Toro Rosso

2014 Toro Rosso STR9

Testing at Jerez begins this week and Toro Rosso was there to debut the 2014 STR9.

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Some have suggested this is a prelude to what we’ll be seeing from Red Bull later this week. I hope not.

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Yeah… Welcome to Formula 1 2014. Elitists who are above the kind of humor these new cars have spawned are quick to point out that the designs are all in the name of safety. Don’t get me wrong, having lower noses as a precaution to any t-bone related head injuries is crucial, but there must be a better way. Don’t think for a second that the jokes aren’t flooding throughout the paddock either. It’s tough to escape, especially with the STR9. Something tells me that Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat were looking to get this launch over with quickly.

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Things get a little more sane towards the rear of the car.

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At the back, STR begins their new engine partnership with Renault after parting ways with Ferrari. The new single exhausts on the 2014 cars should give us a nice light show come Bahrain and Singapore.

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More from Jerez in the coming days. 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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Equal Opportunity Employer

Infiniti Red Bull Racing RB9 Launch

Formula 1’s Silly Season is far from over and the fates of drivers including Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa remain undecided. In fact, we’re just a few weeks shy of a year since Lewis Hamilton announced he’d be leaving McLaren – has it really been that long? With the F1 rumor mill churning at full speed, Red Bull took it upon themselves to clear the air, with the announcement that Toro Rosso driver Daniel Ricciardo, would be taking the place of Mark Webber in 2014. It’s exciting news for both Ricciardo and those exhausted by pay drivers diluting the sport.

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Ricciardo did things the old-fashioned way. After a successful campaign in Formula 3, he worked his way into a drive with Toro Rosso. This season, the Australian had his best finish in China, placing 7th overall. Ricciardo has certainly got the pace and it will be exciting to see him in a truly great car, but given Red Bull’s history, you have to wonder if he’ll  have the full support of his team to challenge for race wins.

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Red Bull is no stranger to controversy. The Multi 21 incident in Malaysia earlier this year is what many consider the final straw in Webber’s decision to leave the team (and the sport). Sebastian Vettel’s success is hard to ignore – 3 Driver’s Championships in 3 years with the potential for a 4th in 2013. With that success rate comes certain liberties within the team – some may even say preferential treatment. The intent isn’t to feed conspiracies, but it’s ironic that a vast majority of the team’s mechanical issues have been on Webber’s cars. There’s also the issue of team orders, which Red Bull like to downplay, only for conversation’s sake. Could Ricciardo be setting himself up for a similar situation within the team?

Earlier today, Christian Horner responded to the hiring of Ricciardo:

“We expect him to challenge Sebastian. He’s employed by the team to do the best job that he can. He’ll get equal opportunity. He’ll get the same chance, the same equipment (as Sebastian) and it will be down to what he does on the circuit that counts at the end of the day.”

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Truth or more comedy from the Red Bull camp? Unless anyone has managed to acquire a copy of Ricciardo’s contract with the team, we won’t know until this thing plays out next season.

Vettel’s contract with Red Bull will expire at the end of 2014. With the potential for a 4th Driver’s Championship this season, Red Bull will be eager to keep Vettel and will in no way want to jeopardize that relationship. That may cause some collateral damage, namely Ricciardo getting stripped of his fair shot to shine on the team.

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Granted, all of this is purely speculation but it’s hard not to consider when we see how things ended with Webber – one of the last true gentlemen racers in Formula 1. It’s a massive opportunity Ricciardo and time will ultimately tell.

Red Bull Confirms Ricciardo As Webber’s Replacement

Earlier today, Red Bull confirmed that Daniel Ricciardo will replace Mark Webber in 2014.

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Who would fill Webber’s seat, has been one of the most discussed topics in F1. Many expected Kimi Raikkonen to make the move from Lotus. However, questions arose as to how well he’d fit in with Sebastian Vettel. Red Bull have made little effort to downplay claims that they favor Vettel as the clear Number 1 at the team. Given Raikkonen’s aggressive style and disinterest in team orders, the pairing seemed like a match made in hell.

While speculation remains over where Raikkonen is headed, it’s a good day for Ricciardo. As F1 grows increasingly heavy with pay drivers, it’s great to see a development program serve its intended purpose. Ricciardo did things the old-fashioned way. It’s going to be very exciting to see what he can do in an Adrian Newey car next season. Until then, let’s enjoy the final races of one of the true good guys of the sport, Mark Webber.

Photo & video courtesy of Red Bull.

The 2013 Belgian Grand Prix

Was it Sebastian Vettel or Greenpeace who had the last laugh at today’s Belgian Grand Prix?

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Spa-Francorchamps has always been a bright spot on the Formula 1 World Championship calendar. Set amongst the hills of the Ardennes Forest, Spa’s beautiful landscape, unpredictable weather conditions and challenging layout have made it a longtime favorite amongst the drivers and fans.  After the exceedingly long August break, Spa is the perfect place to get back to racing.

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With the Silly Season in full swing, there’s been a lot of talk about where certain drivers will end up in 2014.

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The most hotly discussed topic has been over who will fill Mark Webber’s seat at Red Bull Racing. It’s long been assumed that Kimi Raikkonen would be Webber’s successor, however earlier this week reports surfaced that Toro Rosso driver and fellow Australian Daniel Ricciardo would be Red Bull’s new driver. That development has everyone wondering where Raikkonen will end up next season. It’s very likely that he will stay at Lotus, as the only other alternative would be Felipe Massa’s seat at Scuderia Ferrari and we all know how that ended the first time around. Despite all the rumors and talk of next season, we’re still only half way through 2013 so let’s get to it.

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Spa has produced some of the sport’s most memorable racing over the years, but today’s Belgian Grand Prix was particularly underwhelming. For all of the hype leading into the race, the weather held off and we saw yet another Sunday where Sebastian Vettel maintained a massive lead from the first lap onwards.

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The RB9 was massively quick, as demonstrated by Vettel on pole sitter Lewis Hamilton through Eau Rouge. The Silver Arrows are tough to beat in qualifying but have continued to struggle on race days.

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Hamilton was able to do little in the way of fending off Fernando Alonso, who after a fantastic start from 9th, managed a 2nd place finish. Perhaps Alonso had an extra bit of motivation after a very public row with team boss Luca di Montezemolo, following the Hungarian Grand Prix. A stint of wheel-to-wheel racing and Alonso’s subsequent out-braking of Hamilton to take 2nd was Formula 1 at its best.

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Further back, Jenson Button managed to get his McLaren MP4-28 into 1st briefly, before a poorly managed tire strategy had him finishing 6th. McLaren have stated that they will no longer be developing this season’s car and focusing all of their efforts on 2014.

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It’s been one of the worst seasons in the team’s history and the signing of Sergio Perez hasn’t helped matters. While Perez has exhibited moments of brilliance, he was and is the wrong man for the job. Nico Hulkenberg is the best of the rest and should’ve been the man alongside Button.  A dismal season at Sauber will surely see him looking for greener pastures and a potential move to Ferrari in 2014.

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Felipe Massa has been warned by the team that he needs to prove himself over the next couple of races. These last few season’s have felt like deja vu for Massa. He’s never quite been able to come back from the injury he suffered in Hungary. While there’s no doubt Massa could’ve been a Formula 1 World Champion, he’s hardly qualified to continue holding a seat at one of the biggest teams in the sport. A 7th place finish today at Spa probably isn’t what the Scuderia were looking for and I suspect 2013 will be the last we see of Massa in a Ferrari.

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Red Bull continues to dominate the sport and it seems as though everything Adrian Newey touches turns to gold. Vettel now has a commanding lead in the World Championship points and it would take a hellacious second half of the season to keep him from taking his 4th consecutive WDC.

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The new technical regulations could impact Red Bull’s success moving forward, but that would probably have less to do with Newey’s designs and more to do with Renault’s new V6 twin-turbo engines. There are still 8 Grands Prix remaining this season but it’s hard not to anticipate next season, as it will see so many big changes to the sport.

Today’s race was capped off with yet another cringeworthy podium interview conducted by David Coulthard. FOM’s love affair with this fan-friendly format needs to be squashed. Any sort of genuine feedback or critique from the drivers will surely be left off the podium and we’ve all seen enough of Coulthard being embarrassed by the drivers  – I’m surprised he keeps signing up for more.

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Get ready for the Tifosi, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza is in 2 weeks!

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

The 2013 Toro Rosso STR8

Red Bull’s junior team Toro Rosso unveiled their 2013 STR8 earlier today.

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STR teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne were at Jerez to unveil the car, ahead of the first day of testing beginning tomorrow.

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After finishing 9th overall in 2012, STR Team Principal Franz Tost expects the team to finish 6th in 2013. It’s an optimistic goal, but after last season anything can happen.

All of the cars are looking much better heading into 2013 with their new nose jobs. The season’s first testing doesn’t usually tell us a lot, but it’s still going to be interesting to see how everyone performs tomorrow.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.