motorsports

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

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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.

Japan’s Automotive Identity Crisis

List five sports or performance cars under $50,000 that the Japanese automotive industry is producing right now. I’ll get things started:

  1. Honda Civic Type R
  2. Mazda MX-5 (Miata)
  3. Toyota 86 (FR-S)/Subaru BRZ
  4. Subaru STI
  5. ???

What else? Anything besides the 370Z which I’ve intentionally not mentioned because no one bought one. Don’t be fooled by unattainable halo cars priced to compete with Ferraris or wishful thinking concepts that will never see a production line – the Japanese automotive industry is in the middle of an identity crisis.

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Tokyo Auto Salon continues to be one of the most important motor shows in the world and the 2016 edition just wrapped up last month. It was an interesting glimpse into not only Japan’s aftermarket industry but the country’s automotive industry as a whole. What really stood out in 2016, as opposed to other years, was the lack of new sports cars. A show long celebrated for its variety, has become a showcase for the Nissan GT-R, a car that’s been with us since 2007 and now costs over $100,000 new.

Seeing the finest examples of affordable performance cars has always been what’s made Tokyo Auto Salon so exciting. Historically, the show’s been filled with the best modified offerings from Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Mitsubishi, and Mazda. For a nearly a decade now, the focus has begun shifting more heavily towards European cars the GT-R, a fine example of Japanese engineering, now mostly a case of been there, done that. The fact that aftermarket parts manufacturers and tuners are still so focused on this car speaks to the larger problem of a lack of alternatives from Japan’s half dozen automotive heavyweights.

With the exception of the four models mentioned above, there’s been a sharp decline in affordable, performance-oriented cars coming from Japan. In the last decade we’ve seen production end for the Honda S2000, Mazda RX-8 and Mitsuitbishi Evo. Mitsubishi also threatens to pull out of the North American market completely. Honda, who once set the gold standard for their entire market were forced to redesign the Civic after one model year because it did so poorly. Nissan, the Japanese manufacturer with the richest motorsports history has become more known in North America for SUVs, trucks and crossovers. More recently, Korean manufacturers like Hyundai and Kia are starting to take Japan’s place in the automotive marketplace.

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Everyone is obsessed with the Ford Focus RS right now. It arrives in North America later this year and will be a massive hit with enthusiasts. Starting at around $35,000 which is cheaper than you can get a Subaru STI for these days, it’s just more proof that there’s a market yearning for this type of car. The Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ was supposed to be the wakeup call to Japanese manufacturers when it became a global sensation 4 years ago. We had all hoped it would jumpstart a second coming of Japan’s greatest hits in the forms of new Silvias, Supras and RX-7s. Instead, Toyota lost money on their LFA technical exercise, Honda gave Tony Stark an NSX that thinks it’s a McLaren and Nismo’s IDx concept pointed at all of us and laughed.

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An automotive industry founded on affordability, cleverness and fun is producing more questionable offerings than ever, but it doesn’t have to stay that way:

Understand your customers – If you listen to the media, everyone drives a hybrid or an electric these days. Wrong. The Prius remains the one exception that’s had overwhelming success globally. Aside from it, Japan’s hybrid and electric offerings (think Honda CR-Z) cater to even more obscure, niche markets than their performance cars. How did Subaru make the transition from cult car maker, thought to be from Australia and driven by people in Vermont, to the powerhouse it’s become? They have the Impreza and its loyal owners community to thank. Enthusiast culture continues to thrive and with an entire generation growing up in Japanese cars, the customer base is well established and ready for the next 86/BRZ competitor.

Stop trying to be European – Japan has always been great at doing its own thing. Cultural philosophy plays a huge role in the design process and that sets them apart from their competitors. Everyday heroes like the Skyline and Supra took on and in many cases beat some of the best Europe had to offer. Luxury is never something Japanese cars have done very well, but functionality, reliability and affordable performance are. The ever bloating ranges from Acura, Infinity and Lexus have come at the cost of their parent brands and with little to no motorsports pedigree, halo cars priced well into the six figures will always struggle to lure away buyers from the established Europeans.

We deserve your very best – This is an argument that can also be applied to the European manufacturers and something I discussed concerning the Subaru S207. Past arguments made pertained to fears over sales figures and the archaic notion that we’re not worthy. Welcome to globalization. Japanese manufacturers would do well to take more calculated risks with some of their special performance models. The limited production S207 is a prime example of a car that would fly out of Subaru showrooms in America. Japanese manufacturers should have little concern over being able to sell upgraded trim and performance packages abroad. If it’s really an issue, make it a special order option through the dealership. The days of impossible to obtain JDM bumpers should be long gone.

Time to move on from the GT-R – Our collective fascination with all things Nismo, Skyline and GT-R will never wane. The R35 defies what’s possible in a production car and will remain one of the greatest technical achievements of its generation. With an asking price of over six figures however, few will be lucky enough to ever own, much less modify one. That’s unfortunate considering a majority of the Japanese aftermarket caters so heavily to the GT-R. It’s time to build something else!

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It could be argued that the late 90s through the early 2000s were the golden age of Japanese sports cars. Nearly every manufacturer had multiple offerings in their respective stables. The aftermarket industry was also thriving at pre-stance movement levels when people still upgraded performance. We can blame stricter emissions globally as a reason for the demise of many of Japan’s greatest hits, but consider the fact the BMW are still putting inline-6’s in their cars with great success and most European and American manufacturers have made the jump to turbochargers, something Japan made mainstream long before everyone else.

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Automotive brands are obsessed with tapping into their histories and using them as marketing strategies. How about using history as means of understanding what you’ve always been best at? Japanese manufacturers should challenge themselves to rekindle some of what made them great in the first place. People don’t remember who made the most successful mid-sized sedan, they do remember who built the engines for the most dominant car in Formula 1 history.

Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Mazda – it’s time to have some fun again!

Photos courtesy of Subaru, Ford, Lexus, Acura & Nissan.

Is The New Top Gear A Complete Mess?

Earlier today it was announced that ‘Friends’ star and petrolhead Matt LeBlanc will join Chris Evans on the Top Gear reboot. Huh?

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We’re all familiar with LeBlanc’s previous appearances as a guest on the BBC motoring show, but naming the actor as a host feels a bit left field. The announcement comes after recent rumors that Chris Harris and Sabine Schmitz would join Evans as the show’s other new hosts. Neither have confirmed whether or not they’ll be taking part, but Schmitz did appear to be with Evans during a recent bout of car sickness on set. There have also been reports of unrest between show producers and Evans who wants the same creative control Jeremy Clarkson had at the helm. For obvious reasons, nervous BBC executives are keeping much tighter reigns on the reboot.

LeBlanc will join production immediately with the other hosts announced shortly. Clearly the BBC will be eager to get the show back on air before Clarkson, Hammond and May premier on Amazon Prime.

I’m not sure we needed another Top Gear reboot. Lets be honest, it was the chemistry between the three hosts that kept everyone coming back long after the show stopped being about cars. Even if the old show hadn’t come to the abrupt end that it did, it was already nearing the end of its run. With all the excellent automotive content online from /DRIVE, Harris himself, EVO and many others, this reboot feels a bit Top Gear Australia.

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What would the chemistry be like between LeBlanc, Harris, Schmitz and Evans? My first thoughts of Harris and Schmitz when thrown into the rumor mill were that they were too good for Evans who seems more content looking at cars than driving them. It’s the most coveted gig in the automotive world, however the BBC seems like they need this to be a hit a little too badly, they seem a bit desperate.

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Ultimately the fans will decide if the new Top Gear is worth watching. I joined Amazon Prime last month.

Photos courtesy of BBC & Amazon.

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.

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.

 

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.

Shades Of Grey

McLaren Honda are reported to unveil a new livery for next weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix through the remainder of the 2015 season. It’s been described as “shades of grey” with “no chrome or silver” in a bid to distance the team away from their previous engine supplier Mercedes-Benz.

Jenson Button on track.

“Shades of grey” seems a much better descriptor of Ron Dennis’s personality who earlier this year said that McLaren would not be donning the iconic dayglo red/white or orange liveries because “why the hell do we (McLaren) want to go backwards?”.

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Interesting.

Meanwhile, Honda’s Indycar looks more like a “McLaren” than the MP4-30.

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Personally, I think McLaren Honda needs to adopt more of the dayglo red that adorns the current livery. Formula 1’s grid is starting to look like a black and white film and if they really want to stand proud with new engine supplier Honda, they should stop trying to blend in with Mercedes and Force India.

McLaren have somewhat lost their brand identity within the sport and a fresh, exciting livery would be just the what the team needs as it continues to progress with the new power units. Dennis like so many of his counterparts needs to get with the times.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

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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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.

McLaren 50

McLaren have been celebrating their 50th anniversary all season long, but today is the day all that celebrating has been for. Employees and drivers gathered at the MTC for a celebration of one of the most storied teams in motor sports history.

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Similar to the MP4-28 release event, everyone gathered in the MTC’s lobby for the parade to roll in.

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All the major players were in attendance including the MK 8D, M23 and MP4/4.

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Jenson Button and Sergio Perez were also on hand. I imagine there was a lot of talk about next season.

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The spirits of seasons past.

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Button made an entrance in this midnight purple P1.

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2013’s Formula 1 campaign hasn’t been good to McLaren. They took a gamble with the MP4-28, which is more of a redesign than an evolution car. Had they done what most of their competitors did and ran an updated version of the MP4-27, we could be having a very different conversation now.

The team has made it abundantly clear that they are focusing all of their current efforts on 2014. While this season will likely be a wash, McLaren won’t stay midfield for long.

Until then, a happy 50th to McLaren.

Photos courtesy of McLaren.

The 2013 Belgian Grand Prix

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

F1 Grand Prix of Belgium - Race

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

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

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

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

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

F1 Grand Prix of Belgium - Race

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

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

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

Jenson Button on track

It’s been one of the worst seasons in the team’s history and the signing of Sergio Perez hasn’t helped matters. While Perez has exhibited moments of brilliance, he was and is the wrong man for the job. Nico Hulkenberg is the best of the rest and should’ve been the man alongside Button.  A dismal season at Sauber will surely see him looking for greener pastures and a potential move to Ferrari in 2014.

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Felipe Massa has been warned by the team that he needs to prove himself over the next couple of races. These last few season’s have felt like deja vu for Massa. He’s never quite been able to come back from the injury he suffered in Hungary. While there’s no doubt Massa could’ve been a Formula 1 World Champion, he’s hardly qualified to continue holding a seat at one of the biggest teams in the sport. A 7th place finish today at Spa probably isn’t what the Scuderia were looking for and I suspect 2013 will be the last we see of Massa in a Ferrari.

F1 Grand Prix of Belgium - Race

Red Bull continues to dominate the sport and it seems as though everything Adrian Newey touches turns to gold. Vettel now has a commanding lead in the World Championship points and it would take a hellacious second half of the season to keep him from taking his 4th consecutive WDC.

F1 Grand Prix of Belgium - Race

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.