Nico Rosberg

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

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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.

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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.

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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 Canadian Grand Prix

Much of what will have people talking about today’s Canadian Grand Prix happened in the final 5 laps of the race. It was a test of endurance as mechanical issues plagued the field and a massive crash left 2 potential podium sitters in the barrier at turn 1.

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Heading into the weekend, most of the attention was on the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Fresh off a PR good faith bid to his teammate, Hamilton treaded carefully and kept the talk about his performance. Mercedes were the undisputed favorites at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, a track of extremes – high speed straits and tight hairpins. With an 8mph speed advantage, it was a question of which Mercedes driver would take 1st.

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Rosberg silenced any pro-Hamilton doubters, securing pole on Saturday and reigniting the “mind games” debate. Ultimately it was little more than a mistake by Hamilton on his final lap of Q3 that did him in.

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Sunday told a very different story however. After 6 races of near faultless reliability, Hamilton was forced to retire after over cooking his brakes. The retirement opened the gates for Rosberg to secure an easy win, but the brake problems also infected his Silver Arrow and put him right in the sights Red Bull, Force India and Williams. Ultimately Rosberg would finish 2nd after being overtaken by Daniel Ricciardo in a a sensational drive.

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The only thing consistent about Red Bull’s season thus far has been Daniel Ricciardo’s dominance over his teammate Sebastian Vettel. Vettel’s struggled to come to terms with the RB10′s performance and suffered a number of reliability issues, but in Montreal things started to click.

Canadian F1 Grand Prix - Practice

After starting from P3, Vettel managed to hold on until the checkered flag, but not without persistent threats from his teammate who eventually overtook him to battle Rosberg for the lead.

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The battle for the top 5 was the highlight of an otherwise formulaic Canadian Grand Prix. Flashes of brilliance from Force India and Williams hinted that it was a sure fire bet that we’d see one, if not both Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez on the podium. However, in the final lap of the race the two came into contact, resulting in a massive crash heading into turn 1. It was the most violent crash on track since the Romain Grosjean incident at Spa in 2012. Luckily no one was seriously hurt.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Canadian Grand Prix - Race Day - Montreal, Canada

Perez was deemed at fault and handed a 5 grid spot penalty heading to Austria.

Canadian F1 Grand Prix

With the safety car on track, it was a cruise to the finish with Ricciardo taking his maiden win in Formula 1. Rosberg and Vettel rounded out the podium and Mercedes winning streak was over.

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Further back on track McLaren and Ferrari remained in limbo. The Scuderia came into the weekend with high hopes for the F14 T’s upgraded engine mapping, but it did little to give Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen a competitive edge. There have been rumblings around the paddock that Raikkonen will be asked to step aside at the end of the season if his performance doesn’t improve, but from the way the cars have performed, the demotion seems absurd.

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Jenson Button on track.

McLaren, still without a title sponsor maintained their vanilla performance throughout the weekend. It feels weird to watch a Formula 1 broadcast and not even see a McLaren on screen. Shockingly however Jenson Button managed to sneak into 4th to end the race ahead of Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg. Alonso finished 6th behind Hulkenberg, with Raikkonen way back in 10th.

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Despite the crash, the Mercedes drama and everything else that happened in Montreal, it was Daniel Ricciardo’s day. The Red Bull driver has had a stunning debut season with the World Championship team and things only look to get better. He’s got the respect of his teammate and has never backed down from a challenge all season long. I doubt this is the last time we’ll see Ricciardo winning a race this season – bravo!

Canadian F1 Grand Prix

Canadian F1 Grand Prix

The teams are heading back to Europe where they’ll remain through September. Next up is a return to Austria at the Red Bull Ring. See you in 2 weeks!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Game Of Thrones

Came across this photo from an F1 drivers dinner  about 2-3 years ago.

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Notice Vettel, the odd man out from the winner’s circle at the opposite end of the table. The conversation amongst Webber, Button, Hamilton and Alonso must have been interesting. If walls could talk…

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

The 2013 Singapore Grand Prix

With Formula 1′s campaign across Europe in the books, the teams are back in Asia for the season’s final push. Today’s Singapore Grand Prix proved to be a lot of things, but one of the sport’s most exciting events surely isn’t one of them. Before we look back at how the race unfolded, some points of contention…

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As American Formula 1 fans are well aware, the sport just doesn’t have the following in this country the way it does throughout the rest of the world. The blame could be pointed in any number of directions, whether it be FOM’s world feed or the shadow of its former self that NBC Sports has become in less than half a season. To put it simply, this weekend’s broadcast was infuriating to watch. After securing Barclay’s Premier League matches, NBC Sports has completely diverted its attention away from Formula 1 and it’s greatly impacted the way we watch the sport. Saturday’s “live” Qualifying didn’t air until nearly 24 hours later (Sunday 1 AM EDT). For fans who like to get their results by watching the broadcasts, it meant an entire Saturday of avoiding the Internet. Then there was the race itself and the severe under underutilization of NBC Sports’ man on the ground, Will Buxton. Viewers of SPEED will recall Buxton scrambling amongst drivers and team bosses for last minute interviews leading into the race’s start. Now F1 Countdown has become a glorified studio segment with repetitive tire explanations and rumor-fueled cross talk amongst the hosts. Respect to Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett, they love what they do and know their sport well, however the issues stem more from a production staff who don’t seem to have a clue. The entire reason for having Buxton at the race is to be our eyes at the track, our window into the event. Lately his role seems that of a 30 second sound bite, than the knowledgeable and frankly excellent reporter he is. Add to this the enormous amounts of commercial breaks, including one that cut right through the middle of the podium ceremony and resumed with Sebastian Vettel in mid sentence. The moment interviewer Martin Brundle finished speaking with Kimi Raikkonen, NBC Sports was eager to fade into yet another commercial break! Today’s broadcast saw no post race interviews from the media scrum or any kinds of final thoughts from the studio before it was off to more Barclay’s coverage, which has completely dominated the network in recent months. Depending on most people’s cable provider, NBC Sports is a premium channel that most are paying upwards of $170 a year to have on their TVs. So again, why must we be treated to such a half heated attempt at Formula 1 coverage? Are you listening Sky Sports?

F1 Grand Prix of Singapore

The Singapore Grand Prix is the longest, most physically demanding race on the Formula 1 calender. The high heat and humidity take their tole on the drivers and most come away looking positively ravaged. This weekend continued with Sebastian Vettel’s total domination of the sport. After securing pole in Saturday’s Qualifying, Vettel led every lap of the race and finished with a massive lead. As the season progresses, it’s becoming abundantly clear just how dominant a driver the German really is.

F1 Grand Prix of Singapore

Despite what people may think of the man himself, one has to begin to think that he really is that good. Most fans aren’t sold however and the booing continued at today’s podium ceremony. Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner and other supporters including Niki Lauda have been vocal about their distaste of the new trend. It makes the occurrence that much more awkward when fan favorites Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen are met with unanimous praise.

F1 Grand Prix of Singapore

If fans want to boo anyone it should be the FIA and race stewards for their incessant meddling and absurd penalties (more on that later). A fourth consecutive Driver’s Championship is all but clinched by Vettel at this point, much to the dismay of Alonso who seems to give everything he’s got week after week.

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If Vettel is the current winningest driver in Formula 1 then Fernando Alonso is undoubtably the best starter. While the Ferrari driver has struggled with pace in Qualifying, he makes up for it at the start. The way things began in Singapore were no exception. After starting from P7, Alonso secured P3 by the end of turn 1. If Ferrari’s hiring of Raikkonen for 2014 has affected Alonso, he surely didn’t show it on the track as he continued to get the most out of his F138.

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His teammate Felipe Massa also showed good pace this weekend and finished 6th overall. It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for the Brazilian since the team’s announcement of his replacement and it become clear that Massa will drive his own races for the remainder of the season.

Despite dealing with back pain throughout the weekend, Kimi Raikkonen showed no signs of faltering today.

Marina Bay Circuit, Singapore. 19th September 2013. Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus F1. Photo: Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1 Team. ref: Digital Image _Q0C4670

After failing to make Q3 on Saturday, the Lotus driver had an exciting bout with McLaren’s Jenson Button, resulting in one of the best passes of the season. It was a rare departure from the usual procession we’ve grown accustomed to on Singapore’s narrow layout. He finished 3rd overall, much to the delight of Ferrari who have signed him for a 2 year contract starting next season. Things didn’t fair so well for Lotus’ other driver, Romain Grosjean.

Marina Bay Circuit, Singapore. 19th September 2013. Romain Grosjean, Lotus F1, talks to the media. Photo: Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1 Team. ref: Digital Image _79P5087

After a fantastic showing in Qualifying, he started in P3, only to experience a pneumatics issue that ended his race on lap 37. Grosjean will be keen to take the reigns as the team’s Number 1 in 2014 and hopefully Lotus will be able to overcome their current financial woes.

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It was a frustrating showing for Mercedes this weekend. Nico Rosberg had the pace on Saturday and started from P2. As the race wore on, fatigue set in and Rosberg found himself in the crosshairs of his teammate, Lewis Hamilton.

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Hamilton spent most of Practice and Qualifying frustrated with the team’s tire strategy and started from P5 behind Red Bull’s Mark Webber. The two Mercedes drivers found themselves in a scrum with McLaren and each other in the later laps of the race. After doing away with the MP4-28s, it was Rosberg who led the team to the finish in 4th, with Hamilton close behind in 5th.

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It seems as though Hamilton’s slump has carried over from Monza as the driver has continued to struggle with the W04. Fighting for World Championship points is a tough pill to swallow as the driver’s main rival continues to win.

The woes of McLaren are far from over. After a brief stint in 3rd, Jenson Button held off the Lotus of Raikkonen for as long as he could.

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The subsequent overtaking by Webber and the Mercedes boys made it abundantly clear that McLaren are no longer in the same league as their rivals. Despite Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh’s best attempts at creating a mood of uncertainty over the future of his drivers, it’s truly the car that’s failed them this season. McLaren have subsequently created a position with absolute job security in the role of Whitmarsh.

Sergio Perez on track.

As the team struggles for points against mid-fielders like Force India, retaining Perez and to some degree Button, comes into question. Major offseason changes will most certainly happen in Woking, but the current management is clearly a major contributor to this lackluster season. Button and Perez finished 7th and 8th respectively.

For all of Red Bull’s success with Vettel, things have unfolded quite differently for Mark Webber. The Australian is competing in his final season with the team and the usual trend of mysterious mechanical failures have plagued any chance of going out on top.

F1 Grand Prix of Singapore - Previews

Yet again, Webber was unable to finish the race, this time due to a gearbox failure. The breakdown happened on lap 60 after one hell of a push from Webber to P4. In one of the more sporting instances Formula 1 has seen in quite a while, Fernando Alonso pulled off during the cool down lap to give his friend a lift back to pit lane. It was a display of camaraderie and sportsmanship that shows just how much Alonso has matured since his days at McLaren. What could’ve been the shining event of the Singapore Grand Prix, was quickly muddied by a bureaucratic FIA who will stop at nothing to assert a firm hand over the sport.

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Many have argued in favor of the FIA’s ruling which will see Alonso get his first reprimand of the season and Webber a 10 grid spot penalty in Korea, after entering the track without the stewards permission. It’s a good cop, bad cop scenario where the FIA are only thinking in the interest of driver safety, but it’s a decision that does nothing for their stiff, old world public image and one the sport contends with far too often lately.

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The first of a new 5 race deal with Singapore is in the books. Despite the event’s stunning location, it will be nice to see the drivers on proper circuits from here on out. In a scheduling switch, the teams will head to Yeongam for the Korean Grand Prix in 2 weeks.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

The 2013 Italian Grand Prix

Monza – it just sounds fantastic doesn’t it? One of Formula 1′s last true temples of speed played host to the Italian Grand Prix today and it was a race that says a lot about what we can expect for the remainder of the 2013 season.

F1 Grand Prix of Italy - Race

“We need to be lucky and we need to have some DNFs from Sebastian or something to win the championship.”

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The words of Fernando Alonso following today’s race. It was Ferrari’s home race and all of the team’s top brass were on hand, adding to the tension in the paddock. Felipe Massa’s career as a Ferrari driver is on the line and it was an important weekend for him to prove himself. After a failed drafting strategy by the team in yesterday’s Q3, Massa qualified ahead of his teammate, starting from P4. It’s the quickest we’ve seen Massa all season and begs the question of where his pace has been hiding? Massa has a history of doing some of his best driving under pressure, but why does his job need to be on the line in order for him to perform? Ferrari may be realizing that and his fate could already be determined. Despite Massa’s 4th place finish, there’s plenty of excellent talent vying for one of the top seats in Formula 1.

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Despite his best attempts at a race win, Alonso came up short, unable to match the pace of Vettel’s Red Bull. It was a heroic drive in front of the tifosi and had there been another 5 laps in the race, we may have seen a different outcome. Both Red Bull’s were suffering from gearbox trouble in the final laps of the race and Alonso was closing in on Vettel.  However, time ran out and the day ended with the Ferrari driver finishing 2nd. Say what you will about Alonso, he’s not afraid to get everything he can from the car.

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Today’s race was telling because for the 4th year in a row, the Driver’s Championship may already be in the books. Harking back to Alonso’s comments earlier, it would take a severe turn of events to knock Vettel out of the lead. He’s now won half of all the Grands Prix in 2013 and we’re just over the halfway mark of the season.

F1 Grand Prix of Italy - Race

Granted there’s a long second leg in Asia before the penultimate races in the Americas, but Vettel has such a commanding lead that reliability may be his only competition at this point. While a 4th Driver’s Championship would further cement his legacy, fans have become bored with the predictable nature of Red Bull’s near weekly success.

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For the 7th race in a row, Vettel has been met with raucous boos on the podium. Everyone loves a winner, but win too much and they just might turn on you. It’s something Vettel will have to deal with for as long as he’s a Red Bull driver in an Adrian Newey car. Despite his skill, there are still questions of how much his success can be attributed to the car. If Vettel were to join another team and experience the same levels of success, the questions (and the boos) would cease.

F1 Grand Prix of Italy - Race

Rounding out the podium was Mark Webber. Today was his best result at the track and a fitting end to his final European leg in the sport. Webber is one of the last gentleman racers in Formula 1 and the sport will be lacking in his absence. His retirement brings attention to the “old guard” moving on and the transitional period to come. More seats at the front runners will begin to open up over the next 5 years and it will be interesting to see who will rise to the occasion.

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Nico Hulkenberg could be one such driver. Labeled by many (myself included) as the “best of the rest,” Hulkenberg had a fantastic weekend at Monza and a much needed boost to a woeful season at Sauber. After qualifying P3 yesterday, Hulkenberg did his best to fend off attacks from Nico Rosberg and Daniel Ricciardo to finish 5th overall. It’s a massively impressive result, especially considering the lack of pace Sauber have had all season. I argued that McLaren were foolish to pass over Hulkenberg when Lewis Hamilton left the team last year. He’s got all of the qualifications to be a future World Champion, he just needs the right team behind him. One seat that he would be the ideal candidate for is Massa’s at Ferrari. While it’s not certain whether Massa will leave the team, the chance for Hulkenberg to drive alongside Alonso would be his best opportunity for 2014.

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While Monza played to the advantages of Red Bull and Ferrari this weekend, Mercedes, Lotus and McLaren struggled. After winning it last year, many projected Hamilton to be the favorite in Italy. In yesterday’s Q2, he was held up in the Parabolica by Force India’s Adrian Sutil – read into that what you will. Sutil was handed a 3 grid spot penalty and Hamilton was unable to break into Q3. After starting from 12th, the Mercedes driver suffered a slow puncture that forced an early, unscheduled pit stop. Hamilton did his best to fight his way up the grid, including some nice wheel-to-wheel racing with Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button, but ultimately the best he could do was a 9th place finish.

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A downbeat Hamilton said after the race that he wasn’t happy to fight for bad positions, this coming from a driver who came into the season happy to write the whole thing off in favor of 2014. Hamilton has certainly experienced great success (relatively speaking) with his new team but the funk he was in during his final seasons with McLaren seems to have carried over somewhat into 2013. More than any other driver currently in the sport, Hamilton’s private life plays an immense role in his on track performance. It raises questions that he may be his biggest enemy, when it comes to winning Championships in the future.

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McLaren have publicly written off 2013 in favor of putting all of their efforts into next season. It’s an unusual sight for a McLaren team to be pleased just scoring points, rather than fighting for podiums and this will go down as one of the team’s worst seasons ever. The hope is that a renewed alliance with Honda and the massive change in technical regulations will play to McLaren’s favor in the coming seasons.

Jenson Button on track

Button has made it known that he’d like to finish his career with the team, as he goes into contract negotiations at the end of this season. While he’ll likely stay, questions surround his teammate’s fate. One of the primary reason’s in McLaren’s split second hiring of Sergio Perez was for the benefit of potential funding from the World’s richest man, Carlos Slim, who has ties to the driver.

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With Vodafone ending their partnership with McLaren, the presence of Perez invites Mexican business interest in the team moving forward. The pay driver argument comes into play, given Perez’s performance this season and should Slim opt out of funding the team, there’s little reason for McLaren to stay loyal to the Mexican after 2014. That story line will be an interesting one as it plays out next season.

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The 2013 Italian Grand Prix was hardly the most exciting Formula 1 race of the season, but the passionate tifosi and historic venue made it the usual spectacle we’ve come to love.

For those of us watching the race in the United State, NBC Sports’s coverage seems to be resembling that of SPEED’s more and more each race weekend. A smaller studio set and the network’s acquisition of Barclay’s Premier League telecasts, hints at less of NBC’s attention being put into Formula 1. While they have upped their game on extended coverage throughout the race weekend, the sheer volume of commercial breaks during live coverage has become infuriating. While the network has no control over FOM’s World feed, the cutaways to “Wish You Were Here” spotlights of the venues and promos for the network’s other featured sports during the race, is unfortunate. 2 weeks ago, many of the Spa’s best moments were overlooked during commercial breaks and unnecessary replays. While I commend the work of Will Buxton and the insight of Steve Matchett (two of the best in the business), surely NBC Sports – a premium pay channel – could be offering so much more, including commercial free coverage during qualifying and races.

F1 Grand Prix of Italy - Race

The European leg of Formula 1′s 2013 season is officially in the books. The teams now head back to Asia for the second time this season. The Singapore Grand Prix in 2 weeks!

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.