Melbourne

2015 Australian Grand Prix

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Practice

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

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

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Practice

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

Jenson Button makes a pit stop.

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

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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.

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Race

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

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Race

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

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Practice

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Magnussen celebrates his podium finish.

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

Racing Director Eric Boullier in the garage.

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

Jenson Button on track.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

Williams Martini Racing

Last week’s news, but who’s honestly tired of looking at the Williams Martini Racing FW36?

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In what became one of Formula 1’s worst kept secrets, motor racing’s most iconic sponsor has made their much anticipated return with Williams.

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Williams’ drivers Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa in Martini Racing garb.

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It’s a definite bright spot on a 2014 Formula 1 story line that keeps getting more interesting as the weeks progress. The teams have already made their long awaited return to Melbourne for the start of the season, less than 1 week away.

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Williams have struggled to attain their former glory in Formula 1 for many years now and after a rough patch with loan shark pay driver Pastor Maldonado, 2014 may be the year to see them return to their former glory. Williams have already been called the dark horse of 2014 and yes it’s still early, but you can’t deny that Mercedes engines are the performance benchmark this season and with Felipe Massa’s fresh new outlook, things could be in their favor. Bottas already made an impression as one of the most interesting young drivers in the sport and it might not be long before we see podium finishes for the team once again.

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They’ll be doing in in stunning style. The FW36 is without a doubt the best looking car on the grid this season. Lets hope Martini’s return will inspire other former sponsors and classic liveries to reenter the sport.

The Australian Grand Prix is just 6 days away!

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

The 2013 Australian Grand Prix

It’s a new year and with it, a new season of Formula 1. After months of designing, prototyping and testing, the teams were back at Albert Park for the Grand Prix of Australia.

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Here are a few takeaways from today’s race.

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On the back of last year’s biggest story, Lewis Hamilton made his Mercedes debut and it was a fine one indeed. Despite finishing 5th overall, Hamilton was on pace with the leaders and surpassed the expectations held by most. The Silver Arrows looked quick all weekend, but as the season moves forward, keep an eye on their reliability. Nico Rosberg’s race was cut short due to an electrical failure on lap 26.

Jenson Button makes a pit stop

McLaren struggled all weekend and it quickly became apparent that the MP4-28 is not on par with the rest of the front runners. Jenson Button started 10th and a bad tire strategy had him in the pits well before the rest of the grid. Sergio Perez’s debut with the team wasn’t memorable and he failed to score a single point. It’s still early and Perez may be working out some growing pains, but McLaren aren’t the kind of team to give a driver too many opportunities to get up to speed, as we all saw with Heikki Kovalainen. It was a disappointing weekend and after the loss of their top driver, technical director and title sponsor, they have some major work to do in Woking.

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Mark Webber got off to another shockingly bad start after qualifying 2nd overall. It’s a trend that plagued most of his 2012 season and it’s not a good sign to see it happening again at the start of 2013. His teammate Sebastian Vettel built an early lead but fell back as the race progressed. Despite Vettel’s 3rd place finish, expect Red Bull to pull away from the rest of the field in the coming races.

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Ferrari looked strong all weekend with both drivers doing well in qualifying and in the race. Felipe Massa has done a complete 180 from where he was at this time last season and even out qualified his teammate Fernando Alonso. Massa is driving with a newfound confidence that we saw glimpses of at the end of 2012 and it appears to have carried over into the new season. Alsonso had a few brilliant moments this weekend including a fantastic battle with Hamilton. Romain Grosjean should watch and learn how to execute proper wheel-to-wheel racing.

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Alonso finished 2nd and Ferrari are well on their way to another successful Championship run in 2013.

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Despite lots of good performances, there were 3 that really stood out. The first didn’t even get a podium finish and that was Force India’s Adrian Sutil. I’m not a fan but you have to respect a driver who spent a year away from the sport, only to come back and lead a good chunk of the Australian Grand Prix. In the end it was the tires that kept Sutil back but I doubt we’ll be seeing the last of him at the front of the pack in 2013.

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Then there’s Kimi Raikkonen, today’s race winner. Could the Australian Grand Prix have ended any better? The Iceman finished the race by telling his engineer “I told you the car was fast”, it was classic Kimi through and through. Lotus is everyone’s favorite underdog team in Formula 1 and with this strong of a start to the season, there will be more race wins to come. Expect Grosjean to improve his pace in the coming months and Kimi to keep being Kimi.

2013 Australian Grand Prix - Sunday

Finally, hats off to NBC Sports. We all wondered what would happen to Formula 1 in the United States after SPEED lost their broadcast rights. I think it’s the best thing to happen for American fans since Circuit of the Americas broke ground in Austin. Formula 1 deserves a proper home on American television and the guys at NBC did an absolutely brilliant job all weekend. The continuing race coverage during commercial breaks, the broadcast of delayed qualifying sessions and a fantastic post race show are just a few examples of just how seriously NBC is taking Formula 1. Well done!

Things are just getting started and it’s only going to get better! The Malaysian Grand Prix is less than a week away!

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

Formula 1’s Future On NBC Looks Bright

March is one of my favorite times of the year and for good reason, Formula 1 finally returns this weekend! The Australian Grand Prix is just days away and my excitement for the 2013 season opener is barely containable. For American fans of the sport, this year also marks the new broadcast home for Formula 1 on NBC Sports.

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The move to NBC was met with some initial questions. Who would make up the broadcast team? Would the races air live? Would NBC take the sport as seriously as its European counterparts? Luckily any negative speculation has been put to rest and Formula 1 is clearly in good hands in the US.

SPEED had its moments of brilliance, but that was mainly down to a solid broadcast team of Bob Varsha, Steve Matchett, David Hobbs and Will Buxton. Fortunately, most of the team have moved over to NBC, so we can expect a similar level of entertainment and insight. SPEED consistently failed with its inability to produce a high quality product. Its almost comedic approach to event coverage and second rate production value left many fans (myself included) clamoring for the UK to extend special Sky Sports and BBC coverage across The Pond.  The 5 races a year that aired on SPEED’s parent network FOX, only made matters worse. Bewildering race intros and ABC-level technical explanations were an unfortunate side effect of broadcasting to one of the sport’s smallest global audiences.

For decades Formula 1 has failed to capture a large audience in the US. How the sport has been presented to Americans is much to blame. NBC has obviously taken that into consideration and following the network’s first Countdown to F1 broadcast, it’s apparent that they’re taking things seriously. A new studio, formal attire for the presenters and a big-budget level of production is more suited to the sport’s elite presence.

With their first weekend of race coverage just days away, I’m very optimistic about what’s to come. With live practice, qualifying and race coverage, plus a post-race show and more in depth behind the scenes access to the sport, American fans are in good hands. It’s going to be another fantastic Formula 1 season and we can all be excited the sport has found the US broadcast home it so deserves.

Video courtesy of NBC Sports.

The Start Is Upon Us

The excitement is building for Sunday’s season opener at Albert Park. The teams and most of the drivers are in town, getting ready for tomorrow’s practice and the usual festivities. However Lewis Hamilton was absent, presumably in the record studio, cutting one last track before his focus shifts to racing. I’ve also heard reports that his unreleased mix tape is on sale at the Ferrari paddock all season long.

Sebastian Vettel was very upset at a press conference, after Kimi Raikkonen did impressions of him for the cameras. Raikkonen also does a far superior Nigel Mansell.

Felipe Massa is getting ready to start one final season of his career with Ferrari. So far the F2012 is performing as bad as it looks and that presents a worst case scenario for Massa, who’s already fighting for his job.

After all the talk and predictions, we finally made it to the start of another Formula 1 season. I’m really excited for this weekend’s race and I suspect either a McLaren or Red Bull driver to take the top spot. I also expect Kimi Raikkonen and his Lotus E20 to give everyone a run for their money.

Photo courtesy of Louts.