Over the past month I feel like the racing news and action has been coming at me faster than the Penske PC-23b motoring across the row of bricks at Indy back in ‘94. Every time I pick up my phone to check the latest, which is approaching borderline unhealthy numbers, I’m left feeling like I’m sitting in the 3rd row at the Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico as the World of Outlaw cars are hot lapping.
On the track we have this intriguing Drive For 5. Scott Dixon just bagged his 5th Indycar title, Lewis Hamilton looks to be on his way to 5 F1 titles, and Marc Marquez is close to claiming 5 MotoGP crowns. But as usual, it’s the silly season that is proving to be irresistible clickbait for me every time I feel the urge to pick up my damn phone. And because of the historical significance of the moves taking place off the track, I’m feeling the need to recap the facts and intersperse my own narrative, or good old fake news, to spice it up a bit. This blog is supposed to be entertainment after all.
So, here is a unique perspective on what has really transpired behind the scenes:
The Silliest Season Of All
Danny Ric had just captured the Chinese and Monaco GP’s in thrilling fashion and clearly had the upper hand on his struggling teammate, Max Verstappen, when suddenly the tables were turned at the next race in Montreal. In post race interviews, Danny alluded to an unspecified equipment deficit to his teammate and added a knowing wink to the camera for good measure. Over the next six races leading to the summer break, Danny had 2 DNF’s and zero podiums, while Max had 3 podiums, including a win in Austria, making Danny the forgotten man at RBR. It still seemed like a foregone conclusion that Danny would sign a new contract with the team that had supported his career since the junior ranks, especially after calls to Mercedes and Ferrari were unsuccessful, but Danny was having second thoughts. His only goal left was a title and time was no longer on his side.
Hearing grumblings from his engineers on the inside that all might not be rosy at RBR between Danny and management, Cyril Abiteboul formulated a plan and immediately boarded the Renault corporate jet and set off for an undisclosed island in the Indian ocean where Ricciardo was rumored to be holed up. After 36 hours of travel spanning a 10 mile archipelago in a dingy with a crazy local guide hopped up on khat, Cyril found the Aussie dead drunk in a bamboo hut.
He tried calling his name and throwing towels on Danny in an attempt to wake him, but soon he too was overcome with fatigue and dozed off on the couch in the next room. The next morning Cryil woke to a freezing sensation and quickly realized that Ricciardo was dumping a pitcher of ice water over his head and having a good laugh about it.
Over breakfast and throughout the rest of the day, Arbiteboul sold Danny on the potential of Renault and more importantly, the satisfaction they would get from kicking a little Red Bull ass. Danny liked what he was hearing, and after Arbiteboul agreed to drink a potent local concoction out of his lucky racing boot that he always travels with, Danny signed and it was game on for the silly season!
Christian Horner was home in England sipping tea and speaking to his wife Geri about her upcoming Spice Girls reunion tour when the phone rang and the reporter asked for his thoughts on Danny signing with Renault. Horner thought it was a joke and hung up, but seconds later Helmet Marko texted him a picture from Danny’s Instagram account showing the Aussie smiling on a beach in a Renault shirt with a pretty girl on his arm and a spider monkey in his lap with the caption: “A new chapter begins now.” Horner panicked for a few minutes before regaining his composure and phoning both Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz. Both men seemed excited by the prospects, but then Jos Verstappen’s name appeared in his phone and he knew what was coming next. Jos was on speaker with Max and the family lawyer and after exchanging pleasantries, they cut to the chase and reminded Christian that they had an out should RBR sign either Alonso or Sainz. Christian tried to appease the Verstappen’s by stating that he would never consider calling either Spaniard, and hung up a frightened man. After a quick conference call with the Austrian brass, it was decided then that the next man up was Pierre Gasly. When Horner rang Gasly, it was clear that Pierre was at an all night rave on Ibiza and after delivering the news, Gasly yelled into his phone over the banging house beat, “Je t’aime Christian!” and promptly hung up.
When Fernando received the call back from Horner saying there was no deal, he knew his F1 career was over, as both Vettel and Lewis have No Fernando clauses in their contracts. The thought of driving around in an uncompetitive car where one cannot even engage in wheel to wheel racing without sacrificing huge chunks of time no longer appealed, so he phoned Zak Brown and said it’s time for a new adventure. Zak sensed that his days of collecting fat McLaren checks were rapidly coming to an end, so he did what any great salesmen would do and promised Fred a fun filled year in Indycar with a top team, momentarily forgetting that Honda have McLaren on a worldwide 100 year boycott. Zak then quickly filled the Fernando void with a call to the latest Red Bull castoff, Carlos Sainz, and made the shrewd move to drop Stoffel Vandoorne and roll the dice on boy wonder Lando Norris.
At about the same moment that Fernando was deciding his fate, Lawrence Stroll was meeting with his accountant and was being reminded that his Williams bill was rather large and his ROI was nill. Mr Stroll wasn’t happy seeing Lance mope around the house over the summer break so he decided then to do what any respectable racing father would do, he bought Force India. Williams was hurting his family’s reputation, and with Force India in the portfolio, it’s a win-win giving Lance the opportunity to live out his dreams and allowing Sr a place at the table in shaping the future of the sport.
The previous night Esteban Ocon had gone to bed feeling on top of the world. He was just 20 and had the F1 world in the palm of his hands. But his euphoria quickly gave way to fear when he awoke and saw that his Twitter and Instagram accounts were blowing up with news of Ricciardo signing with Renault and the Strolls buying Force India. He then noticed that Toto Wolff had called and left a message. He put the phone on speaker, hit play and held his breath. “Scheisse Esteban, vee have no options any more. For now vee schadenfreude Valteri and see what happens ok? Call me. Auf Wiedersehen.” Ocon was shocked. One minute he was deciding on two solid contract options for 2019 and suddenly he was faced with the reality of keeping George Russell company in the Merc simulator for a year. This wasn’t in the cards, but Ocon meditated on it and resolved to come out fighting at Spa.
With the passing of a wild four week summer break that will forever change the F1 landscape, the circus reconvened in Spa and everybody got back to the business of extracting speed from these insane machines. It seemed that the 2019 driver market was for the most part settled and it was time to turn our attention back to the battle between Mercedes and Ferrari for the title. Ocon quickly reminded us that he’s the real deal by qualifying an amazing P3 in drying conditions. On Sunday Vettel slipped streamed past Lewis on the first lap and motored on to a resounding win and looked to be the clear favorite heading to Monza the following weekend. Scoreboard: Lewis 231 – Vettel 214.
Ferrari confirmed their speed at Monza by locking out the front row of the grid, sending the Tifosi into a frenzy. This should have been an amazing moment in the Ferrari garage, but there was a problem. The wrong man was on pole. The team had made a strategic error in track placement and it was Kimi who benefited from Vettel’s tow, producing the fastest lap ever recorded at 163.78mph (previously held by Montoya – Monza 2004). Lewis was third, but it seemed that the race was destined to be a Ferrari parade.
As the lights went out both Ferrari’s made good getaways, but Lewis was in the slipstream and applying the pressure. The leading trio managed to get through the treacherous 1-2 chicane still intact, but as they rounded the flat out Curva Grande, Lewis had a fantastic tow and made his move to the outside heading into the left-right Variante della Roggia. Vettel moved to block, but they were now side by side under heavy braking. Lewis released his pedal a fraction earlier and found enough grip to make the corner and avoid taking to the curbs. Vettel suddenly found himself getting squeezed and after making brief contact, lost control and spun to back of the field.
While Vettel was busy lighting up the rears in a cloud of smoke and rejoining at the tail end of the train, it was now Kimi vs Lewis with Monza glory on the line. Lewis slipped streamed past Kimi into turn 1 on lap 4 after a brief safety car period, but Kimi was feeling racey on this day and tracked Lewis down through the Curva Grande, making an around the outside move stick and pulling away in clear air. For a man who seldom passes anyone this was a great move, and perhaps spurred on by the energy of the Tifosi, Kimi quickly built a gap knowing all too well that a win at Monza would solidify his place in the team and earn another contract in the most coveted seat in all of motorsports.
Only Mercedes had other plans and masterfully placed Bottas in front of Kimi after the leading pair made their one and only stops, allowing Lewis to apply the pressure and forcing Kimi to cook his tires while struggling to find a way past the sister Mercedes. After ten laps, Kimi was defenseless with massive blisters in his rears, and Lewis pounced.
This was a heartbreaking defeat for Ferrari on home soil. What should have been a 1-2 turned into a Lewis win and a points deficit that was going to be hard to make up. Scoreboard: Lewis 256 – Vettel 226.
Later that night over triple cappuccinos and endless Marlboro’s, Maurizio Arrivabene broke the second place constructors trophy over his knee and screamed, “Kimi is Finito! Call Leclerc.”
Over the next ten minutes, Arrivabene welcomed Leclerc to the Ferrari team in a scene right out of The Godfather. He spoke of trust, loyalty, family, but also made it clear that the #1 seat was there for the taking, that the current #1 was showing signs of weakness, and that a Ferrari man can never show weakness. Leclerc sounded excited but was audibly nervous as the enormity of the task was sinking in for the mild mannered 20 year old.
Leclerc: I will try my best Mr Arrivabene
Arrivabene: Please Charles, you call me commendatore. And I do not want your best, only titles will do.
Leclerc: Yes sir I’ll be a great teammate to Sebastian
Arrivabene: It’s commendatore Charles. Please call me commendatore.
Leclerc: Of course commendatore
Arrivabene: Very well. As I was saying, I don’t want another Rubens, another Massa, another Kimi. I want a Schumacher Charles! Cappice? Can you be a Schumacher??
Leclerc: I was just a small boy when Schumacher raced but I’ve heard his name before
Arrivabene: Ah mama mia
Leclerc: But I know I can beat Lewis sir, I mean commendatore.
Arrivabene: That’s my boy. I’ll send the plane to bring you to Maranello tomorrow morning to sign your contract. Ciao
Arrivabene’s final act that evening before focusing on a bottle of grappa was to call Kimi and fire him over voicemail.
While still trying to process the news, Leclerc phoned Sauber team boss Frederic Vasseur to tell him that he got the call. Vasseur was sad to learn that he was losing his ace, but a light bulb was going off as they said their goodbyes. Kimi may not be the quickest anymore, but he puts butts in the seats and would significantly enhance their profile as they hit the sponsorship trail. The very next morning Vasseur was able to track down the reclusive Finn preparing his dirt bike for a day of trail riding in the Swiss Alps and said, “Kimi I want you for 2 years, $30 million,” to which the Finn replied, “Ok sure” and hung up.
And just like that, the F1 world keeps spinning with a new frontier just over the horizon.
2019 As We Know It
Mercedes – Hamilton, Bottas
Ferrari- Vettel, Leclerc
Red Bull – Verstappen, Gasly
Force India – Perez, $troll
Renault – Ricciardo, Hulkenberg
Haas – Magnussen (tbd), Grosjean (tbd)
McLaren – Sainz, Norris
Sauber – Kimi, TBD (Eric$$on, Giovinazzi, Vandoorne)
Toro Rosso – Major TBD (Kvyat?? – 3rd time’s a charm)
Williams – TBD ($irotkin, Kubica, $Markelov$, Ocon, Russell, Dale Jr, Jeff Gordon)
-Beware…. Here Comes Indycar
-Fernando and the Triple Crown
-F The DRS
-Portland Indy Reflections
Be safe out there and Get Well Wickens!