Ron Dennis

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.

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2015 Italian Grand Prix

The notion that rules are meant to be broken holds especially true in Formula 1. The sport wouldn’t have evolved to the point it has, had teams not constantly teetered on the fringes of legality. However, Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza presents a different conundrum because the rules are no longer being enforced by the FIA.

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The 2015 F1 campaign has been a dull one. There have been moments at Silverstone and the Hungaroring, but for the most part it’s been a one horse race. Mercedes’s dominance has them leading races by nearly 30 seconds and for everyone that isn’t a fan of the Silver Arrows, it’s been a continually difficult procession to watch. Within Mercedes, it’s Lewis Hamilton’s championship to lose. Whatever challenge Nico Rosberg hoped to bring in the latter half of the season seems to be slipping further and further away. It’s not just the mental battle that Rosberg has been at odds with, but the team aren’t even arming him with the same equipment on race day. At Monza, Rosberg ran an older power unit heading into its 6th race. The inevitable happened just 3 laps from the finish when Rosberg’s engine failed and Mercedes endured their first mechanical retirement of the season.

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Hamilton on the other hand has been showing unbelievable pace and poise all season. Seemly gone are the emotional outbursts and competitive lulls Hamilton’s been known to have in the past. The now self-managed Hamilton is older, more confident in himself and his abilities on track – winning also helps. Sporting blonde locks at Monza, he drove to a commanding win, his second Italian Grand Prix victory. However, it was discovered during the proceedings that his tire pressure was not within the legal limits of the sporting regulations. The development was followed by a message from Hamilton’s engineers to crank up the pace for the remainder of the race. Watching it unfold, it seemed an odd call for such a comfortable lead, but it soon became clear that Mercedes wanted to finish with as big a gap as possible, bracing for a potential time penalty to follow the race. During the post-race press conference it was revealed to Hamilton by James Allen that Mercedes were being investigated by the FIA for not meeting the tire pressure regulations and that his left-rear tire was 0.3 PSI below the minimum starting pressure issued by Pirelli. The investigation to follow was swift and resulted in no punishment for Mercedes who retained all of their points from the day.

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What will now follow is a debate that will have everyone divided when they really shouldn’t be. A ruling open to interpretation should have been one that costed Mercedes and made an example for the rest of the teams which have been increasingly getting away with infringements that would not have been tolerated in the past. Just 2 weeks ago, nearly every driver on the grid carved their own course through Spa-Francorchamps when the white lines of multiple corners were violated with (in many cases) all 4 wheels off track. No penalties were given at the Belgian Grand Prix and Sunday saw yet another violation of the sporting regulations met without penalty.

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Whether you blame the ruling on Hamilton’s popularity, Mercedes’s overwhelming contribution to the sport or any other theory is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is if the rules are in place they must be followed. Would the FIA have had such a passive response towards a team running a higher fuel flow setting or a wing adjustment beyond the rules? It’s yet another debacle for a sport that can’t afford any more bad PR.

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Much of the talk heading into Singapore will be about rules and it’s very likely the governing body will be much stricter as the season plays out. What should really be considered more is the much larger issue of the sport’s reliance on technology and how that’s impacting the role of driver skill. F1 has reached a point where the penalties, retirements and pitstops are the only things that impact the results. Combine that with an FIA unable to govern the sport and you’re left with the 2015 season we’re in.

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Elsewhere, valiant efforts from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Williams’s Felipe Massa. The current and former Scuderia were the best of the rest and earned well-deserved second and third place finishes respectively. The rest of the top 10 saw standard performances. Kimi Raikkonen did his best to regain as many places as possible after a horrendous start from the front row. He finished 5th behind the Williams of Valtteri Bottas.

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McLaren’s woes continued with Fernando Alonso enduring another retirement and Jenson Button nursing the car to a meager 14th. Reports say the McLaren-Honda relationship is beginning to crumble. Honda’s Chief Motorsport Officer Yasuhisa Arai was heavily questioned by the media at Monza and asked if he had apologized to the team’s drivers for the engine’s performance. Apparently McLaren are asking for Arai to be removed from the operation. At this point the team is almost unrecognizable and with next season’s preparations already beginning, things aren’t looking optimistic.

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There is no sight quite like the Tifosi swarming around the podium at Monza. It’s the kind of scene we should be seeing at more venues but as F1 moves into new, uncharted territories for higher financial gains, the question of Monza remaining on the calendar beyond 2016 is a controversial issue.

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Bernie Ecclestone wants more money from the race organizers and is threatening to pull it from the World Championship. It’s absurd that Monza getting dropped is even a consideration. Nowhere is the sport better represented by the fans than in Italy and it’s the kind of value that Bernie cannot put a price tag on. The heritage races of F1 must be preserved.

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

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

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.

Fernando Alonso Joins McLaren-Honda

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After lots of media and fan scrutiny, Formula 1’s most indecisive team finally announced their 2015 driver lineup. The much deserving Jenson Button will retain his seat for 2015. Beyond next season remains debatable, but the team did the right thing in keeping Button who will provide a wealth of knowledge and experience in the testing and setup of McLaren’s new Honda power units. You really have to admire Button’s patience and professionalism over the last couple months. The team have been unable to deliver a competitive car for 3 seasons and no veteran of the sport should have to put up with the amount of unknowns and commitment dodging that Button endured. It speaks to lack of leadership within the team that starts at the top and just how fractured one of Formula 1’s heritage teams has become.

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Joining Button will be arguably the best driver currently in the sport, Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard’s tumultuous 2007 season with the team is well documented and feigned enthusiasm from Ron Dennis on his return may run dry by midseason. The two claimed to have “unfinished business” earlier in the week at McLaren’s driver announcement in Woking and only time will tell if the relationship has truly mended. At its core Alonso’s arrival was Honda’s decision – they were keen to have the World Champion’s expertise on the team and he ultimately gives McLaren the best chance at winning next season.

With this week’s answers, there are still lots of questions. Many are claiming the return of Honda will also mark the return of McLaren’s winning ways. However, the Mercedes power unit is the most dominant currently in the sport and of the teams that used them in 2014, McLaren struggled the most on track. Chassis development is where McLaren have really missed the mark the last few seasons. With a revolving door of designers and engineers in Woking, it will take more than the glitter of McLaren-Honda heritage to get the team fighting up front. Another question is that of the team’s lack of a title sponsor heading into 2015. McLaren ended ties with Vodafone at the end of the 2013 season and have yet to secure a new sponsor. There were questions of Kevin Magnussen’s ability to attract Danish money to the team – he will remain a reserve driver next season.

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Ultimately the team’s performance issues will remain a work in progress, it’s the personalities within the team that have the potential to make or break McLaren-Honda moving forward. Having two former World Champions means managing big egos and it’s unlikely that Button will have any interest in serving as the team’s number 2 – something Alonso has sought on every team he’s driven for in his career. In the background you have Ron Dennis who’s relationship isn’t strong with either driver. Animosity remains and it may only be a matter of time before that surfaces publicly if the team don’t do well next season. Presumably there are opt out clauses in Alonso’s 25M contract if it ends up being a difficult fit.

A couple things are for sure, McLaren-Honda will be one of the most interesting teams to follow in 2015 and you can be sure of more Mark Webber sightings in their garages.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

2014 United States Grand Prix

The United States Grand Prix just wrapped up in Austin and proved to be one of the more entertaining races of late with Lewis Hamilton taking his 10th win of the season.

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The F1 media tend to view everything with rose tinted glasses and the story that really isn’t being discussed is just what a bad position the sport is actually in. Neither Caterham nor Marussia where able to participate in today’s Grand Prix due to financial issues and their absence brings to light the overwhelming problem of cost control in the sport. Bernie Ecclestone, who at this point appears to be destroying F1 on purpose, has been insistent that not everyone deserves the privilege of racing in the pinnacle of professional motor sport. However, an 18 car grid with ticket prices being as astronomical as they are is a very bad thing. By the start of next season, that number could dwindle to just 16 cars. The idea of 3 car teams has been tossed around, but the debate has been 50/50 and the consensus that it isn’t really much of a solution at all. Ultimately F1’s issues come down to proper governance and the imposition of a cost cap for all teams. The front runners like Mercedes and Ferrari oppose a cost cap, naturally, but it’s what would keep the playing feel more even and allow smaller teams to still compete, which in theory would create better racing. Unfortunately the teams are currently governing themselves, a flawed system where everyone votes for their own best interests. FIA President Jean Todt, who’s arguably nothing more than a figurehead, should be the one to impose stricter standards on the cost of F1. He clearly isn’t the man for the job and what we now have is the most lame duck FIA in the history of the sport.

The media aren’t really discussing this and would have the fans believe otherwise. Ultimately this could be F1’s undoing if major changes aren’t put in place. With costs running through the roof and the show on track causing many longtime fans to bow out, something must be done.

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GP USA F1/2014

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Today’s race was an exercise in wheel to wheel racing and just how good the sport can still be when car, tires and track are all working properly in unison. The Mercedes Silver Arrows have been dominant all season, were quick at the start of the weekend and stayed that way through the race’s conclusion. Nico Rosberg who secured pole on Saturday was eager to get a much needed victory in his World Championship quest. After a solid start, a safety car bunched up the grid and Hamilton was eventually able to get the edge after struggling with his first set of tires. Rosberg blamed the overtake by his teammate on an inability to get in a rhythm. It’s hard not to sympathize just a little with Rosberg and it’s clear the scolding from his team following Spa and the subsequent backlash from fans and the British media have done a number on his self confidence. Unless Mercedes produce one hell of a dominant car again next season, this may be Rosberg’s only chance to win an elusive WDC.

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The way things stand now, Hamilton has the momentum and can just about taste his second WDC. With Hamilton being the fan favorite he is, it would be disastrous for F1 if Rosberg managed a double points win at Abu Dhabi to steal away the Championship. Imagine the backlash that would create, especially given how poorly the rule change was received in the first place.

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Elsewhere on the grid, a house divided at Red Bull. Daniel Ricciardo continues to be one of the breakout stars in the sport while Sebastian Vettel’s woes continued. Last year’s USGP victor started today’s race from pit lane and spent a majority of the race floundering at the back of the pack. Ricciardo’s WDC hopes are officially over this season, but a 3rd place finish secured some much needed points for the team. While Ferrari still have yet to officially announce Vettel as their driver in 2015, it’s clear that the German and Red Bull are ready to part ways.

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Speaking of Ferrari, Fernando Alonso who also has yet to announce his plans for next season had some excellent battles with Ricciardo and Jenson Button today. The F14 T wasn’t really on the pace but Alonso managed 6th. His teammate Kimi Raikkonen continued to be absent from the points in 13th. The super team that everyone had hoped Ferrari would be in 2014 clearly hasn’t happened. Alonso addressed the media earlier this week and made it known he’s excited about his future plans but didn’t hint at what they may be. There have been all kinds of rumors, the most popular being that he’s heading to McLaren. Photos of Alonso speaking with Audi brass hinted at the German manufacturer possibly being interested in F1. Time will tell.

GP USA F1/2014

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Williams finished strong with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas finishing 4th and 5th respectively. Massa will surely be challenging hard for a podium next weekend at his home race in Brazil.

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McLaren were excited to unveil some yellow paint had been added to the SAP logo adorning their cars leading up the the USGP. The team will likely see the entire season through without a title sponsor. The MP4-29 just hasn’t lived up to expectations this season. Many are pegging the new partnership with Honda in 2015 the start of better things to come, however McLaren are currently running the best engine in sport and the car is still a midfield contender at best. Rumors have been floating around that Ron Dennis is set to be sacked at the end of the season and last week it was made public Sam Michael, the team’s Sporting Director would be stepping down in November. Things really aren’t looking great for McLaren as it still remains unknown who will be driving for the team next season.

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When all was said and done, just 15 cars managed to finish today’s race. A silly move from Sergio Perez took himself and Sauber’s Adrian Sutil out of the running in lap 1. Later on, another blow to Force India after Nico Hulkenberg was forced to retire.

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This being the 3rd USGP at Circuit of The Americas, we can conclude a few things by now: the popularity of F1 continues to grow in America, Mario Andretti needs to retire from conducting podium interviews and NBCSN continues to underestimate the intelligence of their audience. It was excellent to see just how many loyal fans turned up at COTA throughout the weekend – the sport’s fan base is alive and well in the United States. American F1 fans are not NASCAR fans which is something broadcasters need to understand. Comparing the two sports is the equivalent of comparing basketball to cricket – completely different. NBCSN needs to stop treating the sport like a novelty. The way the network has embraced English Premier League football is proof they’re capable of properly handling a globally watched sport. In its 2 years on NBCSN, F1 has been relegated to a smaller studio set with none of the upgrades to their broadcast fans had hoped for. While Will Buxton continues to be the broadcast team’s standout, Leigh Diffey has long worn out his welcome as ringleader. Surely their’s a more highly qualified motor racing commentator, with previous F1 experience who’s up for the job? Part of why F1 continues to miss the mark of its full potential with an American audience is because of how it continues to be represented on TV. Every year at the USGP, we’re treated to F1 For Dummies on one of the major networks. Stop underestimating your audience NBCSN!

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All in all a solid win for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton as the teams head to Brazil for the penultimate round of the 2014 season.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

McLaren’s Identity Crisis

Successful automotive manufacturer, dealer and now animation studio – did McLaren forget they’re a racing team?

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2 years on and it’s looking more and more like Lewis Hamilton made absolutely the right decision. We’re headed into the 6th race of the season and still no title sponsorship. How about a little less Tooned and a little more get your shit together on track?

Monaco is this Sunday!

Photo courtesy of McLaren.

2014 Australian Grand Prix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Magnussen celebrates his podium finish.

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

Racing Director Eric Boullier in the garage.

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

Jenson Button on track.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

2014 McLaren MP4-29

It’s been a pretty big news day in Formula 1. Apart from the 2014 cars rolling out, we learned that Eric Boullier resigned as Team Principal at Lotus. It’s a fairly shocking development, especially considering most of the teams are scheduled to test at Jerez next week. The rumors have of course been swirling and some project Boullier to succeed Martin Whitmarsh at McLaren. I’ll believe that when I see it.

In the meantime, McLaren’s MP4-29.

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The situation has been rocky at McLaren over the last year. The departure of Lewis Hamilton could be considered the beginning of the team’s unraveling and over the next year, they would experience their worst season since 1980. With Vodafone, Sergio Perez and Martin Whitmarsh (presumably) out the door, the team are seeking a fresh start in 2014. Despite this, they’re starting to resemble Williams more and more everyday, but that’s a discussion for another post.

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Unsurprisingly, the MP4-29 looks fantastic from the side. However, like some of the other cars we’ve seen, it all goes wrong when the view changes.

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The new technical regulations almost make you wonder if Bernie and the FIA are in on a big ploy to outrage fans. I understand that getting the most most airflow underneath the chassis is key, but there must be a more attractive design execution. It’s a shame too because the rest of the MP4-29 is quite good looking, particularly the triangular side pods.

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While the new noses are something fans may eventually get used to, it’s a small contribution to the much larger problem of the sport completely losing its identity. Many would argue that Thursday was the day Formula 1 racing died with the implementation of double points at Abu Dhabi. Unattractive cars, environmentally friendly power plants and racing in the name of tire/fuel conservation isn’t what people want to see. Something’s got to give.

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With the departure of Vodafone as McLaren’s title sponsor, the MP4-29 looks particularly silver. The car will likely have an entirely different livery come Melbourne, but at the moment it would be hard to tell it apart from the Mercedes Silver Arrows. I wonder why they didn’t opt for orange paint which has always been McLaren’s standby, as the team awaits new sponsorship.

Ultimately what matters most is how fast it is and we’ll all know soon enough.

Photos courtesy of McLaren.

Stuck In Reverse

Funny how teams always look to the past when things aren’t going well. McLaren celebrates 150 races over 8 years.

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I’m all for celebrating history, I think it’s fantastic and absolutely necessary. However, McLaren are having their worst season in 20 years. The young hot shot Sergio Perez has just been sacked, the team are putting their faith in a 22-year-old with no Formula 1 races under his belt and they’re headed for at least another season or 2 of unpredictability with new engines and a possible retirement from Jenson Button.

Maybe the focus should be on the 5-year plan instead of the previous 8? Meanwhile, Martin Whitmarsh continues to carry on with absolute immunity and Ron Dennis wants no involvement whatsoever.

Photo courtesy of McLaren.

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.