Lotus

Renault Plays It Safe With A Boring New F1 Livery

Renault marked its return to Formula 1 with a new driver lineup and a completely uninspired “launch” livery earlier today. The factory team is back in the sport for the first time since 2011 after taking over the struggling Lotus team.

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The Renault factory team and the prospect its iconic yellow livery making a return to Formula 1 was very exciting news at the end of 2015. In recent years the grid has become a black and white film with varying shades of grey, Renault yellow would’ve injected some much needed technicolor.

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Unfortunately that probably won’t be the case. Much in the same way McLaren-Honda teased hints of day-glo last season, Renault have played it safe by keeping things more neutral. The gesture probably serves as an effort to leave as much blank canvas for sponsors as possible.

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While the fact that it’s a launch livery could signal changes come the start of the season, it’s just another small letdown where the current conservative, corporate climate of the sport overrules fun. In much the same way drivers have been barred from changing their helmet designs throughout the season, Formula 1’s liveries offer no creativity and it’s a shame.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic & Renault.

2015 Singapore Grand Prix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

Right Place At The Right Time – 2015 Monaco Grand Prix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic & McLaren Honda.

2015 Bahrain Grand Prix

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain

Fernando Alonso on track.

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

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

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Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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 Monaco Grand Prix

While the rivalry at Mercedes is hardly the Senna-Prost sequel the media keep alluding to, things definitely got awkward following yesterday’s Monaco Grand Prix.

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Over the past couple of months Lewis Hamilton hasn’t passed on an opportunity to take jabs at his Mercedes teammate. Whether it be commentary on Rosberg’s lavish upbringing or claims that their friendship is far more distant than it seems, Hamilton has made it abundantly clear that he’s vying for top driver’s honors within the team. Watching the teammates’ body language following the last few races has become a favorite past time of the F1 media and while things have grown progressively more awkward, it all came to a head in Monaco.

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Saturday’s qualifying saw both Silver Arrows comfortably ahead of the pack and it really was a question of which Mercedes driver would take pole. Rosberg looked more comfortable on track all weekend but a mistake at the end of Q3 cost the remainder of the grid their flying laps, including a very unhappy Hamilton who would start from P2.

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In the press conference that followed, a downtrodden Hamilton sat alongside an exuberant Rosberg and attempted to downplay the incident.

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While the glitz and glamor have always made the Monaco Grand Prix the hottest ticket on the F1 calendar, the racing has been less than spectacular in recent years. Yesterday’s running was no exception with plenty of safety car laps and very little passing on track.

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Ferrari entered the weekend with realistic aspirations and appeared to be slightly more competitive up front. Kimi Raikkonen got off to an excellent start but ultimately fell back in the field after getting hit by Marussia’s Max Chilton and suffering a puncture.

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Things fared better for Fernando Alonso who finished a respectable 4th, while struggling to keep up with the much quicker Silver Arrows and the RB10 of Daniel Ricciardo.

F1 Grand Prix of Monaco - Previews

The situation between Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull continued to fracture. After starting from P4, Vettel experienced turbo issues which cut his race short after 5 laps. Somewhere on a yacht in the Monaco harbor, Mark Webber was celebrating. The 4 times World Champion has gotten little support from Red Bull’s top brass all season long.

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It really does appear that Vettel is out on an island by himself at this point. Perhaps a Ferrari contract is in his back pocket and the team knows it? His teammate Daniel Ricciardo isn’t helping Vettel’s case.

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After a solid qualifying which Ricciardo discribed as “disappointing”, he was able to close the gap with Hamilton in the final laps of the race. Had there been a few more laps, it may have been Ricciardo finishing 2nd instead of 3rd.

Jenson Button on track.

Retirements were abundant throughout the grid, as they tend to be in Monaco. Both Williams and McLaren had mediocre weekends. Valtteri Bottas failed to finish while his teammate Felipe Massa came 7th behind the McLaren of Jenson Button. Signs of age appear to be showing for both veterans who are being out-performed by their much younger teammates.

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It will be interesting to see how much longer McLaren are willing to hold on to Button and Williams to Massa.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Monaco Grand Prix - Saturday - Monte Carlo, Monaco

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Despite safety cars and the supposed debris in Hamilton’s eye, the real story of the weekend didn’t happen out on track, but directly following the race in pit lane. After Rosberg accepted his 2nd of back-to-back Monaco wins, all eyes were on the Mercedes teammates and how they would receive one another. A sour grapes Hamilton avoided making eye contact and quickly left the scene after answering a few questions from Benedict Cumberbatch. No handshakes and certainly no congratulations where given. The UK tabloids will be especially busy in the lead up to Montreal.

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F1 Grand Prix of Monaco

Speculations aside, I love a good rivalry. This social movement that demands we should all be PC and great friends with one another just doesn’t work in sports – it doesn’t work in real life either. Watching 2 NBA teams hug it out at the end of a hard fought Playoffs battle, dilutes everything fans just witnessed. Seeing athletes at the top of them game is seeing individuals completely focused on one thing – winning. I don’t blame either of the Mercedes drivers for their respective moods over the outcome of yesterday’s Monaco Grand Prix. In fact, I’d like to see more of it between all the drivers. Rivalries are good for business. They keep people engaged, they keep the media talking, they put eyeballs on the TV come race day. We complain when F1 is a procession and nothing happens on track. Now we’re on the cusp of a truly great interteam rivalry. Maybe it won’t be Senna-Prost II, but it will keep things interesting for Formula 1 and interesting is good for business.

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Montreal is in 2 weeks.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

2014 Spanish Grand Prix

Many would consider the Spanish Grand Prix to be the actual start of the 2014 Formula 1 season, kicking off the European leg of the sport. As with quite a few of the Grands Prix we’ve seen this season, the interteam dynamics and off track storylines have been far more interesting than what we’ve seen on track. For the most part the Spanish Grand Prix at the newly renamed Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya was an uneventful affair, with teams sticking to their strategies in this 2 stopper.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Spanish Grand Prix - Race Day - Barcelona, Spain

One of the most interesting aspects of the 2014 season has been the interteam battles, most notably Mercedes. The duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg started the 2014 campaign as 2 of the friendliest teammates in Formula 1, but as the season’s progressed, the relationship has deteriorated to that of respectful coworkers and nothing more. Hamilton was quoted in the media saying of all his closest friends Rosberg wasn’t one of them. His teammate made similar comments and it made abundantly clear that both would be vying for the clear number 1 within the team.

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On paper, Rosberg was favored all weekend long. He put down consistently better lap times in Friday practice and qualifying but in the end it was Hamilton who was able to dig deep and put the W05 on pole. While not particularly a champion’s drive today, Hamilton maintained consistency from the start and took his 4th consecutive victory this season. Rosberg finished within 1 second of his teammate to take 2nd place and the body language following the race was anything but friendly.

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Hamilton’s dynamic with the team was a departure from this season’s previous races. Lots of second guessing over the radio and a general frustration from the driver over the car’s twitchy performance. It was a telling sign of just how tense things have become in the Mercedes garages and it will be an interesting storyline to follow as the season progresses. The team’s domination over the sport right now is very Red Bull-esque and by the end of the race both Mercedes’ drivers had lapped the entire field with the exception of the 2 Red Bulls, the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso. There was an expectation that the other teams would bring more of a fight to Mercedes after the 3 week break, but no one is close. Right now the World Championship is Hamilton’s to lose.

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Things throughout the rest of the field were business as usual. Ferrari seemed to have made some improvements during the 3 week break and Kimi Raikkonen was clearly communicating better with the F14 T, much to the dismay of Alonso who was keen to capture a podium at his home Grand Prix. Despite the car’s lack of performance Alonso gives it his all every race weekend.

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Say what you will about his past indiscretions with McLaren and Renault, the guy cares immensely and is able to squeeze every ounce of performance from every car. Alonso remained behind his teammate for much of the race but was able to overtake Raikkonen and finished 6th overall. The real question is how much longer Alonso will put up with Ferrari’s lack of performance. With more competition from his teammate, it seems a matter of time before the driver heads somewhere else.

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Red Bull remained inconsistent all weekend. While Daniel Ricciardo settled into the RB10, Sebastian Vettel had a hellacious Friday practice and qualifying. To top things off, he was handed a 5 grid spot penalty and started in 15th. Vettel has been very vocal in the media all season long about his distaste for the new cars and Red Bull’s performance. This week he called for more aggressive cars, which seems to be the very reason he’s currently struggling. Without the exhaust blown diffusers of last season, Vettel has been unable to get the same kind of traction out of the corners. This has largely been his achilles heel in 2014 – in season’s past Vettel could hold down the accelerator at the exit with full confidence that the car would maintain grip.

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Most of his complaints boil down to a lack of success and the fact that Ricciardo is outdriving him certainly isn’t helping. It’s interesting how the team have largely abandoned Vettel’s corner. Horner and Newey have nearly resorted to radio silence in the media and it begs the question that Vettel could be leaving soon for Ferrari, where he may have already signed a pre-contract. Loyalties certainly seem to be shifting in the Red Bull paddock and Mark Webber must be enjoying every minute of it.

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Elsewhere on the grid, Valtteri Bottas gave Williams another reason to keep believing. He once again outdrove his teammate Felipe Massa and finished a very respectable 5th. The Lotus of Romain Grosjean and the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10 spots. McLaren were yet again nowhere to be found all race.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Spanish Grand Prix - Race Day - Barcelona, Spain

After some respectable times on Friday, Jenson Button barely made it into Q3 on Saturday and struggled today, finishing 11th with his teammate Kevin Magnussen just behind in 12th. Still without a title sponsor 5 races into the season and one really has to wonder what’s going on at McLaren. Theoretically they should be doing far better with the superior Mercedes engines. They looked strong in pre season testing and have fallen every race since. Not good enough Ron.

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With Spain in the books and the teams back in Europe, it’s really starting to feel like Formula 1 is properly underway. Next stop is Monaco in 2 weeks!

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

2014 Lotus E22

It’s been a tough few months for Lotus. Granted, most of their issues stem from not having their finances in check, but to lose both your star driver and Team Principal in between seasons is difficult. Romain Grosjean proved he was ready for the challenge of leading a team in the latter half of 2013, but will there even be a team for him to lead much longer?

Thursday it was announced that Team Principal Eric Boullier would be leaving Lotus immediately. Soon after the team took to social media and hastily released images of the 2014 car, the E22.

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In many ways the E22 is very much like the rest of the cars we’ve seen so far in 2014. It looks quite good from the side, but come around to the front and you won’t find the finger nose that the other teams are sporting.

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Instead, Lotus has gone all feminine. The asymmetrical, split nose on the E22 could prove to be the most radical design of the 2014 season. Whether it will actually dominate on the track is another story.

2014 is shaping to be another strange year in Formula 1.

Photos courtesy of Lotus.