A Case for Pascal: Why Wehrlein is the Logical, Strategic Choice to Replace Rosberg at Mercedes F1


When I saw the news this past Thursday that Nico Rosberg had retired in the immediate aftermath of his first drivers’ championship, I was as shocked as anyone else. However, my mind almost immediately shifted from the present to the future. I immediately began to consider who could take Rosberg’s seat this late in the silly season. The Mercedes F1 ride is probably the most coveted in all of motorsports, even with a radically new set of technical regulations coming in 2017. Several very talented drivers who were free agents have already been signed to mid-level teams or worse for next season. The magnitude of the opportunity at Mercedes F1 would appear to command a proven talent. However, in my opinion, this is the right time for Mercedes F1 to try something new. This is the time for Mercedes to find out what they have in Pascal Wehrlein.

Some would argue other drivers have done more prove themselves than young Pascal. Fernando Alonso in the underachieving McLaren, Valtteri Bottas in the declining Williams, or Nico Hulkenburg at a rebuilding Renault F1 would represent logical steps toward assured success. A recently retired Jenson Button may be able to get out of his McLaren connections for one last shot at a second title. Even an Esteban Ocon, who was promoted to the better-performing Force India squad over Wehrlein, could be in the running.

However, to me, none of those choices make as much sense as Wehrlein. While Alonso, and to a lesser degree Bottas and Hulkenburg, represent the best, quasi-available talent in the sport, their respective contract situations would need time to be worked out. There would probably have to be a fair bit of money involved in springing them from their current commitments. Furthermore, in the case of Alonso and Button, their proven talent may not be as valuable to the Silver Arrows as it first appears. Sure, either driver behind the wheel of a Mercedes package would make Mercedes a double threat for victory every grand prix. However, Mercedes has Lewis Hamilton, who is coming off his most unlucky season in recent memory. Without the likes of a Rosberg to challenge him in the other Mercedes seat, Hamilton represents the by far strongest threat for a championship in the paddock. Mercedes F1, therefore, does not need a second driver in order to be a threat in 2017. Moreover, it was the drama with a seasoned Nico Rosberg that seemed to drive the tension that has probably shot Toto Wolff and Patty Lowe’s blood pressure through the garage ceiling on more than one occasion.

As for the young Ocon, his talent became very apparent in 2016. Even though Wehrlein beat Ocon in qualifying on 6 out of 8 occasions (Ocon did not get out for qualifying at the Italian Grand Prix), Ocon outraced Wehrlein 6-3, including the last three races in a row. However, in my opinion, he does not have enough Formula 1 experience be given the reigns to a factory ride just yet. Ocon’s time will inevitably come, but it is a big risk to put a relatively unproven talent in the hot seat of a factory ride. I would have made the same case for Verstappen in 2014. Even the baby-faced assassin got a full season of seat time at a junior team before getting bumped up. Plus, Verstappen’s call up to the senior squad in 2016 was not Red Bull’s strategy going into the season.

To me, Wehrlein is the best choice for several reasons. Chief among those reasons is timing. Not only are we essentially past the silly season, but Wehrlein could not have asked for a better time to move up. With Lewis Hamilton leading Mercedes’ charge next season, Wehrlein can develop in the factory car without having too much pressure on him. Sure, he will be expected to perform, same as Ocon would. But Wehrlein has already won a championship in DTM, which is a pretty elite touring car series. Wehrlein has proven he can handle the pressure in a top-level championship and still come out on top. Moreover, Wehrlien won his DTM championship with consistency, as he was able to bring his car to the checkers every round. The biggest asset a number two drivers can have is consistently finishing races in the points.

Second, with the new technical regulations coming in 2017, having someone who has already gone through a full season working with Formula 1 engineers would be invaluable to Mercedes. Third, If Mercedes bring on someone like Alonso, then in 2-3 years both Alonso and Hamilton may well be gone. Mercedes F1 would then have two drivers who would not have factory-level experience in F1. Now is the time, to use a Steve Matchett phrase, for Mercedes to put Wehrlein in the car and find out what they have in him.

If he doesn’t work out, Mercedes can just send him back to DTM to rack up a few more championships there. If he does do well, Mercedes will not have to put up with Hamilton’s antics unless they really want to. They will have a proven Wehrlein in one car, and Ocon waiting to come up and take Lewis’ place in the other car. If you are going to be like Mercedes, Red Bull and Renault and have young driver development programs, you need to actually use the drivers now and again to justify the program’s cost. Sure, Wehrlein or Ocon could jump ship in the future like Vettal did. But if a team is as good as Mercedes is right now, it needs to take up the opportunity to ensure their foreseeable future now.

 

American Motorcyclist Magazine Full Interview


Back in August, I was asked by American Motorcyclist Magazine Managing Editor Jim Witters for a interview concerning my involvement in the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA)’s EAGLES program. American Motorcyclist is the official magazine of the AMA, and I was delighted to see it highlighting the AMA’s political advocacy program.

The motorcycling lifestyle is under threat from several angles. Environmental  groups attempting to curtail responsible access to public lands. The sport continues to be damaged by a negative media image, and the sport touring segment continues to age without enough young people coming up through the ranks. Programs like the AMA EAGLES program are essential to combating those conditions and others that threaten the future of the motorcycling lifestyle. By equipping volunteer members who can advocate for the motorcycling community on the local, state, and national political levels, the motorcycling community is able to make its diverse community seen and heard.

I was one of several individuals interviewed for the article in American Motorcyclist. Due to space limitations, my full responses to Jim’s questions could not be reproduced in the article. My full, unedited responses can be read below.

How long have you been riding motorcycles?

I got into motorcycle riding a lot later in life than many of the other riders I know. I got my motorcycle endorsement in 2006, when I was 23, but did not start riding until Spring of 2007. I grew up in Upstate New York, and I took the MSF course in October (the weekend after a massive snowstorm). So I waited until old man winter had finished wrecking havoc before buying my first bike.

Is you riding mostly street or off-road?

I have been a strictly on-road rider. While I originally got into motorcycles after seeing what my friend’s Yamaha YZZF600R could do, I did not have the money for a true sportbike and ended up with a 1982 Honda CB450T for my first bike. I started riding back roads just to learn how to ride better, and gradually got hooked on doing longer distance rides rather than trying to ride at break-neck speeds on public roads. I am working on building a track bike to appease the speed demon in me, but am primarily a long-distance/sport touring road rider for now.

What is your current bike(s)?

My road bike is a 2003 Yamaha FJR 1300 that I bought in January 2015. The only real farkles I have added are a Sargent World Sport Seat and Spiegler brake and clutch lines. Since 2009 when I bought my previous bike (a 1998 Suzuki Bandit 1200S), I have been averaging 10,000-15,000 miles a year.

When did you decide to become more politically active in motorcycling issues? What prompted that decision?

It has been a gradual decision due to my life-long interest in politics and public policy. One of the first things I did when I started riding was join the AMA. At the time, I was trying to learn more about the sport, and the information for new riders on the AMA website proved to be very important to getting me into motorcycling the right way. As I read the American Motorcyclist magazine and reviewed the AMA’s position papers on motorcycling issues, it became apparent to me that motorcycling is facing tough challenges in the public policy arena on several fronts. For years I had used my knowledge of both motorcycling and politics to develop ideas about how to confront the motorcycling community’s public policy challenges that were both technically feasible and politically viable. When I became aware of the AMA EAGLES program, and immediately realized the potential opportunity to put my ideas into action with the support of the AMA.

Were you politically active before that on non-motorcycling issues?

Not particularly. I keep abreast of a wide range of political issues as part of my interest in the political arena. I have also done a couple minor volunteer things (e.g. door to door campaigning) for friends’ causes. That said, have shied away from direct involvement due to some of the goals I have set for my future political career. I have long been disenchanted with what I observe as the diminishing quality of what I see coming out of Washington, DC. However, when I see stories about drivers who injure motorcyclists being shown leniency, or have been stuck in the queue for a motorcycle-only checkpoint, or am forced to buy an original equipment exhaust system because an aftermarket exhaust system (that would pass the AMA’s SAE-approved sound meter test) would mean risking getting a ticket for an equipment violation, it is apparent something has to be done.

Is your EAGLES participation prompted by your desire to become more politically active? Or just to help out the AMA as a volunteer?

It’s a bit of both. Once I get my Ph.D I will become very politically active and will begin my career in elected politics. However, the more important issue here is furthering the AMA’s goals of protecting our freedoms to both ride and race. We, as a community of riders right across this country, are faced with a wide range of challenges. Many of those challenges are from sources that do not hate motorcycling, but simply do not understand it. Environmentalist groups who want to practice conservation of open land are laudable. However, those same groups need to understand responsible off-road riding on those lands, in general, does not pose a threat to their conservation practices. Similarly, towns and villages that pass so-called “bike bans” need to be educated about motorcycling, and provided with counsel about developing policies that address the issue of excessive motorcycle noise without punishing all motorcyclists for the actions of a few riders.

Have you taken direct political action on a motorcycling issue? If so, please explain what the issue was, what you did and why? What was the outcome?

Not as of yet. A college I was attending appeared to have a somewhat hostile attitude towards motorcyclists. While many of us who rode into campus parked on sidewalks and were not ticketed, the “official” motorcycle parking area was on the far end of campus, and only four spaces were provided. I ended up leaving the school before I took action. However, I had drawn up plans for something I called a “ride-in.” If my efforts to lobby on behalf of the motorcycling community at the college had failed, I was going to contact the AMA and other motorcycling organizations I am involved in and organize a protest event. Basically, the plan would have called for a large of a group of riders  to meet at a designated off-campus location, then ride into the campus area together and take up as much of the on-street and visitor parking as we could. It would be a great demonstration of both the unity and diversity of the motorcycling community. I still keep that idea in my back pocket just in case I run into a similar situation one day.

What are your plans for becoming more involved?

The first steps I plan to take are coordinating my efforts with the AMA’s needs and building up my contacts in the political arena. Based on my unique background and knowledge of public policy, I want to coordinate my efforts to make sure my talents are making the biggest impact they can for the motorcycling community. As a future politician, this is also an excellent opportunity to begin networking with elected and appointed public officials who I will be working with on a wide range of issues in the years to come. As the Road Racing Reporter for iHeart Media’s Two Wheel Power Hour Motorcycle Show, I have built up a list of contacts within the motorcycling community. By developing a presence in the political arena, one of my goals is to bring together members of both communities, on an as-needed basis, to foster the development of effective public policies that affect the motorcycling community.

What would you say to AMA members who may want to get involved, but are hesitant?

I would tell them that they do not need to do that much to make a big difference. A former classmate of mine in graduate school had a saying, “Each one, reach one, teach one.” I had adopted a similar mentality toward the discipline of professional motorcycle road racing in the U.S.. Wayne Rainey, Chuck Aksland, and Richard Varner have done a phenomenal job with developing the MotoAmerica brand. However, there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of rebuilding the sport. What the sport needs is each fan do just a little to help the series grow. Whether it is volunteering at a MotoAmerica event, providing sponsorship to a MotoAmerica rider, helping a family afford getting their kids into racing, or just inviting friends to come with them to events, if we each move the sport forward one inch, just one inch, there is no telling how far and how fast we can move the sport forward, together. It is the same with motorcycling in general. You do not have to be a big name lobbyist in Washington, DC to make a difference on the issues that affect the motorcycling community. If we can grow the AMA EAGLES ranks and equip more AMA members with the knowledge and skills to advocate for motorcyclists’ interests, and we can each make even one inch of progress on the issues the motorcycling lifestyle is facing, just imagine how fast and how far we can advance and protect our freedoms to ride and race.

What else would you like to get across in this story?

I would say one of the biggest challenges the motorcycling community faces is the image of motorcycling. Walk up to random people in your local shopping mall and ask them what comes to mind when they hear the word “motorcycle”. Chances are they will say biker gangs, kids popping wheelies down the freeway, or stunts in movies. A lot of times when I talk to non-riders about motorcycling, I feel like I am having to work hard to show I am neither a cautionless thrill-seeker or a juvenile delinquent. While we, as a community, cannot directly stop those who propel the prevailing negative media image of motorcycling, we can do an awful lot to advance a far more positive image of it. Sometimes I am rushing while I am touring, trying to get to a destination on time. But when I stop at an Interstate rest area and someone asks me about riding, I always take time to answer their questions and be friendly. Should I have to do that? Probably not, but I realize the importance advancing a more positive, friendly, safety-conscious, inclusive image of the sport. I think it is important that groups like the AMA and MotoAmerica work together to positively challenge the negative media stereotype of our community. In the public policy arena, people come up with brilliant public policies all the time that are never adopted. Real progress on public policy issues, motorcycling-related or otherwise, is a product of consensus. For us, the motorcycling community, we need to gain the support of the non-riding community on many of our issues in order to have a more effective voice at the state and national level. However, it is impossible for someone to effectively support something they do not understand. This is not to say we need to make every American a rider (though that would be great). What is needed are two things: (1) A better, general understanding of our community and chosen lifestyle, and (2) a better realization that our freedom to ride is tied to a culture of personal freedom. We need to do more to invite non-riders into our community. This is not meant to be a method of recruiting new riders, but rather recruiting new supporters. Those who want to curtail our freedoms to ride and race often know very little about our lifestyle or passion. Often they are trying to solve a problem they do not fully understand. It is important that those individuals are given the opportunity to learn more about the motorcycling community, so that they can understand how much some of their ideas or policies may unintentionally harm our freedom. We, as a community, may also want to look at building alliances with other groups whose freedom is also under attack. We absolutely need accountability with motorcycling to ensure the freedoms to ride and race are not abused. However, as I am fond of saying, accountability is a method of ensuring freedom; not unilaterally suppressing it. The freedom to ride and race and fundamentally part of a culture that promotes individual liberty and accountability over high-handed micro-management by government.

I would also like to make a particular note about getting young people involved in advocating for the motorcycling lifestyle. As a member of the up-and-coming generation, we have by-and-large become disenchanted with our Western existence. While we are blessed with a quality of life many do not have access to, it has been opined countless times that the later Generation Xers, Generation Yers, and Millennials are very apathetic toward politics and public policy. I would argue differently. Look at some of the politicians that have struck a chord with my generation. Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and even Donald Trump have, on the average, better engaged younger people than more traditional politicians like John Kerry and Mitt Romney. My theory for this is that the traditional political marketing techniques, which center around repetition, targeted personal attacks, and appealing to deeply-held values, are a turn off to the best educated and economically depressed generation in American history. Many of us grew up following what we were told to do: Go to school, get good grades, and you’ll get a good job and you will find economic security. The reality has not matched the bedtime stories for many of us. It is nearly impossible to convince this generation of the reality of the American Dream when many of us are living at home or move in with our friends to dingy apartments while working retail jobs and volunteering to try and get experience. We are also a tech-savvy generation that is not as wowed by marketing schemes. In the YouTube world we now, and for the foreseeable future will exist in, young people now have access to far more of the reality of so many parts of the world than what the 30-minute evening news could ever deliver. Our difficulty to impress with fancy, inauthentic marketing gimmicks and our financial struggles have made us a very cynical generation, and for good reason.

On the surface, this makes the outlook for the motorcycling lifestyle and the advocacy for it appear bleak. A generation that does not have the disposable income previous generations have had, and a lack of enthusiasm or even distaste for what is commonly viewed as a stale, ungenuine political system does not appear to be very reassuring. However, to me, the very core of what motorcycling is is what will make the difference for us. For those of us who ride, what is more real than the feeling of riding? The freedom, sensation, and adventure that gets our souls revved up every time we put the kickstand up is about the most authentic thing I have ever experienced. Motorcycling is also very personal. Unlike so many corporate goods and services we can obtain in a shopping mall or a big box store, each motorcycle and rider is a unique pairing. Whether it is the type of motorcycle we buy, the accessories we put on it, the roads we chose to ride, or the places we chose to travel to, each pairing is a unique, exciting, authentic story unlike any other. What we need to do is not try to tell the up-and-coming generation to ride. Rather, we need to share our experiences and lifestyle with them, and show them that our community and lifestyle is all about what they are all about. As for advocacy, we are a resourceful, creative, motivated, and compassionate generation. Thanks to the likes of social networking outlets, we are staying close to friends and family that in generations past would have been long forgotten. We are interacting with more other members of our own generation that generations past. With each of those interactions, we are learning a little more about each other and the many cultures and places we all come from. So when it comes to advocacy for the motorcycling lifestyle, I firmly believe this up-and-coming generation, with our strong sense of connection with each other, mastery of technology, intolerance for the inauthentic, and ingenuity is primed to promote and protect the motorcycling lifestyle in new, creative, and more effective ways. This generation has shown itself to be one to stand up for a good cause. We only need show them just how much the freedoms to ride and race are worth standing up for.

 

Fresh Out of the Trenches, Pits, and Paddocks: Looking Back at My First Year as a Motojournalist


I had been an avid fan and supporter of motorcycle road racing in the United States for nearly a decade. I had watched hundreds if not a thousand motorcycle races on TV, assembled an impressive library of recorded races, and had built up a fair amount of knowledge about the sport. But I always felt that there was something more I could do. I had had a notion for the longest time that I could take everything I had learned and everything my mind is capable of and contribute to rebuilding the image and popularity of the sport. In 2013, the year before the sport’s salvation appeared in the form of the KRAVE Group and its MotoAmerica brand, I tried to help the sport. I prepared a 60+ page strategic plan for how to turn the sport’s fortunes around. I will probably never fully know whether that plan made a difference in the sport’s direction. However, even then, I still believed there was more I could do. I still believed I had a bigger contribution to make to the sport that has given me so much.

Last year, an opportunity presented itself to make a bigger contribution. I had met Larry Ward and Roy Dyckman from iHeart Media’s Two Wheel Power Hour Motorcycle Show (TWPH) way back in 2009. It was sheer chance that we stayed at the same Super 8 in Greenfield, Indiana, which would become our annual meeting place for the next five years. The more we saw each other during our annual pilgrimage to the MotoGP weekend, the more Larry and Roy were able to see both my passion for and knowledge of the sport. Larry was even kind enough to give me airtime on the TWPH back in 2013 after I had mailed out my plan to the American motorcycle road racing establishment.

After I moved back to Ohio in 2014, Larry, Roy, and I began to see each other more often at motorcycle events, and eventually we hatched a plan to create a social media platform for the TWPH. As Larry is fond of saying, “Members of your generation probably cannot even find the AM band.” In an evolving world of media, I was able to assist the show in reaching new listeners and positioning it for future growth with a strong social media presence. It was a couple months after we launched the social media platform that the door opened for me to join the ranks of motojournalists.

That opportunity began with the cancellation of the MotoGP race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for 2016. One of my friends and I were planning on riding to the MotoGP race at Circuit of the Americas in 2016. Both Larry and I realized the opportunity to cover the MotoGP event for the TWPH. We immediately found some airtime for me to acclimate myself with being live on-air, as well as obtaining media credentials for both the MotoGP event and the MotoAmerica season.

I honestly was not sure what to expect as a new motojournalist. I knew a couple of riders in the MotoAmerica paddock, and had been to a dozen professional motorcycle road racing weekends. However, aside from writing an occasional article for the high school newspaper, I had never “covered” an event in my life. Larry and Roy gave me a few pointers on what they normally did when they covered an event. I also talked quite a bit with my friend Natalie Liebhaber, who covered the old Champ Car World Series for years and continues to cover the college football scene. I figured it was going to be different from the typical fan experience at an event. I realized I was not going to be able to spend every practice session snapping photos from every corner of the track or be able to peruse the vendors on the midway. Little did I realize just how different it would be, or how much I would end up enjoying it.

The MotoGP/MotoAmerica event was probably not a great choice for my first foray into covering a motorsports event. Upon walking into the media center (which is also doubles as a conference/event center during non-motorsports events), I was overwhelmed by both the sheer number of media personnel there (several hundred) as well as the plethora of information available about media scrums, press releases, and lap time sheets. Just trying to find an open spot to set up my laptop in the media center was a challenge, as there were few seats left unclaimed. It was cool to be walking through the VIP/media area behind the garages and seeing the likes of Keanu Reeves just hanging out in a team’s hospitality center, or walking by Yamaha MotoGP team boss Lin Jarvis like he was just any other bloke. However, the entire experience was a bombardment of both the senses and the mind.

To complicate matters more, I has also elected to cover the AMA Pro Flat Track race that night, and had to rush over to the dirt track to pick up my media credentials in time. I texted Natalie at some point that day, and she helped me realize I needed to be selective about what I was covering. While I was at a MotoGP event, I realized I would primarily be covering MotoAmeriva the rest of the year. So I decided to focus more of my attention there. There were just so many riders I wanted to interview, people in the MotoAmerica paddock I wanted to see or meet, and places around the track I wanted to watch the action from. Another usual part of the CotA experience were the restrictions on where I could and could not go as a media person. At most MotoAmerica events, I am allowed to work the back of pit lane. I tried going out the podium celebration, and was kept back by security. It was confusing, to say the least. Overall it was a successful weekend from a media perspective, but I quickly realized that I had an awful lot to learn.

After CotA, I was able to settle into my role as a motojournalist. Without the overwhelming environment, I was able to get to know some of the other personalities in the MotoAmerica media community and eventually began to feel like I belonged. One of the biggest parts of my job was doing interviews. My graduate coursework in qualitative research methods really came in handy. A lot of the interviews I did I didn’t record. I realized this was my first year in the press box and I needed to establish my reputation with the MotoAmerica rider community. As the season went on I was able to do just that. At the end of the season, when Josh Hayes walks into the media center and knows you by name, that’s a big success. I was still able to get out and take some pictures like I did in my fan days, but did not have nearly as much time for it. While I miss it a little, I really enjoy the media work even more. I also spent a couple weekends honing my media skills by covering the Ohio Mini Roadracing League’s event at Circleville Raceway Park and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

One of the other things I had to get used to doing was being live on-air. It sounds cool to those who have never done it, having so many people listening to what you have to say. However, it is also live: there are no second chances. If your mind slips for a second or you are not prepared, there is no take two. However, eventually you get used to it and know how to prepare and keep things brief. Though, I have to admit, I still hate hearing the sound of my own voice on the podcasts.

The most important thing I learned about media work is the importance of working together. After all the racing was done, media people do not go back to their hotel rooms and lounge around. We would all be there late, writing press releases or daily summaries. We would be sharing information back and forth, answering each other’s questions and helping each other get out of the media center at a reasonable hour. Another important skill I was able to improve on was building professional connections. Among the people in the paddock I got to know this season were Richard Varner (who met on a paddock shuttle at CotA), Wayne Rainey, Josh Hayes, Cam Beaubier, Jake Zemke, Chris Fillmore, Jake Lewis, Caroline Olson, Valentin Debise, Ashton Yates, and Jody Barry. On the minimoto side, I was able to get to know Kent Klawon and Brian Conrad from the Ohio Mini Roadracing League.

Even though it was overall a positive first season, I have a number of things I want to improve on for next season. First and foremost is my pre-event preparation. I usually did not get to the events until Saturday morning. I did not give myself enough time to review the practice times from Friday, let alone the past performance of riders and teams at each track. Also, for example, I made a mistake asking Cam Beaubier a question about qualifying times. I had forgotten that MotoAmerica had switched to using a qualifying-only rear tire in 2016. I cannot afford to make those kinds of mistakes in media work.

I also need to get into writing more. Even though I am in the radio business, I am not on the air until Tuesday night, and need to be in the business of doing more reporting from the track. I also need to do a better job at getting photographs of the riders, team members, etc. who I get interviews from. I may also transition to doing more video interviews when possible.

My first season as a motojournalist would not have been an overall success without the help of several people. Chief among them is TWPH host and editor, Larry Ward, who gave me the opportunity to show what I could do. My other associates on the TWPH, Roy Dyckman and Bob Wentzel, also provided me with support and advice during me rookie season. Richard Varner, the CEO of MotoAmerica, took the time to talk with me about the direction of the sport, and I am indebted to him and the other members of the KRAVE Group for all the work they have done to revive the sport. In the media center, I could not have learned as much as I did without guidance and advice from Sean Bice (Yamaha) and Matthew Miles. I am indebted to both of them for showing me the ropes of media work. I am also indebted to photographer Michael Brock for giving me pointers on both media work and photography. It was a pleasure to meet and chat with Brian J. Nelson, whose photographic work I have admired for years. I also need to thank Natalie Liebhaber, whose counsel and media experience was invaluable to my development as a motojournalist. To all of you, thank you so much for everything you did to help me in my first season as a motojournalist. I owe each and every one of you, and look forward to continuing to work with all of you in 2017.