Mercedes

2014 Hungarian Grand Prix

We all watch Formula 1 because we want to see the most skilled drivers in the world do what they do best. Today’s Hungarian Grand Prix give us so much of that and more.

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary - Previews

12 miles outside of Budapest stands the Hungaroring, a venue that’s been somewhat lost in a long pecking order of Formula 1 Grands Prix. However it’s at this small, twisty track where we’ve seen some of the very best driving on the calendar – today was no exception and may go down as the most exciting race we’ve seen in  2014.

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

Today’s race was really about 3 stars defying the odds and digging deep. Daniel Ricciardo, who’s taken the challenge of driving for a top flight team and owned it with class. Lewis Hamilton, who after another mechanical meltdown in qualifying, started from pit lane for the second week in a row. Fernando Alonso, who’s struggled all season with another skittish creation from the Scuderia. In many ways these 3 drivers, above all others, should be fighting at the front of the pack every Sunday.

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

For the casual Formula 1 fan, Daniel Ricciardo has come from virtually nowhere. There were a lot of discussions coming into the season over how Ricciardo would handle the move up from Toro Rosso. Would he make his own mark or would he succumb to the pressures of being Vettel’s number 2? Those questions were answered early on in the season and he’s since become the dominant driver at Red Bull. While his teammate has continued to struggle with the new V6 power units and a less than ideal RB10 chassis, Ricciardo has made the car work for him and been all smiles throughout the process. The Australian has proven all season long that he has every right to be up front battling World Champions, as exhibited last weekend in Germany and today in Hungary. He’s the dark horse of Formula 1 right now and could be the biggest threat to the 1-2 punch of Mercedes. With Alonso’s endorsement, the Scuderia will surely be seeing what they can do to coax the Australian into a future contract.

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

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Lewis Hamilton can’t seem to catch a break lately and has been experiencing Felipe Massa levels of bad luck. After a brilliant drive from pit lane to a podium finish at Hockenheim, it was déjà vu in Budapest after his car was engulfed in flames during Saturday’s Q1. Sunday would see another start from pit lane for Hamilton and another pole for his teammate Nico Rosberg. It’s been hard to argue the conspiracy theorists over German favoritism at the Mercedes camp, but in reality what good would the team favoring Rosberg actually do? Hamilton over the years has been a driver of extremes – epically fast, skilled and riddled with bad luck. On the notoriously tight and difficult to pass Hungaroring, Hamilton yet again drove to epic levels, navigating his way through the field to take the fight up front. Midway through the race, he was ordered to let his teammate through. It was a strange request considering Rosberg was over a second behind at the time. Hamilton challenged the order and didn’t relinquish the position, which probably saved him later in the race.

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GP UNGHERIA F1/2014

Despite epic drives from Ricciardo and Hamilton, it was Fernando Alonso who was the true hero in Hungary. Alonso managed only his second podium of the season, but it was as good as a win for the Scuderia who have struggled all season long. The 2nd place finish was hard fought and Alonso managed one hell of a stint for 10 laps on ruined tires. Despite the car, Alonso manages to pull 110% from it every race weekend, it really is astounding. Some of the other, more vocal drivers on the grid should be talking notes on how it’s done. The way he managed to hold off 2 superior cars for as long as he did was world class and hopefully the beginning of many more podium finishes for Alonso this season.

GP UNGHERIA F1/2014

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

Weather played a major role in today’s race and tire strategy was crucial. Some teams like Mercedes got it right, while others namely McLaren did their drivers in on poor strategies. Given the conditions, there were real possibilities Jenson Button could’ve been fighting up front at the end of the race, however a bad call from the team to put him on inters ruined any hopes of a podium. Others lost control entirely and suffered major crashes including Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Force India’s Sergio Perez. Neither of the Force India cars finished, closing the door on the long running points streak Nico Hulkenberg had.

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Jenson Button in the pit lane.

A disheveled Nico Rosberg looked to have been crying prior to the media scrum following the race. The reality is that the German is an inferior driver to his teammate, he just has the good fortune of driving the most competitive car on the grid. Given the field were completely equal in terms of performance, Rosberg would contend for a spot in the top 10, but not be fighting up front. Should he win the WDC this year, it’s likely to be a 1 and done. The true stars of the show were alive and well in Hungary. It was a battle between 3 of the most naturally gifted drivers in international motor sport and it was quite a show.

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

We’re past the halfway mark of the 2014 season – it’s absolutely flown by hasn’t it? The annual summer holiday will take us through the end of August to some of the sport’s truly epic Grands Prix at Spa Francorchamps and Monza. In the meantime, bravo Hungary!

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

The Gift Of Winning

Conspiracy theories are usually a complete waste of time. However, it’s hard to ignore what’s been playing out at Mercedes the last few weekends.

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For the second consecutive week, Lewis Hamilton has suffered major reliability issues in qualifying. Meanwhile his teammate Nico Rosberg has clinched pole position.

Earlier this week, rumors of Mercedes courting Sebastian Vettel surfaced. While that’s probably a long shot, it would be in the team’s best interests to have a German World Champion.

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Tomorrow should be an interesting show. The Hungaroring is a notoriously difficult track to pass on and Hamilton certainly has his work cut out starting from the back of the pack.

Last week I suggested that Hamilton would leave Mercedes should Rosberg clinch the WDC. That outcome is looking more and more likely, especially as the inferior driver of the two continues to dominate the sport with faultless reliability.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

2014 German Grand Prix

Today’s German Grand Prix marked the halfway point in a 2014 Formula 1 season dominated by Mercedes AMG Petronas.

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The Hockenheimring played host to Round 10 of the World Championship but you wouldn’t have guessed much was at stake by the thousands of empty seats around the track. FOM have taken considerable criticism in recent months over the absurd prices they’re charging for tickets. Given that Germany is one of the wealthiest and most motorsport-crazed countries on the calendar, the lack of attendance further raises criticism.

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On the heels of the German National Football Team’s World Cup dominance, the Formula 1 media made sure the attention was on Nico Rosberg, who was coming off of a retirement at Silverstone. The driver has been particularly vocal about half German heritage in the last few weeks and it became one of the primary story lines in the weeks leading up to the Grand Prix. Ultimately Rosberg did his do diligence and took the first “home” victory of his career. Most have been under the impression the Monaco was Rosberg’s home race, but apparently he drives for Germany. The whole thing is very confusing as Lewis Hamilton illustrated in the press earlier in the week – “He is German-Finnish-Monaco-esque, or whatever.”

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Things didn’t fare so well for Hamilton on Saturday as he suffered a catastrophic failure of his right front brake caliper, which sent him into the barriers during Q2. He started the race from P20 and executed one hell of a drive, navigating a difficult field to ultimately finish on the podium in 3rd. Hamilton looked dejected during the podium ceremony, as he often does when the result isn’t a win.

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The tension in the Mercedes paddock has clearly boiled over and it appears both drivers are barely on speaking terms. It does seem awfully odd that Hamilton has been receiving the brunt of the bad luck this season, in terms of reliability and slow pitstops. Despite a retirement for Rosberg at Silverstone, the rest of his season has gone without incident. It’ll be interesting to see how the remainder of 2014 plays out for both drivers. Judging by the recent long-term contract extension for Rosberg and the overwhelming support of the team, Hamtilon will certainly feel as if he’s playing second fiddle at Mercedes.

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Elsewhere on the grid, more horrible luck for Williams and Felipe Massa. Massa can’t seem to catch a break this season and Germany marks the third Grand Prix in a row where he’s been involved in a crash. Luck wasn’t on his side at Silverstone as he became the collateral damage of Kimi Raikkonen’s off, but unfortunately heading into turn 1 at Hockenheim, Massa left McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen nowhere to go, which resulted in one of the worst looking crashes of 2014 and saw the Williams FW36 sliding on its top side.

Massa claims to have done nothing wrong, but this wouldn’t be the first time the Brazilian has refused to take responsibility. At times his mistakes have seemed very questionable for such a veteran racer. With the Mercedes-powered FW36 performing so well, Massa has all the opportunities to win races if he can keep himself out of harm’s way.

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His teammate Valtteri Bottas has been making increasing waves recently and started from P2 after an excellent Q3 on Saturday. Ailing tires in the final laps of the race did nothing to favor Bottas, who still managed to hold off a charging Hamilton to finish 2nd. It was a consistently solid performance from start to finish for the Finn.

F1 Grand Prix of Germany - Previews

GP GERMANIA F1/2014

The real show of the day was an excellent bout between the F14 T of Fernando Alonso and the RB10 of Daniel Ricciardo. Germany was the second Grand Prix in a row where Alonso did what he does best against Red Bull Racing.

F1 Grand Prix of Germany

After Vettel’s petulant whining over the job of battling Alonso at Silverstone, it was a breath of fresh air to see Ricciardo take the challenge in stride and put up an honorable fight against the Ferrari. With the increasing levels of gimmicks being added to the sport and the FIA’s absurd desire for more “road relevancy”, these kinds of battles will continue to be a rarity.

GP GERMANIA F1/2014

Recently, Luca di Montezemolo called the drivers “taxi drivers” because the sport requires them to structure their races around fuel and tire savings. There’s a reason it’s called racing and fans want to see the very best drivers in the world going at the absolute limit for 58 laps. If refueling and longer lasting tires are required to do that, than so be it. Environmentalists have no shortage of other causes to seek out in place of exercising their blame game culture on international motorsport.

F1 Grand Prix of Germany

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With the summer break looming, the teams will have to make the tough choice of fighting until the end of the season or throwing in the towel on 2014. Outside of Mercedes, Red Bull and Williams, it’s likely most teams will choose the latter. Despite Alonso’s best efforts on Sundays, the F14 T has been another misstep for Ferrari. The same can be said for McLaren, who have been historically bad the last 2 seasons. Neither of Formula 1’s winningest teams will want to carry on like this in 2015, which is why early development will likely take the priority.

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The Hockenheimring may have played host to it’s last German Grand Prix. With their FOM contract expiring, it’s likely the event will remain at the Nürburgring annually. It wouldn’t be a huge loss to the sport as the track’s changed layout diminished everything that made it so brilliant in the first place. Today’s foibles by the stewards were highly unacceptable and a far cry from the Germany’s stereotypical efficiency. The safety car absolutely should’ve been deployed after Adrian Sutil’s Sauber became stranded on the home straight during lap 47. The trackside marshalls were also very slow to respond and it’s this level of confusion than can be so dangerous for the other drivers. The fact that the FIA can overlook incidents like this, while trying to enforce more “road relevant” cars shows just what a fractured and outlandish organization Jean Todt is running.

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F1 Grand Prix of Germany

The teams head to Budapest this week for the Hungarian Grand Prix next Sunday. The Hungaroring is a track where Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have done well historically so next weekend should be very interesting indeed.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

2014 Monaco Grand Prix

While the rivalry at Mercedes is hardly the Senna-Prost sequel the media keep alluding to, things definitely got awkward following yesterday’s Monaco Grand Prix.

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Over the past couple of months Lewis Hamilton hasn’t passed on an opportunity to take jabs at his Mercedes teammate. Whether it be commentary on Rosberg’s lavish upbringing or claims that their friendship is far more distant than it seems, Hamilton has made it abundantly clear that he’s vying for top driver’s honors within the team. Watching the teammates’ body language following the last few races has become a favorite past time of the F1 media and while things have grown progressively more awkward, it all came to a head in Monaco.

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Saturday’s qualifying saw both Silver Arrows comfortably ahead of the pack and it really was a question of which Mercedes driver would take pole. Rosberg looked more comfortable on track all weekend but a mistake at the end of Q3 cost the remainder of the grid their flying laps, including a very unhappy Hamilton who would start from P2.

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In the press conference that followed, a downtrodden Hamilton sat alongside an exuberant Rosberg and attempted to downplay the incident.

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While the glitz and glamor have always made the Monaco Grand Prix the hottest ticket on the F1 calendar, the racing has been less than spectacular in recent years. Yesterday’s running was no exception with plenty of safety car laps and very little passing on track.

GP MONACO F1/2014

Ferrari entered the weekend with realistic aspirations and appeared to be slightly more competitive up front. Kimi Raikkonen got off to an excellent start but ultimately fell back in the field after getting hit by Marussia’s Max Chilton and suffering a puncture.

GP MONACO F1/2014

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Things fared better for Fernando Alonso who finished a respectable 4th, while struggling to keep up with the much quicker Silver Arrows and the RB10 of Daniel Ricciardo.

F1 Grand Prix of Monaco - Previews

The situation between Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull continued to fracture. After starting from P4, Vettel experienced turbo issues which cut his race short after 5 laps. Somewhere on a yacht in the Monaco harbor, Mark Webber was celebrating. The 4 times World Champion has gotten little support from Red Bull’s top brass all season long.

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It really does appear that Vettel is out on an island by himself at this point. Perhaps a Ferrari contract is in his back pocket and the team knows it? His teammate Daniel Ricciardo isn’t helping Vettel’s case.

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After a solid qualifying which Ricciardo discribed as “disappointing”, he was able to close the gap with Hamilton in the final laps of the race. Had there been a few more laps, it may have been Ricciardo finishing 2nd instead of 3rd.

Jenson Button on track.

Retirements were abundant throughout the grid, as they tend to be in Monaco. Both Williams and McLaren had mediocre weekends. Valtteri Bottas failed to finish while his teammate Felipe Massa came 7th behind the McLaren of Jenson Button. Signs of age appear to be showing for both veterans who are being out-performed by their much younger teammates.

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It will be interesting to see how much longer McLaren are willing to hold on to Button and Williams to Massa.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Monaco Grand Prix - Saturday - Monte Carlo, Monaco

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Despite safety cars and the supposed debris in Hamilton’s eye, the real story of the weekend didn’t happen out on track, but directly following the race in pit lane. After Rosberg accepted his 2nd of back-to-back Monaco wins, all eyes were on the Mercedes teammates and how they would receive one another. A sour grapes Hamilton avoided making eye contact and quickly left the scene after answering a few questions from Benedict Cumberbatch. No handshakes and certainly no congratulations where given. The UK tabloids will be especially busy in the lead up to Montreal.

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F1 Grand Prix of Monaco

Speculations aside, I love a good rivalry. This social movement that demands we should all be PC and great friends with one another just doesn’t work in sports – it doesn’t work in real life either. Watching 2 NBA teams hug it out at the end of a hard fought Playoffs battle, dilutes everything fans just witnessed. Seeing athletes at the top of them game is seeing individuals completely focused on one thing – winning. I don’t blame either of the Mercedes drivers for their respective moods over the outcome of yesterday’s Monaco Grand Prix. In fact, I’d like to see more of it between all the drivers. Rivalries are good for business. They keep people engaged, they keep the media talking, they put eyeballs on the TV come race day. We complain when F1 is a procession and nothing happens on track. Now we’re on the cusp of a truly great interteam rivalry. Maybe it won’t be Senna-Prost II, but it will keep things interesting for Formula 1 and interesting is good for business.

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Montreal is in 2 weeks.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

2014 Spanish Grand Prix

Many would consider the Spanish Grand Prix to be the actual start of the 2014 Formula 1 season, kicking off the European leg of the sport. As with quite a few of the Grands Prix we’ve seen this season, the interteam dynamics and off track storylines have been far more interesting than what we’ve seen on track. For the most part the Spanish Grand Prix at the newly renamed Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya was an uneventful affair, with teams sticking to their strategies in this 2 stopper.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Spanish Grand Prix - Race Day - Barcelona, Spain

One of the most interesting aspects of the 2014 season has been the interteam battles, most notably Mercedes. The duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg started the 2014 campaign as 2 of the friendliest teammates in Formula 1, but as the season’s progressed, the relationship has deteriorated to that of respectful coworkers and nothing more. Hamilton was quoted in the media saying of all his closest friends Rosberg wasn’t one of them. His teammate made similar comments and it made abundantly clear that both would be vying for the clear number 1 within the team.

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On paper, Rosberg was favored all weekend long. He put down consistently better lap times in Friday practice and qualifying but in the end it was Hamilton who was able to dig deep and put the W05 on pole. While not particularly a champion’s drive today, Hamilton maintained consistency from the start and took his 4th consecutive victory this season. Rosberg finished within 1 second of his teammate to take 2nd place and the body language following the race was anything but friendly.

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Hamilton’s dynamic with the team was a departure from this season’s previous races. Lots of second guessing over the radio and a general frustration from the driver over the car’s twitchy performance. It was a telling sign of just how tense things have become in the Mercedes garages and it will be an interesting storyline to follow as the season progresses. The team’s domination over the sport right now is very Red Bull-esque and by the end of the race both Mercedes’ drivers had lapped the entire field with the exception of the 2 Red Bulls, the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso. There was an expectation that the other teams would bring more of a fight to Mercedes after the 3 week break, but no one is close. Right now the World Championship is Hamilton’s to lose.

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Things throughout the rest of the field were business as usual. Ferrari seemed to have made some improvements during the 3 week break and Kimi Raikkonen was clearly communicating better with the F14 T, much to the dismay of Alonso who was keen to capture a podium at his home Grand Prix. Despite the car’s lack of performance Alonso gives it his all every race weekend.

GP SPAGNA F1/2014

Say what you will about his past indiscretions with McLaren and Renault, the guy cares immensely and is able to squeeze every ounce of performance from every car. Alonso remained behind his teammate for much of the race but was able to overtake Raikkonen and finished 6th overall. The real question is how much longer Alonso will put up with Ferrari’s lack of performance. With more competition from his teammate, it seems a matter of time before the driver heads somewhere else.

Spanish F1 Grand Prix - Race

Red Bull remained inconsistent all weekend. While Daniel Ricciardo settled into the RB10, Sebastian Vettel had a hellacious Friday practice and qualifying. To top things off, he was handed a 5 grid spot penalty and started in 15th. Vettel has been very vocal in the media all season long about his distaste for the new cars and Red Bull’s performance. This week he called for more aggressive cars, which seems to be the very reason he’s currently struggling. Without the exhaust blown diffusers of last season, Vettel has been unable to get the same kind of traction out of the corners. This has largely been his achilles heel in 2014 – in season’s past Vettel could hold down the accelerator at the exit with full confidence that the car would maintain grip.

Spanish F1 Grand Prix - Race

Most of his complaints boil down to a lack of success and the fact that Ricciardo is outdriving him certainly isn’t helping. It’s interesting how the team have largely abandoned Vettel’s corner. Horner and Newey have nearly resorted to radio silence in the media and it begs the question that Vettel could be leaving soon for Ferrari, where he may have already signed a pre-contract. Loyalties certainly seem to be shifting in the Red Bull paddock and Mark Webber must be enjoying every minute of it.

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Elsewhere on the grid, Valtteri Bottas gave Williams another reason to keep believing. He once again outdrove his teammate Felipe Massa and finished a very respectable 5th. The Lotus of Romain Grosjean and the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10 spots. McLaren were yet again nowhere to be found all race.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Spanish Grand Prix - Race Day - Barcelona, Spain

After some respectable times on Friday, Jenson Button barely made it into Q3 on Saturday and struggled today, finishing 11th with his teammate Kevin Magnussen just behind in 12th. Still without a title sponsor 5 races into the season and one really has to wonder what’s going on at McLaren. Theoretically they should be doing far better with the superior Mercedes engines. They looked strong in pre season testing and have fallen every race since. Not good enough Ron.

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With Spain in the books and the teams back in Europe, it’s really starting to feel like Formula 1 is properly underway. Next stop is Monaco in 2 weeks!

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

2014 Australian Grand Prix

Formula 1 had an interesting and at times controversial offseason heading into 2014. The FIA imposed the biggest technical and sporting rules changes the sport has seen in decades and this weekend marked the beginning of Formula 1’s next turbo era. After a slew of driver shakeups in the winter months and testing heavily dominated by Mercedes power, the teams arrived at Melbourne’s Albert Park not really knowing what to expect.

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Race

Historically, the Australian Grand Prix is unique in the way that virtually anything can happen, while at the same time telling us very little of how the season will ultimately play out. In many ways it’s an extension of winter testing, a exhibition race and a chance for the teams and drivers to feel things out and readjust to the grueling schedule of the next 9 months.

Heading into the weekend one thing was abundantly clear, Red Bull were not the favorites.

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Race

After a very difficult showing at winter testing, Red Bull struggled to keep the RB10 on track. A slew of mechanical problems from the new Renault V6 turbo engines and Red Bull’s own chassis design faults had many jumping ship on hope that they would win their 5th consecutive championship. The season is still in its infancy however and anything can happen. This point was proven when Daniel Ricciardo outdrove his teammate Sebastian Vettel all weekend long, eventually finishing in 2nd place, his first Formula 1 podium. But for as fast as Ricciardo tasted success in front of his countrymen, it was taken away when the FIA disqualified him.

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Race

With the introduction of the new V6 turbo engines, a slew of complex and frankly boring technical regulations have been implemented in 2014. The intricacies of exactly why Ricciardo was disqualified are complex and difficult to understand but ultimately the RB10 exceed the required fuel flow of 100kg/h. In short, his team let him down.

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Practice

Red Bull were well aware of this particular rule and rather than using an FIA approved fuel sensor, they opted to use their own. Conspiracy theorists have claimed that the move was intentional and Red Bull remain confident that they can win their appeal of the ruling. In the meantime, Ricciardo will have to play the waiting game and emotions of yesterday’s podium will reduced to what ifs. Despite the technicalities, Ricciardo had an excellent drive and showed everyone that he’s ready to take on Vettel and hold his own at one of the sport’s most successful organizations.

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Questions loomed as to how many of the cars would actually finish the Austrailan Grand Prix. With so many unknowns following testing, it was a coin toss as to who would come out on top. Embarrassingly both Marussias had to start from pit lane after stalling on the grid and causing a second formation lap. Also starting from the pits was the Lotus of Romain Grosjean who suffered a gearbox failure on Saturday. After the highs of last season, Lotus have had a hellacious start to 2014 after losing Kimi Raikkonen to Ferrari and Team Principal Eric Boullier to McLaren.

After an unspectacular start, the Caterham of Kamui Kobayashi experienced a KERS failure which caused his rear brakes not to work. He collided with a rejuvenated Felipe Massa in the Williams, ending their days prematurely.

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Pole sitter and favorite to win, Lewis Hamilton retired within the first 5 laps after the engine of his Mercedes Silver Arrow went kaput. It was a surprising development after both Mercedes’ looked fantastic heading into the season opener. Hamilton’s teammate Nico Rosberg on the other hand, built a fantastic lead and piloted the W05 to his first victory at Albert Park. The drive was Vettel-esque and showed everyone just what an advantage the works Mercedes team has over the competition.

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A little further back McLaren had their own rejuvenation. 2013 was a disaster for McLaren and their worst season since 1980. After a brief, unsuccessful stint with Sergio Perez, the team signed rookie Kevin Magnussen in the offseason. Hoping to catch a similar lightening in a bottle to Hamilton’s rookie debut, the Dane didn’t disappoint.

Kevin Magnussen celebrates his podium finish.

McLaren had one of the busiest off seasons of any team in Formula 1. After last year’s disaster, Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh was shown the exit. The move allowed Ron Dennis to re-shift his focus to the company’s motor sports program after stepping away to oversee McLaren’s road car division.

Racing Director Eric Boullier in the garage.

With Dennis back at the helm, Eric Boullier made a sudden exit from Lotus to join the Woking team. McLaren are certainly in rebuilding mode in 2014 and will continue to be through the end of next season as they adapt to their new partnership with Honda. In the meantime, they had a fantastic showing at Albert Park. Magnussen drove as cool as a cucumber and secured a comfortable 3rd place finish with his teammate Jenson Button 3 seconds behind in 4th. If the Ricciardo disqualification holds, the McLaren boys will be bumped up to 2nd and 3rd place respectively. The team’s consistency has them leading the Constructor’s Championship headed to Sepang. Though it’s only the first race of the season, it’s a remarkable result for a team that lost it’s identity in 2013.

Jenson Button on track.

McLaren’s main rivals at Scuderia Ferrari proved they still have a lot of work to do. Kimi Raikkonen appeared uninspired throughout most of the weekend, while Fernando Alosno did his best to cope with the new car. Ferrari have struggled with the learning curve over the last few seasons and proved they have a lot of work to do still. Alonso finished 4th overall with his teammate Raikkonen in 7th.

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Further back Valterri Bottas produced a solid drive in the new look Williams Martini Racing FW36. The start of his second season in Formula 1 saw the Finn finish 5th overall. Williams were heavy favorites heading into the weekend and I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of them up front in 2014.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Australian Grand Prix - Race Day - Melbourne, Australia

Nico Hulkenberg had a nice showing in the Force India and proved he made exactly the right decision to leave Sauber. The German was very racy and had a proper wheel-to-wheel bout with Alonso. The Force India pairing of Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez could prove to be the most exciting young driver combination of 2014. After Raikkonen’s weak Ferrari debut, many are scratching their heads over whether or not the Scuderia made the right driver signing.

Retirements were abundant at Albert Park on Sunday. With Hamilton and Vettel forced to call it quits in the opening laps, we leave the season opener with even more questions than answers. It was interesting to see the way the young drivers have adapted more quickly to the new cars than the veterans. Pirelli also remained largely out of the controversial limelight with longer lasting tire compounds which saw a 1 stopper.

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For all the hype about the new V6 turbos, they’ve fallen short in nearly every regard. While seeing and hearing the cars in person is a massively different experience, the majority of fans at home have been left largely unimpressed. The new engine notes are so quiet they’re virtually unheard on TV. The cars also appear quite a bit slower than last year’s spec. From a spectacle standpoint the 2014 cars have (so far) fallen flat. Promises of heavy oversteer, more competitive wheel-to-wheel battles, steeped in a space age soundtrack where largely missing from the weekend’s events. While it’s still very early, you can’t help but question if Formula 1 has indeed sold it’s soul to the environmentalists. Motor sports should be an escape for fans. We should be treated to something that’s wildly different than what we encounter on the daily commute. Pushing the envelope and doing so in stunning style has always been Formula 1’s party piece. They’ve become too sensible, too governed, too vanilla. The result is 10 teams running scared. There are so many rules to follow, so many technical regulations to adhere to that rather than push for 58 laps, Formula 1 Grands Prix have become exercises in conservation. The sport’s bottom line as been reduced to such a level that many fans are jumping ship.

F1 - GRAND PRIX OF AUSTRALIA 2014

We’ll witness many exciting personal and team story lines this season but the product on track will continue to be marginalized I fear. The changes need to start at the top. The FIA just need to let the drivers go out and race.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

2014 Mercedes AMG W05

It feels weird seeing Mercedes headed into the 2014 season without Ross Brawn at the helm. After parting ways with the team in the offseason, speculation remains as to where he’ll end up. Could we see a midseason shakeup with Brawn at McLaren? Time will tell.

For now, the W05 and I must say, not a bad looking car for a change.

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Mercedes have a gone a similar route to Ferrari with a sloped nose design.

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An updated and improved livery also adorns the W05. Perhaps Mercedes caught wind that McLaren were copying their paint scheme and opted for more teal?

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Hopefully the car will be better at managing tires this season. In 2013 Lewis Hamilton was plagued with horrific tire wear and was forced to dial back his performance on a number occasions.

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He was on hand for testing with teammate Nico Rosberg and sporting a brand new head of hair.

However, soon after taking the car on track, Hamilton’s front wing failed, resulting in his first crash of the season.

A tough break for the brand new W05.

Photos courtesy of Mercedes & F1 Fanatic.

The 2013 Japanese Grand Prix

Today’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit produced the kind of unpredictability and tension that have been lacking from the sport in recent months. Despite another Vettel win, the rest of the field was very much up for grabs.

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Spa-Francorchamps may have the must stunning backdrop and Monza the most interesting heritage, but Suzuka without a doubt, has to be the most exciting circuit in Formula 1. Beloved by the drivers and fans, Suzuka Circuit was originally intended as a test track for Honda (which they still use today). The track was designed in 1962 by John Hugenholtz and features an out and back, figure-8 design. Suzuka is a brilliant mix of high speed straights, flowing S-curves and tight hairpins. Its design can yield high rewards for the most precise drivers, however making a mistake can prove costly, as we all witnessed throughout the weekend.

F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race

Sebastian Vettel arrived in Japan with the Driver’s Championship all but clinched and would’ve been crowned today, had it not been for a 4th place finish by Fernando Alonso. Red Bull Racing’s prowess experienced a few glitches early in the weekend with a KERS problem on Vettel’s RB9. The absence of KERS may have given Mark Webber the break he needed as he secured his first pole since Korea in 2012.

2013 Japanese Grand Prix - Sunday

The RB9s of Webber and Vettel had lackluster starts from the front row. Amidst the scramble, Vettel made contact with the W04 of Lewis Hamilton past the pit exit. A solid performance from Webber however was not enough and a change in tire strategy saw him pit 3 times and eventually lose P1 to his teammate. Following the race, Webber kept things upbeat but there was little doubt his team let him down. After pitting for the first time in lap 12, Webber was back in on lap 26 which meant a 3rd stop was all but certain. Had the engineers kept the driver out for another 5 laps, Webber likely would’ve taken the car to the end and won his first Grand Prix of the season. A 2nd place finish was the best consolation for Webber, but a disappointing result in contrast to a win that should’ve been his. It was interesting to hear the panic in Vettel’s voice during radio transmissions as he was held up in traffic towards the end. With Romain Grosjean and Webber shrinking the gap, Vettel’s response was a departure from his usually calculated demeanor.

2013 Japanese Grand Prix - Sunday

The day saw another fantastic drive from Romain Grosjean in the Lotus. After an excellent start from P4, he took the lead into turn 1 and proved to be a difficult challenge for Webber throughout the race. It’s been a massive evolution for Grosjean over the last 12 months. In 2012, he was branded a lunatic by his rivals after causing numerous racing incidents. Fast forward to 2013 and Grosjean is beginning to exhibit the level of skill and maturity that Lotus will need in a leader following the departure of Kimi Raikkonen next season.

2013 Japanese Grand Prix - Sunday

The unpredictable nature of racing at Suzuka provided some excellent shuffling across the field. Nico Hulkenberg and his Sauber teammate Esteban Gutierrez were quick all weekend and out drove the likes of McLaren and Scuderia Ferrari for much of the race. Gutierrez achieved a stunning 7th place finish with his teammate Hulkenberg just a head in 6th.

GP Spanien 2013

Hulkenberg has become one of the heroes of Formula 1 and there are rumblings that he’s close to inking a deal with Lotus for 2014. The combination of the German and Romain Grosjean would be fantastic to watch and a great opportunity for Hulkenberg who’s never gotten the big break he so deserves.

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Fernando Alonso’s frustration with Scuderia Ferrari continued throughout the weekend. While it seemed unlikely he would ever leave the team, never say never. The F138 continues to struggle against its rivals from Mercedes and Red Bull Racing and a much deserved 4th place finish was the best Alonso could do at Suzuka.

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His teammate Felipe Massa performed well in qualifying and started from P5. Ultimately he secured the final World Championship point finishing 10th overall.

Penalties and mechanical errors contributed in large part to a disappointing weekend for Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton qualified behind the Red Bull’s on Saturday, just before sharing a stone-soaked handshake with rival Vettel.

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Despite Hamilton’s PR-friendly Twitter feed, his dissatisfaction with Mercedes’ performance is written all over his face. Hamilton suffered another blow today after getting clipped by Vettel at the start of the race. A tire puncture sent him to the pits after lap 1 and the subsequent damage to the W04’s brakes ended his hopes prematurely.

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His teammate Nico Rosberg was handed a drive-through penalty after leaving the pits early and nearly colliding with the incoming Sergio Perez. The penalty contributed to an 8th place finish and not the kind of result Mercedes were looking for.

Jenson in his cockpit

As beloved by the Japanese fans as Jenson Button and McLaren are, their support did little for the team who are in their worst slump in over 20 years. Button spent a majority of today’s race trading places with his teammate Sergio Perez, who was unable to break into Q3 on Saturday.

Sergio in action

McLaren have declined to answer questions about their driver lineup in 2014 but at the moment no one is safe. While it’s likely Button will continue on with the team, Perez’s fate is more uncertain.

F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race

Overall an entertaining Japanese Grand Prix and one that fans certainly needed. It’s unlikely the rest of the season’s “Tilkedomes” will provide the same brand of racing and Vettel will certainly get his crown by Abu Dhabi. On the other side of things, inconsistent calls from the stewards continue to plague the sport. At some point they forgot it’s called “racing” and an emphasis on safety and over policing the drivers have many up in arms. Today’s controversial penalties provided for some very candid and blunt driver interviews in the media scrum following the race.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Japanese Grand Prix - Practice Day - Suzuka, Japan

There are just 4 races to go in this 2013 season! Formula 1 heads to the Buddh International Circuit in 2 weeks for the Indian Grand Prix.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

Flip-Flopper?

It’s become clear that fans aren’t the only ones frustrated over Sebastian Vettel’s winning streak and the way it’s begun to dilute the sport.

After a difficult Korean Grand Prix on Sunday, Lewis Hamilton was outspoken with his views on Vettel and how Formula 1 has become boring. Hamilton does have point and it’s likely most of the other drivers share his sentiments. His comments yesterday are all well and good, but tonight Hamilton took to Twitter to “clarify” things.

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Something is fishy here…

These seem less like the words of Hamilton and more like the words of a PR agency.

Something tells me the guy who accused the paddock of “hanging their balls in the pool” wouldn’t offer the same scripted kind words to his rival.

The 2013 Korean Grand Prix

Since 2010, the Korean Grand Prix has been something of an enigma on the Formula 1 calendar. Originally intended as the first piece of a large development project near the coastal city of Mokpo, it never gained the same prestige or the audience as other contemporary events in Singapore and Austin. The Korea International Circuit produces a similar brand of racing we’ve become familiar with from other Herman Tilke tracks and its location, 400km south of Seoul, has made it a difficult destination for spectators.

Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Korean Grand Prix, Preparations, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Thursday 3 October 2013.

The decision to hold a Formula 1 Grand Prix in Korea has always been a puzzling one. The country has little to no motor sports pedigree and the event has largely gone under the radar with local fans. In its earlier days, there were reports of year-old food being left to rot in the fridges of hospitality suites and a general lack of upkeep to the multi-million dollar facility. While this year’s turnout was significantly better than in years past, it’s very likely the Korean Grand Prix will suffer a similar fate to Turkey and be bumped from the calendar.

Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Korean Grand Prix, Race Day, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday 6 October 2013.

The Formula 1 media at large would have us all believe we’re watching a fantastic style of racing, but that would be a massive oversight. In what has become another season of total domination from Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing, the sport’s recent Grands Prix have been uninspired and for the most part boring exercises of tire management.

Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Korean Grand Prix, Race Day, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday 6 October 2013.

If Vettel victories with 30 second gaps are your idea of Formula 1 at its best then maybe you disagree, but until the other teams step their games up significantly or Vettel experiences catastrophic levels of unreliability, we’re all witnessing another uncontested World Championship.

Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Korean Grand Prix, Race Day, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday 6 October 2013.

Rounding out the podium with Vettel was a Lotus 2-3 of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. The latter has been particularly quick in recent weeks and put on a strong showing today in Korea. While Ferrari didn’t have the best of luck, they were surely pleased to see their future driver (Raikkonen) maintain business as usual with another podium finish.

Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Korean Grand Prix, Race Day, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday 6 October 2013.

Grosjean is making a strong case for himself as Lotus’ leader in 2014 and it will be interesting to see who they sign as his teammate.

Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Korean Grand Prix, Race Day, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday 6 October 2013.

Mercedes were favored throughout the weekend with Lewis Hamilton starting in P2 and his teammate Nico Rosberg in P5. Unfortunately for Hamilton, the race was an uphill battle after starting from the dirty side of the track and spending most of the day holding off Fernando Alonso and looking at the back end of a very quick Nico Hulkenberg. The Mercedes driver didn’t hide his frustration over the team’s tire strategy which lead to one of the best radio transmissions of the season: “When are you gonna call me in man? These tires are fucked!” While Hamilton’s frustration with the way this season has played out is understandable, consider this is the same driver who was willing to call this season a bust just 12 months ago.

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Meanwhile, Rosberg suffered his own issues while attempting to overtake his teammate. The W04’s nose cone detached and forced an unscheduled pit stop. The time in the pits ruined any chances of Rosberg fighting for a podium.

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The Mercedes drivers finished in P5 and P7 respectively, with Hamilton ahead of his teammate.

After offering his friend a lift in Singapore 2 weeks ago, Fernando Alonso was highly critical of Pirelli’s tires following a difficult qualifying session on Saturday.

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Alonso’s growing frustration with all aspects of the sport could be attributed to yet another season of watching his World Championship hopes slip away. Alonso has given everything he can on Sundays, but the F138 just isn’t on par with the RB9.

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His teammate Felipe Massa went off the track early in lap 1 but managed to keep his car in the points, ultimately finishing in P9 with his teammate ahead in P6.

Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Korean Grand Prix, Race Day, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday 6 October 2013.

McLaren’s Sergio Perez suffered his second on track blowout of the season, causing the first safety car of the day. Pirelli received a lot of criticism throughout the weekend for high tire degradation and a lack of rear grip.

Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Korean Grand Prix, Race Day, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday 6 October 2013.

The buildup of tire debris  was exceptionally high compared to other recent Grands Prix. Much of the criticisim has come from Mark Webber who suffered a puncture following Perez’s blow out: “I got a Pirelli puncture from a Pirelli tire so… impressive.”

F1 Grand Prix of Korea - Previews

For the second race in a row, Webber was unable to finish after being t-boned by Force India’s Adrian Sutil. The collision started a fire on the RB9 which Webber presumed was from the KERS. It’s become a frustrating final leg of the season for Webber and not the way he would hope to leave the sport.

On a brighter note, Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg continues to make his case for a drive with a top flight team.

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Hulkenberg was outstanding after starting from P8 and making a charge past the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton into P4. He spent most of the race fending off Hamilton who’s W04 was no match for the Sauber coming out of the turns. Why Hulkenberg has continually been overlooked by the likes of McLaren, Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Ferrari is one of the sport’s great mysteries. If Martin Whitmarsh has any sense, he’ll highly consider swapping the underperforming Perez for Hulkenberg – the driver McLaren should’ve signed all along. It was a great result for Sauber who are making their way into uncharted territory with the potential signing of Sergey Sirotkin, the 17-year-old son of a Russian billionaire.

Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Korean Grand Prix, Preparations, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Thursday 3 October 2013.

Another Korean Grand Prix is in the books. With a positively stacked preliminary schedule for 2014, it may be Formula 1’s final visit to Yeongnam. The last of the sport’s truly great races is just a week away as the teams head to Suzuka Circuit for the Japanese Grand Prix.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.