STR

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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F1 - BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX 2015

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.

GP BAHRAIN F1/2015

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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.

GP BAHRAIN F1/2015

GP BAHRAIN F1/2015

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.

GP BAHRAIN F1/2015

F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain

Elsewhere on the track it was more of a GP2 race than anything that corresponded with the battle up front. Apart from Williams, none of the other teams have been able to match the pace of Ferrari in an attempt to challenge the World Champions. After qualifying 6th, Felipe Massa started the race from pit lane but managed to finish 10th after an excellent recovery drive. Daniel Riccardo showed some pace in the Red Bull who’s Renault power unit went kaput meters before the finish line. Christian Horner and Adrian Newey must be loving this very public display of Renault’s “reliability”. You have to feel for Ricciardo who had one hell of a 2014 season. Now he has the opportunity to lead Red Bull and the team are threatening to pull out of the sport completely.

F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain - Practice

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.

GP BAHRAIN F1/2015

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GP BAHRAIN F1/2015

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

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Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

Nothing To See Here – 2015 Chinese Grand Prix

What can be said about today’s Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix? To be honest, I could barely get through the thing.

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There’s been endless talk over “the show” that Formula 1 and the FIA are putting in front of fans on race day. At best, it’s a technical exercise where manufacturers can strut their stuff and fan favorite Lewis Hamilton can cruise his way to uncontested victories. At worst, it’s a case of mistaken identities and a fanbase who views the sport with rose-tinted glasses, only too quick to hark back to Hunt-Lauda or Prost-Senna as McLaren barely manage to finish races in 2015. The reality is Formula 1 lies somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, but if things carry on as they have, the circus will continue to lose its place of relevance on motorsport’s biggest stage. Today’s Chinese Grand Prix didn’t exactly help matters and as the cars rolled through the finish behind the safety car, the over-bloated, over-funded F1 machine was hoping you had not decided to change the channel already.

F1 Grand Prix of China

For American fans, NBCSN’s coverage offers absolutely nothing at this point. We’re well aware that Will Buxton and Steve Matchett have plenty to offer from their extensive databases of Formula 1 knowledge but the network’s decision to repress that knowledge has left us with cringeworthy impersonations of Sherlock Holmes from David Hobbs and Leigh Diffey flapping on about the weather and the divorce of Max Verstappen’s parents – honestly Leigh, who the hell cares? With NBC’s deep pockets, you would think they could employ the very best commentators Formula 1 has to offer in a bid to really sell it to an emerging American audience. Instead it’s SPEED’s coverage with a new coat of paint and Diffey turned up to 11.

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Mercedes were back to form this weekend with Hamilton and Nico Rosberg leading qualifying and the German missing pole by just 0.4 seconds. From Rosberg’s point of view things have to be unbelievably frustrating as the team continue to favor Hamilton. For everyone else it’s clear that Rosberg just doesn’t have the same elite skills that Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso possess. Today was an easy win for Hamilton who lead Rosberg by 5 seconds for most of the race.

GP CINA F1/2015

GP CINA F1/2015

Ferrari looked strong on the back of a surprise Malaysian Grand Prix win 2 weeks ago. Kimi Raikkonen mucked up in qualifying again on Saturday but had the pace all race long. His transmissions about the woeful McLarens made for some of the few high points of Sunday’s race. Vettel meanwhile looked strong in qualifying and put the pressure on Rosberg. It will be very interesting to see how the Ferraris do at the slower, tighter European tracks.

GP CINA F1/2015

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Williams rounded out the top 6 with Felipe Massa still having the advantage over teammate Valtteri Bottas. Elsewhere on the field it was a mixed bag of reliability issues, driver errors and more Pastor Maldonado acting as a human chicane for Jenson Button in the McLaren.

Fernando Alonso.

It really is shocking that Honda have botched this Formula 1 return quite so badly. Has Ron Dennis completely given up on finding a title sponsor and showing us all that “new” livery? Where is all that 650S money going?

F1 Grand Prix of China

F1 Grand Prix of China - Practice

The true embarrassment of today however was the utter incompetence of the trackside marshals, attempting to return Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso to pit lane, after the car’s Renault engine blew. To the delight of perhaps Red Bull alone, the stranded car resulted in the safety car being deployed with 3 laps to go and one of the most chaotic and dimwitted displays the sold out crowd has likely seen, as the marshals managed to inflict as much damage to the Toro Rosso as possible while performing a 1000-point turn getting it into pit lane. Could this display support an argument about the much larger problem of flyaway races to countries with no motorsports pedigree? Absolutely. But all of these marshals should have been briefed and trained so there are really no excuses. If anyone wants to argue that point, I urge you to watch the Monaco Grand Prix and see how long it takes them to remove a car from track. With the safety car in a lap sooner, we could have been treated to one of the most exciting finishes in years.

F1 Grand Prix of China - Previews

Formula 1 feels like a bad remake right now. The set pieces are certainly more spectacular, but any semblance of a plot is difficult to find and the cast really isn’t that good. As long as it makes money at the box office, it’s done the job. The cynic in me says the show’s over and once we wrap up the Hamilton-Vettel era, Formula 1 will well and truly be done. The optimist in me says I’ll look back on all of this with fond memories as we all do with seasons gone by. Ultimately if Formula 1 has any chance of surviving this rut, it really needs to figure out what it is and what it ultimately wants to become because the rest of us are packing our bags.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

2015 Malaysian Grand Prix

The Malaysian Grand Prix has always been able to provide an interesting Formula 1 Grand Prix and Sunday’s bout between Mercedes and Ferrari was true to form.

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Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Malaysian Grand Prix - Race Day - Sepang, Malaysia

Unless you’re a Mercedes supporter, most fans of the sport have probably had enough of seeing the Silver Arrows of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg winning every race. A new face on the podium’s top step is exactly what Formula 1 needed on Sunday and ironically Sebastian Vettel, in a Ferrari was the man to do it.

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After a hellacious 2014 season and a complete reorganization of the team, Scuderia Ferrari have come out fighting in 2015 and may be one of the few opponents able to challenge Mercedes’s dominance. It was 2013 the last time a Ferrari won a Formula 1 Grand Prix so a collective sigh of relief was definitely in order for the team on Sunday. Vettel executed a solid drive and harked back to his World Championship Red Bull days by creating a dominant gap ahead of the field. After a safety car early in the race and a botched strategy by Mercedes, Hamilton had little chance of catching the German.

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Vettel managed to win in only his second race for the Scuderia and fulfilled “life long dream.” I doubt it’s the last will we see of Vettel or Ferrari standing at the top of the podium this season.

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Hamilton managed 2nd with Rosberg rounding out the podium in 3rd and interestingly today was the first we saw of a very calculated, clinical Mercedes team becoming slightly unraveled. The trouble started following the safety car in which Hamilton’s strategy resulted in Vettel creating that massive gap. This was followed by a conflict in tire choice between the driver and his team and some mixed radio messages from Paddy Lowe. The message which Hamilton clearly wasn’t supposed to hear suggested a third pitstop before the end of the race. This didn’t happen and left a confused Hamilton frustrated with the team and finishing off the top step in what was shaping to be another easy win for Mercedes.

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Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Malaysian Grand Prix - Race Day - Sepang, Malaysia

Elsewhere on the field Toro Rosso continued to make the Red Bull factory team look very bad. The Red Bull-Renault public feud continued through the week and you can’t help but feel bad for Daniel Ricciardo who had such an excellent finish to last season. Now the team’s clear number one and he’s treated to a front row seat of Christian Horner’s public tantrum. Red Bull are continuing to dig their own grave with the way they’re handling the Renault situation and fans are quickly growing tired of listening. Renault on the other hand called Red Bull racing “liars” and are looking to buy a team of their own, severing ties with Milton Keynes outfit completely. That soap opera will continue throughout the season no doubt.

F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia

GP MALESIA F1/2015

An excellent drive from Kimi Raikkonen who started in 11th after a botched qualifying on Saturday and a tire rupture early in Sunday’s race. He managed 4th overall which further proves just how much Ferrari have their act together this season. Some inter-team battles from Williams and Force India kept the midfield busy and an truly woeful performance from McLaren ensured neither driver was able to finish the Grand Prix.

F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia - Previews

Fernando Alonso made his season debut Sunday after sitting out in Australia, while recovering from a concussion during testing. During media day there were conflicting reports from Alonso’s version of what happened and team’s. Bizarrely, Alonso blamed the crash on a steering lockup and denied wind had anything to do with it – the reason McLaren stated for the crash. It’s all very strange what’s happening at one of the sport’s winningest teams. On a positive note, everyone involved with McLaren including the drivers are firm in their support of the team. Expectations at the start of this season must have been extremely low.

Jenson Button.

Neither MP4-30 was able to finish Sunday’s main event and you have to wonder what Honda have spent the last 2 years doing? It’s a shock to see such a big name come so ill prepared to motor sport’s biggest stage. Things can only go up at this point and I would expect to see McLaren become more competitive by the start of the European season, but that’s still 6 weeks away.

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Was Rosberg standing off to the side as Hamilton, Vettel and Eddie Jordan sat and chatted during the podium interviews not ridiculously awkward? Rosberg has really taken a lot of heat and continues to. In the eyes of the predominately British F1 media, Hamilton can do no wrong and that leaves Rosberg constantly having to justify every move. Maybe he truly isn’t one for the spotlight but that podium interview was painful. Also, what’s up with Vettel and Hamilton all buddy-buddy now? Is Hamilton suddenly okay being friendly with Vettel now that he himself is a multiple World Champion or is it yet another excuse to make his teammate feel unwelcome?

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It was great to see Ferrari back on form at Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix. Now the teams head to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix in 2 weeks – stay tuned.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

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.

GP AUSTRALIA F1/2015

G.P. AUSTRALIA F1/2015

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.

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Previews

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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G.P. AUSTRALIA F1/2015

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.

2014 Toro Rosso STR9

Testing at Jerez begins this week and Toro Rosso was there to debut the 2014 STR9.

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Some have suggested this is a prelude to what we’ll be seeing from Red Bull later this week. I hope not.

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Yeah… Welcome to Formula 1 2014. Elitists who are above the kind of humor these new cars have spawned are quick to point out that the designs are all in the name of safety. Don’t get me wrong, having lower noses as a precaution to any t-bone related head injuries is crucial, but there must be a better way. Don’t think for a second that the jokes aren’t flooding throughout the paddock either. It’s tough to escape, especially with the STR9. Something tells me that Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat were looking to get this launch over with quickly.

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Things get a little more sane towards the rear of the car.

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At the back, STR begins their new engine partnership with Renault after parting ways with Ferrari. The new single exhausts on the 2014 cars should give us a nice light show come Bahrain and Singapore.

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More from Jerez in the coming days. Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

The Equal Opportunity Employer

Infiniti Red Bull Racing RB9 Launch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Bull Confirms Ricciardo As Webber’s Replacement

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

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

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

Photo & video courtesy of Red Bull.

The 2013 Toro Rosso STR8

Red Bull’s junior team Toro Rosso unveiled their 2013 STR8 earlier today.

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STR teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne were at Jerez to unveil the car, ahead of the first day of testing beginning tomorrow.

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After finishing 9th overall in 2012, STR Team Principal Franz Tost expects the team to finish 6th in 2013. It’s an optimistic goal, but after last season anything can happen.

All of the cars are looking much better heading into 2013 with their new nose jobs. The season’s first testing doesn’t usually tell us a lot, but it’s still going to be interesting to see how everyone performs tomorrow.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.