Mark Webber

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.

83rd 24 Hours Of Le Mans

Porsche’s weekend-only drivers showed up the WEC team, the Nissan GT-R LM NISMO would’ve been better off competing in LMGTE Am, Patrick Dempsey wound up on the podium and Fox Sports completely botched the race coverage. It was everything Formula 1 isn’t, it was the 83rd 24 Hours of Le Mans!

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The WEC is experiencing another golden era and has once again taken its place on the top step of international motorsport. This weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans proved to be another classic and saw Porsche dominate with a record 17th win. The Number 19 919 Hybrid driven by the Le Mans-only trio of Nico Hulkenberg, Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy completed 395 laps of the Circuit de la Sarthe. It was a statement win over Audi who struggled with reliability issues throughout the race. The number 7 R18 e-tron quattro of Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer finished third, behind the Number 17 919 Hybrid of Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley in second. As with any running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, maintaining the race lead was a chess match and it seemed likely that the Number 17 Porsche would stand victorious, but a penalty for overtaking under a yellow flag may have been the decider for Mark Webber’s first victory at la Sarthe.

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The real standout of the show was Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg who has proven to be an unbelievable talent time and time again and still has yet to get a top drive in Formula 1. It was only his first running in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and likely won’t be his last. The WEC has become the ideal landing spot for Formula 1 drivers who have increasingly become disenchanted with the series. Racing drivers talk and Webber has done his diligence recruiting throughout the F1 paddock. His friends Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso could wind up in the WEC if things at McLaren don’t turn around. Alonso was just quoted last week saying that Le Mans is more fun to drive than F1 and with Hulkenberg’s success, the allure of endurance racing will have many in F1 considering their options.

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With Porsche’s success and the return of Ford next year, Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren will certainly be considering runs at the WEC as well.

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If you chose not to spend the €9.99 on the WEC official live stream, you were limited to Fox Sports’s fragmented coverage which could only be described as “abysmal”. The Fox Sports broadcast team lead by Speed alum Bob Varsha, was ideally put on mute in favor of the voice of Le Mans, John Hindhaugh on the Radio Le Mans live stream. Though Fox Sports Go was supposed to have nonstop coverage of the event, the website and app experienced freezing and loading issues. On cable, which was a Where’s Waldo-type of channel navigating experience, the final hours of the race were interrupted by soccer coverage. When it comes to international motorsport, American broadcasters just don’t get it.

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Another year is a long wait until the teams are back at la Sarthe. Luckily the WEC is less than halfway through its season with the 6 Hours of Nürburgring on August 30. My hope is that as the sport continues to attract a larger American audience. seamless, more available coverage will follow. That’s certainly more likely to happen than Formula 1 can get its act together.

Photos courtesy of WEC and FIA.

 

Game Of Thrones

Came across this photo from an F1 drivers dinner  about 2-3 years ago.

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Notice Vettel, the odd man out from the winner’s circle at the opposite end of the table. The conversation amongst Webber, Button, Hamilton and Alonso must have been interesting. If walls could talk…

The 2013 Japanese Grand Prix

Today’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit produced the kind of unpredictability and tension that have been lacking from the sport in recent months. Despite another Vettel win, the rest of the field was very much up for grabs.

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Spa-Francorchamps may have the must stunning backdrop and Monza the most interesting heritage, but Suzuka without a doubt, has to be the most exciting circuit in Formula 1. Beloved by the drivers and fans, Suzuka Circuit was originally intended as a test track for Honda (which they still use today). The track was designed in 1962 by John Hugenholtz and features an out and back, figure-8 design. Suzuka is a brilliant mix of high speed straights, flowing S-curves and tight hairpins. Its design can yield high rewards for the most precise drivers, however making a mistake can prove costly, as we all witnessed throughout the weekend.

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Sebastian Vettel arrived in Japan with the Driver’s Championship all but clinched and would’ve been crowned today, had it not been for a 4th place finish by Fernando Alonso. Red Bull Racing’s prowess experienced a few glitches early in the weekend with a KERS problem on Vettel’s RB9. The absence of KERS may have given Mark Webber the break he needed as he secured his first pole since Korea in 2012.

2013 Japanese Grand Prix - Sunday

The RB9s of Webber and Vettel had lackluster starts from the front row. Amidst the scramble, Vettel made contact with the W04 of Lewis Hamilton past the pit exit. A solid performance from Webber however was not enough and a change in tire strategy saw him pit 3 times and eventually lose P1 to his teammate. Following the race, Webber kept things upbeat but there was little doubt his team let him down. After pitting for the first time in lap 12, Webber was back in on lap 26 which meant a 3rd stop was all but certain. Had the engineers kept the driver out for another 5 laps, Webber likely would’ve taken the car to the end and won his first Grand Prix of the season. A 2nd place finish was the best consolation for Webber, but a disappointing result in contrast to a win that should’ve been his. It was interesting to hear the panic in Vettel’s voice during radio transmissions as he was held up in traffic towards the end. With Romain Grosjean and Webber shrinking the gap, Vettel’s response was a departure from his usually calculated demeanor.

2013 Japanese Grand Prix - Sunday

The day saw another fantastic drive from Romain Grosjean in the Lotus. After an excellent start from P4, he took the lead into turn 1 and proved to be a difficult challenge for Webber throughout the race. It’s been a massive evolution for Grosjean over the last 12 months. In 2012, he was branded a lunatic by his rivals after causing numerous racing incidents. Fast forward to 2013 and Grosjean is beginning to exhibit the level of skill and maturity that Lotus will need in a leader following the departure of Kimi Raikkonen next season.

2013 Japanese Grand Prix - Sunday

The unpredictable nature of racing at Suzuka provided some excellent shuffling across the field. Nico Hulkenberg and his Sauber teammate Esteban Gutierrez were quick all weekend and out drove the likes of McLaren and Scuderia Ferrari for much of the race. Gutierrez achieved a stunning 7th place finish with his teammate Hulkenberg just a head in 6th.

GP Spanien 2013

Hulkenberg has become one of the heroes of Formula 1 and there are rumblings that he’s close to inking a deal with Lotus for 2014. The combination of the German and Romain Grosjean would be fantastic to watch and a great opportunity for Hulkenberg who’s never gotten the big break he so deserves.

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Fernando Alonso’s frustration with Scuderia Ferrari continued throughout the weekend. While it seemed unlikely he would ever leave the team, never say never. The F138 continues to struggle against its rivals from Mercedes and Red Bull Racing and a much deserved 4th place finish was the best Alonso could do at Suzuka.

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His teammate Felipe Massa performed well in qualifying and started from P5. Ultimately he secured the final World Championship point finishing 10th overall.

Penalties and mechanical errors contributed in large part to a disappointing weekend for Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton qualified behind the Red Bull’s on Saturday, just before sharing a stone-soaked handshake with rival Vettel.

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Despite Hamilton’s PR-friendly Twitter feed, his dissatisfaction with Mercedes’ performance is written all over his face. Hamilton suffered another blow today after getting clipped by Vettel at the start of the race. A tire puncture sent him to the pits after lap 1 and the subsequent damage to the W04’s brakes ended his hopes prematurely.

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His teammate Nico Rosberg was handed a drive-through penalty after leaving the pits early and nearly colliding with the incoming Sergio Perez. The penalty contributed to an 8th place finish and not the kind of result Mercedes were looking for.

Jenson in his cockpit

As beloved by the Japanese fans as Jenson Button and McLaren are, their support did little for the team who are in their worst slump in over 20 years. Button spent a majority of today’s race trading places with his teammate Sergio Perez, who was unable to break into Q3 on Saturday.

Sergio in action

McLaren have declined to answer questions about their driver lineup in 2014 but at the moment no one is safe. While it’s likely Button will continue on with the team, Perez’s fate is more uncertain.

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Overall an entertaining Japanese Grand Prix and one that fans certainly needed. It’s unlikely the rest of the season’s “Tilkedomes” will provide the same brand of racing and Vettel will certainly get his crown by Abu Dhabi. On the other side of things, inconsistent calls from the stewards continue to plague the sport. At some point they forgot it’s called “racing” and an emphasis on safety and over policing the drivers have many up in arms. Today’s controversial penalties provided for some very candid and blunt driver interviews in the media scrum following the race.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Japanese Grand Prix - Practice Day - Suzuka, Japan

There are just 4 races to go in this 2013 season! Formula 1 heads to the Buddh International Circuit in 2 weeks for the Indian Grand Prix.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

The 2013 Korean Grand Prix

Since 2010, the Korean Grand Prix has been something of an enigma on the Formula 1 calendar. Originally intended as the first piece of a large development project near the coastal city of Mokpo, it never gained the same prestige or the audience as other contemporary events in Singapore and Austin. The Korea International Circuit produces a similar brand of racing we’ve become familiar with from other Herman Tilke tracks and its location, 400km south of Seoul, has made it a difficult destination for spectators.

Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Korean Grand Prix, Preparations, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Thursday 3 October 2013.

The decision to hold a Formula 1 Grand Prix in Korea has always been a puzzling one. The country has little to no motor sports pedigree and the event has largely gone under the radar with local fans. In its earlier days, there were reports of year-old food being left to rot in the fridges of hospitality suites and a general lack of upkeep to the multi-million dollar facility. While this year’s turnout was significantly better than in years past, it’s very likely the Korean Grand Prix will suffer a similar fate to Turkey and be bumped from the calendar.

Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Korean Grand Prix, Race Day, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday 6 October 2013.

The Formula 1 media at large would have us all believe we’re watching a fantastic style of racing, but that would be a massive oversight. In what has become another season of total domination from Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing, the sport’s recent Grands Prix have been uninspired and for the most part boring exercises of tire management.

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If Vettel victories with 30 second gaps are your idea of Formula 1 at its best then maybe you disagree, but until the other teams step their games up significantly or Vettel experiences catastrophic levels of unreliability, we’re all witnessing another uncontested World Championship.

Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Korean Grand Prix, Race Day, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday 6 October 2013.

Rounding out the podium with Vettel was a Lotus 2-3 of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. The latter has been particularly quick in recent weeks and put on a strong showing today in Korea. While Ferrari didn’t have the best of luck, they were surely pleased to see their future driver (Raikkonen) maintain business as usual with another podium finish.

Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Korean Grand Prix, Race Day, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday 6 October 2013.

Grosjean is making a strong case for himself as Lotus’ leader in 2014 and it will be interesting to see who they sign as his teammate.

Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Korean Grand Prix, Race Day, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday 6 October 2013.

Mercedes were favored throughout the weekend with Lewis Hamilton starting in P2 and his teammate Nico Rosberg in P5. Unfortunately for Hamilton, the race was an uphill battle after starting from the dirty side of the track and spending most of the day holding off Fernando Alonso and looking at the back end of a very quick Nico Hulkenberg. The Mercedes driver didn’t hide his frustration over the team’s tire strategy which lead to one of the best radio transmissions of the season: “When are you gonna call me in man? These tires are fucked!” While Hamilton’s frustration with the way this season has played out is understandable, consider this is the same driver who was willing to call this season a bust just 12 months ago.

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Meanwhile, Rosberg suffered his own issues while attempting to overtake his teammate. The W04’s nose cone detached and forced an unscheduled pit stop. The time in the pits ruined any chances of Rosberg fighting for a podium.

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The Mercedes drivers finished in P5 and P7 respectively, with Hamilton ahead of his teammate.

After offering his friend a lift in Singapore 2 weeks ago, Fernando Alonso was highly critical of Pirelli’s tires following a difficult qualifying session on Saturday.

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Alonso’s growing frustration with all aspects of the sport could be attributed to yet another season of watching his World Championship hopes slip away. Alonso has given everything he can on Sundays, but the F138 just isn’t on par with the RB9.

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His teammate Felipe Massa went off the track early in lap 1 but managed to keep his car in the points, ultimately finishing in P9 with his teammate ahead in P6.

Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Korean Grand Prix, Race Day, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday 6 October 2013.

McLaren’s Sergio Perez suffered his second on track blowout of the season, causing the first safety car of the day. Pirelli received a lot of criticism throughout the weekend for high tire degradation and a lack of rear grip.

Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Korean Grand Prix, Race Day, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday 6 October 2013.

The buildup of tire debris  was exceptionally high compared to other recent Grands Prix. Much of the criticisim has come from Mark Webber who suffered a puncture following Perez’s blow out: “I got a Pirelli puncture from a Pirelli tire so… impressive.”

F1 Grand Prix of Korea - Previews

For the second race in a row, Webber was unable to finish after being t-boned by Force India’s Adrian Sutil. The collision started a fire on the RB9 which Webber presumed was from the KERS. It’s become a frustrating final leg of the season for Webber and not the way he would hope to leave the sport.

On a brighter note, Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg continues to make his case for a drive with a top flight team.

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Hulkenberg was outstanding after starting from P8 and making a charge past the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton into P4. He spent most of the race fending off Hamilton who’s W04 was no match for the Sauber coming out of the turns. Why Hulkenberg has continually been overlooked by the likes of McLaren, Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Ferrari is one of the sport’s great mysteries. If Martin Whitmarsh has any sense, he’ll highly consider swapping the underperforming Perez for Hulkenberg – the driver McLaren should’ve signed all along. It was a great result for Sauber who are making their way into uncharted territory with the potential signing of Sergey Sirotkin, the 17-year-old son of a Russian billionaire.

Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Korean Grand Prix, Preparations, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Thursday 3 October 2013.

Another Korean Grand Prix is in the books. With a positively stacked preliminary schedule for 2014, it may be Formula 1’s final visit to Yeongnam. The last of the sport’s truly great races is just a week away as the teams head to Suzuka Circuit for the Japanese Grand Prix.

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Italian Grand Prix

Monza – it just sounds fantastic doesn’t it? One of Formula 1’s last true temples of speed played host to the Italian Grand Prix today and it was a race that says a lot about what we can expect for the remainder of the 2013 season.

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“We need to be lucky and we need to have some DNFs from Sebastian or something to win the championship.”

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The words of Fernando Alonso following today’s race. It was Ferrari’s home race and all of the team’s top brass were on hand, adding to the tension in the paddock. Felipe Massa’s career as a Ferrari driver is on the line and it was an important weekend for him to prove himself. After a failed drafting strategy by the team in yesterday’s Q3, Massa qualified ahead of his teammate, starting from P4. It’s the quickest we’ve seen Massa all season and begs the question of where his pace has been hiding? Massa has a history of doing some of his best driving under pressure, but why does his job need to be on the line in order for him to perform? Ferrari may be realizing that and his fate could already be determined. Despite Massa’s 4th place finish, there’s plenty of excellent talent vying for one of the top seats in Formula 1.

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Despite his best attempts at a race win, Alonso came up short, unable to match the pace of Vettel’s Red Bull. It was a heroic drive in front of the tifosi and had there been another 5 laps in the race, we may have seen a different outcome. Both Red Bull’s were suffering from gearbox trouble in the final laps of the race and Alonso was closing in on Vettel.  However, time ran out and the day ended with the Ferrari driver finishing 2nd. Say what you will about Alonso, he’s not afraid to get everything he can from the car.

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Today’s race was telling because for the 4th year in a row, the Driver’s Championship may already be in the books. Harking back to Alonso’s comments earlier, it would take a severe turn of events to knock Vettel out of the lead. He’s now won half of all the Grands Prix in 2013 and we’re just over the halfway mark of the season.

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Granted there’s a long second leg in Asia before the penultimate races in the Americas, but Vettel has such a commanding lead that reliability may be his only competition at this point. While a 4th Driver’s Championship would further cement his legacy, fans have become bored with the predictable nature of Red Bull’s near weekly success.

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For the 7th race in a row, Vettel has been met with raucous boos on the podium. Everyone loves a winner, but win too much and they just might turn on you. It’s something Vettel will have to deal with for as long as he’s a Red Bull driver in an Adrian Newey car. Despite his skill, there are still questions of how much his success can be attributed to the car. If Vettel were to join another team and experience the same levels of success, the questions (and the boos) would cease.

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Rounding out the podium was Mark Webber. Today was his best result at the track and a fitting end to his final European leg in the sport. Webber is one of the last gentleman racers in Formula 1 and the sport will be lacking in his absence. His retirement brings attention to the “old guard” moving on and the transitional period to come. More seats at the front runners will begin to open up over the next 5 years and it will be interesting to see who will rise to the occasion.

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Nico Hulkenberg could be one such driver. Labeled by many (myself included) as the “best of the rest,” Hulkenberg had a fantastic weekend at Monza and a much needed boost to a woeful season at Sauber. After qualifying P3 yesterday, Hulkenberg did his best to fend off attacks from Nico Rosberg and Daniel Ricciardo to finish 5th overall. It’s a massively impressive result, especially considering the lack of pace Sauber have had all season. I argued that McLaren were foolish to pass over Hulkenberg when Lewis Hamilton left the team last year. He’s got all of the qualifications to be a future World Champion, he just needs the right team behind him. One seat that he would be the ideal candidate for is Massa’s at Ferrari. While it’s not certain whether Massa will leave the team, the chance for Hulkenberg to drive alongside Alonso would be his best opportunity for 2014.

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While Monza played to the advantages of Red Bull and Ferrari this weekend, Mercedes, Lotus and McLaren struggled. After winning it last year, many projected Hamilton to be the favorite in Italy. In yesterday’s Q2, he was held up in the Parabolica by Force India’s Adrian Sutil – read into that what you will. Sutil was handed a 3 grid spot penalty and Hamilton was unable to break into Q3. After starting from 12th, the Mercedes driver suffered a slow puncture that forced an early, unscheduled pit stop. Hamilton did his best to fight his way up the grid, including some nice wheel-to-wheel racing with Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button, but ultimately the best he could do was a 9th place finish.

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A downbeat Hamilton said after the race that he wasn’t happy to fight for bad positions, this coming from a driver who came into the season happy to write the whole thing off in favor of 2014. Hamilton has certainly experienced great success (relatively speaking) with his new team but the funk he was in during his final seasons with McLaren seems to have carried over somewhat into 2013. More than any other driver currently in the sport, Hamilton’s private life plays an immense role in his on track performance. It raises questions that he may be his biggest enemy, when it comes to winning Championships in the future.

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McLaren have publicly written off 2013 in favor of putting all of their efforts into next season. It’s an unusual sight for a McLaren team to be pleased just scoring points, rather than fighting for podiums and this will go down as one of the team’s worst seasons ever. The hope is that a renewed alliance with Honda and the massive change in technical regulations will play to McLaren’s favor in the coming seasons.

Jenson Button on track

Button has made it known that he’d like to finish his career with the team, as he goes into contract negotiations at the end of this season. While he’ll likely stay, questions surround his teammate’s fate. One of the primary reason’s in McLaren’s split second hiring of Sergio Perez was for the benefit of potential funding from the World’s richest man, Carlos Slim, who has ties to the driver.

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With Vodafone ending their partnership with McLaren, the presence of Perez invites Mexican business interest in the team moving forward. The pay driver argument comes into play, given Perez’s performance this season and should Slim opt out of funding the team, there’s little reason for McLaren to stay loyal to the Mexican after 2014. That story line will be an interesting one as it plays out next season.

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The 2013 Italian Grand Prix was hardly the most exciting Formula 1 race of the season, but the passionate tifosi and historic venue made it the usual spectacle we’ve come to love.

For those of us watching the race in the United State, NBC Sports’s coverage seems to be resembling that of SPEED’s more and more each race weekend. A smaller studio set and the network’s acquisition of Barclay’s Premier League telecasts, hints at less of NBC’s attention being put into Formula 1. While they have upped their game on extended coverage throughout the race weekend, the sheer volume of commercial breaks during live coverage has become infuriating. While the network has no control over FOM’s World feed, the cutaways to “Wish You Were Here” spotlights of the venues and promos for the network’s other featured sports during the race, is unfortunate. 2 weeks ago, many of the Spa’s best moments were overlooked during commercial breaks and unnecessary replays. While I commend the work of Will Buxton and the insight of Steve Matchett (two of the best in the business), surely NBC Sports – a premium pay channel – could be offering so much more, including commercial free coverage during qualifying and races.

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The European leg of Formula 1’s 2013 season is officially in the books. The teams now head back to Asia for the second time this season. The Singapore Grand Prix in 2 weeks!

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

The Equal Opportunity Employer

Infiniti Red Bull Racing RB9 Launch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Bull Confirms Ricciardo As Webber’s Replacement

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

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

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

Photo & video courtesy of Red Bull.

The 2013 Belgian Grand Prix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.