Daniil Kvyat

2015 Singapore Grand Prix

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At some point it was decided that the Singapore Grand Prix was one of the marquee events of the Formula 1 season. While the nighttime backdrop of one of Asia’s premier cities is certainly stunning, the racing has always been kind of a slog. Sunday’s 61 lap running felt like a 2 hour chore compared to the brisk Italian Grand Prix 2 weeks ago. While it was refreshing to see neither Silver Arrow finish on the podium, Sebastian Vettel’s commanding drive from pole to the top step was very much the same plot we’ve seen all season long with a different actor in the title role.

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NBCSN’s Leigh Diffey did his very best to make sure we all knew that Lewis Hamilton was 1 win away from tying Ayrton Senna’s record in Singapore. Despite Hamilton and Nico Rosberg qualifying 5th and 6th respectively, it didn’t stop the network’s bias for Mercedes as the drivers were featured almost exclusively in the broadcast’s opening montage. What happened instead was the more significant achievement of race winner Sebastian Vettel becoming the 3rd all-time most successful driver in Formula 1.

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Daniel Ricciardo in the RB11 didn’t really have a shot at beating Vettel and ultimately finished 2nd. The numerous safety cars which have become synonymous with Singapore presented plenty of opportunities for a scrap but overtaking on the Marina Bay Circuit is a near impossible task. Ricciardo’s best opportunity was ruined when a lunatic fan entered the track on lap 37 – a gate onto the track which was left unguarded may have had something to do with it. The oversight is yet another occurrence where negligence by the staff at a flyaway race may have produced costly and dangerous results. Remember the trackside marshals’s treatment of Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso in China earlier this year?

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Singapore saw the retirements of more big name drivers than any Grand Prix this season. McLaren executed a now routine showing of retiring both cars due to gearbox issues. This came after Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso both had opportunities to score points. While it’s convenient for all fingers to point at Honda, Button’s overtaking tactics and the pit crew suffering from a bout of heat stroke didn’t help turn things around.

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The mishaps continued with a collision involving Force India’s Nico Hulkenburg and the Williams of Felipe Massa exiting pit lane. The crash ultimately ended the races of both drivers with Hulkenberg receiving a 3 grid spot penalty for next week’s Japanese Grand Prix. It was a hasty ruling from the stewards who probably should have waited until the race was over and clearer heads prevailed. 50/50 blame could be taken from the situation but I’m of the opinion that Hulkenberg had the right of way. Surprisingly the 5th retirement of the day was the Mercedes of Hamilton who’s car lost power from a coupler issue on the turbo.

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Meanwhile, the Formula 1 drinking game just got more interesting with the addition of “American Alexander Rossi”. Rossi seems like a great guy and deserved of the Manor drive for the remaining 5 races, but this really is a non-story that took up way too much of the race broadcast. No folks, contrary to what Diffey or the NBCSN team might have you believe, there is absolutely no chance of Rossi winning a Formula 1 Grand Prix in a Manor and it’s highly likely he won’t score any points either. The day’s other non-story, Ferrari mechanics exhibiting “thug-like” behavior and shoving photographers aside to celebrate Vettel’s win on pit lane.

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What is becoming more and more clear every race weekend is that Formula 1 really isn’t that great anymore. It is in many ways like Sir Elton John. The days of hitting the high notes on ‘Tiny Dancer’ are long gone, but fans still amass because of what the singer was, not who he’s become. Formula 1 has a rich and celebrated history and most of us suffer through the current product because we’re still hanging onto that history. “This is Formula 1” we tell ourselves, hoping that this race will be different. The reality however is that there hasn’t been a genuinely great race since Bahrain in 2014 and Britain the year before that. It’s a sport that on average produces one good showing a season and when you consider the other 19 races are duds, that’s a poor success rate.

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Members of the Formula 1 media have been quick to combat this notion. Will Buxton told all of us to get over it following the Italian Grand Prix. He and many others hark back to the days of Ferrari-Shumacher dominance, but ultimately they’re as guilty as we are for using the past to justify the present. Too often are we concerned with Formula 1’s history, always hoping to find a way to weave it into the modern context of the sport. The MLB also does this as they become increasingly irrelevant on a playing field dominated by the NFL, NBA and European football. The only thing any of us should be concerned with is what is right in front of us and what’s in front of us isn’t Formula 1, it’s not even racing.

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The Japanese Grand Prix is next weekend and Suzuka should favor the Silver Arrows who will likely be back on form after today’s misstep.

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Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

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Right Place At The Right Time – 2015 Monaco Grand Prix

Part of racing is putting yourself in a position to take advantage of any and every opportunity that presents itself. Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel both found themselves in positions to overtake the race leader Lewis Hamilton during one of the most controversial pit stops in Formula 1 history.

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Overtaking rarely happens in Monaco and track position is all that matters. Qualify in pole and you have a 99% chance at winning. Screw up a pit strategy and you’ll end up like Hamilton, watching over 60 laps of hard work go to waste.

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The (mostly) British F1 Media will likely spend the next week denouncing Rosberg and his victory today on the streets of Monte Carlo. However, what they should be doing is calling both the judgment of Hamilton and his race engineers into question. Both parties are equally responsible for today’s botched strategy and both should take it on the chin as a harsh learning experience.

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Hamilton started the day the favorite to win after securing a dominant pole in qualifying. He went on to comfortably lead 64 laps of the race until the Toro Rosso of Max Verstappen found itself in the barriers at Sainte Devote,after coming into contact with the Lotus of Romain Grosjean. The crash was one of the most violent to happen in the sport this season. Luckily, Verstappen walked away without serious injury. The incident brought out a virtual safety car and prompted race leader Hamilton to stop for a set of super soft tires to finish the remaining 14 laps. Unbeknownst to the Mercedes driver or his engineers, the actual safety car went out on track enabling Rosberg and Vettel who were in P2 and P3 respectively to overtake Hamilton coming out of the pits. After some initial confusion, from pit lane the reality of their mistake began to set in as Hamilton found himself in P3 and very unlikely recapture his lead.

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The remaining laps saw Rosberg easily get away from Vettel who had the job of keeping a very angry Hamilton at bay. Nervous radio transmissions from Hamilton’s engineers followed, but they were little consolation for the situation they had all gotten themselves into. The arrival of the victors to the starting grid for the traditional Monaco podium ceremony saw Hamilton taking his time and eventually crashing into the “3rd place” sign. Even Charlie Whiting was smart to keep his distance as the Mercedes driver collected his thoughts before getting out of the car. The scene was certainly setting itself up to be one of the all time great meltdowns in motorsports. Shockingly however, Hamilton conducted himself with class and said all the right things during the interviews, even though he was visibly distraught. Rosberg meanwhile joins an elite list that includes Ayrton Senna, Graham Hill and Michael Schumacher as a 3-time winner of the Monaco Grand Prix.

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Ferrari continue to be one of the most entertaining teams in Formula 1 this season. Between Kimi’s brilliant radio transmissions throughout the race to Vettel’s exuberance and “I’m just here for the show” attitude on the podium, they are the team to route for right now. Vettel’s PR has done a 180 since his time at Red Bull and it’s been genuinely fun to see him helping Ferrari get back on top.

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Speaking of Red Bull, outstanding performances from both Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo. Something about Monaco just seems to work for Ricciardo who had an excellent drive and was chasing the leaders up until the final laps, even if he did eventually return a position to his teammate.

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Elsewhere disappointment for Williams who were unable to score points. Saturday yielded subpar results in qualifying for Valtteri Bottas and a shunt at the start for Felipe Massa did his race in just as it was beginning.

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It was a bittersweet day for McLaren as a gearbox failure ended Fernando Alonso’s race on lap 41. His teammate Jenson Button however managed to secure the team’s first points of the season finishing 8th. That doesn’t sound like much to be excited about, but considering where McLaren started the season, it’s huge progress.

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It’s ironic to consider that just days ago, Lewis Hamilton signed a new 3 year deal with Mercedes that would not only make him the highest paid driver in Formula 1, but one of the 10 highest paid athletes in the world. Had that contract not been signed before the events that unfolded today, we may be seeing a very different story unfold for the World Champion. Perhaps Ferrari would’ve been back on the table?

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“Sad Lewis” will be the dominating storyline heading into the Canadian Grand Prix in 2 weeks.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic & McLaren Honda.

2015 Bahrain Grand Prix

Last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix proved to be one of the most exciting races of 2014 when the Mercedes teammates battled head-to-head, resulting in a win for Lewis Hamilton. Sunday’s event didn’t have quite the same spectacle, but the chess match between Mercedes and Ferrari is becoming ever more interesting as the sport heads to Europe.

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Much of the talk this week centered around accusations of Hamilton’s strategy made by Nico Rosberg following the Chinese Grand Prix. In an effort to save his tires, Hamilton reduced his pace putting Rosberg on the defensive to a charging Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari. It was a clear sign that not only was Rosberg beginning to succumb to the pressure, but Ferrari were bringing the fight to Mercedes.

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A much more reserved Rosberg showed up in Bahrain this weekend and it was clear he would need to let his driving do the talking. After an excellent showing in qualifying on Saturday, it was Vettel who shared the front row with Hamilton in pole. Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top 4. Contrary to what many, including Mercedes had suggested, both drivers followed the same strategy in Sunday’s race.

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The start saw Ferrari on the offensive with Raikkonen outpacing Rosberg for 3rd. The remainder of the race would be a tire strategy battle that saw Vettel taking a similar course to the Mercedes drivers doing 2 stints on the softs and finishing on the mediums. Raikkonen on the other hand ran his second stint on the mediums and finished on the softs. It was a strategy that ultimately paid off brilliantly and put the Ferrari driver in a position to exploit Rosberg, who cooked his brakes into turn 1 on lap 56. Raikkonen who was outpacing both Mercedes at that point finished 2nd, his first podium of the season. Vettel’s luck wasn’t as good and after a misstep off track damaged his front wing causing the German to head back to the pits for a replacement. The stop left Vettel behind the Williams of Valtteri Bottas who was having none of the Ferrari. Vettel’s mistake ultimately had him finishing in 5th.

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Ferrari executed a brilliant strategy with Raikkonen and his unbelievable pace on the medium tires made for a well deserved podium finish. In many ways Mercedes dodged a bullet on Sunday when during the final lap, Hamilton began having brake issues. Reliability has been a factor for Mercedes before and with Ferrari’s pace, they will be there to exploit each and every opportunity as the season progresses. For every bit as good as Vettel and Raikkonen have been so far this season, Maurizio Arrivabene and James Allison are also hugely responsible for the Ferrari turnaround.

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Elsewhere on the track it was more of a GP2 race than anything that corresponded with the battle up front. Apart from Williams, none of the other teams have been able to match the pace of Ferrari in an attempt to challenge the World Champions. After qualifying 6th, Felipe Massa started the race from pit lane but managed to finish 10th after an excellent recovery drive. Daniel Riccardo showed some pace in the Red Bull who’s Renault power unit went kaput meters before the finish line. Christian Horner and Adrian Newey must be loving this very public display of Renault’s “reliability”. You have to feel for Ricciardo who had one hell of a 2014 season. Now he has the opportunity to lead Red Bull and the team are threatening to pull out of the sport completely.

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F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain

Fernando Alonso on track.

In a very predictable, no less disappointing series of events, Jenson Button was unable to start Sunday’s race due to an ERS failure. McLaren Honda said that had Button started he would have been unable to finish the Bahrain Grand Prix. It’s been an uphill battle for McLaren Honda who have somehow managed to become one of the most likable teams in Formula 1 purely because of how well they’re rolling with the punches. As Red Bull are all too willing to complain to anyone who will listen, the Woking outfit have kept their heads down and steadily improved their pace every race weekend. As any fan of the sport will tell you, seconds equal years in Formula 1 and there’s something to be said about Fernando Alonso finishing just one place (11th) outside of the points on Sunday. What McLaren Honda need is testing and although that won’t happen, the European leg of the season should tell a very different story as the team receives upgrades from the factory and continues to dial in the new chassis.

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Overall the Bahrain Grand Prix was an interesting strategic exercise for Mercedes and Ferrari. How fantastic did the sparks look on track? They’re gimmicky yes, but no doubt improve the look of Formula 1. The flyaway races are over for now as the teams head back to Europe for the summer. Can you believe Monaco is nearly a month away? It’s hard to believe how fast this season is moving. See you in Barcelona at the Spanish Grand Prix in 3 weeks.

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Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

2015 Australian Grand Prix

The 2015 Formula 1 season kicked off today at Albert Park for the Australian Grand Prix. Sadly with all the hoopla leading up to the opener, just 15 cars were able to start today’s race.

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With such a small grid and continued reliability issues from the power units, many are wondering what the point of it all is. Mercedes dominated pre-season testing and logged significantly more miles than any rival team. The team’s performance and attitude on track has become as clinical as the brushed silver adorning their cars. In many ways they are beginning to emulate the McLaren of old and it’s no coincidence given how many former employees make up Mercedes’s team.

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Lewis Hamilton drove his way to no nonsense win from pole while his teammate Nico Rosberg continued his nice guy act for the cameras after finishing 2nd. It really is a case of same old story, different day at Mercedes.

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Elsewhere on the grid, Ferrari and Williams did their best to take the fight to Mercedes. The mood feels lighter at Ferrari with the arrival of Sebastian Vettel. Expectations are still very high, but there was a calmness about the team’s demeanor all weekend. Even Kimi Raikkonen has been reported to have lightened up since Vettel’s arrival. Ferrari had the best chance of showing up Mercedes in Melbourne but with such a massive performance gap, a 3rd place finish for Vettel was the best the team could do. Raikkonen was one of 4 who didn’t finish after his left rear wheel came off the car.

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Williams were also a man down today with Valtteri Bottas unable to start the race because of an injury suffered during yesterday’s qualifying. It was up to Felipe Massa to carry the team starting from P3. Massa finished 4th overall and complained of a lack of power from his Mercedes engine after the race – Felipe being Felipe.

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Elsewhere on the grid, debuts for a number of rookie drivers including Sauber’s Felipe Nasr and STR’s Carlos Sainz Jr. and Max Verstappen. All 3 drivers showed well with Nasr surprising everyone with a 5th place finish helping Sauber in scoring 14 points, more than they managed the whole of 2014. Verstappen also looked very strong but was forced to retire after an engine failure.

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Reliability issues are nothing new in Melbourne but the lack of cars able to finish the race was truly disappointing. Of the 15 that started, just 11 managed to reach the checkered flag.

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Red Bull continued their very public feud with Renault throughout the weekend with both Christian Horner and Adrian Newey doing little to hide their frustrations in the media.

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Following a lackluster race in which Daniil Kvyat was unable to start and Daniel Ricciardo finished 6th, Horner downplayed rumors that Dietrich Mateschitz has plans to sell the team – one of the interested parties is reported to be Audi. Red Bull certainly aren’t the team they were 2 seasons ago as they clinched their 4th World Championship.

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Lastly, McLaren-Honda. Melbourne was a weekend the whole team would probably like to forget. After a dismal pre-season in testing, the team arrived in Australia without their new star Fernando Alonso and with little idea of how the cars would perform on track. For as ready for the season opener as Mercedes were, McLaren were the complete opposite. Kevin Magnussen took over for Alonso who was at home resting after getting a concussion in testing – he’ll make his McLaren debut in Malaysia. The day was short lived for Magnussen who suffered an engine failure just before the start. After a miserable qualifying on Saturday, it was Jenson Button who had the task of competing for points.

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Button started at the back of the pack in 15th (P17) and managed to keep the car on track to the end. Some lucky breaks because of poor reliability suffered by the other teams allowed Button to finish 11th. Throughout the race however, it became very clear that McLaren and Honda are in for a long road ahead. The next few months will be a massive test for Alonso’s patience and the situation over at Ferrari certainly won’t help matters. Aside from the lack of on track performance and some less than confident ramblings from Ron Dennis, Button stayed true to his class act form and looked for the positives following the race. McLaren were wise to keep their voice of reason around another season.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger was on hand for podium interviews which have become the sport’s signature cringe moment of the weekend. Even the he and his surprising knowledge of the sport couldn’t save a bland opener in Australia. With Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt mucking up the entire power structure of the sport behind the scenes, this could be the show we’ll be seeing for many years to come. Letting teams govern themselves will never work in any sport ever.

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To leave things on a positive note, the 2015 cars look much better than last season’s even despite the lack of creativity in the livery department – hire some better graphic designers F1 teams. The cars also appear to be slightly louder and (somewhat) emulate more of that 80’s turbo sound. The Malaysian Grand Prix is 2 weeks from today.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

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.