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Motorsports: Good news for Canadian Formula One fans

Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany celebrates after winning the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, Sunday, June 9, 2013.

Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS

On tap this week:

• Renewal of GP imminent

• Up and down for Wickens

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• Quote of the Week: Brabham remembers

• Mercedes owes Haug

• Maldonado helps his old team

• Stepney's successes

Racing fans holding their breath for a new contract to keep the annual Formula One race in Montreal can exhale.

Word on the street is that a new contract to continue the Canadian Grand Prix will be announced before the 2014 edition at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. The existing five-year contract expires when the chequered flag flies in Montreal on June 8.

Although government funding still needs to be secured , race promoter François Dumontier already has a new contract with Formula One Management (FOM).

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The Octane Management boss confirmed last week that he and F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone signed a deal, but the terms were not announced. Dumontier was looking for a 10-year extension for the race, which has been held at the Île Notre-Dame track since 1978.

Dumontier also met with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre last week to continue negotiations for the lease of the track . Coderre indicated a few weeks ago that he was confident that an agreement would be reached before this summer's race.

That leaves just one thing to be ironed out: Financial support from the federal and provincial governments as well as a commitment from Tourism Montréal. All three must kick in some cash to keep FOM happy.

When the extension was signed in 2009, the three agreed to pitch in a total of $15-million annually to help keep the race in Montreal. But that deal was struck at a time when Montreal was the only F1 stop in North America and the auto manufacturers in the sport were pressuring Ecclestone to ensure Canada was on the calendar.

With F1 owners CVC Capital Partners looking for a 10 per cent increase in fees for new contracts and a successful grand prix taking hold in Austin, Tex., the Canadian governments may need to up their contribution to keep the race and the estimated $100-million in economic activity it brings every year to Montreal.

By the Numbers: In the opening Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) race of the 2014 season at Hockenheim, Canadian Mercedes driver Robert Wickens passed 13 cars in the first 11 of 42 laps, moving from 20th on the starting grid to seventh by one-quarter distance.

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With new rules now requiring just one pitstop in races this year, as opposed to the two in 2013, combined with his poor qualifying performance, the Guelph, Ont. native started the race on the softer and faster "option" tires, while most of his rivals were on the harder and slower "prime." The decision looked to be brilliant in the early going, with Wickens scything through the field with ease.

Unfortunately, the speed advantage tipped away from Wickens after he had to change to the prime. In the second half of the race, 11 of the 13 cars Wickens overtook in the first few laps paid him back, pushing the Canadian back to 18th at the chequered flag.

The Hockenheim winner was BMW's Marco Wittmann. His Canadian teammate Bruno Spengler, who was the 2012 DTM champion, finished sixth.

Not one Mercedes car cracked the top-10 in Sunday's race. The best the marque could manage in qualifying was 14th. It might be a long season for DTM drivers for three-pointed star.

Quote of the Week: "I came past the start finish line on another flying lap and I saw yellow flags and debris on the track between the Tamburello and Villeneuve corners. I knew immediately it was Roland's car.

"I saw purple on the bits lying on the track and I was concerned because the car was travelling at near 300 kilometres per hour. As I went towards the accident, I grew very concerned as it looked massive. I started to fear for Roland and the closer I got, the worse I felt. His car ended up in the middle of the Tosa corner, so everyone had to go around Roland's car.

"Marshalls were on the scene and I was keen to see if my teammate was alright. I wish I hadn't. As I went round the car and looked, I immediately saw something didn't look right. The position of his head was different and disturbing, I felt sick and had a strong sense he was gone."

– former F1 driver David Brabham, recalling the events 20 years ago last week (April 30) that took the life of his Simtek teammate Roland Ratzenberger during qualifying for the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

Related Photo Gallery: Looking back at Formula One great Ayrton Senna

Random Thoughts: Former Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug joined a German television station last week as a colour commentator for broadcasts of the hugely popular Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) series.

When he and Mercedes parted ways at the end of 2012 after 22 years, Haug said he moved aside because its Formula One team wasn't delivering good enough results and he took full responsibility for the failure. About a year later, Mercedes is running on all cylinders in F1, mostly due to some critical decisions made by Haug.

He established the partnership with Brawn GP in 2009 which eventually saw Mercedes buy the outfit. He was instrumental in the development of the new V6 engine that has the outfit dominating grands prix so far in 2014. Before he stepped down, Haug convinced 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton to leave McLaren and join Mercedes and become teammate to Nico Rosberg, who he hired back in 2010.

Now Haug is watching F1 but not following the sport too closely.

"For me, it would be difficult if I had not drawn a clear line after such a long and intense time," Haug told German magazine Bild last week.

"I am an advocate of the theory "either all in or all out" – full on the gas or on the brakes as we say in racing. I am very pleased that it is going well for the Silver Arrows. The team has earned this reward after many years of hard work."

So far in 2014, Mercedes has swept the first four races and there's nothing to indicate a change as the Formula One circus arrives in Spain this weekend.

Technically Speaking: The Williams F1 team's 2013 annual report released last week showed the outfit posted a modest profit of $22-million compared with a loss of $8.5-million in the previous year.

The turnaround was due primarily to "a special non-recurring sponsorship payment" that helped to up the team's F1 revenue by about $41-million from 2012. It is thought that about $28-million of that cash came from Pastor Maldonado's Venezuelan oil company PDVSA, which paid the team to release the accident prone driver from a five-year deal after two seasons. Maldonado then took his sponsor to the Lotus outfit this year.

It wasn't money well spent. In four races so far, the Lotus team has struggled, failing to score a single point. Maldonado's best finish in 2014 is a 14th. It's a 180-degree turn from 2013, where Lotus was fourth overall in constructors' points, with one win and 14 podiums in 19 races.

Meanwhile, Williams has ridden the Mercedes wave this year, benefiting from the superb power unit supplied by its German engine partner. Its drivers Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas have scored 36 points in four races, with a best result of fifth. It has already scored seven times the points it amassed in all of 2013 (five).

The added benefit for the Williams team is that it no longer paying for Maldonado's crash damage, which may help it post another profit in 2014.

The Last Word: Nigel Stepney was instrumental in the five Formula One driver's titles won by Michael Schumacher at Ferrari as well as six constructors championships taken back to Maranello. He was one of the players that Jean Todt leaned on when he became Ferrari team boss in 1994 when he went on to build a well-oiled machine that struck fear into its rivals for the better part of a decade.

The 56-year-old died last week after stopping his vehicle on the shoulder of a U.K. highway and then apparently walking into the road where he was struck and killed.

Despite his career successes, Stepney won't be remembered as a multiple F1 title winner; instead, he will always be known for his involvement in the 2007 Spygate affair in 2007. In that scandal, Stepney gave McLaren engineer Mike Coughlan a confidential, 800-page technical document belonging to his employer. Stepney was fired by Ferrari soon after the news broke and was later sentenced to 20 months in prison for his involvement, but he never served any time. He admitted his role in the scandal, but also later tried to downplay his involvement.

Stepney never worked in F1 again, moving in 2010 as a technical director for the JRM outfit where he won yet another title, the 2011 FIA GT1 championship.

There's no doubt that people make poor choices in life and Stepney was no different. It's also easy sometimes to lose sight of the big picture and focus on one episode.

Doing it in Stepney's case is a bit unfair. His accomplishments in racing speak volumes about his talents and contribution to motorsport and it would be appropriate to remember the good along with the bad.

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About the Author
Motorsports columnist

There's an old saying about timing being everything in racing and Jeff Pappone's career as a motorsport correspondent shows that it also applies to journalists covering the sport too. More

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