City for the first time in
twenty years, when our last great hero ‘Nige’ (Mansell) was
chasing his own World Championship for Great Britain. It’s a solid
reminder that fame, especially in F1, is fleeting!
Checo Perez and Carlos
Slim have managed to sell out the city, that will no doubt be utter chaos.
With the high altitude the turbo engines are expected to be noticeably down
on power, but with thin air the cars may hit over 200mph on the long
The Mexicans know how to throw a good party and I’m sure it
will be a great success, just watch out for the local taxi drivers in their
famous old school Beetle Bugs. It’s certainly a positive to see more
F1 races on this side of the planet and there may yet be another USA F1
race; according to Bernie, he’s looking at Laguna Seca as a possible
destination, although who at SCRAMP can pay him $25m I’m not
Until next time
About Nicholas Frankl
Nicholas Frankl has attended more than 250 F1 Grand Prix in the past 30+ years (1st race age six weeks). He has been writing for The Auto Channel since it started in 1995/6. He managed the Asprey/Ferrari partnership from 1996-99 working closely with Todt, Irvine, Schumacher and Stefano Dominicalli. Visiting the Ferrari factory annually he has a deep insight into the inner workings of the team. He is also an three time Olympic sportsman, having qualified and driven a two-man & four-man bobsleigh in Lillehammer 1994, Nagano 1998 and Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympic Games. He has raced cars in the UK and USA, competed in the Cannonball, Gumball and Bullrun rallies, is a certified private pilot and member of both The Royal Automobile Club and Automobile Club of Monaco. Throughout his life he has visited the majority of F1 tracks and shared drinks and many fun times with many of yesterdays legends and todays heros.
A Word from Nicholas:
So where does bobsleigh fit into this mix?
Well, that's me. Gilles Villeneuve I may never (unfortunately) be, but the next best thing (I'm told - and in fact can vouch for) is Formula One on ice. 1994 saw me competing as driver of the first Hungarian bob team in the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and then onto two more Olympic Winter games. Why am I telling you this? Well, if for no other reason than that you'll at least understand how I gain some insight into the sport we love. Strangely enough, the F1 boys have a real respect for their ice cousins; the speed, G' forces and exhilaration are quite similar. This, however, is only my "off season" hobby. The reason for this intro is to allow me to say HI, From here on I hope well become firm friends, as I follow the F1 circus around the world and you get to pick up all the details. Not just the results, but the gossip too and the first-hand natter you just don't get from the usual sources.
Thanks to my father, whose stories you'll also be reading, I've grown up in the world of motor sport and cars - in fact instead of a birth certificate, I think I was born with a pit pass. It's the sort of life that if you enjoy our sport is tough to beat, so I thought this would be a good way of sharing the fun.