FIA

Formula 1 2016: 5 Bold Predictions

It’s around this time every year that anticipation begins to build for another season of Formula 1. After what feels like a very long winter break, the teams are back at it with pre-season testing in Barcelona! With the season opener in Melbourne a month away, here are my 5 bold predictions for the 2016 season:

Lewis Hamilton will not be World Champion in 2016

f1_monza_15_03

After dominant success the last two seasons, Mercedes would not be wise to underestimate their competition. Heading into year three of the new technical regulations means the playing field has been leveled and the likes of Ferrari are tired of playing second fiddle to the Silver Arrows. In 2016, Mercedes may face their most challenging season yet, both internally and externally. Lewis Hamilton has gone to great lengths to build his brand outside of Formula 1 and with the most dominant car two years running, the balance between racing and celebrity has been manageable. Across the garage however, a very motivated Nico Rosberg, one who showed excellent pace winning the final 3 races of 2015. Some would argue the team gifted Rosberg the wins after Hamilton wrapped up his second consecutive World Championship in Austin. Rosberg wanted it more and that’s a very dangerous thing for Hamilton, who spent most of the offseason in the public eye while his teammate and rivals at Ferrari have quietly been developing their strategies for 2016. Winning back-to-back championships is one of the most difficult feats in sports, winning three in a row, a rarity. Look for Rosberg and Vettel to fight for the honors in 2016.

Max Verstappen will win his first Formula 1 Grand Prix

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Practice

Any doubters of Max Verstappen’s place in Formula 1 were silenced early into the 2015 season. Verstappen wrapped up his rookie year with 10 top 10 finishes and 49 points. With Toro Rosso back to using Ferrari engines, expectations are for a more competitive car. Verstappen’s willingness to go for it will find him taking advantage when opportunity strikes. Talk of a drive at Red Bull was premature last season, but the same narrative will likely find it’s way into the headlines again in 2016. Depending on how the RB12 performs this season, we may see more occurrences of the junior team showing up big brother. If a victory is to come, expect it early in the season while the teams work out their teething problems. Could we see something in Melbourne?

Three World Champions are racing in their final Formula 1 seasons

Fernando Alonso.

Formula 1’s changing of the guard started with Mark Webber’s departure in 2013. The former Red Bull driver experienced an excellent transition to the World Endurance Championship, a transition not gone unnoticed by the Formula 1 paddock. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg further emphasized the WEC’s appeal by winning the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Porsche 919 Hybrid. Formula 1 has since responded by scheduling this year’s European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan on the same weekend as Le Mans. This has many including Fernando Alonso questioning if the Formula 1 circus is even worth it anymore. After a dismal 2015 back with his former team McLaren, the veteran World Champion may seek greener pastures. He’s not alone and 2016 could also be the final Formula 1 season for his teammate Jenson Button. Button was rumored to be out at McLaren midway through 2015, but the team seemingly kept the veteran as a courtesy after sticking it out and being a consummate professional. That courtesy will likely last for a season alone and unless the unthinkable happens and McLaren win a Constructor’s Championship, they’ll be keen to rebuild at least one side of the garage with the surplus of young talent including Stoffel Vandoorne waiting in the wings. The same scenario seems likely for Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari. Despite the chemistry with teammate Sebastian Vettel, Raikkonen’s at times disinterest with the sport and a lack of pace may open the coveted seat for many others vying a drive for the Scuderia.

McLaren will go another season without a title sponsor

mclaren_mp4_31_test_01

Less a racing prediction but nonetheless telling of what McLaren has become. The last couple years have been the most challenging in the team’s long history. The transition to Honda power units was fractured to say the least, but apart from the expected technical road blocks, instability behind the scenes seems to be where McLaren are the most challenged. Ron Dennis put himself back in charge of the team after the departure of Martin Whitmarsh in 2013. Many have argued that Dennis isn’t up to the the task and that his old school philosophy has done more harm than good. McLaren now enter their third consecutive season without a title sponsor after ending their relationship with Vodafone in 2013. With the reveal of the 2016 MP4-31 earlier this week, the lack of a title sponsor is apparent and highly unusual for one of the biggest teams in the sport. Lets hope for better things to come in 2016 as McLaren inch ever close to becoming the Manchester United of Formula 1.

2016 will produce better racing

There’s little chance this season will produce such a predictable outcome for a couple reasons. Firstly, the teams are finally beginning to refine their approaches to the new technical regulations. Secondly, the sport as a whole cannot afford to have another repeat of last season.

f1_monaco_2015_02

Mercedes did their homework well in advance of the new technical regulations taking effect. Their preparation paid off in the form of World Driver’s and Constructor’s Championships two years in a row. However, now the other teams are catching up, specifically Ferrari. In 2015, Sebastian Vettel was the only non-Mercedes driver to win. Expect to see more of Vettel on the top step this season and perhaps a handful of other drivers.

bernie_jean_01

As a sport, Formula 1 is facing it’s biggest challenge ever and continues to fight for relevancy amidst tumbling viewing figures. With series’ like the World Endurance Championship offering greater technical innovation and excitement, the pinnacle of motorsport now finds itself on the defensive. Gestures like scheduling the European Grand Prix on the same weekend as Le Mans isn’t the way to keep the fans favor. However, better racing on track and more reliance on the drivers’ abilities will help repair some of the damage to the sport’s reputation. Ultimately we all want to see the top drivers in the world doing what they do best, fighting for every position at the absolute limit. With yet more technical regulations proposed for 2017, Formula 1 may be wise to reconsider. While better viewing options and ticket prices have a long way to go, the first step is good racing. We should be seeing some of that again in 2016.

There we have it – 5 bold predictions for 2016. I’m keen to hear your predictions in the comments. One thing we can all agree on is that it’s great to see the start of another Formula 1 season!

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

Advertisements

Volvo’s Evil S60 Polestar TC1 WTCC Racer

The World Touring Car Championship just got a little darker with its latest entry, Volvo’s S60 Polestar TC1.

volvo_polestar_wtcc_01

volvo_polestar_wtcc_02

The TC1 makes a strong case for race cars that look far superior without their sponsorship liveries.

The car’s turbocharged 4-cylinder puts out 400 horsepower, a figure lower than expected and part of the WTCC’s 2016 regulations.

volvo_polestar_wtcc_03

volvo_polestar_wtcc_04

volvo_polestar_wtcc_05

Volvo have signed a multi-year deal with the WTCC so we’ll be seeing the TC1 for years to come.

Photos courtesy of Volvo.

2015 Singapore Grand Prix

f1_sg_2015_01

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.

f1_sg_2015_02

f1_sg_2015_03

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.

f1_sg_2015_04

f1_sg_2015_05

f1_sg_2015_09

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?

f1_sg_2015_12

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.

f1_sg_2015_14

f1_sg_2015_08

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.

f1_sg_2015_07

f1_sg_2015_13

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.

f1_sg_2015_06

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.

f1_sg_2015_10

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.

f1_sg_2015_11

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.

f1_sg_2015_15

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

2015 Italian Grand Prix

The notion that rules are meant to be broken holds especially true in Formula 1. The sport wouldn’t have evolved to the point it has, had teams not constantly teetered on the fringes of legality. However, Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza presents a different conundrum because the rules are no longer being enforced by the FIA.

f1_monza_15_01

f1_monza_15_02

The 2015 F1 campaign has been a dull one. There have been moments at Silverstone and the Hungaroring, but for the most part it’s been a one horse race. Mercedes’s dominance has them leading races by nearly 30 seconds and for everyone that isn’t a fan of the Silver Arrows, it’s been a continually difficult procession to watch. Within Mercedes, it’s Lewis Hamilton’s championship to lose. Whatever challenge Nico Rosberg hoped to bring in the latter half of the season seems to be slipping further and further away. It’s not just the mental battle that Rosberg has been at odds with, but the team aren’t even arming him with the same equipment on race day. At Monza, Rosberg ran an older power unit heading into its 6th race. The inevitable happened just 3 laps from the finish when Rosberg’s engine failed and Mercedes endured their first mechanical retirement of the season.

f1_monza_15_03

Hamilton on the other hand has been showing unbelievable pace and poise all season. Seemly gone are the emotional outbursts and competitive lulls Hamilton’s been known to have in the past. The now self-managed Hamilton is older, more confident in himself and his abilities on track – winning also helps. Sporting blonde locks at Monza, he drove to a commanding win, his second Italian Grand Prix victory. However, it was discovered during the proceedings that his tire pressure was not within the legal limits of the sporting regulations. The development was followed by a message from Hamilton’s engineers to crank up the pace for the remainder of the race. Watching it unfold, it seemed an odd call for such a comfortable lead, but it soon became clear that Mercedes wanted to finish with as big a gap as possible, bracing for a potential time penalty to follow the race. During the post-race press conference it was revealed to Hamilton by James Allen that Mercedes were being investigated by the FIA for not meeting the tire pressure regulations and that his left-rear tire was 0.3 PSI below the minimum starting pressure issued by Pirelli. The investigation to follow was swift and resulted in no punishment for Mercedes who retained all of their points from the day.

f1_monza_15_04

What will now follow is a debate that will have everyone divided when they really shouldn’t be. A ruling open to interpretation should have been one that costed Mercedes and made an example for the rest of the teams which have been increasingly getting away with infringements that would not have been tolerated in the past. Just 2 weeks ago, nearly every driver on the grid carved their own course through Spa-Francorchamps when the white lines of multiple corners were violated with (in many cases) all 4 wheels off track. No penalties were given at the Belgian Grand Prix and Sunday saw yet another violation of the sporting regulations met without penalty.

f1_monza_15_05

Whether you blame the ruling on Hamilton’s popularity, Mercedes’s overwhelming contribution to the sport or any other theory is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is if the rules are in place they must be followed. Would the FIA have had such a passive response towards a team running a higher fuel flow setting or a wing adjustment beyond the rules? It’s yet another debacle for a sport that can’t afford any more bad PR.

f1_monza_15_07

Much of the talk heading into Singapore will be about rules and it’s very likely the governing body will be much stricter as the season plays out. What should really be considered more is the much larger issue of the sport’s reliance on technology and how that’s impacting the role of driver skill. F1 has reached a point where the penalties, retirements and pitstops are the only things that impact the results. Combine that with an FIA unable to govern the sport and you’re left with the 2015 season we’re in.

f1_monza_15_06

Elsewhere, valiant efforts from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Williams’s Felipe Massa. The current and former Scuderia were the best of the rest and earned well-deserved second and third place finishes respectively. The rest of the top 10 saw standard performances. Kimi Raikkonen did his best to regain as many places as possible after a horrendous start from the front row. He finished 5th behind the Williams of Valtteri Bottas.

f1_monza_15_08

McLaren’s woes continued with Fernando Alonso enduring another retirement and Jenson Button nursing the car to a meager 14th. Reports say the McLaren-Honda relationship is beginning to crumble. Honda’s Chief Motorsport Officer Yasuhisa Arai was heavily questioned by the media at Monza and asked if he had apologized to the team’s drivers for the engine’s performance. Apparently McLaren are asking for Arai to be removed from the operation. At this point the team is almost unrecognizable and with next season’s preparations already beginning, things aren’t looking optimistic.

f1_monza_15_09

f1_monza_15_10

f1_monza_15_11

There is no sight quite like the Tifosi swarming around the podium at Monza. It’s the kind of scene we should be seeing at more venues but as F1 moves into new, uncharted territories for higher financial gains, the question of Monza remaining on the calendar beyond 2016 is a controversial issue.

f1_monza_15_12

Bernie Ecclestone wants more money from the race organizers and is threatening to pull it from the World Championship. It’s absurd that Monza getting dropped is even a consideration. Nowhere is the sport better represented by the fans than in Italy and it’s the kind of value that Bernie cannot put a price tag on. The heritage races of F1 must be preserved.

f1_monza_15_13

The teams are headed back to Asia for the Singapore Grand Prix in 2 weeks.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

The Future Look Of Formula 1?

Recently, some very interesting design concepts for the future of Formula 1 cars have been popping up.

The discussion of closed cockpits has been a hot button issue amongst the FIA and fans. While a roof or canopy would improve safety during a heavy impact, it could also increase the likelihood of a driver becoming trapped inside the car. Beyond the safety concerns, there’s also the question of looks which is still an important aspect of the sport. The allure of danger and full exposure to the elements with an open cockpit have been part of Formula 1 since the beginning and many including the drivers would like to keep things the way they are. But what if the rules did change and closed cockpits became part of the regulations? Dutch designer Andries van Overbeeke has created a solution in stunning fashion.

closed_f1_overbeeke_01

Wearing the iconic Marlboro dayglo and white livery, this McLaren concept could be what the future of Formula 1 looks like.

closed_f1_overbeeke_02

closed_f1_overbeeke_03

closed_f1_overbeeke_04

Every aspect of the car has been reimagined including a curved rear wing to accommodate the height and wider shape of the closed cockpit.

closed_f1_overbeeke_05

closed_f1_overbeeke_06

closed_f1_overbeeke_07

closed_f1_overbeeke_08

In black, the design is even more menacing. Much like a fighter jet, which F1 cars are so often compared, the canopy would be fully glass for maximum visibility. With the body work of today’s F1 already surrounding so much of the driver’s helmet, this concept doesn’t appear to sacrifice any visibility. While I would prefer to see Formula 1 stick with an open cockpit, something like van Overbeeke’s creation would be ideal should the regulations change.

Alternatively, say the cars retain their open cockpit, what might that look like in 40 years time? British 3D artist Nathan Dearsley has an answer – the McLaren MP6/P.

mclaren_mp6p_dearsley_01

mclaren_mp6p_dearsley_02

mclaren_mp6p_dearsley_03

According to the artist, prototypes of the MP6/P were tested by humans as far back as the early 90’s but were too radical for the track designs of the time. I love a cool backstory.

mclaren_mp6p_dearsley_04

mclaren_mp6p_dearsley_05

The aero design is “purposely primitive” to increase overtaking opportunities. The tradeoff is unpredictable results during heaving braking.

mclaren_mp6p_dearsley_06

mclaren_mp6p_dearsley_07

mclaren_mp6p_dearsley_08

There you have it, two very different visions of the future of Formula 1.

It may be interesting if someday the regulations made a closed cockpit optional. That way we could see greater diversity amongst the grid. Imagine the variations in aero configurations on the cars? Ultimately, the sport’s regulations need to relax. Formula 1 is too strict and innovation (I hate to use that word) has come to a standstill as every team is required to fit within the mold of the regulations. Imagine multiple engine formulas, perhaps V6 turbos and a return to V8s and the option to run closed or open cockpits? It could be brilliant!

Photos courtesy of Andries van Overbeeke & Nathan Dearsley.

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.

GP BAHRAIN F1/2015

F1 - BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX 2015

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.

f1_bahrain_gp_15_03

f1_bahrain_gp_15_06

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.

GP BAHRAIN F1/2015

f1_bahrain_gp_15_07

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.

GP BAHRAIN F1/2015

GP BAHRAIN F1/2015

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.

GP BAHRAIN F1/2015

F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain

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.

F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain - Practice

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.

GP BAHRAIN F1/2015

f1_bahrain_gp_15_16

GP BAHRAIN F1/2015

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.

f1_bahrain_gp_15_18

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

Nothing To See Here – 2015 Chinese Grand Prix

What can be said about today’s Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix? To be honest, I could barely get through the thing.

f1_china_gp_15_01

There’s been endless talk over “the show” that Formula 1 and the FIA are putting in front of fans on race day. At best, it’s a technical exercise where manufacturers can strut their stuff and fan favorite Lewis Hamilton can cruise his way to uncontested victories. At worst, it’s a case of mistaken identities and a fanbase who views the sport with rose-tinted glasses, only too quick to hark back to Hunt-Lauda or Prost-Senna as McLaren barely manage to finish races in 2015. The reality is Formula 1 lies somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, but if things carry on as they have, the circus will continue to lose its place of relevance on motorsport’s biggest stage. Today’s Chinese Grand Prix didn’t exactly help matters and as the cars rolled through the finish behind the safety car, the over-bloated, over-funded F1 machine was hoping you had not decided to change the channel already.

F1 Grand Prix of China

For American fans, NBCSN’s coverage offers absolutely nothing at this point. We’re well aware that Will Buxton and Steve Matchett have plenty to offer from their extensive databases of Formula 1 knowledge but the network’s decision to repress that knowledge has left us with cringeworthy impersonations of Sherlock Holmes from David Hobbs and Leigh Diffey flapping on about the weather and the divorce of Max Verstappen’s parents – honestly Leigh, who the hell cares? With NBC’s deep pockets, you would think they could employ the very best commentators Formula 1 has to offer in a bid to really sell it to an emerging American audience. Instead it’s SPEED’s coverage with a new coat of paint and Diffey turned up to 11.

f1_china_gp_15_02

Mercedes were back to form this weekend with Hamilton and Nico Rosberg leading qualifying and the German missing pole by just 0.4 seconds. From Rosberg’s point of view things have to be unbelievably frustrating as the team continue to favor Hamilton. For everyone else it’s clear that Rosberg just doesn’t have the same elite skills that Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso possess. Today was an easy win for Hamilton who lead Rosberg by 5 seconds for most of the race.

GP CINA F1/2015

GP CINA F1/2015

Ferrari looked strong on the back of a surprise Malaysian Grand Prix win 2 weeks ago. Kimi Raikkonen mucked up in qualifying again on Saturday but had the pace all race long. His transmissions about the woeful McLarens made for some of the few high points of Sunday’s race. Vettel meanwhile looked strong in qualifying and put the pressure on Rosberg. It will be very interesting to see how the Ferraris do at the slower, tighter European tracks.

GP CINA F1/2015

f1_china_gp_15_07

Williams rounded out the top 6 with Felipe Massa still having the advantage over teammate Valtteri Bottas. Elsewhere on the field it was a mixed bag of reliability issues, driver errors and more Pastor Maldonado acting as a human chicane for Jenson Button in the McLaren.

Fernando Alonso.

It really is shocking that Honda have botched this Formula 1 return quite so badly. Has Ron Dennis completely given up on finding a title sponsor and showing us all that “new” livery? Where is all that 650S money going?

F1 Grand Prix of China

F1 Grand Prix of China - Practice

The true embarrassment of today however was the utter incompetence of the trackside marshals, attempting to return Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso to pit lane, after the car’s Renault engine blew. To the delight of perhaps Red Bull alone, the stranded car resulted in the safety car being deployed with 3 laps to go and one of the most chaotic and dimwitted displays the sold out crowd has likely seen, as the marshals managed to inflict as much damage to the Toro Rosso as possible while performing a 1000-point turn getting it into pit lane. Could this display support an argument about the much larger problem of flyaway races to countries with no motorsports pedigree? Absolutely. But all of these marshals should have been briefed and trained so there are really no excuses. If anyone wants to argue that point, I urge you to watch the Monaco Grand Prix and see how long it takes them to remove a car from track. With the safety car in a lap sooner, we could have been treated to one of the most exciting finishes in years.

F1 Grand Prix of China - Previews

Formula 1 feels like a bad remake right now. The set pieces are certainly more spectacular, but any semblance of a plot is difficult to find and the cast really isn’t that good. As long as it makes money at the box office, it’s done the job. The cynic in me says the show’s over and once we wrap up the Hamilton-Vettel era, Formula 1 will well and truly be done. The optimist in me says I’ll look back on all of this with fond memories as we all do with seasons gone by. Ultimately if Formula 1 has any chance of surviving this rut, it really needs to figure out what it is and what it ultimately wants to become because the rest of us are packing our bags.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

2014 United States Grand Prix

The United States Grand Prix just wrapped up in Austin and proved to be one of the more entertaining races of late with Lewis Hamilton taking his 10th win of the season.

usgp_2014_01

The F1 media tend to view everything with rose tinted glasses and the story that really isn’t being discussed is just what a bad position the sport is actually in. Neither Caterham nor Marussia where able to participate in today’s Grand Prix due to financial issues and their absence brings to light the overwhelming problem of cost control in the sport. Bernie Ecclestone, who at this point appears to be destroying F1 on purpose, has been insistent that not everyone deserves the privilege of racing in the pinnacle of professional motor sport. However, an 18 car grid with ticket prices being as astronomical as they are is a very bad thing. By the start of next season, that number could dwindle to just 16 cars. The idea of 3 car teams has been tossed around, but the debate has been 50/50 and the consensus that it isn’t really much of a solution at all. Ultimately F1’s issues come down to proper governance and the imposition of a cost cap for all teams. The front runners like Mercedes and Ferrari oppose a cost cap, naturally, but it’s what would keep the playing feel more even and allow smaller teams to still compete, which in theory would create better racing. Unfortunately the teams are currently governing themselves, a flawed system where everyone votes for their own best interests. FIA President Jean Todt, who’s arguably nothing more than a figurehead, should be the one to impose stricter standards on the cost of F1. He clearly isn’t the man for the job and what we now have is the most lame duck FIA in the history of the sport.

The media aren’t really discussing this and would have the fans believe otherwise. Ultimately this could be F1’s undoing if major changes aren’t put in place. With costs running through the roof and the show on track causing many longtime fans to bow out, something must be done.

usgp_2014_02

GP USA F1/2014

usgp_2014_04

Today’s race was an exercise in wheel to wheel racing and just how good the sport can still be when car, tires and track are all working properly in unison. The Mercedes Silver Arrows have been dominant all season, were quick at the start of the weekend and stayed that way through the race’s conclusion. Nico Rosberg who secured pole on Saturday was eager to get a much needed victory in his World Championship quest. After a solid start, a safety car bunched up the grid and Hamilton was eventually able to get the edge after struggling with his first set of tires. Rosberg blamed the overtake by his teammate on an inability to get in a rhythm. It’s hard not to sympathize just a little with Rosberg and it’s clear the scolding from his team following Spa and the subsequent backlash from fans and the British media have done a number on his self confidence. Unless Mercedes produce one hell of a dominant car again next season, this may be Rosberg’s only chance to win an elusive WDC.

usgp_2014_05

usgp_2014_06

The way things stand now, Hamilton has the momentum and can just about taste his second WDC. With Hamilton being the fan favorite he is, it would be disastrous for F1 if Rosberg managed a double points win at Abu Dhabi to steal away the Championship. Imagine the backlash that would create, especially given how poorly the rule change was received in the first place.

F1 Grand Prix of USA - Previews

F1 Grand Prix of USA - Practice

Elsewhere on the grid, a house divided at Red Bull. Daniel Ricciardo continues to be one of the breakout stars in the sport while Sebastian Vettel’s woes continued. Last year’s USGP victor started today’s race from pit lane and spent a majority of the race floundering at the back of the pack. Ricciardo’s WDC hopes are officially over this season, but a 3rd place finish secured some much needed points for the team. While Ferrari still have yet to officially announce Vettel as their driver in 2015, it’s clear that the German and Red Bull are ready to part ways.

F1 Grand Prix of USA

GP USA F1/2014

GP USA F1/2014

Speaking of Ferrari, Fernando Alonso who also has yet to announce his plans for next season had some excellent battles with Ricciardo and Jenson Button today. The F14 T wasn’t really on the pace but Alonso managed 6th. His teammate Kimi Raikkonen continued to be absent from the points in 13th. The super team that everyone had hoped Ferrari would be in 2014 clearly hasn’t happened. Alonso addressed the media earlier this week and made it known he’s excited about his future plans but didn’t hint at what they may be. There have been all kinds of rumors, the most popular being that he’s heading to McLaren. Photos of Alonso speaking with Audi brass hinted at the German manufacturer possibly being interested in F1. Time will tell.

GP USA F1/2014

usgp_2014_13

Williams finished strong with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas finishing 4th and 5th respectively. Massa will surely be challenging hard for a podium next weekend at his home race in Brazil.

usgp_2014_14

McLaren were excited to unveil some yellow paint had been added to the SAP logo adorning their cars leading up the the USGP. The team will likely see the entire season through without a title sponsor. The MP4-29 just hasn’t lived up to expectations this season. Many are pegging the new partnership with Honda in 2015 the start of better things to come, however McLaren are currently running the best engine in sport and the car is still a midfield contender at best. Rumors have been floating around that Ron Dennis is set to be sacked at the end of the season and last week it was made public Sam Michael, the team’s Sporting Director would be stepping down in November. Things really aren’t looking great for McLaren as it still remains unknown who will be driving for the team next season.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - United States Grand Prix - Race Day - Austin, USA

When all was said and done, just 15 cars managed to finish today’s race. A silly move from Sergio Perez took himself and Sauber’s Adrian Sutil out of the running in lap 1. Later on, another blow to Force India after Nico Hulkenberg was forced to retire.

F1 Grand Prix of USA

This being the 3rd USGP at Circuit of The Americas, we can conclude a few things by now: the popularity of F1 continues to grow in America, Mario Andretti needs to retire from conducting podium interviews and NBCSN continues to underestimate the intelligence of their audience. It was excellent to see just how many loyal fans turned up at COTA throughout the weekend – the sport’s fan base is alive and well in the United States. American F1 fans are not NASCAR fans which is something broadcasters need to understand. Comparing the two sports is the equivalent of comparing basketball to cricket – completely different. NBCSN needs to stop treating the sport like a novelty. The way the network has embraced English Premier League football is proof they’re capable of properly handling a globally watched sport. In its 2 years on NBCSN, F1 has been relegated to a smaller studio set with none of the upgrades to their broadcast fans had hoped for. While Will Buxton continues to be the broadcast team’s standout, Leigh Diffey has long worn out his welcome as ringleader. Surely their’s a more highly qualified motor racing commentator, with previous F1 experience who’s up for the job? Part of why F1 continues to miss the mark of its full potential with an American audience is because of how it continues to be represented on TV. Every year at the USGP, we’re treated to F1 For Dummies on one of the major networks. Stop underestimating your audience NBCSN!

F1 Grand Prix of USA

All in all a solid win for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton as the teams head to Brazil for the penultimate round of the 2014 season.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

2014 Hungarian Grand Prix

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

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary - Previews

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

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

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

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

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

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

hungarian_gp_2014_07

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

hungarian_gp_2014_06

GP UNGHERIA F1/2014

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

GP UNGHERIA F1/2014

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

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

hungarian_gp_2014_11

Jenson Button in the pit lane.

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

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

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

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

The Gift Of Winning

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

hungary_quali_14_01

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

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

hungary_quali_14_02

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

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

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.