On planning for 2021 plus Stroll, Villeneuve and Latifi

Written by Norris McDonald

There was lots of racing at the weekend – there will be lots more next weekend – and anybody who cares will likely know everything they would want to know about it/them. I have a lot of notebook jottings, though, and interviews with Lance Stroll (who finished third in the Italian Grand Prix), Jacques Villeneuve and Williams driver Nicholas Latifi.

But first, here’s this week’s sermon.

Ever since the NASCAR trucks have been racing at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on Labour Day weekend, I’ve been out there, reporting on the race. But before that, starting in the 1970s and continuing through the ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s, I was at Oswego Speedway in northern New York over Labour Day for the Budweiser International Classic 200 for supermodifieds.

That race and that speedway (plus Room 326 in the Best Western Captain’s Quarters motor hotel) became so much a part of my life that even to this day I come down with a severe case of Classic Fever, usually on the Thursday preceding Labour Day.

This year, of course, it had to be cancelled (along with so many other traditional events, racing and otherwise) because of the pandemic. On Saturday, Oswego owners John and Eric Torrese, sent out a Tweet apologizing to their fans for having to call off the big race, as well as all other races this season.

Not their fault, of course, but they were not alone. CTMP in Ontario had to cancel their big spectator events, as did Ohsweken Speedway. The Indy 500 was held without fans. And so-on. But just about everybody has been finishing off notes to their fans this way: “We’ll see you in 2021.”

Not so fast. The First World War lasted more than four years (and that’s what this pandemic is, a war). The Second World War went seven, or so. The Spanish Flu lasted two before it petered out. We’re all getting restless and making plans for the new year after only six months and here’s the news: this virus is not going to end anytime soon.

Oh, it will end. Eventually. Like wars and pandemics before, this one will go away too and yes, life will return to normal. We’ll be shaking hands again and flying on planes and staying in hotels and doing everything we were doing last January and February. The problem is: we don’t know when. Could be next year; could be five, or somewhere in between, or longer. Rather than being definite about next year, it would be better to plan as if things won’t be better. Then if they are, everybody will be ahead of the game.

My suggestion to the Oswegos and Ohswekens and CTMPs and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Honda Indy is that they all start to plan right now about how they intend to make social distancing and masking work to the benefit of all in 2021. For Canadian facilities, it’s time to start lobbying governments to allow racers to be tested and, if clear, to then cross the border, race, and leave without quarantining, even if the rest of us have to continue to cool our heels about going to Buffalo awhile longer.

They will also have to consider that consumer tastes have changed, and will continue to change, during this pandemic. In the short term, people will stay home and watch sports on TV. The race tracks and speedways are going to have to promote, promote, promote to get people to leave their homes to go back and attend in person. Just because you built it doesn’t mean they will come. Far better to start laying the groundwork now so people can be (and feel) safe in 2021 and the racing business can prosper,  rather than hoping for a miracle and be left behind.

Not in six months. Now.


When Pierre Gasly won the Italian Grand Prix for Scuderia AlphaTauri on Sunday (see photo above, as he savours every last moment of that victory), the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, telephoned with congratulations on behalf of the citizens of the Republic. If Lance Stroll or Nicholas Latifi won a Grand Prix, do you think the prime minister would call? Thought so.

Interestingly, my wife and I had just finished watching the Netflix episode on F1 where Helmut Marko and Christian Horner decided to dump Gasly in favour of Alexander Albon. When that episode ended, we felt so sorry for Gasly and were delighted when he won the race on Sunday. Now the pressure is on Albon. If he doesn’t start delivering, he could be dropped and Gasly brought back to Red Bull. But if I was Gasly’s manager (and we all know who that is), I would tell Red Bull to stuff it and sign him up elsewhere.

Anybody want to say that race drivers aren’t athletes? Charles Leclerc lost control of his Ferrari at the Curva Parabolica Sunday when he would have been going more than 150 mph. It was a huge crash into a tire wall. Leclerc caught his breath and then, once out of the car, ran back to the pits. I’d like to see any one of racing’s critics do that.

Jochen Rindt, who chain-smoked Marlboro cigarettes and chain-chewed Dentyne gum,  was killed during practice at Monza 50 years ago when he didn’t fasten his crotch belt (to prevent him from submarining in a crash) and his Lotus went off at that same Barabolica. The snout dug its way under the Armco barrier (no tire walls in those days) and the car stopped and Rindt didn’t. When he slid forward his lap belt cut his throat. He’d won five Grands Prix earlier that season and had enough points to be named the sport’s only posthumous world champion. He was my last “favourite driver.” I’d had four – Peter Collins, Eddie Sachs, Ronnie Duman and Rindt and they’d all died racing. From that day to this, I cheer for them all. Sure, I’m partial to Canadians, and I have a soft spot for women going back to Janet Guthrie, but I don’t have emotional attachments.

The Renault F1 team will be called Alpine in 2021. Should anybody care?

If Martin Truex Jr. is close to winning this season’s NASCAR Cup championship and Chase Elliott is out of the running, Truex had better have eyes in the back of his head. Truex chopped Elliott toward the end of Sunday’s Southern 500 and did enough damage to both cars so that neither was competitive afterward. Elliott, in fact, thought he could win the race. I smell payback – at an appropriate moment, of course.


Lance Stroll on the Italian GP, where he finished third

“It’s been a couple of years since I stood on the podium, so it’s good to be back! It’s a bit of a bummer, it was mine to lose from second on the grid (the second start), but I just had no grip off the line and got a ton of wheelspin, so everyone flew by me. (He also missed his braking for the second chicane and had to go the fast way through it.) “I’m happy to pick up third, but I do think this one kinda slipped away from us. It was bizarre having a second start halfway through the race. You had to reset, and we’re not used to that intermission.”

Okay, let’s call a spade a spade. Stroll could have won this race. Should have, in fact. With due respect though, he doesn’t have the hunger of a Villeneuve. He let it get away because he didn’t want it badly enough.

Jacques Villeneuve on Williams, where he was world champion

“It is an important team in the same way as McLaren, or it was,” he said. “It stopped being so when it stopped running at the front and became a business. But I have great memories. I loved it there. It felt like a family. I know some drivers found it tough, but I never felt that. I always had a good relationship with Frank (Williams) and Patrick (Head). I think that was because I did not have a normal path to Formula One and came from the U.S. I had my own ideas about how things should be and they respected that. They always loved people with strong opinions. Like Nigel Mansell and Alan Jones.


“And when you win it is always good! I stayed close with them after I left the team and the relationship was a bit special. When I crashed the BAR at Eau Rouge,  Patrick even took time to come to see me and tell me to take care.


“To find the precise point at which they lost direction, I believe that you have to go back to their move to Grove in 1996, and their switch to BMW engines four years later. It all just expanded too quickly. When I raced at Williams, there were 150 people. You could literally go to the factory and say hello to everyone individually without it taking too long. But then it became too unwieldy, the workforce growing to 600 people at some point. The nucleus of the team found itself overwhelmed by the influx of extra staff, and it started to show signs of losing direction.


“But there was a loss of identity, and a lack of clear leadership from the top. After the team floated on the German stock exchange in 2011 to help pay back debts, the board of directors watched every penny spent. It became a case of the company simply trying to survive and to honour its obligations to its shareholders.


“It is a team that can rebuild if it is run by racers, with the racers mentality.”

Driver Nicholas Latifi of Toronto, talking about the Italian Grand Prix

(Claire Williams, in her last appearance as deputy team principal, directed Latifi out of the garage and onto pit lane for first practice last Friday. He joked that his No. 1 mechanic didn’t guide him out of the garage as well as the retiring Williams.)

“I said to him, ‘I hope you were taking a new notes there because that technique was perfect’.”

(On the restart, you were tenth but when the lights went out you dropped back. Any particular reason?)

“A weakness of our car is its inability to advance on cold tires and in dirty air. So, it was a combination of things. You try not to crash into another driver because they seem to have much more grip and confidence in their cars. Every time I’ve tried to “go” for something, the car ends up catching me out, getting a massive snap, a massive front lock. So it’s a difficult thing to manage. The straight-line speed deficit was very evident in the race. Obviously, we know we were probably going to drop back but once the race settled down, the pace wasn’t too bad. It’s too bad we couldn’t get one more position in the race (he finished 11th, one position out of the points).

“We lucked into a good starting position for the second start, having pitted before the safety car. . . but the cars that were going to get past me got past anyway.”

(How is your season progressing?)

“It’s another race so it’s adding to my experience. This would have been my eighth race in F1.  But it felt like I got two races, two for the price of one there. Starting in the top 10 was certainly completely different than starting at the back. You’re in the midst of the action. To be honest, I never felt completely comfortable in the car this weekend. It was a learning experience. It was a good weekend to broaden that range of experience. More experience in the bank, so that was positive.”

(This was the last race with Claire Williams in charge. Was anybody from Dorilton Capital, the new ownership group, there?)

“Nobody there this weekend from the new management. From what I understand, they might be coming to some of the upcoming races; not exactly sure what the first one they’re going to be coming to is. I’m sure there’s a lot of work being done in the factory, in the background. Everything at the moment is focusing on the job at hand. I think we’re going to have a new team principal appointed at some point as well. Meantime, it’s business as usual.”

(Everybody gossips. Is there any scuttlebutt in the Williams garage about what’s wrong with Ferrari? Any theories?)

“They’ve obviously had a big drop-off from where they were last year. I’m sure it was for a number of reasons. They clearly don’t have the straight-line advantage that they had last year. But they obviously have some troubles with the car, too. I have no idea what the answer is; I’m not involved. I have no clue.

“They’re a top team, they have smart people and I’m sure they’ll figure it out. I don’t see them turning it around this year because of how slow progress is in Formula One. With our team, it could take quite a long time to start getting big gains. Fortunately, it’s their issue.”


Ryan Maxwell, a.k.a. MiniMax, son of champion Canadian race driver Scott Maxwell, led every lap of every heat (above) plus the pre-final and final of a go-kart meet in Sutton Saturday. It looks to me like another Maxwell is going to leave his mark on the world of racing . . . . .  Bobby Santos III won the Little 500 at Anderson Speedway in Indiana on Saturday night. Kyle Larson won $20,000 Sunday night when he finished first in a sprint car race in South Dakota. Two observations: Larson has made so much money this year running sprint cars that he will make less money by returning to the NASCAR Cup series next year. Which means he will think about it. And although this will make me sound xenophobic, these are two North American drivers who should be racing Indy cars. But like Jeff Gordon 30 years ago, most of the IndyCar owners have never heard of those guys, preferring offshore pilots to homegrown talent, and wouldn’t give them a shot, even if they did. . . . . . Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup Southern 500 Sunday night, with Austin Dillon second and Joey Logano third. Saturday, in the Xfinity Series race, Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain crashed coming to the white flag and Brandon Jones won the race. In the trucks race, Ben Rhodes was the winner. Quebec driver Raphael Lessard finished sixth. . . . . . Whitby driver Jeff Kingsley won the Porsche GT3 Cup race, his third of the season, at Road Atlanta Saturday morning. He was second in the second race on the weekend. Also at Road Atlanta, Connor De Phillippi and Canadian Bruno Spengler, driving a BMW, won the GT Le Mans class in the Grand Prix. Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves won the Daytona Prototype class . . . . . Mick Schumacher won the Formula 2 race at Monza. His name will get him into F1. . . . . . At the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, Shawn Langdon won the Top Fuel class, Jack Beckman was first in Funny Car, Erica Enders won her second Pro Stock title and Scotty Pollacheck won his first Pro Stock motorcycle title. They had some electric racers there but, frankly, a major part of motorsport is noise that makes the ground shake and if you eliminate that, it will be curtains for racing. I think. . . . . .  Merrittville Speedway action Saturday night saw these folks visit Victory Lane: Gary Lindberg, 358 Mods; Greg Panunte, Sportsman; Steve Shaw, Stocks; Kyle Rothwell, 4-Cylinders; Jeff May, Mod Lites; Jordan Fidler, V6.

And that’s it for this week. Oh, IndyCar will be having a double-header at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course next Saturday and Sunday. Both races will be on Sportsnet 360 – Saturday at 4:30, Sunday at 1 p.m. Promoters Savoree-Green just got permission this week for some spectators to attend.