Murto: Mercedes F1 team suddenly beatable

The Mercedes Formula One Team appeared unbeatable in 2014, winning the first six races with one-two finishes in five. But the Canadian Grand Prix proved that there is a chink in Mercedes’ armor.

The race began as all others have this year, with Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton battling for the lead as they pulled away from the field. In the end, however, it was Australian Daniel Ricciardo celebrating his first F1 victory and the first win for Red Bull Renault in 2014.

The new F1 cars are strange, high-tech hybrid machines with more electronics and less liquid fuel than ever before. Complicated systems collect energy from the brakes and transform it into power the cars can use to go faster. Almost simultaneously both Mercedes developed electro-mechanical issues in Canada. They continued to battle up front, but both cars were down on power.

And in Hamilton’s case it affected the brakes. Once he lost brakes completely he was parked for the day, earning no points toward the world title. And Rosberg fell into the clutches of his competitors.

With 10 laps to go you could throw a blanket over the top-five cars. What started as another Mercedes romp turned into the best battle in F1 racing in a number of seasons.

Rosberg couldn’t hang on and lost the lead to Ricciardo. Vettel finished third in a Red Bull. The other two cars involved in the five-car battle — the Force India of Sergio Perez and the Williams of Filipe Massa — crashed hard on the final lap. Both drivers were OK.

In a couple weeks the F1 circus goes to Austria, to compete on a circuit actually owned by Red Bull. Expect the team to do well. But also expect that Mercedes will have the unexpected bugs that surfaced in Canada resolved.

It will be interesting to see how Vettel does in Austria. Ricciardo has driven better than the four-time world champion all year. The current F1 machines are new to everybody, and it’s obvious that Ricciardo adapted easier than Vettel.

Rosberg has finished in the top two in all seven races run so far this year. He leads the points with 140, over Hamilton who has 118. Ricciardo is a distant third with 79.

Fans who traveled to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix were not disappointed. And there were plenty of them, as TV didn’t reveal an empty seat anywhere around the circuit.

There didn’t appear to be any empty seats at Pocono Raceway for the NASCAR Cup event, either. Perhaps the empty seats at Dover were an aberration. Management at Dover should take heed and pay attention to whatever differences exist between their marketing and Pocono’s; obviously, they’re doing it right at Pocono.

And the race wasn’t bad, either. It helped that the distance has been cut from 500 to 400 miles. Dale Earnhardt Jr. got the lead from Brad Keselowski with a handful of laps to go when Keselowski drove behind Danica Patrick in an effort to clear debris from the nose of his car. Unfortunately, the maneuver didn’t work, and not only did the debris remain on Keselowski’s Ford, but he lost enough momentum that Earnhardt made the pass.

Cole Timm passed Preston Peltier on the last lap to win the PASS 150 Super Late Model race at South Boston Speedway last Saturday night. This week the speedway features 150 laps for the NASCAR Late Model Stock Cars.

Late Models also top the card at Langley Speedway in Hampton for 125 laps. Langley is actually closer than South Boston, and on June 21 NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East will be there.

Hagerstown Speedway’s Late Model Sportsman division remove their roofs and run topless Saturday night for $1,000 to win. Late Models also are on the bill.

Sprint Cars top local attractions, as the URC Sprints are the featured division at Winchester Speedway. One of the oldest racing sanctions in America, the URC competitors always put on a good show. Super Late Models are on hand as well.

Shenandoah Speedway’s oval runs with the Virginia Sprint Series putting the winged warriors on pavement, always a thrilling event. Late Model Stock Cars also will compete.

Racing at the local and regional levels has a lot in common with racing on a national or international scale; the fast guys look to dominate, and the rest of the pack hopes to find and exploit the chink in their armor. Be sure to visit a local or regional track this weekend and watch the battle for yourself.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.