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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Rev Them To 15000

Everyone is moaning about Formula 1 again. There are plenty of opinions on how to fix it, but much like everything these days, the sport has become overly complicated. Can we just get back to basics?

Bernie Ecclestone

Lets stay away from rules like the absurdity of standing restarts. If the last 2 race weekends weren’t enough proof as to why that’s a terrible idea, the sport deserves to ruin itself.

What we’re more concerned with is the show itself. The buzzword around the paddock and media circles is spectacle. Apparently, the spectacle is what’s been missing from Fomula 1 in 2014 and the new technical regulations are only making matters worse. As a result, a whole slew of terrible solutions including titanium skid plates, to help generate sparks, have been written into the rules for 2015. These temporary fixes will be good at attracting the fair weather fan, but they come off as inauthentic to the serious fans and will do little to keep them hanging around if the overall product doesn’t improve.

What Formula 1 needs to do is allow the current engines to redline at their intended 15000 rpm.

What has really damaged the product in 2014 is the lack of noise on track. Watching a motor race in person is a completely different experience than watching it at home, which is actually far better. At home you get more information, are able to see all of the on track battles unfold and generally don’t miss a single lap of the race – unless you’re watching NBCSN. At the track there are other, more sensory experiences that make up for the lack of racing you get to see. One of those major advantages is hearing the cars in person. If you’ve ever been to an air show or any kind of motor race, you’ll know precisely that other-worldly feeling of shock and awe that can only be achieved through sound. Hearing any open wheel race car at WOT is a mesmerizing, joyous experience.

Formula 1 has always been the global purveyor of such sound-related bliss and in 2014 that’s all gone away and with it, the attendance on Sundays. Without the sound the sport no longer seems so exciting and so dangerous. Formula 1’s ticket prices are astronomically expensive and it’s a difficult sell outside of the diehard fans so if people are spending the money, the product better be excellent.

Some teams have tried to respond to criticism about the new sound of Formula 1. Mercedes were seen testing trumpeted exhaust earlier in the season with little effect. Right now the cars’ V6 turbos are redlining between 10-11000 rpm, however changing their tuning configurations would give the cars an additional 4-5000 rpm. The extra revs would produce much of the high-pitched wailing people have been calling for all season.

So why hasn’t it been done already?

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The answer is simple, tire degradation and fuel savings. Under the current technical regulations, the cars must maintain a certain fuel flow throughout the race.

Somewhere along the line, the FIA and Formula 1 decided they needed to become more “road relevant”. The more the sport adheres to an environmentally friendly approach, the more automotive manufacturers (like Honda) will want to become involved with the sport. New manufacturers will attract new sponsors which means more money for Bernie.

Open wheel racing was never intended to be road relevant and it never will be. There is very little to do with a Formula 1 car that you’ll find in your own garage. These machines are so specialized that even the most mundane of adjustments could adversely effect the entire car’s performance. For as much as sport is about competition, it’s also about entertainment. You would be kidding yourself to think otherwise. That being said. part of what has always made Formula 1 so entertaining, is the immense competition – the best drivers in the world racing in the best machines that money can buy. Environmental preservation will never be entertaining and at the end of the day, it’s not motor racing’s battle to wage. The sooner that’s realized, the sooner we can all get back to enjoying Formula 1 without all of the gimmicks.

2014 Australian Grand Prix

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

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Race

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

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

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Race

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

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Race

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

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Practice

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Magnussen celebrates his podium finish.

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

Racing Director Eric Boullier in the garage.

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

Jenson Button on track.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

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.

GP Spanien 2013

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 Belgian Grand Prix

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

F1 Grand Prix of Belgium - Race

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.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Belgian Grand Prix - Practice Day - Spa Francorchamps, Belgium

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.

F1 Grand Prix of Belgium - Race

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.

Jenson Button on track

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.

F1 Grand Prix of Belgium - Race

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.

F1 Grand Prix of Belgium - Race

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

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

The Great Sound Debate In Formula 1

2014 will mark a new technical era in Formula 1 with the reintroduction of turbocharged V6 engines. As car manufacturers move away from high displacement in favor of more economical setups, it makes sense that Formula 1 would follow a similar path. The switch will also invite new manufacturers to join the sport with Honda and Hyundai rumored to enter in 2015. From a business perspective, the new technical regulations make sense, however there are worries that the sport will loose some of its spectacle.

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The unique and at times violent roar of Formula 1 cars has always played an important role in the sport. The Ferrari V12s of the early 90s produced a sound heard nowhere else before or since. Many including Bernie Ecclestone, are worried that the muted tones of forced induction will turn some fans away from the sport.

Many will recall the first turbo era of Formula 1 in the 80s. The manufacturers used 6-cylinder engines not unlike what we’ll see in 2014 and the roar of their turbos’ external wastegates, provided an equally menacing soundtrack to the V10s and V12s to follow. The inline 6 turbocharged engines from BMW where known to be the most power Formula 1 has ever seen – rumored to produce nearly 1500 HP and 65 PSI in qualifying trim. While the 2014 cars will max out at around 750 HP, there’s still the potential for them to sound fantastic.

The sport’s engine manufacturers are already hard at work completing the new V6s and their sound has been a closely guarded secret. However Eccelstone has complained about the sound and even suggested the use of artificial enhancements, to make things more exciting for spectators. While Formula 1 purists will scoff at that mere suggestion of artificial noise, no one really knows what to expect. No official videos have been released of the new engine sound, however one YouTube user has produced some possibilities of what we might hear in 2014.

Each engine sound has been modified to rev to 15000 RPM which will be the limit in 2014. While the modified VR38 from the GT-R sounds exciting, the actual sound may be closer to the modified Alfa 155 DTM. It’s unlikely the turbochargers will feature external wastegates which are largely responsible for the roar of the cars in the 80s. They will also be producing significantly less boost in favor of an Energy Recovery System.

The 2014 regulations all seem a bit complicated however they’re a reflection of what we’re seeing on production cars these days. BMW is one manufacturer known for pumping artificial engine noise through the speakers of their M cars. Even Mercedes are shying away from their iconic V8s in favor of more economical turbo setups.

Despite my initial reservations, I’m excited for the new turbo era of Formula 1. With added boost we may be treated to less traction in the bends. The new ERS will also provide an additional 150 HP at the touch of a button. It will increase the potential for overtaking and make for better racing in general. While the simulations are all very entertaining, my hope is that we’ll be hearing this in 2014.

Videos courtesy of ngendro & CarniftyTV.

The Grand Prix Of Korea

Have we actually been seeing good racing in Formula 1 lately? It’s a question I’ve been pondering since the August break. Sure the venues have been glorious, but has that blinded us to the fact that nothing truly special is unfolding on track? Red Bull fans will be quick to counter this argument as the team have returned to all-dominating form. We’ve seen some surprise podium finishers and some unfortunate retirements but has the racing really been any good? The silly season has kept most of us occupied with the off-track drama in between Grand Prix weekends, but it’s been quite some time since I’ve been blown away by anything on track. Today’s Grand Prix of Korea answered that question and helped uncover a few contributing factors.

First Lap Crashes

Motor racing and crashing have always gone hand in hand, but the sheer volume of first lap crashes and subsequent retirements we’ve seen since Spa is bordering the ridiculous.

The actions of Romain Grosjean have been discussed over and over, but consider today’s race in which both Sauber’s ended the races of Jenson Button and Nico Roseberg. This was the second weekend in a row Rosberg was taken out on the first lap. Have Formula 1 drivers become that desperate to save their seats? Both Grosjean and Kobayashi have been under heavy pressure to produce for their respective teams and the careers of both drivers hang on a very fine line.

Grosjean has displayed a raw talent and blistering speed while Kobayashi has been a consistent driver and a fan favorite. But the desperation on track and resulting collateral damage has had a major effect on the seasons of some of the sport’s leading contenders. What many of the drivers on mid-field teams are failing to recognize is that races aren’t won on the first lap.

Reliability

Ferrari and Red Bull have had their issues over the course of 2012, but no front running team has suffered more with reliability than McLaren. After gearbox issues in both Monza and Singapore, suspension problems ruined Lewis Hamilton’s race in Korea.

After starting behind the Red Bulls in P3, Hamilton began to fall back in the field, struggling with the car for most of the race. In the final laps he was fighting for valuable points against Torro Rossos and Force Indias. Hamilton criticisms aside, fighting for P10 is not usually something we’re used to seeing him doing. As a team, McLaren severely need to get their act together. Since the Hamilton split, they’ve been in shambles. From a fan perspective these reliability issues have had an effect on the quality and competitiveness of the racing. We all expect to see our favorite teams at the top of their games.

While some like Red Bull have exceeded expectations, others including McLaren and Mercedes have failed to meet the mark.

Safety Cars & Incompetence

Many will say it was the safety cars that made the Singapore Grand Prix a complete wash. But what about Japan? The restart after clearing the damage of the first lap crashes saw Sebastian Vettel charging like a gazelle, while the rest of the pack were left dazed and confused. Did Kobayashi and Button not get the memo that the race was back on? Incompetence has also played a role in recent race weekends. In both Japan and Korea, we’ve seen yellow flags during the flying laps of Q3.

Kimi Raikkonen spun his car in Japan, while Daniel Riccardo experienced gearbox issues in Korea. On Sunday’s race another yellow flag affected the racing when track marshals failed to remove Nico Rosberg’s beached Mercedes. That particular instance is up for debate, as Rosberg’s car posed no apparent threat to the drivers on track. Safety is an obvious concern that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but at what point has the FIA begun to babysit the drivers? Everyone in the sport understands the risks involved but now the caution is beginning to affect the show.

The Irrelevant Grand Prix

Is the Korean Grand Prix a joke?

Apart from the financial and sponsorship advantages, what’s the point of this race? The Korea International Circuit’s gates open only once a year for Formula 1. The track is filthy and the race has failed to attract the kind of attendance FOM had originally anticipated. One only needs to watch the Korean Grand Prix to understand why this event continues to lose money.

The organizer’s incompetence is blatantly obvious from the track literally falling apart during the race, to event staff harassing the drivers during podium interviews. Lewis Hamilton’s race went from bad to worse after his McLaren picked up a chunk of astro turf which lodged itself on the car’s side pod. He spent the remainder of the race with a green streamer. As the podium interviews started, Sebastian Vettel was hounded by one of girls who handed the drivers their microphones. Apparently she wanted his hat. It’s easy to laugh at the race’s more ridiculous occurrences, but for a World-class event it’s completely unacceptable. Not to mention the fans couldn’t even be bothered to stay in their seats to support the podium ceremonies.

It’s been 3 years since the Korean Grand Prix joined the Formula 1 calendar and I’m still struggling to understand why we still have it.

Sunday’s Heroes

Despite all the misfortunes of today’s Korean Grand Prix, it wasn’t without its stars. Hats off to Felipe Massa who is winning my support week after week. We’re back to the old Massa, the one before the  accident. He’s got a smile again and his demeanor shows through in his driving. Even Ferrari can see it as they issued team orders, telling him slow down as Alonso’s pace weakened.

Rumors suggest he’s already signed a 1 year extension with Ferrari, which could very will be the case. Whatever the reason, I’m happy to see him competitive again. Another driver who made a case on Sunday was Nico Hulkenberg. I was part of the minority that said he should have replaced Hamilton at McLaren and today he showed everyone why.

His cool, collected demeanor would’ve been a perfect fit at McLaren and he could’ve flourished under the guidance of Button and the rest of the team. If the rumors are correct, Hulkenberg will do well at Sauber next year.

As much as it pains me to say this, we all have to admire what Red Bull have done in the last few races. Adrian Newey is a genius and has built another brilliant car. Even Mark Webber had a great weekend and should be pleased. No one was going to be able to stop Vettel in his RB8. However, I’m still hung up on the skills of Vettel. Is it the driver or the car? Earlier in the season he struggled when the car wasn’t performing and now that it is, he’s back to winning races.

The bottom line is that Fernando Alonso and Ferrari have quite a bit of work to do between now and the end of November if they hope to win another WDC.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

The Podium Interview

Why exactly do we have the podium interview? FOM would probably tell you that it’s an opportunity for the drivers to better connect with fans. But rather than the candid, face-to-face experience FOM was hoping for, we’ve been treated to awkward fidgeting, question dodging and a panel of celebrity interviewers who seem even more uncomfortable than the drivers.

The irony is that neither the drivers nor the fans seem to be on board with this style of post-race interview. Even Jenson Button made comments about the awkwardness while being questioned by Spa legend Jacky Ickx on Sunday.

No one likes being put on the spot, especially in front of 5000 fans and every member of every rival team in the sport. Maybe FOM likes watching their drivers squirm on the podium, which seems a strange contrast to the elation felt after winning a Grand Prix.

The previous style of post-race interview allowed for a much more honest discussion from the drivers and gave all of us more insight to their strategies during the race. If FOM wants to hand the top 3 finishers a mic to thank the fans, fine. But save the interview for the press, because this post-race ritual is just plain awkward.

Photo courtesy of Red Bull/Getty Images.

Formula 1 2011 Season Recap

FOM have put together a nice recap of last year’s Formula 1 season. I’ve definitely seen better fan videos, but none of them have the access to this great footage.

The video is pretty Vettel intensive. A ton happened this season and I’m not sure this does it justice. Anyway, have a look for yourself.

Some people have been asking me if A Class is an F1 blog now. It’s definitely not however, Formula 1 is something I’m very interested in and you can expect to see a whole lot of coverage on here this season. I have some JDM stuff lined up for later on in the week, so stay tuned.

Video courtesy of Formula One Management.